The Two Things Killing Your Ability to Focus

I used to wake up, stumble over to my phone, and immediately get lost in a stream of pointless notifications. This digital haze continued throughout the day, keeping me from accomplishing important tasks. I was distracted, anxious, and ineffective as a leader. I knew I had to change but could not seem to break free from the behaviors that kept me locked into the same cycle.

This problem is not unusual. Executives across the world stumble through each day in much the same way. Two major challenges are destroying our ability to focus.

Too Busy = Unproductive

When I meet a CEO or executive who tells me they me they are "too busy", they are saying they are not doing the things they should be doing.  Priorities are driven by others, their day is chaotic and "less important" things such as exercise, family and time to focus hit the back burner.


Too busy means unproductive, unfocused and ineffective.  

In a one-to-one yesterday with a Vistage member, we took time to process this issue.  I've listed a few of the bullet points that came out of that meeting.  If you are experiencing excessive busyness, maybe we need to talk.

Share calendar with direct reports

Get a printer in your office

Schedule everything!  (workouts, recurring meetings, lunch dates, reading, projects, research, emails)

Consider OutlookSaneboxBoxer to help with email management

Keep Monday and Friday as interaction day.  Reduce or eliminate meetings on these days.

Use meeting best practices (read Death By Meeting) - agenda, purpose, outcome, time limit, recap

Schedule routine one-to-ones (121’s) with direct reports - more here

Consciously manage distractions (see below) 

Consider what are you doing that someone else could or should be doing

Books/ Resources

Personal Productivity Secrets

Getting Things Done

Managing Distractions


100 Days of Being Paperless and More Productive


Last year, I decided I needed to focus on becoming more productive and effective.  Time is a resource that is finite and cannot be recovered.  My focus was to track and manage my time becoming as productive as possible.  I wanted to make an impact with every hour I worked and leverage technology and techniques to save time.  I reinvest that time into my family, my friends, non-profits and myself.

I just passed 100 days of being paperless.  As 2013 came to a close, I spent time planning my transition.  Not everyone will be able to do this depending on the type of work you do.  For me, it fit perfectly and I thought I would share my approach.

There are great numbers of benefits to being paperless.  First of all you always have access to the information you need.  Secondly, you travel light.  All I carry is an iPad and my iPhone.  Third you will recover time that you can reinvest.

If you choose to do this, it takes planning and comes at a cost.  Prepare yourself and expect to take baby steps.  The goal is not being paperless… the goal is to become more productive and be able to take control of your time.

Here is my approach.  I welcome your feedback and ideas in comments below.


Buy an iPad - I know you’ll be tempted to get something else.  Don’t, all can I say is don’t.  The Apple eco-system works well and it is all you need.  I have an iPad Air and use a Belkin Keyboard for protection and ease of use.

Hide the pens! – I’m serious.  Think of this in same way you would hide chocolate.  If it’s available, you will use it.  Hiding them causes you to stop and think about how you could go paperless and solve the problem at hand.


Get Evernote Evernote is the central place where your information and ideas will reside.  Evernote is free and extremely functional.  Learn how to send in information via email, pictures, scanning and files.  It uses text recognition and everything can be tagged.  I use the premium version for the various features including business card scanning.  You take a picture of the card and it drops right in to your contacts.  Then, you hand the card back to the person with a smile!  Evernote Premium is $45 per year and well worth it.

Sign up for DropboxDropbox is a giant, virtual filing cabinet.  I use the free version and so far, it is adequate for me.  Dropbox allows me to store files and presentations I need to access or share.  Sharing is as simple as sending a link to someone.  I keep forms, active presentations, documents and other information there to be accessed when and where I need it.

Scan Everything – The main scanner I recommend is the Fujitsu Snapscan ($350).  It is portable, scans duplex directly into Evernote and is quite fast.  I often take it with me to meetings and drop things right into it.  You can add tags, send it on it’s way to the digital world and throw away the paper.  For on the go, get GeniusScan for your iPhone and iPad.  It is $5 and does a good job of capturing documents and sending them to Evernote of Dropbox.  When I say scan everything, I mean EVERYTHING!  I went through my files and started scanning old files and documents.  Marriage license, insurance cards, receipts, speaker handouts… everything!

Apps – You will want to have Apple’s Keynote, Pages and Numbers.  You can also now get Micorsoft’s Powerpoint, Excel and Word.  Other Apps I recommend include Penultimate (for free hand drawing), Skype/ GotoMeeting/ Webex (for communication) and Flipboard (for reading).


Calendar everything– I use Google calendar.  It is free, fully functionally and is available on all my devices.  If it’s not on my calendar, it won’t get done.  I include my workout schedule, my kids events, travel time, reading and even dates with my wife.  I use Tripit to easily get my travel itineraries onto my calendar.

Share your calendar – I share my calendar with my work associates and my family.  I use Doodle to share it publicly (see mine HERE).  Doodle allows me to take requests for a brief call or meeting without having to go back and forth on scheduling.  I block off nights, weekends and holidays so my Doodle calendar only shows my true availability.  I also subscribe to my favorite sports team calendars, weather and other events.  Everything in my life runs through my calendar.

Get control of your Email – Email is an enormous time waster!  I am a believer in “InboxZero”.  I start and end everyday with my inbox empty and act on messages three times during the day.  When I look at a message I do one of three things:

1) Reply / act on it
2) Delete it / archive it
3) Forward it to a time when I can act

Boxer is the product I use on my iPhone and iPad to manage email.  It is a well-designed app that allows me to create and assign tasks from an email.  I can also swipe to archive or delete.  Boxer has quick responses that save time in responding and it is fully integrated with Evernote.  One swipe and I can send an email and its attachments straight into Evernote.

If I come across and email I don’t need to act on immediately, I use  FollowUpThen allows me to “send” the email to the future.  For example, if it is something to read, I send it to  I can send an email to someone requesting information and copy and we will bot receive a reminder.  It is my favorite time saving tool! 

