The Greatest Business Productivity Blog Post Ever

by Annie

in ruthless productivity

No reason. ::shrug:: I just like cows.

(OK. Probably not.)

So, this is the PJP post for the October Word Carnival. And the subject is “productivity.” And as you might imagine, I’m particularly feeling the pressure on this one.

Must. Produce. Brilliantly. 

Eep. Here we go.

For some time now, I’ve been writing about productivity from a business owner’s perspective. The basics — the big picture — the forest, if you will.

Now, it’s time for the trees.

1. Get Clear On What True Productivity Really Is.

Here’s a hint: it’s not just getting shit done. It’s about producing something. When most folks talk about feeling lost or overwhelmed, or are having trouble getting their crap together? They’re quite often suffering from a disconnect between what they want and what they do on an average day. That is a key symptom of checklist-itis, the pathological focus on scratching off items from a to-do list.

2. Get Enough Sleep.

There is a reason torturers use sleep deprivation. Because it works, is why. Ask any new parent. A few nights of less than adequate sleep will make you forgetful. A few weeks of it? Will make you say or do anything. You cannot afford this condition. You have a business to run.

3. Eat Your Veggies. And Your Protein.

Do we really need to go over a healthful diet here? Fine. Go here. Pick your approach. Follow it. If you need further help, click here and find a dietitian near you. It’s time to grow up. Snickers and Cheetos will not cut it anymore. You need serious fuel for your body and your mind if you’re serious about becoming truly productive.

4. Get Some Exercise Daily.

There is nothing on this earth that will produce as much consistent physical and mental energy as exercise. You don’t have to go all Tae-Bo on yourself. Take a brisk walk every day. Do some yoga every day. Whatever gets you moving — but move. Every day.

5. Know Your Values.

Your values feed your vision. Your vision dictates your goals. And your goals dictate your actions. Want to get more tasks done? Start at the macro level.  Not sure what your values are? This post lays it all out, and even provides a helpful worksheet you can download and use.

6. Clarify Your Vision.

A clear, realistic, and inspiring vision not only helps you figure out where you’re going and how to get there — it keeps you motivated over the rough patches. Motivation fuels your discipline, which is necessary stuff if you want to actually produce something worth the trouble of creating.  The vision exercise in the worksheet found here will help you achieve some much-needed clarity on that vision.

7. Have ONE LIST.

You can have as many sublists as you like, but you should keep one and only one to-do list with everything you’ve obligated yourself to do, in every single area of your life. You can organize it by “contexts” (as Getting Things Done calls it) or by project or by priority or by area or alphabetically or whatever system floats your boat. But have ONE LIST.

8. Keep That One List Current.

If you find yourself hurriedly updating your to-do list a few days a week, wondering “What the hell was that thing I told that person I’d do by tomorrow…?!?!” then this one’s especially important for you. Write your stuff down as it happens. If you cannot possibly get to your list (say, because you’re out of the house and you keep it on your computer), then you need a back-up system. Easy fix: a cheap 99-cent spiral pocket notebook you carry with you everywhere and write one thing down per page when you’re away from the big list. Then, when you get back, update the list from the back-up system. Do it at least daily and this becomes a very simple and quick task.

9. Be Really Freaking Picky With Your List.

Your list is the record of your commitments. Do not let anything on to that list that doesn’t further a goal or isn’t absolutely required by virtue of parenthood, marital vows, or sheer necessity to keep  yourself breathing.

10.  Have Some Freaking Integrity.

See #9 above. If it’s on your list, and especially if it’s got a deadline attached to it, do it. Your reputation is a fragile little thing. Protect it like a mama bear.

11. Learn To Read Your Own Signals.

Your body will know when you’re about to get in trouble, much sooner than your conscious brain will. Listen to what it’s telling you, and deal with emergent situations before they turn into emergencies.

12. Adopt the Two-Minute Rule.

As a task crosses your consciousness and before you write it down on the list, ask yourself if it takes less than two minutes to do. If so, do it right then and there. This will eliminate the whole “overwhelmed by a shit-ton of picky little stupid stuff” thing.

13. Do the HOP Test Every Single Morning.

HOP stands for Head-On-Pillow. The HOP test is simply this: at the beginning of your day, project yourself forward to the end of the day as you place your head on the pillow, and ask yourself this: “Which of these dozens of things I have to do will keep me up tonight when I put my head on the pillow if it’s not done?” Move heaven and earth to get those things done today. 

14. Deal With Email.

There are dozens of “how to manage your inbox” posts out there. At some point in the future, there will be one on this blog, too, most likely. But whatever system you adopt, make sure it includes this one rule: Set three times to check email during the day. Only three. Deal with your email only during those times. Turn off all notification systems in between those times.

