my 20 best productivity tips

Posted on April 10th, 2013

I’m not a productivity fiend. Flaying about in chaos can be exhilarating. But I do like the sport of finding a smarter way to do things. And I love it when people share what they do. Is it a chick thing? I mean, it’s the secret to women’s magazines – sharing the kind of information our grandmother’s shared over the back fence. It’s pervy and helpful at the same time.

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I get asked often what I do to make things smoother, faster. And when I do, I realise I do have a few things in place, most of them gleaned from my 2-year-long experiment chronicled in my Sunday Life series of columns. Here’s a bunch of things I do plus stuff a bunch of smooth, fast friends I have do…and I’m going to ask all of you to add to the list. I’ll do a second post of the best-ofs (with links to your various blogs/instagrams etc). Share away below.

I’ll kick off first.

1. I use Instapaper for long reads.

I’ve written about this great program here. I have a “read later” widget in my bookmarks and save links that I want to…read later…or to use another time. Then, once a fortnight or so, I’ll got through the stored links and read them, or file them in categories. If I’m travelling, I’ll open and download a bunch to read on the plane.

2. Hootsuite for all social media.

It’s the only (to my knowledge) free desktop that allows me to post to all (or a few) social media outlets at once. Again, I have a “hootlet” widget in my bookmarks and can share a link everywhere in an instant.

3. I use Siri a lot.

She likes my voice and does what I say. I use it for brain fart moments (I compose emails to myself) and writing long texts and even the copy on my instagram posts. Not sure if this is legal… but I find it useful when I’m driving or riding (which is when most of my brain farts come to me).

4. I use the keychain access function.

This is a Mac function. It’s a secure spot where you can put all your passwords for easy access. Open. Copy. Paste.

5. I’m a fan of the Pomodoro Technique.

I use this when I’m working on big projects and all my writing tasks. It works. It’s possibly my favourite widget.

6. I delete emails without fear. And write less of them myself.

I reckon about 50% of emails are wastes of time. Every email you write, some study has found, creates an extra three. Often a Google search will find the answer. Ditto with emails I receive. I used to reply to the ones I wasn’t interested in or couldn’t help with (again, most could’ve been avoided with a Google search). Now I don’t reply. A lot of emails these days are written carelessly. Thus, the sender rarely remembers writing it nor that you haven’t replied. I don’t keep emails in my inbox for “just in case” moments. I delete. Clean! I figure I can always do a search in my trashed items if I have to find something again. I’ve written about the benefits of committing email annihilation before.

7. My inbox is a to-do list.

This goes against the grain of most productivity advice(!) but I keep my inbox to less than 10 emails. Clean. Simple. It looks nicer. This makes me work faster.

8. I work to a 15 second rule.

If it can be solved, answered, stored in 15 seconds I do it straight away. If not I come back to it, and complete longer responses in batches.

My beautiful mate Gala Darling is a gem of a human. Her blog started as a place to share her love of fashion, and has since evolved as an extension of her passion, which is teaching women how to fall in love with themselves… Here’s her smart ideas:

9. The Eat That Frog system for managing stuff. 

The idea is that you sit down and write a master list of everything you need to get done, from the pressingly urgent to the one-day-I’ll-get-around-to-it stuff. Include everything from work-related tasks to personal errands. Then you prioritise with a letter beside each item. A items are extremely urgent, B items are things that need to be done but not urgent, C items are things that would be nice to do but are not imperative, and D items you delegate to someone else. Once you have this list, start writing daily lists based off this master list. The idea is that you ALWAYS do your A tasks first, and never do a C item before an A item is completed. I’ve written about it here in  more detail.

10. Write articles on the go on Evernote.

I have it installed on my Macbook Pro, my iPad & my iPhone, meaning I can write on the go.  I almost always have ideas in the back of cabs, while I’m out walking, or basically any time I’m not at my desk!  Evernote gives me an easy & smart way of keeping everything in one place.  (They are also releasing a Moleskine that will scan your handwriting directly into Evernote… It comes out soon & I’m kinda dying about it!)

Managing Editor of I Quit Sugar Jo Foster shares some of her “learnt-on-the-run” productivity tips:

11. Start with the easier tasks.

If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I start with the easier tasks rather than the important ones (I know, that’s the opposite of what everyone suggests), and once I feel like I’m achieving a bit then I find I’m brave enough to tackle the harder stuff. 

12. Use Google Drive.

It’s a storage space, and a file sharing space. Super easy to use once you’ve got a few people who need access to the same files. It helps to dump bigger images/files in the Drive as well, instead of trying to email them out. A win for keeping your internet data usage costs down!

13. The “notes” function on the iPhone.

I love that it automatically syncs through iTunes to my email inbox, so everything automatically shows up on my Mac as fast as I type it on my phone.

