What's Your Productivity Secret? You Told Us

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Last week we asked you to tell us your secret to being more productive -- at work, at home, or in life. Here are your first batch of responses.

The Great Jobs Debate: An Atlantic/McKinsey Report

More than a couple of you included "read less of the Atlantic website" as a tip, which makes us feel both honored and disinclined to endorse as a national life hacking tool. But in the interests of honesty and transparency, there it is: The top responses were: making lists, taking short breaks, and not reading this website ... thank you?

But seriously, thank you. And keep writing! Send productivity tips to aboutmyjob1@gmail.com, or write your response in the comment section below to be published in the weeks ahead.

Maintain a Master List

What I find useful is to maintain a master to do list with everything I have to do visible at the same time. I then organize it into subcategories and tackle items arbitrarily based on opportunities. By having all the tasks visible and written down, I feel at ease. I use both Priority Matrix software as well as text editor.

"Tivo Everything."

Leave the Office

I periodically leave my office, relax over coffee or beer, and jot down "big thoughts" that steer my development of tasks and goals.  This is a way to identify tasks that are sub-optimal or even downright pointless but that have taken root within my organization or my industry. 

Many people are so overwhelmed by tasks that they never step back and take a "meta" view of what they are really trying to accomplish.  Thus, drones sometimes think productivity means doing more tasks more quickly with lists and software and removal of distractions and so on.  Me?  I do far fewer "tasks" than my predecessors, but I am able to deliver more data and analysis more quickly because I know what I really need, and I invested the time to make tools (like custom databases) that allow me to out-analyze and out-report my peers.

Using baseball as an analogy, I do not hit for average.  I am more like David Ortiz.  I hit home runs.

DO: Archive Old Emails and Finish Discrete Tasks

Archive all work-related emails I may ever need to look at again, and also most that I assume I won't. It's immensely helpful in remembering what I have told someone, what has been done and remains to be done on a project, and so on. It also helps me avoid asking anyone for a reminder of status (or letting on that I've forgotten).
 
Finish one job before beginning another, whenever possible. I know "multi-tasking" is hot, but there's lots of research indicating that it doesn't actually work when judging by the quality of work product/outcomes. That has proven true for me. If something can wait, it waits.
DON'T: Go on IM
 I don't:

--Make myself available for instant messaging unless I am entirely unserious about whatever I'm working on.
 
--Leave files open on my desktop (applies figuratively for the computer and literally for the desk) after I've quit for the day. It stresses me out and adds to the feeling that I'm never "off"--and it's not like I'm going to have a sudden burst of productivity, after hours, inspired by that resentment.
 
--Save old outlines, brainstorms or notes-to-self. Once something has been realized into a more polished product, the preliminary thought behind it gets tossed (minus any outtakes that may be helpful later, which go in a Word document). This is mainly to minimize clutter, but I have never once wished I'd saved this junk. And it feels great to get rid of it.

Block Websites (or Have the Government Do it for You)

My time in China is a big productivity booster. No Facebook. No Youtube. No Blogspot. If I could just them to block the Atlantic, I would really be set.

...or Have the Browser Do it for You

If you use Firefox, you can use Leechblock to block whatever websites you want for as long as you want.

The Pomodoro Technique

I work as an editor of a high-stakes ESL test, and the secret to my productivity is the Pomodoro technique (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique). I'll be surprised if I'm the only person who mentions this, but it really helps me manage my time when I'm under pressure with a big workload. You can get a simple program called "PomoTime" that will help you follow the technique here: http://www.xoring.com/

The chief advantage of this technique, I've found, is that it keeps me away from the Internet. (Clearly, not at the moment...curse you again, The Atlantic!) Setting short, manageable goals, and putting myself "on the clock" motivates me to get things done much more efficiently.  I shared PomoTime with a number of my coworkers, and got two reactions:

1) This is awesome!
2) Isn't this what everyone does already?

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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