10 Must-Follow Productivity Gurus and Their Top Tips

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Leadership is so last year. Productivity is the business topic that everyone’s attention is (pun intended) focused on. Managing information overload, and making sense out of data is the key skill for knowledge workers. So who are the experts? We’ve compiled a list of the productivity heroes that you need to track if you want to raise your productivity game, looking at those who help with motivation, filtering information, and creating good productivity work habits.

The Motivators

Before you get down to business, figure out what you’re doing and why. Here are three gurus who know how to get focused.

1. Daniel Pink

Big idea?
Pink has focused in on the engine that turns the wheels of productivity: Motivation. In his bestselling book Drive, he dispels the old school motivational blunt instruments of carrot (bonus, promotion) and stick (their opposites). Based on research across four decades, Pink says true motivation comes from three things:

  • Autonomy: wanting to be in control of your destiny
  • Mastery: wanting to get progressively better at a task or discipline
  • Purpose: wanting to belong to a goal greater than yourself

Teams that recognise this give their employees freedom to explore things on their own terms (Google, Zappos, 37 Signals). People generate better results, are happier and stay there.

Key read: Drive

TL,DR – short version?

Top tip for right now?
Want to be more productive? Start with bigger questions.To be productive isn’t really an innate goal, it is a means to achieving goals you care about. So figure out what your purpose is – as Pink puts it, every great person is a sentence – for example “Lincoln Ended Slavery”, “My Mother taught three generations to read and write.” What’s your sentence? Then his second big question: “Was I better today than yesterday?” Ask every day and your potential for productivity will be focused on the right things.

dan tip

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2. Carol Dweck

Big idea?
Do you believe you’re born with a certain amount of intelligence? Some people just have it, while others don’t? Or do you believe that everyone has the capacity to learn and improve? It’s the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, has made a life’s work of looking at why some people are more resilient, exploratory and willing to learn than others. It’s all down to Mindset, she claims. Along with Drive, Mindset is the book to read to get your head in the right place to be productive.

Key read: Mindset

TL,DR – short version?

Top tip for right now?
Want to be more productive? Make sure you’re open to learning and improving by checking your mindset – and open your filters to let new ideas in. The opposite of the growth mindset is to live in an echo chamber, where your opinions are reinforced and no new views come through.

carol tip

Anders Pink insight: Our new app is all about helping you stay on top of new ideas in your field – filtering and following key experts and being open to new ideas from them.

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3. Cal Newport

Big idea?
So you’ve settled your mindset, you’re in Drive mode, and off you go to be productive. Right after you check this email. And maybe a quick look at your Twitter feed… Newport’s all about pulling us back to focus on Deep Work: The ability to block distractions, focus and concentrate. It’s the only way to produce work of lasting value, and he sees it as the skill most in demand at a time when it’s most threatened by Shallow Work (emails, meetings, low level research and all social media). If you can do deep work, you might not be replaced by a robot. Motivating enough?

Key Read: Deep Work

TL,DR: short version?
Here’s our review.

Top tip for right now?
Want to be more productive? Focus on high value creative tasks, stay out of the shallow responsive activities. They’re easy to default to, but they don’t create any value. In particular, stay off social media unless you can make a very strong case for how it improves your work.

cal tip

Anders Pink insight: Our app can help you stay out of shallow social media flicking through intelligent filters that let you control the quality of information you receive.

Follow Cal:
Not easy, Newport has no social profiles (because that’s Shallow, you see)

The Processors

Once you know what you’re doing, you’ve got to work the right way. Here are some heavy process hitters.

4. David Allen

Big idea?
Allen is the daddy of the productivity gurus. His book Getting Things Done sets out detailed methods for increasing your efficiency. It has a simple 5 step process to getting more control:

  1. Capture – use a closed loop system for collecting all the projects and tasks you face
  2. Clarify – What is all this stuff? Is it actionable? If not, file or trash it. If it’s actionable, Can you do it in 2 minutes? then do it. If not, delegate or schedule time to do it.
  3. Organise – Allen’s heavy on to-do lists at different levels, e.g. for calls, research projects.
  4. Reflect – review your list and systems – Do at least a weekly review to stay up to date and make sure you’re productive on the right things
  5. Engage – Just do it. Listen to your own energy levels and decide what’s right at this moment. Nobody can tell you whether you should email Jack, call Jill or write the proposal right now. You decide (autonomy at play) .

Key Read: Getting Things Done

TL, DR: short version?

Top tip for right now?
Aim to make your “mind like water.” That’s Allen’s phrase for not letting to-do lists or nagging tasks fill up your precious mind. Use a system to capture and prioritise them, then focus on being ready for inspiration, or more actively, consuming and acting on valuable information that helps to move your key projects forward. “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them” as he says.

david tip

Anders Pink insight: Tracking new ideas through the new Anders Pink App means you save the time you and colleagues would otherwise spend checking multiple social media sources. More time to do the stuff that matters.

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5. Tim Ferriss

Big idea?
Tim Ferriss was the first of a new breed of productivity gurus. His bestselling book The Four Hour Work Week sets out a mantra for doing more in less time. Some of the tips you’ll have heard before: Only work on what makes you passionate, outsource low value tasks to a virtual PA – but you’ve heard them before because he said it first. Beyond the book, Tim has really come into his own through his blog and podcast. He’s obsessed with high performers, in any field, and in each episode he deconstructs what they do to find insights for the rest of us. It’s must listen stuff. Makes you go faster at the gym (unscientifically tested by our team).