Track your time – This was a big one for me.  I analyzed my time and realized I was giving a lot of it away.  While it is good to give time away in service, for a non-profit or helping a friend or family member, that was not my issue.  My time was out of control and I found myself unproductive.  To remedy this, I started tracking everything I did and measured that against the value of that time.  I created my own Key Performance Indicators (KPI) using the free tool at  I measure income against hours and factor in time I donate to charity.  I create time to spend with my family, my friends and for myself (i.e gym).  I work to improve my KPI’s each month.

Find help – Last year, I found myself spending hours trying to create an Excel formula for a spreadsheet I was working on.  After 6 hours of my time I went to and posted the job.  Within hours I had 12 bids to complete the work.  I selected an expert, sent her the files and 12 hours later had exactly what I needed.  The cost was $12.47!  The lesson to me is find someone to do what I cannot, should not or don’t want to do.  To accomplish this I use eLance.  There you will find expert freelancers who can solve almost any problem saving you time.

Social media – The iPad and iPhone are great tools for enhancing productivity.  Find the apps you need to leverage your time.  For social media management and posting I use Buffer.  I read using Flipboard and drop articles to read later into Pocket.  There are tons of time saving apps that help you stay engaged in social media without wasting time.

Create “Digital Downtime” – Your iPhone and iPad are tools for work.  They can also be enormous distractions and eat into your ability to control your time.  I suggest setting aside digital downtime.  Turn your phone off, teach yourself to stop looking at it and most importantly… stop the alerts!  Alerts are a HUGE distraction.  For more on managing distractions click HERE.  

If you believe that what gets measured gets done then you had better start tracking your most important resource, your time.  Good luck in your quest to get control of your time.

Here are a few books I can recommend to help:

The Time Trap by Alec McKenzie

Personal Productivity Secrets by Maura Thomas

Getting Things Done by David Allen

And a few blogs:

Going Paperless by Jamie Todd Rubin

Evernote blog by Evernote

Follow me at for tips on productivity

3 Ways to Set Goals You'll Actually Achieve


Much of 2013 has already passed. Are you happy with what you have accomplished over the last several months? What goals still have to be completed? Can you identify a new goal you have now because your business shifted since the beginning of the year? Taking time to reflect is important to move your business forward.

So, how do you set goals you will actually meet? Here are three powerful steps:

1. Identify what works for you.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. In school we are expected to get high grades in everything we do. But the fact is everyone excels at some things and is less effective at others. Take a personal inventory. Discover your strengths and structure your goals to play to those strengths. For example, perhaps you want to be healthier but hate most exercise and are too busy to find time. However, you love biking. Setting a goal to bike to the office twice a week allows you to move forward in getting healthier, is achievable and integrates an existing strength. (If biking isn't your thing, leave a comment below and I'll drop in with another idea for you!)

2. Figure out what isn't working.
Everyone has weaknesses. By acknowledging our weaknesses we can minimize them. For example, perhaps you struggle with staying on top of business trends. In the past, I spent significant time reviewing the Wall Street Journal and other papers to look for news that affected my clients. When I determined how much time I was spending reading these papers I realized there had to be a better way.

I have programmed Google Alerts to send me notices when articles about topics I care about appear online, in magazines or in the paper, or when authors I follow have published something new. I still get the news I need, but in significantly less time. By identifying what was NOT working as well as I'd like, I was able to identify other systems to get the results I wanted more effectively.

3. Begin where you are.
Have you ever ended a day and thought "Where did all my time go?" There always seems to be more to do than time to do it. Figuring out how you currently use your time is an important step to making your time use more effective.

Right now, figure out where your time goes. Get a piece of paper and write down everything you do from when you wake up until 10 in the morning. Everything. Keep this list with you over the next week and add to it.

Why is this important? When we know what is competing for our time, energy and focus, we can make informed decisions. Once you know what you are currently doing you have the opportunity to "create time." Change what you do and you change what you get.

As you look back on to the start of the year and ahead to its end, remember that by identifying your strengths and reworking your areas of weakness, you can create goals that will not only motivate you, but that you will achieve.

By Jason W. Womack, founder of The Womack Company, a productivity-training firm based in Ojai, Calif. He is author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (Wiley, 2012).


Activity Does Not Always Equal Productivity


By Tony Schwartz

In all likelihood, you get more done today than you ever have before. That’s mostly because you can do so much more, so much faster, wherever you are, through e-mail, texting, instant-messaging, tweeting and posting.

The real issue is whether you’re getting the right things done. That was the most frequent complaint I heard during the three days I spent this week with 200 chief executives at the Conscious Capitalism C.E.O. Summit — more on that in a coming column — and in the conversations I’ve had with leaders over the last year.

So what stands in the way of your being truly productive? By that, I mean finding the right balance between attending to what’s truly urgent and focusing on what’s less pressing but will most likely add the most enduring value.

You need more sleep than you think, and maybe much more

We live by a persistent myth: that one hour less of sleep will give you one more hour of productivity. Instead, what it gives you is one more hour awake, and you are less rested. The near guarantee is that you’ll be progressively less productive over the course of the day.

Even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a powerful toll on our cognitive capacity. A vast trove of research suggests that 95 percent of us need at least seven to eight hours of sleep to feel fully rested. Two and a half percent need more than eight hours, and the final 2.5 percent — or about one out of 40 people — require less than seven hours.

In other words, you’re not likely one of them, even though you may well think you are. According to a sleep researcher, Tom Roth, for example, the percentage of people who require five or fewer hours of sleep to feel fully rested, rounded to a whole number, is zero.

If you get sufficient sleep, the strong likelihood is that you will accomplish more, in less time, at a higher level of quality. It’s the last thing you ought to be sacrificing, not the first.

Do the most important thing first

The pull to e-mail is powerful and Pavlovian. That’s especially so after a night’s worth of new messages have filled your in-box (assuming you weren’t sleeping with your smartphone, and sneaking a peek in the middle of the night).

The vast majority of the messages that accumulate don’t truly demand your immediate attention. Instead, they take up your time and consume your attention at precisely the time of day that most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.

By checking your e-mail first, you effectively turn over your agenda to others. It is far better to decide what your agenda ought to be the night before and make that the first thing you focus on at work, without interruption, for up to 90 minutes.