15. Get Off the Answer-The-Phone Merry-Go-Round.

Returning calls within 24 hours should suffice for most conversations, except those calls from your kids’ school, your doctor, and your spouse. OK, and sometimes there are other calls that need to be answered immediately, granted (grudgingly). But most calls do not need to be returned ASAP. If you’re working, and someone calls who’s not on that A list? Consider returning all calls at one time. Say, after lunch.

16. Train Your Clients and Team Members.

Whatever rules you adopt, especially with respect to #s 14 and 15, make sure you train your clients and team members accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll get piled-up, increasingly-frantic emails and voice mails over the course of the three hours it takes you to respond. What can I say? People are weird.

17. ID and Deal With Overwhelm Immediately.

When you start getting panicked over your commitments (either complexity or number of), don’t put off dealing with it. Identify the source of the overwhelm and deal with it immediately. Like, NOW. Ask for help, create a research plan, renegotiate unnecessary obligations, whatever needs to be done to get you back on track. Because it’s kind of hard to be ruthlessly & truly productive when you’re trying really hard not to have a heart attack.

18. Review.

Ah, the review. The greatest productivity routine of all time. I do a daily review every morning (reviewing upcoming deadlines, appointments, and the task list) and every night (debriefing how I did that day, looking ahead to the day tomorrow). It takes a total of ten minutes out of my day but keeps me from being surprised by crap I forgot about. I also do a week-end review which takes about thirty minutes total. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

19. Outsource and Delegate Whenever You Can.

Look, there are things we do well, and things we don’t do well. The list of what I don’t do well would fill the freaking phone book. You have a choice to make when you’re running your own business. You can either tackle the stuff you’re not good at yourself, or you can hire someone else to do it for you. You choose the former, and you risk making yourself crazy, delaying other necessary tasks (the stuff you do do well), or you can choose the latter, and get it done much faster and much more accurately. This is a no-brainer.

20. Deal With the Unsexy Stuff NOW.

By “unsexy stuff,” of course, I’m referring to the crap none of us really like. The legalities. The insurance stuff. The tax crap. You know, the things that can PUT YOU OUT OF BUSINESS. Deal with it. NOW. (See #19.)

21. Use Your Calendar App Promiscuously.

That little insignificant app that came with your computer? Is POWERFUL STUFF. Especially that alert/reminder feature. Every time a deadline comes up, I plug it in, with a one-week, three-day, and one-day reminder.

22. Know Your Distractions and Mow ‘Em Down Ruthlessly.

What’s your poison? For me, it’s Law & Order reruns. Sigh. KILL THEM DEAD. Show no mercy. Or …

23. Reward Yourself BIG.

… you can use your favorite distractions as rewards. Or your favorite treats. But reward yourself for staying on task. And if it’s a big task, it requires a BIG reward. Seriously. Who said this “productive responsible business owner” stuff can’t be fun, too?

What’s Your Best Tip?

I’ll be updating this post with more reference links periodically in the future, as I write more articles.  I may even update the list itself — hey, I never said I know everything about being productive. (That would be … kinda sad, actually.)

In the meantime, I wanna know what you know. What are your favorite productivity tweaks and tips? Share ’em in the comments! And be sure to head over to The Word Chef to get the links to all the other brilliant productivity tips from my fellow Carnies.


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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Tea Silvestre October 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Wow. Again. You never cease to amaze me with the insights.
One thing I would add to #9 is make sure none of the stuff on your list conflicts with anything else. Sometimes we have goals in one area of our life that aren’t in true alignment with other goals. For instance, I once had a goal to go out and network (in real life!) at least twice each week. But I also had a goal to spend more quality time with my boyfriend. Sometimes, those two weren’t in alignment and I had to deal with the choices in occasionally painful ways. (Learned my lesson. Yup.)
Tea Silvestre recently posted..Get ‘er Done: Write Your Marketing Copy and Content


Annie October 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Oh holy hell, yes, Tea. That’s for sure. We are complex creatures full of disconnect and contradictions (as well as awesome, of course) and it can definitely get us into trouble from time to time. Once again, Chef, you’ve ringleader’d us a fine Carnival – thanks for all you do!


Sharon Hurley Hall October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Love this, Annie. On the subject of diet, I read recently that having a certain amount of cold pressed coconut oil every day helps with brain cell regeneration, memory, etc, so it could be a real productivity boost.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Starting a Writing Business with No Portfolio, Cold Calling or Years of Experience


Annie October 26, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Very interesting, Sharon – thanks for sharing! Wonder if you have to take it straight or if you can work it into other dishes? ‘Cause I really do not like the taste of coconut. (Except on coconut cake. Go figure.)


Sharon Hurley Hall October 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Coconut, I like, but I’m not sure about oil, Annie 🙁
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Enhanced Freelance Interview


Nicole Fende October 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Completely OT Annie – is that a Guernsey in the picture? My husband was in 4H as a kid and showed dairy cows.