14. Use email folders.

It means I can very quickly and easily find whatever I’m looking for – usually something Sarah has efficiently deleted from her inbox, as she shared above!

Shayne Tilley is a super-dude in my orbit and we’re working together to build the new I Quit Sugar site.  He builds websites, writes ebooks, creates programs. He’s smart and efficient, and he says:

15. Use GTD.

It’s a time-management methodology, backed by a number of applications (Evernote for example).  It’s based around bottom-up goal setting rather than top down.

16. The 1password function.

It keeps all your passwords and personal information in one spot and the apps give you access to them from any device.  Not only is secure, it means you can access what you need, when you need.

17. Task manager for your to do list.

It follows me around everywhere. I can create tasks from my phone, ipad or laptop and it keeps a beautiful central repository of everything and knows I need to be doing next.

My great mate Bill runs the hugely successful site The Cool Hunter. He says:

18. It’s all about Flipboard.

It’s an app on the iPad that flips through all the sites you read like a magazine. It saves times going through all the sites I follow which are in the hundreds.

19. A walking app makes a day smooth

I walk to Bourke St Bakery for my daily mocha using the Steps app (10,000 a day) and feel I work more productively once I spend some time outside.

New York Times technology writer David Pogue shares this:

20. Typing-expansion software.

You can read more about the software here, but the point is that I type only the first couple letters of many common words, and the software expands the rest. Since so much of my writing is technology-related, a lot of these words come up often—and they tend to be long ones.”

And a few extra tips I thought you might like:

Here’s a list of productivity tips from fifteen busy psychologists.

And if you’re looking for more, Problogger Darren Rowse has a great ebook on the secrets of productive bloggers here.

Please add your tips below!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
  • Kristy R

    “My inbox is a to-do list.” As a project manager this has been one little tip I have passed onto my project managers and they have loved me for it! Once I send an email and need it followed up, I drag that from ‘Sent’ into my Inbox so I know exactly the state of play for all my email corro!


  • Kate

    I’m prone to feeling overwhelmed with having various tasks: personal, work, larger projects, stuff to do for other people. I find the simplicity of just writing a list allows me to see the tasks in black and white and get my head around it. I instantly find it calms me because quite often the tasks or volume of work is not beyond me and I can get on with doing it. Without clarity I suffer anxiety and procrastinate. The list (even though it is not sophisticated or utilising technology) provides that clarity


  • Carly {Pockets of Peace}

    Awesome post! I love the Pomodoro technique. I find that using Pomodoro paired with a ‘no distract’ app like Self Control or Writeroom, (to force me and my wandering eyes off social media/email) is a really good combo. I’ll also switch my mobile to aeroplane mode, so that I can just use the timer on it and nothing else. All do WONDERS for my productivity levels.

    Great music playing usually also gets me amped and happy (as per Gretchen Rubin’s advice), and in the zone for creating and writing.

    Also a huge fan of Evernote, for writing on the go and it’s all saved on to every one of my working platforms, which is super helpful.


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  • Andrew

    I use Nimble to consolidate LinkedIn, Twitter and FB updates. I get a daily update of who’s changed jobs, engaged with me, etc and it avoids me having to trawl through the sites all day every day. It also lets me search a person and see all their social media interactions in the one place.


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    I use toggl- an online time tracking tool. So I know exactly how much time I spend on anything. You can look back and with reports can see how you spend your time. Yes,it’s free.


  • Laura

    Much like Gala, I use Evernote for pretty much everything. It’s such an amazing app, I have it on my Galaxy, my tablet and my desktop, which means no matter where I am I can link to it. I also live by the Evernote article clipper, when I find an article that looks interesting, is helpful to my work, I want to share later etc. I can simply click one button, save it with a common tag and it’s in the one area with all my other notes.
    This article provides a lot of great tips on how to use Evernote:


    Sita Reply:

    Thanks so much for posting that link, exactly what I needed!


  • Lisa

    Wow this was so timely for me to read! Thank you for putting it together. I am in the very early stages of creating a new business and I just had a conversation with my husband about how to use the hour before the kids wake up as productive time (I gotta squeeze some extra hours into my week if I want to make this happen).

    For me, accountability is so important. It keeps me working and on-task. Working for myself I find that things can go very pear-shaped when I’m full of ideas and creativity and not wanting to actually DO. I need someone on my shoulder saying – “where are you at?” (this goes for business and life – as in “have you paid the phone bill”.) Sad, but true.

    Pomodoro could be perfect for the morning session. And I’m going to investigate these other ideas now. You would be HORRIFIED at what my inbox looks like……

    Thanks again x


  • Leonie Dawson

    Hey lovebug!