If you must check e-mail when you get up because there are urgent messages, scan quickly for anything that truly cannot wait an hour. Answer those, ignore the rest, and then do what’s truly most important.

Stop pushing through

Human beings are designed to operate in 90-minute cycles. At night, we move through the five stages of sleep in that time — the Basic Rest Activity Cycle. During the day, we’re guided by our ultradian rhythms, and we move from high physiological alertness toward physiological fatigue in 90-minute intervals.

The consequence is that we operate best when we take intermittent breaks to renew and refuel. Here’s a simple way to think about it: Imagine you’re challenged to do the maximum number of situps you can over 30 minutes. You’re given the choice of doing them continuously until you’re exhausted, or doing them in sets of 5 or 10 with a short period of rest between each one. Do the latter and you’ll generate more situps done, keep better form along the way and feel less tired at the end.

Work in the same way and you’ll be able to focus more intensely for the same reason a sprinter can go all out: you have a finish line in sight. By focusing more intensely for shorter periods, you’ll get more done, in less time, at a higher level of quality, more sustainably.

Get it off your mind

With so much coming at us all the time, it’s hardly surprising that our instinctive default is to do whatever feels most urgent and easiest to address. The consequence, of course, is that we often keep putting off what’s most challenging and then lack the energy to do it by the time we finally get to it.

I believe in lists, first and foremost as a means of downloading everything that’s on your mind to get it off your mind. We each have relatively small working memories and they’re easily overloaded. The less you try to keep straight in your head, the more space there is for you to think clearly and deeply about any given subject that demands your attention.

With that in mind, I keep all my lists in one place. They include what I want to do that day, over the next week, and in the longer term. I also keep a list of e-mails I need to send; calls I intend to make; ideas I want to explore further; issues I want to discuss with specific colleagues; and even things that are making me feel anxious. Once I’ve written something down, I know it will be there when I need it, and so it usually stops preoccupying me. Many times it ends up taking care of itself.

The other value I derive from detailed lists is that they help clarify what I ought not to be focused on. By having everything in one place, I can much more easily decide what’s truly important and what’s not. Half the value of having a list is to make it more obvious what not to do. I might have 50 to 100 items on my lists, but I typically give explicit priority to three or fewer in any given day.

Make it matter

Finally, and simply, ask yourself a simple question before you begin any activity: “Is this the best way I could be spending my time?” If the answer is no, don’t do it.

Reprinted from The New York Times DealBook

Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are

This post really hit home with me.  Over the past few years, I have focused intensely on managing time.  I suffered from the misconception that busyness meant business.  It doesn't.  If you are too busy for your work, your family, your faith, yourself... then something is wrong.  

Take time to read the article below then find resources to help you get control of your time. There is no more valuable asset.  It is irreplaceable, limited and manageable.  Don't fall victim to the belief that being busy means you are getting the right things done in your life and your business.

by Meredith Fineman

We're all just so "busy" these days. "Slammed" in fact. "Buried." Desperately "trying to keep our heads above water." While these common responses to "How are you?" seem like they're lifted from the Worst Case Scenario Handbook, there seems to be a constant exchange, even a a one-upping, of just how much we have on our plates when we communicate about our work. 

My favorite "busy" humble-brag was that of a potential client who apologized for lack of communication due to a "week-long fire drill." What does that even mean? Does this mean there were fake fires, but not real ones, all week? Does calling it a "drill" mean that everything is okay? Is your business in flames? Should I call someone?

Then there was the date I had with a fellow who was so busy "crashing on deadlines" that he asked me to "just make a reservation somewhere" for him. I was floored. 

So much of this is about out-doing each other. To say that "I'm busier than you are" means I'm more important, or that my time is more valuable, or that I am "winning" at some never-finished rat race to Inbox Zero. (Inbox Zero is another absurd contest to tackle at another time.) What you're trying to say with these responses is: I'm busier, more in-demand, more successful. 

Here's the thing: it's harming how we communicate, connect, and interact. Everyone is busy, in different sorts of ways. Maybe you have lots of clients, or are starting a new business, or are taking care of a newborn. The point is this: with limited time and unlimited demands on that time, it's easy to fill your plate with activities constantly. But this doesn't mean that you should. 

To assume that being "busy" (at this point it has totally lost its meaning) is cool, or brag-worthy, or tweetable, is ridiculous. By lobbing these brags, endlessly puffing our shoulders about how "up to my neck" we are, we're missing out on important connections with family and friends, as well as personal time. In addition to having entire conversations about how busy we are, we fail to share feelings with friends and family, ask about important matters, and realize that the "busy" is something that can be put on hold for a little while.

I am not trying to belittle anyone's work-load in the slightest. But in using it as a one-upping mechanism, we're failing to connect in a very substantial way. And we're making the problem worse: When everyone around us is "slammed," it's easy to feel guilty if we're not slaving away on a never-ending treadmill of toil. By trying to compete about it, we're only adding to that pool of water everyone seems to be constantly "treading" in. And all this complaining is having serious effects on our mental health. 

And yet we continue to use long hours as a sort of macho badge of honor.

We need to work smart, not (just) hard.

Just because you clocked 15 hours at your office, with likely dry eyeballs and a complete lack of focus, doesn't mean you've accomplished things in a smart way. Many people have written or spoken about this. Typically, you have 90-120 minutes before you devolve into internet fodder or social media. If you're putting in 15 straight hours at your desk, without breaks, how good is your output? How much time are you wasting?

The distinction between working hard versus smart has hit me as an entrepreneur. In high school and college I was always that girl who read all the assigned reading (and no, I was not giving you my study guide). I created outlines, outlines of outlines, and then flashcards. One of my greatest lessons as a businessperson has been to throw out that skill set. This isn't to say you shouldn't be diligent or that you should half-heartedly execute, but rather, that it's crucial to know what you have to do as opposed to everything you could do. It's about being strategic. 

For once, I'd like to hear someone brag about their excellent time management skills, rather than complain about how much they can't get done. Maybe we could learn something from each other.