Ahem, on to the biz stuff. While all of them are awesome, I particularly needed #12! Will start right now!
Nicole Fende recently posted..Escape From Land of the Lost (No Time Machine Required)


Annie October 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I … uh, have no idea, Nicole. :::blush::: I just think cows have cool faces, is all. (And are delicious. Sorry to all you vegetarians out there, please don’t TP my house, ‘kay? Love ya). #12 – the two minute rule – revolutionized my life, Nicole, no lie. I was getting lost in the build-up of itsy-bitsy crap and going under. (This was way before the biz that ended in the Mother of All Failures.) When I read about this rule in GTD, I was all “ugh, really?” But I tried it, and I now swear by it. Humorously enough, my mother basically had been telling me this for years. Yet more proof that our lives would be infinitely easier had we all just listened to our mamas from the get-go.


Clare Price October 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Too many great ideas to count: business tips, health tips, good life tips. Okay, picking my favorite two — 12 & 13. the two minute rule ends procrastination and the head on pillow rule really focuses on what is critically important. The one I don’t follow? #21 Calendar app. Hate those pesky alarmy things.
Clare Price recently posted..Sorry Woody! It Ain’t Just About Showing Up


Annie October 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Heya Clare! Thanks for the kind words – hope it helps. And by all means, if you don’t like #21, trash that sucker. “Take what’s useful and leave the rest.” Somebody said that, once … Coincidentally your faves are also probably the two most personally useful ones for me, too. (See my comment to Nicole above about the two-minute rule.) And the HOP test has significantly reduced my moments of feeling like the absent-minded professor. (Though I still lose my car keys way too often for my daughter’s taste…)


Ilana Rabinowitz October 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm

The HOP test reminds me of what Steve Jobs said about remembering you are going to die helps you focus on what’s important. That head on the pillow can be end of day or (not to be morbid) end of the line. Thanks for your thoughtful post
Ilana Rabinowitz recently posted..Marketing is . . .


Annie October 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Hey Illana – you know, you’re right. It’s the same principle just on a more micro scale. We could all do worse than adopt the Tao of Steve.


SandyMc October 27, 2011 at 12:02 am

Oh I so love your language Annie, it just sings! #7-10: great advice. Especially for listaholics. At different times my lists can be eccentric at best, but really they are disconnected and rambling. So #10 made a strong point. Lists can be the greatest form of avoidance behaviour there is. Just because its on a list, means you have somehow done something about it syndrome. Love THIS list and would be very happy to have it as a poster above my desk!
SandyMc recently posted..Productivity: big picture, percentages, steel spine and a list of three!!


Annie October 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Aw, Sandy – thank you!! And you’ve given me an awesome idea. Posters …. Hmm…..


evan austin October 27, 2011 at 1:54 am

Shoot, how did i not comment on this already? i’ve read it (twice!), i swear!

Anywho, another excellent entry, and contributed a lot to the outline i’ve made today (based on all the Word Carnival posts) of the ultimate productive day. i’mma give it a try and let you all know how it goes. i already do a few of these things (and of course could do them better), but i’m feeling attracted to 14, 15, and 18.

Thinly related, thanks for turning me on to CommentLuv…i’ve enabled it on my blog as well. 🙂
evan austin recently posted..Stand Up For Greater Productivity


Annie October 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Isn’t CommentLuv the best? He’s got a pro version out now, I think – haven’t given it a try yet but it looks like it has some pretty nifty new features.

#18 – the Review – was, along with the two-minute rule (#12), revolutionary for me. I don’t use the word lightly. Between the build-up of little crap I could have knocked out quickly and immediately (but didn’t) and the accompanying loss of the sense of control and ownership over my stuff, I was drowning. The review process, I suspect, is the key to holding on to the goals + vision throughout the process of achieving both.


Michelle Church October 27, 2011 at 8:02 am

I love you blog posts! My favorite on this one is the 2 minute rule….I so need to do that. I agree too many great suggestions…I do feel better because I am doing at least 4 of them..gonna work hard at the others!
Michelle Church recently posted..Re-Focus Be Productive


Annie October 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Thanks Michelle! Another vote for the 2-minute rule – I agree, it’s incredibly powerful! Use what resonates most with you and then later on, when you’ve mastered those, you can always incorporate other suggestions. Rock on!


Nick Armstrong November 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Number Nine is my vice. I say YES to too many things!

I’m working hard on keeping my meetings down to one day per week (max of two) so I can keep my productive cycles as clear as possible.

Great advice, Annie!
Nick Armstrong recently posted..Steal Like an Artist


Crowdinvest October 24, 2016 at 9:55 am

Informative PPT and helpful for startups. Successful team is a part of an organisation and help to increase business productivity. To know about successful business teams visit:


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