    Here’s what works for me:

    * I only work 2-3 hours a day. Not because I’m a wanker… but because I’ve got a kid and that’s all I want to be away from her for. And during those 2-3 hours I get more shit done than most peeps get done in a full work day I reckon. I’m crazily focussed.

    * My mantra: Maximum Impact Minimum Effort. Aka: How can I help the MOST amount of people in one go?

    * I use the Self Control app or the good old fashioned “Get the fuck away from wifi” app. Head to a cafe that’s blissfully internet-free + get my important shit done then.

    * Have a happy, full, rested life outside of work. I swear reading trashy romance novels on the weekends makes me smarter + more efficient as an entrepreneur during the week. Gotta turn OFF the work brain + activate the holiday brain!

    * Put headphones on to zone in to work. Even if you’re not listening to music. I find it helpful in cutting out noise + putting myself in a cocoon of focus.

    * Be a total devotee + lover + monk of your vision. There ain’t no other option for me but to do this thing I love with my whole heart. I adore my big dream so much that I can’t help but do what’s needed to make it come true.

    Lots o’ love to you Sarah… thank you for turning up and being you in the world!


    Lilapud Reply:

    Hey Leonie!

    I LOVE your comment/advice the mostest as it sure makes sense to me!!
    Thanks for sharing!! xx


    Amber Reply:

    Love your attitude to productivity Leonie! Great tips!


  • Lilapud

    My friend Lee shared this with me & I lurve it:


  • Amber

    The habit of writing lists of EVERYTHING (from work tasks to planting my garlic) has had a huge impact on my stress levels and productivity.
    But the key is having an efficient SYSTEM for updating, categorising and prioritising what’s on your lists – there are websites to help you do this! (I just can’t imagine I’d manage to stick to the Eat That Frog A, B, C, etc method.) For me, has been life changing. Seriously. I even sleep better because of it.


  • Sherilyn Joyce

    I use trello. It’s free and absolutely amazing. It compares to having a board full of sticky notes that you can move around and prioritize as tasks. Each “sticky note” can be opened and has a list feature where you can track everything you need to do to complete that task. You can share boards as well and assign tasks to each other so it’s perfect for collaborating.
    Trello has so many more great features I’m leaving out but here’s the link
    so you can check it out!
    If you like lists or sticky notes you’ll love this free software (I feel like I should be working for them…haha!)


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  • Dawn

    I really have to work on the email thing. I am definitely the one that holds onto emails for “just in case” and my inbox fills up quite quickly. Then it gets overwhelming and I end up deleting them eventually anyway! Great tips here.

    I like to take breaks outside to exercise and refresh my mind. In the morning I get the kids ready then walk to the bus stop. I work for a couple hours and then go for a 1-2 mile walk. On the walk I try to clear my mind and enjoy the time I am outside (try not to think about work at this moment.) Then I come home and go back to work for 2-3 hours before getting the kids off the school bus. Every time I take a break (besides eating) is outside – even if it is cold, I just have to shorten break time.


  • IEVA

    Thank you for sharing those tips! I’m at the scale of start up, some of those things sounds to me like cosmos but sometime (hopefully soon) it will become as ordinary stuff to cope with. Some of your showed tips I already have been following. Anyway, brilliant list to have in front eyes once I’m lost. Thanks a lot!


  • Az

    Lol @ brain farts! Some cool tips, though Siri and I have never got along well…


  • kate

    Thanks for the great information. I can feel overwhelmed and get caught up in the need to respond immediately to emails and the like. And I’m definitely checking out the keychain access function you mentioned!


  • Steph

    This post has seen my to do list dwindle beautifully this week!
    Thank you so much.
    It’s also seen me download flipboard. I don’t think it’s going to make me any more productive though. The small voice in the back of my head I’ve been ignoring for the last two years just got louder as a result …’buy an iPad … you need an iPad …’


  • Sophie @ Spark

    I’ve actually been much more productive since switching from a laptop to a desktop computer – I find that I am more focussed and work smarter when I am in a specific ‘work’ zone rather than anywhere with my laptop where I can be distracted.

    And my favourite apps – Self Control and Ommwriter (turns off notifications and is a beautiful, serene and simple writing space).


  • Miriam

    I love teuxdeux (teuxdeux.xom) – it’s a lovely clean looking, browser-based to do list that also syncs with a phone app. It’s organised by days but there’s also a ‘someday’ space for those less urgent tasks that you don’t want to forget. You can move items between days and anything not finished on the current day automatically gets pushed over to the following day. I love the feeling of crossing off the tasks (you click the item and a strike through appears through that item) – super satisfying to see the progress you make as you move through your day!


  • Sarah

    I use Gmail for my email – means I have it on multiple devices and the search is way, way faster than outlook and I still have full control over signatures etc.