In fact, I'll start — here are three tactics I've been using to work smarter:

Constrain the time. The more I constrain my time, the more focused and productive I feel, and the less I waste time on low-priority work. If you can only afford to spend 45 minutes on a certain project, then only spend 45 minutes on it — and move on, even if it isn't perfect.

Use a scheduler. If you're really up to your neck, it's very easy to find a scheduler, virtual or otherwise, to help put things on your calendar. Sometimes it's a matter of freeing up that time used for coordinating plans to actually doing them. Zirtual is a great answer to this. As is the DIY scheduler Doodle.

Cut the fat. Once I cut out superfluous meetings that were not: fun, productive, leading to new business, or really had something wonderful in it for me professional or otherwise, that plate emptied a little bit. (Here's a tool for figuring out what to cut.)

Yes, we all have some strange need to out-misery each other. Acknowledging that is a first step. But next time you speak to a friend and want to lament about how busy you are, ask yourself why. Try steering the conversation away from a complain-off. With some practice you might find yourself actually feeling less "buried" (or at least feeling less of a need to say it all the time).

And maybe that's something worth bragging about.


Meredith Fineman is a publicist and writer living in Washington, DC. She is the founder and principal of FinePoint Digital PR

How to Stay Productive While on the Road


In 2012, I sat through 135 commercial flights and spent 195 nights in hotels around the world. Having the ability to focus on priorities while I'm traveling is critical to my own productivity. Getting things done can't only happen at my office.

All too often, people lose the productive edge due to the stress of work and travel. With a little bit of forethought, you can make travel time your most productive time.

Here are four ways I make sure to stay productive while on the road:

1. Put all event details on your portable calendar.
Over the past 12 years I've traveled a lot and I continually see people stressed out in lines at airports or frustrated at hotel front desk clerks because they don't have their travel information on hand.

With information for things like flights, hotels and car rentals easily at hand in case I need it, I can focus on priorities like client work, strategic thinking and article writing.

The way I do this is by formatting calendar entries to include everything I might need when checking into a hotel, for example, or arriving at the airport. If I'm catching an 8 a.m. flight to New York, my calendar entry reads: "8am AA#34 LAX-JFK rl#: GUA37W." (That is: departure time, airline and flight number, departure-destination and record locator number.)

2. Keep all your ideas in one place.
You achieve massive results in your business based on the ideas and possibilities you notice and develop. Do that more efficiently and you can decide what to focus on most effectively. It's easy to lose track of ideas that come to you when you're on the go.

For years now, I've used, which offers an app that allows you to keep track of pictures, notes or sound-bites all in one place. When I collect someone's business card, jot something on a bar napkin, take notes in a meeting or even write on a flip chart, I snap a smartphone picture and email it to my Evernote account.

3. Use keyboard shortcuts to type less and say (a lot) more.
Being on the road means I have even less time to follow up on emails. I've set up keyboard shortcuts on my iPhone and use a similar application called TypeIt4Me on my laptop. Using keyboard shortcuts, two or three letter macros expand into words, sentences and even paragraphs to answer the most frequently asked questions I receive.

Here are just a few shortcuts I suggest you set up immediately:

  • em: email address (I haven't typed those 22 characters in years!)
  • mo: my mobile phone #
  • tu: thank you
  • sig: your complete signature to add to the end of emails. (Consider making sig1, sig2, sig3 to have different levels of information to send as appropriate.)

I even have a keyboard shortcut -- "nmp" -- that auto-magically becomes a 374-word email with an article titled, "No More Procrastination."

According to my computer stats, I've used 15,022 abbreviations, saving me a total of 2,853,202 keystrokes over the past five years. Even at one keystroke a second, that's given me back "about" 790 hours of time.

4. Stay offline while flying home.
When I'm flying back home to Los Angeles, I stay off the airplane's Wi-Fi. Instead, I write emails throughout the flight. My goal: When I land, I've written 100 forward-motion and catch-up emails, knowing those will go out when I connect to the internet.

I use Apple Mail so that I can do this offline with full access to all my folders. I often get twice as much work done on a plane as I would in my office because I'm not online.

Getting that much accomplished on my trip back gives me the freedom to really enjoy being home -- the greatest gift of all.

Mission Possible: How to Finally Wake Up Earlier

by  via @inc

Not a natural lark? People have probably been hectoring you to get up earlier since high school. Here's how to finally reset your waking time.

Coffee MorningIt's personal productivity month here on, and the site is chockablock with great tips to get more done. Among all this advice, you may have noticed a near perfect consensus on one point: You really should get up earlier.

This probably isn't news to you. If you're not a natural lark, most likely people have been hectoring you (or you've been hectoring yourself) to wake up earlier since high school. If it were so simple, you would have done it already.

So, after all the years and all the failed attempts, how can you actually get yourself out of bed earlier?   

Kick Your Snooze Addiction

I know you love it. Everyone loves it—Snooze is probably the most beloved button in America—but according to blogger Meredith Jaeger, like most things that feel so good, it's actually bad for you. And addictive. "Let’s face it, if you hit Snooze even once, you’re going to hit it again. The damn thing is addictive. It’s sort of like, 'Oh, I’ll only have one beer.' (We all know that never happens)," she writes.

So, it's time to take drastic measures to kick the habit. Put the alarm clock where you can't blearily whack it when it goes off. Across the room maybe, or if you have it really bad for your buddy the Snooze button, more elaborate tech solutions are on offer. Here's an app that forces you to violently shake your phone to make it shut up, or how about this alarm clock that runs away from you?

A Teaspoon of Honey

The first tip is all about tough love, but give yourself some sweetness to help that bitter medicine go down. Don't choose an alarm sound that enrages you. You have a choice as to what will be the first sensation you experience each day, after all. Is grating, repetitive beeping really what you want to choose?

Even better than a less gruesome alarm tone may be using light to wake you up. The underlying lesson is not to settle for your default sound. "I started using a cell phone as my alarm clock and quickly realized that different ringtones irritated me less but worked just as well to wake me up. I now use the ringtone alarm as a backup for my bedside lamp plugged in to a timer," writes Lifehack's Seth Simonds, who concludes: "Experiment a bit and see what works best for you."

