The Real Secret to Personal Productivity

Here is an especiallly valuable article written by Steve Tobak for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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With everyone searching for the secret to personal productivity, you’d think it was a winning lottery ticket or something. Well, today just may be your lucky day.

One thing’s for sure, the blogosphere’s got every answer you can think of, from the painfully obvious to the outrageously contrarian.

BNET blogger Jeff Haden says forget big-time productivity experts Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins; he’s got the answer in 7 Simple Steps, including, “Don’t quit until you’re done.” That’s right, you heard it here, folks. But seriously, his tips do make a lot of sense. No kidding.

Not to be outdone, Jessica Stillman says “everything you know about productivity is wrong.” She quotes five new rules of productivity from the Chief Happiness Officer blog, including, “Working harder and more hours means getting less done” and, get this, “procrastination” can actually be a good thing.

Hmm. I’m feeling productive today; think I’ll go to the beach and deal with work tomorrow. Works for me.

Now, Devon Pendleton of Inc. seems to have hit the jackpot by compiling surprising productivity tips from 10 successful entrepreneurs and executives:

Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post says, “… stop doing what I’m doing and get some sleep.”
• Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson works out.
• Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin fired their assistants for scheduling them in too many meetings.
• Angel investor Ram Shriram says, to track important things in a diary, “Documenting it ensures we’ll always remember it.”
Stephen King says writers should write every day, even if it’s just a little. Consistency is key.
• CEO and former U.S. Army captain Gary McCullough gives people “half as much time as they say they need.”
• Harper’s Bazaar exec Carol Smith catches up on e-mail on Sundays.
• Starbucks VP Stephen Gillett points to multiplayer games like World of Warcraft to learn effective problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller doesn’t read contracts. “If I can’t make the deal in a phone call … then it’s not a worthwhile deal.”
• But entrepreneur and executive Jana Eggers is the one who, in my opinion, hit the ball out of the park. “I recommend anything that requires focus and discipline … they are good skills to reinforce.”

And therein lies the rub.

You see, the secret to personal productivity is, well, that it’s personal. It’s different for everyone. Branson works out while Huffington goes to bed. You can see how it might be a bit tricky to reconcile those two things, right?

The good news is that I’ve known hundreds of successful executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, and they all do have some common attributes when it comes to personal productivity. Every single one of them recognizes the importance of self-discipline and focus, as does Eggers. Each one may have unique tricks and tools to accomplish whatever needs getting done, as do I, but we all know what’s at the core.

So, why doesn’t everyone just say that and be done with it? Well, I guess that’s because it’s so ingrained in us that it’s a given. We don’t think to mention it because it’s sort of obvious. But, it’s not necessarily obvious or ingrained in all of you, so I thought it might be a good idea to mention it.

I know, I know. This might be deflating for those of you looking for a quick fix – like a diet or pill you can take – that’ll just magically help you get things done. Forget it; there’s no such thing, except maybe caffeine. Like it or not, the secret to personal productivity really is discipline and focus.

Now, if you ask me where that discipline comes from, I think that’s personal too, but for me, it came from my father – a real disciplinarian with a wicked strong work ethic. I also find that it helps to have a passion for what you do and to have something to prove, either to yourself or to someone else.

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Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He’s the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small-to-mid-sized companies. Find out more at He can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.


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  1. Timo Kiander on July 8, 2011 at 7:47 am


    Great stuff!

    Essentially, personal productivity is just what you mentioned and it means different things to different people.

    Discipline and focus are important and also some accountability too.


    • bobmorris on September 5, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      Thank you for sharing. Much appreciated.

  2. bobmorris on July 8, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Thank you for sharing. Credit for the material must go to Steve Tobak and those he cites. It is my privilege and pleasure to serve as a “bridge” between them and folks like you. Please subscribe to/follow this website and encourage your friends to do so, also. I will welcome suggestions as well as comments. Meanwhile, Timo, best regards.

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