    The secret ingredient is “streak” – a free tool to pull emails into projects and give you quick access to the people, documents and lets you add notes. I work alone but I gather it’s amazing for teams too. Its not perfect but I haven’t found anything else like it in a desktop email tool or a web one. Oh, and you have to use the Chrome browser, but you should be doing that anyway.


  • Veronica


    I’ve recently gone PAPERLESS at work and home and it feels great! All our bills/expenses/holiday information/events/resumes everything is now available via the search function (I use a mac). E.g My husband used to call me all the asking documents/copies/photos etc. Now that we are paperless he just types in the search filed and he can find anything!!

    I use a variety of apps including: Email (like a to do list – File, Action or Trash), Evernote (all articles/info), Pinterest (wish list of beauty/fashion items I like as well as mood boards), Notes (a quick note of things while I’m on the run), PepperPlate (to store all my recipes). These are now my basic everyday applications.


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  • Jon

    Nice post!
    Much like you with your instapaper Sarah, I like to stash any interesting articles, weblinks, YouTube videos, etc into my reading list. Thanks to the genius of Mac devices, I can do this from my iPhone, ipad or Mac Pro. This is also how I clear out my inbox to keep it clean, then when I find myself with a spare 5 mins waitin for a coffee or something, I can whip out my phone and browse my saved links. I believe thy are even saved for offline browsing so you don’t even need reception!!!


  • Jon

    Just remenbered another one!
    How annoying is it typing your email address on an iPhone or ipad???
    And I find that is the one thing I type all the time…
    So go to the keyboard under general settings on your idevice, and add a new shortcut.
    Eg I now type jhp and it pops up with automatically :)


  • Michelle Waite

    A couple of things struck me as I read through these and looked at Gala Darling’s site. Bottom line, there are many tools and ways of doing things out there. I have listed some of the things that work for me given my personality type. It may be different for others.

    I believe it is extremely important to analyze and understand your personality type well. In the Myers Briggs world, I am an ENTP. I know that I need to do things in little chunks or I get bored or overwhelmed….especially in the details. I enjoy staying with the big picture, but recognize that is not always feasible. I use this recognition to schedule my time. But, more importantly, I also have used this recognition to make sure that my work is connected to my strengths. I find that it is definitely easier to get the things done that I enjoy doing.

    If I get a good night sleep, I am most effective in the morning. So, it is best that I do the things that might be a little tougher for me or require more staying power in the morning.

    I prefer to schedule my appointments, discussions and meetings in the afternoon because those typically energize me. I also use these meetings as an opportunity to help work through some of the details that I may struggle with when working alone. I like to surround myself with people who are different from me and complementary rather than the same. This puts us both in a better position to support each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It makes getting the tough things done a little easier for me.

    More recently, I have started to schedule planning time into my day. Each morning, I wake up, write 3 pages of whatever is on my mind (see Morning pages from the “Artist’s Way”) to get all of the clutter out, then schedule my day in iCalendar and look at the rest of the week. I make sure that time is scheduled in 1-2 hour chunks with 1/2 hour breaks in between or whatever makes sense for what I am doing. I try to stick to the schedule, but allow for flexibility when needed.

    By spending some time every once in a while thinking about and writing out my priorities, I have a clearer understanding of when to be more flexible than other times. As an example, this past weekend, I had scheduled an afternoon to work on a class film project that is due fairly soon….but, then my 17 year old son asked if I wanted to go to lunch that day. This was priority to me – given that he will be off to university soon…the film project had to be re-scheduled.


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  • Jeanette Mundy

    I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the thought of organising myself to be organised! I don’t consider myself either tech savvy or tech illiterate but somewhere in between. I am very clear on the reason for that – I hate following written instructions and having to learn something on a computer or other device when I could be using my time more productively. I almost feel guilty. I would much prefer to have someone demonstrate something to me so I can copy or simply catch on as I’m going along, which is what I mostly do. I’m a visual and tactile learner, and like most people, incredibly busy and it stresses me out to have to spend time on learning better ways to utilise technology when I could be taking a rare opportunity to go outside and look at the sunset. This is holding me back because some things just get pushed underground never to surface again. I would like to try all of Sarah’s hints, but I need a hint on how to most effectively learn about the hints rather than just simply shutting this page down and never looking at it again.

    Any hints??


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  • Shabby

    Doing most of those. I use different apps though. Now I want to learn the Pomodoro Technique and Eat That Frog System. Thanks for sharing these tips. :)


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    Hi Sarah!
    I find a new tool for time tracking: Timeneye (
    I recommend it because it integrates with Basecamp and lets track time commenting on completed to-dos. I can also track time on the go with its mobile app.


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