Also consider further carrots to lure you from the embrace of your comforter. Or in other words, don't be ashamed of self-bribery! It worked for writer Jeff Goins. "Don’t drive yourself with guilt about why you have to wake up early…motivate yourself by doing something fun in the morning," he says. "Play some games or indulge in some leisure reading." If that still doesn't work, then "you can also keep track of your progress and reward yourself when you reach a milestone," he says. This system works to get toddlers to behave, so it may even work on your grumpy, morning self.

Fight the Battle at Night

As you've read this far, we've already established you're not a natural early riser. So why are you fighting the good fight to wake up earlier when you're at your worst, i.e., in the morning?

"I understood the benefits of waking up early. I made plans to wake up early," confesses Goins, "but that discipline was gone in the morning. The groggy person hitting the Snooze button wasn’t the same clear-thinking person that had set the alarm the night before. When I realized waking up early is a battle fought on two fronts, everything changed." He began taking steps, like those outlined above, at night to force his hand when he was feeling weak-willed in the morning.

These three principles should get you started, but there's plenty more advice out there. Business Insider's Vivian Giang offers seven solid tips, while author Laura Vanderkam wrote an entire book on the hows and whys of waking up early.

5 Productivity Tips From Mark Twain

mark twainPopular pictures of Mark Twain show the American man of letters in a relaxed slump, enjoying a cigar, and sheepishly scanning a warm summer afternoon in a comfortable, white linen suit. A calm, restful smile resides on Twain’s lips and his wild, white hair appears to have recently departed from a goose feather pillow.

On first glance, Twain doesn’t seem like a very productive soul, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The fact is Twain was a steady, consistent, and productive writer who tirelessly worked on his craft. There’s a reason why Hemingway called Twain’s most popular book, Huckleberry Finn, the root of all modern American literature.

Twain’s impressive work rate is the result of his happy outlook on life and his unique principles. Even if you aren’t a writer, the following list of Twain’s productivity tips will help you work harder and smarter:

1. Don’t be a perfectionist:

Twain observed, “I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.” Twain didn’t let misspellings and rules of grammar get in the way of his storytelling. He believed in telling simple, humorous tales. Twain left the editing to the editors. This carefree attitude spurred his creativity and let him develop his own style that wasn’t beholden to established rules of fiction

Don’t waste all of your time editing and making things perfect. Give yourself time to be sloppy, creative, and messy. It gives you the opportunity to express yourself without barriers. You can edit, retool, and tweak later.

2. Mind your company:

Productivity isn’t always about waking up early, setting a schedule and trying your best to ignore your email and phone. Sometimes it boils down to confidence and Twain believed only certain people inspire self-assurance.  Twain writes, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Ignore the naysayers, the cynics, and the folks who are always sucking their teeth whenever a new idea is brought up. They are the “small people” and all they want from you is to join them in their misery. You must associate with people who allow, encourage, and demand big dreams.

3. Laugh at work:

Everyone has their favorite Twain joke. Mine is, “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”

Twain knew that humor, jokes, and laughter soothed many headaches and ills. “Humor is the great thing,” Twain writes, “the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

If you have a mountain of work and stress dogs your daily life than take time to seek out humor. Laughter will help you relax. Once you’re relaxed you can get back to work with more clarity and focus.

4. Develop good habits with incremental steps:

Twain knew that good habits are hard to acquire. While it’s easy to say you’ll get up early and visit the gym, it’s another thing completely to obey your screeching alarm clock before the sun begins its day.

Twain had a hack to instill good habits and it goes as follows, “Do something every day that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.”

He went on to observe, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by man, but coaxed downstairs, a step at a time.”

Twain knew that one can’t simply pull a positive habit out of the blue. Good habits have to be worked at incrementally.

Twain also writes, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex and overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Don’t jolt your system into new, better habits. Gradually work your way into them so they stick.

5. Don’t follow conventional wisdom:

Twain didn’t believe in dieting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. He smoked cigars, he drank, and he didn’t believe in abstaining from fattening foods.

When it came to cigars he had an especially large appetite. He writes, “I ordinarily smoke fifteen cigars during my five hours’ labors.” It is not exactly a habit one should replicate, but it illustrates that Twain allowed himself small pleasures while he went about his work.

There’s no rule forbidding yourself from small pleasures while you toil over your projects. Faced with a monumental task one should bear down and get to work while allowing for the odd indulgence.

After all, Twain writes, “There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.”

What’s All the Fuss About Evernote? Should I Be Using It?

I absolutely love Evernote!  Here is an excellent post from Lifehacker with reasons you too should be using Evernote...

by  Melanie Pinola

Dear Lifehacker,
It seems like everyone is always raving about Evernote, but I don't really understand its appeal. Isn't it just a notes app that other apps do better or simpler? What's makes Evernote so great?

Just don't get it

Dear Just,
You're not alone. I think the world might be divided into two groups: Those who love Evernote and those who don't (or, at least, don't understand why so many people love Evernote). Evernote is a cross-platform app that serves many purposes—it can be your digital file cabinet, note-taking tool, daily journal, task or project management system, recipe-keeper, and more. Because it has so many uses and different features, Evernote can both appeal to a lot of people and feel like overkill to others. (Our own Adam Pash has written about why he can't get into apps like Evernote because he prefers apps that do just one thing well.)

Although few other Lifehacker editors use the app, many How I Work guests and Lifehacker readers also love (and I meanlove) Evernote. Heck, I use it myself. We asked our Evernote fans why they loved it so much, and here's what they said.

It's a Universal Inbox: Store Anything You Can Imagine in One Place

What's All the Fuss About Evernote? Should I Be Using It?Evernote integrates with just about everything. It has browser extensions that allow you to save a web page—in its entirety—in one click for future reference. A dedicated Evernote email address lets you forward emails, tweets, or any other type of content to any of your Evernote notebooks. Also, IFTTT (If This Then That) support means you can automatically send content from other services (e.g., Gmail or Google Reader or Pocket) to your Evernote account. If nothing else, you could use Evernote to archive your digital life.

Evernote can thus serve are your "everything" inbox. Thanks to its cross-platform support (desktop apps, web apps, mobile apps) you really can offload all of your reference materials, ideas, to do tasks, or other digital items to Evernote and never worry about where you've collected all those random bits of information. It's one container to store them all. Evernote's search is good enough that you can retrieve all those docs quickly, but it also has great notebook and tagging organization (more on that in a bit) that really make it stand out.

Jay G. says:

I use Evernote for EVERYTHING. I use it for my daily journal. I use it with IFTTT to save all starred items in Google Reader to save interesting articles for future reference. I scan all donation and other important receipts by scanning and emailing. I use it to organize projects with quotes, ideas, snippets from the web, and typed notes. I use it to store all digital manuals and instructions for various electronics around the home. I also use it to save favorite tweets (again with IFTTT). I use it to store teaching notes, discussion ideas, etc. I use it to reference personal documents, contracts, medical documents, etc.

That's just off the top of my head, but these would be the most common uses. I am a Pastor of a church and I find this tool indispensable.

Chris K. writes:

I use Evernote every day. I'm a consultant and often meet with clients to discuss designs. It may be weeks or months in between meetings. Evernote makes it easy to catch right back up where we left off. By synching between my MAC and my Droid I can even get caught up while I'm waiting in the lobby 5 minutes before a meeting. And I can share the notes with my peers.

Basically, you can dump everything in there—from written or typed notes to photo snapshots or videos to voice recordings—and count on retrieving them later either with the reliable search or your own tagging/notebook organization.

It's Digitizes Your Physical Notes and Backs Them Up in The Cloud

Because of its multi-platform support and OCR feature, Evernote also helps people who just want to go paperless. Mike U. says:

I can answer it simply that it helps the unorganized get organized.
Being an Evernote premium subscriber, I use the additional upload capacity to scan receipts, bills and letters, share household notebooks with my spouse, scan our kids artwork and tag it with date/event/grade. Additionally, I use it as a repository for documentation (read:work) in searchable PDF format.
It is totally the one tool I use every day multiple times a day.

There has been numerous times I've been on a call and needed something like insurance information, and it was easily retrieved, because everything goes into Evernote.

Evernote can quickly turn photos and scanned pics into notes—and also decipher the text in those photos. (The Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine is a nice marriage of the analog and digital.)

It's Great for Task/GTD Management

Productivity consultant Daniel Gold says he uses Evernote as a "life management tool":

It allows me to leverage it as a document management tool to incubate all my reference related materials (both scanned papers and electronic) with my action items. With note linking, I can connect the dots between tasks and reference items. Add in saved searches and I can quickly filter through projects and tasks to focus on what must absolutely go right in order for me to be more productive & successful.

Even though Evernote lacks the typical trappings of a to-do list manager (e.g., reminders and checkboxes), it can be a worthy replacement if you set up a system for using it.


Evernote templates make it easy to turn Evernote into a project/GTD tool, but perhaps the most thorough GTD Evernote system is previously mentioned The Secret Weapon. TSW takes advantage of some of Evernote's unique features: multiple tags selection (e.g., quickly find: ".Active Project," "2-Next," "@Work") and email integration.


Whether you use a structure like The Secret Weapon with Evernote, Evernote could manage your tasks and projects, thanks to the easy email integration, tagging capabilities, and also notebook sharing (for collaborative project management).

It Rocks for Note-Taking, Whether Simple or Detailed

A lot of people also use Evernote as a note-taking tool and for studying or reading. The app has built-in audio capture support and integrates with tools like the LiveScribe digital pen (great for students and constant meeting attendees).

Personally, I find the note-taking to be a bit slow and cumbersome on Evernote. If I want to just quickly jot a note down, it's not the best tool for the job (except for the fact that it's a great universal inbox, as above). I think this sort of dissatisfaction with easy note-taking and syncing is why a lot of Lifehacker editors have resorted to simpler solutions like using plain text files and Dropbox. (I'm defaulting to index cards.)

Still, Lifehacker reader feedback suggests many of you are also using Evernote not just as a digital file cabinet but as a digital notebooks or notepads. Nathan A., a graduate research student in chemistry at the University of York (UK), uses Evernote as an electronic lab notebook:

Each experiment I do has a dedicated note for it, and on the note I note down the COSHH/risk assessment information, safety procedures, procedures and any references I've used. ... After the experiment, I copy up my observations, measurements etc from the lab book into the Note. This is great as it means I can write my reports with full access to my notes, and easily share a copy with my Academic or the rest of the research group.

It might sound a little laborious, but it ensures a contaminant-free 'paper trail' and it makes writing reports up a whole lot easier.

Matthew B. uses it to quickly note milestones in his son's life. And Zef C. uses Evernote to jot down recipe ingredients.

Many readers said they liked Evernote's ability to not only sync across all devices and organize with tags, but preserve the note creation date. And Grad student Andy K. says Evernote comes in handy when you have to compile multiple media formats into one cohesive format. (Also, did we mention it was free for all this multimedia archiving/recording goodness?)

It Works as a Digital Reference System, Great for Research Work or Archiving Material

I use Evernote as a digital file cabinet and also as a place to offload and organize ideas. The web clipping browser extension works really well (although sometimes it makes me wait longer than I want to). Instead of saving just the URL, like Springpad does, Evernote saves the full article and the URL—which is great for reference purposes. With multiple tags selection and the ability to link notes together, Evernote is the ultimate reference system. As frequent Lifehacker contributor Shep McAllister says, it's great for doing research and highlighting how different things are connected.

It Allows for Multiple Special Notebooks

You could put Evernote to any task that involves archiving, journaling, or otherwise recording information.

Adam R. says:

Evernote is perfect for a beer drinking history of the different microbrews I have had. I include pictures of each bottle or glass of beer along with tasting notes for each one.

I also use it for work items I need with me everywhere I go, including IP addresses, network ID's and server names. Easily searchable and hasn't failed me yet.

Others use Evernote to preserve their:

  • Meeting notes
  • Client/project notes
  • Home contractor phone numbers
  • Songs (chords, tablature, etc.)
  • Technical knowledgebase
  • Travel plans
  • Motivational quotes
  • Usernames and passwords (I might think twice about that)
  • Recipes
  • Important (e.g., kids' medical) documents
  • Bucket list

There are many other ways to record information, but perhaps really none as feature-rich and universally accessible as Evernote. There are tons of plugins for Evernote too, so you can pretty much mold it to your exact needs.

Those are the main reasons/ways all of us are using Evernote. It's not without its flaws (Alexio R. has a love/hate relationship with the app because of its automatic formatting), but it's like the Swiss Army knife of capture tools.


Thanks to everyone who chimed in about their Evernote use!

How to run your business in Evernote

I have become hooked on Evernote thanks to my friend Tim.  Now I use it in both my business and personal life, on every device, everyday.  Here is a useful article to help get you started. 


Evernote isn’t a revolution. Like most of the technology products we tend to use regularly in our daily lives, Evernote is an evolution, a collection of good ideas that rolls
into a single program the functionality of a half-dozen apps you would otherwise use separately.

Evernote was designed for individuals, but businesses have been adopting it in increasing numbers, finding unique ways to put it to use. Evernote itself has taken notice of this, and later this year it will be launching Evernote for Business, which could elevate Evernote’s business utility even further.

Meanwhile, if you’re new to Evernote, or are just dipping your toes into it, here’s how to put the little app that could to its best use.

Evernote's desktop app syncs with its mobile and browser counterparts.

Get started with Evernote

Evernote is a hybrid system of offline and cloud-based features. You’ll need to create an account when you first download Evernote; you can then install the software just about anywhere. In fact, the more places you install it, the more useful it becomes. Evernote is available for the Mac and Windows and all mobile platforms, so no matter how multi-platform you are when you work, there’s nothing keeping you from running Evernote on every device.

Evernote’s core functionality is in storing your notes and keeping them organized and synchronized, in real time, among all your devices. It pays to understand a bit about Evernote’s terminology, which isn’t always intuitive, before you start filling the app up with content.

In Evernote terms, every page you create is its own Note. Notes are most useful when organized into various Notebooks, essentially a folder full of notes. Setting up notebooks tends to be easier on a computer than in a mobile app, so it’s a good idea to configure your notebooks ahead of time on a PC, even if you leave them empty to start. A group of notebooks is a Stack. Just drag one notebook to another to automatically create a stack. (Right-click to rename it.)

For example, if you used Evernote to keep an archive of payroll, each paycheck would be a note, each employee would be a notebook, and various classes of employees (full-time, part-time, contractor) might be a stack.

Add tags by clicking the appropriate box above the note itself.

Add content

When you create a note, you can give it multiple Tags, by clicking the “Click to add tag” button in Windows or the Info button (an i in a circle) in the mobile app. Tags are especially useful when you’re embedding nontext content, since everything in Evernote is searchable. They’re most useful when you have common but more general terms that you might want to search across all of your notebooks: “2012 taxes,” “personal,” or “urgent,” for example. Adding content from within the mobile app may be less intuitive than it should be to new users. To create a note on the go, navigate to the notebook you want to work in, then click the oversized plus-sign (+) button at the bottom of the screen.

Speaking of adding content, one of Evernote’s major features is that you can add all types of content to the archive, not just text. The program supports PDFs, images, audio recordings, sketches (with the Skitch plug-in), webpages (with the Web Clipperbrowser plug-in), and more. Evernote has a rich plug-in ecosystem, which you can explore on the Evernote homepage if you want to delve even further into special types of content.

Share content

Finally, we come to Evernote's marquee feature: Sharing. Everything you create in Evernote is automatically shared with your various installations of the software unless you specify otherwise when creating a notebook. (Note that you can't change this behavior later.) By default Evernote synchronizes all installations of the software every 30 minutes;  or, you can press F9 to initiate a manual sync.

You can also share content with other Evernote users. The easiest way to do this is to right-click a notebook and select Share Notebook. You’ll be prompted to enter email addresses or to create a public link to the notebook that is accessible via the Web. After accepting the invitation, the recipient will find the shared notebook under the Shared tab on the left-hand navigation pane in Evernote. Note: To share notebooks with full read/write access, the owner of the notebook must be a Premium user ($5 a month), which comes with additional features like extra content and the ability to make text within PDFs searchable. Otherwise, notebooks are shared as read-only.

Now that you’ve got a handle on the basics, it’s time to put your new Evernote skills to better use. Here are some ways that small business owners are elevating Evernote beyond the obvious.

Upgrade your note-taking

At its core Evernote is a juiced-up note-taking system, but you can get more out of it if you make use of the software’s multimedia capabilities. Joey Price, CEO of Jumpstart:HR, says, “I record the audio of client meetings while jotting down notes in real time. We manage a lot of different clients, and sometimes taking notes in shorthand isn't enough. Being able to replay the audio back once I've left helps me re-immerse in my thought process and generate new ideas to help our clients.”

Archive essential emails

Storing email permanently in a webmail folder or within Outlook is usually fine, but it means you have to have access to your inbox in order to read it. Evernote gives you a couple of options for upgrading the way email is archived. First, Outlook users can use the “Add to Evernote 4” button that appears in the toolbar to send the full text of an email to Evernote as a note at the touch of a button.

Not an Outlook user? Use the “email to Evernote” capability to send any message directly to Evernote. When you create your account, Evernote assigns you a custom email address to use. Just forward notes or received messages to this address, and they’ll automatically be converted into notes behind the scenes.

Forget about that receipts shoebox. Evernote digitizes and filters receipts with OCR.

Keep tabs on inventory

Evernote may not be robust enough to replace your inventory-management software, but it’s an excellent tool for keeping tabs on the various items you sell, along with basic pricing information. If your business involves a smaller number of SKUs, you can even use Evernote as a way to showcase your wares from any device. Just add a photo, details, and prices, and Evernote turns into a handy mobile portfolio that you can update anytime.

Collaborate on projects

Building an agenda for a meeting either with staff or with clients is usually a tedious, email-based affair. But share a notebook from within Evernote, and the process becomes much more collaborative. Agendas can be built and refined on the fly right up until the meeting begins. Brainstorming sessions can take place asynchronously, and each participant can add notes whenever the mood strikes them instead of being limited to a single brainstorming session. Got a big event to plan? Evernote can keep a dozen subcontractors on the same page.

Integrate with Getting Things Done

Evernote is a natural tool for the productivity obsessed, and while you can probably figure out how to add it into a Getting Things Done workflow, one Web programmer has done the heavy lifting for you, thanks to this 15-minute configuration guide. It's definitely worth a look if you’re a GTD freak.

One Evernote user captures all check pay stubs sent to employees for an easy archive.

Track expenses, pay employees, and prep for taxes

No, Evernote can’t cut a check, but it can keep tabs on who got paid what. Justin Lugbill of Lugbill Designs uses Evernote to replace the shoebox full of receipts. You can scan or take a snapshot of each receipt, and then save it to Evernote. Says Lugbill, “Every receipt that I get, whether it’s paper or an email confirmation, I forward to my Evernote account.” Different expense categories each get their own notebook, and employees have their pay stubs archived and organized in separate notebooks, so Lugbill can easily look up any given check. The end result looks more like a bookkeeper’s chart of accounts than a to-do list. 

Archive analog notes for posterity

The conference rooms of the world are covered with whiteboard notes that are promptly erased by the evening cleaning crew, just as many a hotel bar is littered with note-covered cocktail napkins that are swept away into the trash. No one wants to have to be the guy who copies this information down into digital form, and with Evernote you don’t have to. Jesse Waites of says he snaps photos of anything drawn or hand-written outside the office and drops the picture into Evernote. As noted earlier, Evernote can convert handwriting in PDFs into plain text for you. It even scans images for text and saves that text separately.

Stash software keys

What do you do with all those software keys you get for registering purchased and downloaded software? If you’re ultra-organized, you might save them in a file that you store on your computer… which you have to hope you remember to back up or print out before you wipe your hard drive (at which point you may actually want to use them again). Simple solution: Forward all registration-code emails to Evernote and drop them all into a notebook, and you’ll never lose them again.

Store business cards in Evernote. OCR turns text into usable, searchable data.

Remember a name

Business cards have a nasty tendency to end up in stacks (or the trash), which makes them virtually useless to both the giver and the receiver. Evernote makes for a great repository for contact information. Just snap a picture of the card, and let Evernote’s OCR go to work. Add notes and tags to remind you why exactly this person was important. Alternatively, you can use Evernote Hello, which, while it isn’t specifically designed with business cards in mind, does let you use Evernote as a sort of souped-up contact manager.

Spy on competitors

David Handmaker of Next Day Flyers says Evernote makes competitive analysis on the Web easy. “I’m also a huge fan of Skitch [the Evernote add-on that lets you edit and annotate screenshots and images]. I, along with many of my team members, use it frequently to take screenshots of our website or our competitor’s sites, and we mark it up to highlight important information. The functionality and ease of use is fantastic. Plus it saves our company money, as now we don’t have to buy as many Photoshop licenses for the team.”


The Only Way to Get Important Things Done via @HarvardBiz

I found this post very helpful.  Like most people, time management and "getting things done" is a challenge.  This post has practical ideas that are easily implemented...

The Only Way to Get Important Things Done

By Tony Schwartz

"How can I get 7-8 hours of sleep when I'm with my kids from the moment I arrive home, and I need some time for myself before bed?"

"How can I find time to exercise when I have to get up early in the morning and I'm exhausted by the time I get home in the evening?"

"How can I possibly keep up when I get 200 emails a day?"

"When is there time to think reflectively and strategically?"

These are the sorts of plaintive questions I'm asked over and over again when I give talks these days, whether they're at companies, conferences, schools, hospitals or government agencies.

Most everyone I meet feels pulled in more directions than ever, expected to work longer hours, and asked to get more done, often with fewer resources. But in these same audiences, there are also, invariably, a handful of people who are getting things done, including the important stuff, and somehow still managing to have a life.

What have they figured out that the rest of their colleagues have not?

The answer, surprisingly, is not that they have more will or discipline than you do. The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying toresist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you'll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

"Acts of choice," the brilliant researcher Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have concluded, "draw on the same limited resource used for self-control." That's especially so in a world filled more than ever with potential temptations, distractions and sources of immediate gratification.

At the Energy Project, we help our clients develop something we call rituals — highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, so they eventually become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline.

The proper role for your pre-frontal cortex is to decide what behavior you want to change, design the ritual you'll undertake, and then get out of the way. "It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing," the philosopher A.N. Whitehead explained back in 1911. "The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them."

Indeed many great performers aren't even consciously aware that's what they've done. They've built their rituals intuitively.

Over the past decade, I've built a series of rituals into my everyday life, in order to assure that I get to the things that are most important to me — and that I don't get derailed by the endlessly alluring trivia of everyday life.

Here are the five rituals that have made the biggest difference to me:

  • Abiding by a specific bedtime to ensure that I get 8 hours of sleep. Nothing is more critical to the way I feel every day. If I'm flying somewhere and know I'll arrive too late to get my 8 hours, I make it a priority to make up the hours I need on the plane.
  • Work out as soon as I wake up. I've long since learned it has a huge impact all day long on how I feel, even if I don't initially feel like doing it.
  • Launching my work day by focusing first on whatever I've decided the night before is the most important activity I can do that day. Then taking a break after 90 minutes to refuel. Today — which happens to be a Sunday — this blog was my priority. My break was playing tennis for an hour. During the week it might be just to breathe for five minutes, or get something to eat.
  • Immediately writing down on a list any idea or task that occurs to me over the course of the day. Once it's on paper, it means I don't walk around feeling preoccupied by it — or risk forgetting it.
  • Asking myself the following question any time I feel triggered by someone or something,: "What's the story I'm telling myself here and how could I tell a more hopeful and empowering story about this same set of facts?"

Obviously, I'm human and fallible, so I don't succeed at every one of these, every day. But when I do miss one, I pay the price, and I feel even more pulled to it the next day.

A ritual, consciously created, is an expression of fierce intentionality. Nothing less will do, if you're truly determined to take control of your life.

The good news is that once you've got a ritual in place, it truly takes on a life of its own.


Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook and connect with Tony at