Key Read: The Four Hour WorkWeek for starters, the Tim Ferriss Show podcast for the main course

TL,DR: short version?

Top tip for right now?
Stop checking your email so regularly. Email is about what other people want, not what you should be focusing on. Consider setting up auto responses to let people know answers to FAQs and other information to help them, and let them know you only check a few times a day, so don’t expect a fast response. (sounds a bit aggressive, but works in some cases).

tim tip

Anders Pink insight: We want you to get a lot less email too – particular of the “Found this link, kind of interesting…” variety. You won’t get to them, and they might not be interesting. We’re keeping all of that team chat in one place – and it’s not your inbox. Find out more by signing up for the beta.

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6. Daniel Levitin

Big Idea?
Most of us think multitasking makes us more productive. But multitasking is a myth. As we flick from mail to social media while pretending to listen in a meeting, we think you’re getting more done. But what we’re really doing, says cognitive neuroscientist Levitin, is plate spinning with our brain: “You are rapidly shifting from one thing to another, using up glucose.” Levitin’s conclusion: Multitasking makes us tired and causes a sugar crash in the brain. Instead, focus on one thing and see it through (see a theme running through here?)

Key Read: The Organised Mind

TL, DR: short version?

Top tip for right now?
Go offline to get more done. Disconnect for fixed periods to get through the next single task you care about. Only come up for air (and Facebook) when it’s done. Every time you rapid switch, it can take up to 23 minutes to get back in the game. That’s a huge tax on productivity. Take a rebate.

daniel tip

Anders Pink insight: A lot of online time is wasted rapid switching in the search for valuable content in multiple channels – blogs, newsfeeds, social channels. You can reduce that time through our AP App – we’ll find what you need, it’s waiting there when you need insight or inspiration.

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The Habit Makers

Productivity is not about pulling an allnighter – you’re not in school anymore. You need to build new and sustainable habits for staying smart and productive every day. Here are some great voices on those topics.

7. Jane Hart

Big idea?
Knowledge Workers need to stay smart in the workplace. Formal training like classroom or elearning courses only account for about 10% of how we learn. The rest of it is on the job or through our professional networks. To be smart in the 90%, you need better tools and skills. Jane is great on making the most of your social network for learning so you stay up to date and manage information effectively. And for more in depth about the 90% vs 10%, follow Charles Jennings, her estimable colleague.

Key Read: Modern Workplace Learning, and her Blog is great too.

TL,DR: Short version?

Top tip for right now?
Review who you’re following and prune. You’re probably following too many people on Twitter. Actively review what they’ve shared in the last 2 weeks. Was it relevant to your professional interests? Was it useful? If not, it’s time to drop them to let you focus on others. You can always add them back if you miss them (bet you don’t).

jane tip

Anders Pink insight: It’s not easy to filter down to the most influential people to follow in a topic. Even when you do, influential people go off topic and share pictures of their holiday that you don’t need to see. Our AP App helps you filter by finding the top influencers, and only showing you the most relevant content from them. Less pruning, more quality content.

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8. BJ Fogg

Big idea?
Being productive, getting things done, doing deep work – whatever you want to call it – it’s a habit. To form a habit, you need three elements: Motivation (aka Drive), Ability (aka Practice, Mindset), and a Trigger – a reason to act on the habit. BJ Fogg, Professor of Persuasive Technology at Stanford, has looked at how habits convert into lasting behaviour changes. His key insight: Anchor new habits to existing ones and do them immediately after the existing habit. After you brush your teeth, write one sentence on what you learned today. Simple but very effective.

Key Read: http://www.behaviormodel.org/

TL,DR – short version?

Tip tip for right now?
Enrol in his Tiny Habits programme. Take 5 days to create a new, really small habit to help you change your behaviour. For example, after my first coffee, I will check my Anders Pink App (that’s just a suggestion, of course – could be tea if you prefer…)

bj tip

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9. Oliver Burkeman

Big idea?

Oliver’s full of big ideas. In his weekly Guardian piece, “This Column Will Change Your Life” he shares all sorts of ways to improve your work life, and the rest of your life. He’s written a lot about the importance of attention filters – ensuring you don’t consume information that’s distracting.

Key Read: His weekly Guardian Column
Also his new book is great if you’re tired of hearing just a little too much about positive thinking.

TL,DR: Short version?
Our interview doesn’t do him justice but if you’re in a real hurry.. 

Top tip for right now?
Narrow your attentional filter. If you are getting information from too many sources, it has a diminishing return. Accuracy wanes and time spent pondering increases. Know which primary sources to trust, stop researching and act on the information you have. More information will not lead to a better decision in most cases.

Anders Pink insight: Filters need to do two things: Push the most important content to you, and block all of the unimportant content from getting to you. Our App does both. You may never see a cat video again. Unless that’s of vital professional relevance (in which case, what’s your job?).

oliver tip

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10. Malcolm Gladwell

Big idea?
So many from this “Intellectual Adventurer” (looks good on a LinkedIn Profile), but here are two relevant to productivity: Thin slicing and 10,000 hours.

Thin slicing was the phenomenon at the core of his book Blink. Over multiple studies he found that people make better decisions based on small amounts of information It’s about efficient learning, or what he calls “rapid cognition” – the learning that we do in the first few seconds of appraising a situation – the blink of an eye. The premise of the book is that “thin slicing” – taking very small but very dense pieces of data – is all we need to make good decisions. When making important decisions, be it whether someone is at risk of a heart attack, about to pull out a weapon, or be a suitable life partner (hopefully not all the same person), more often than not our judgements don’t improve when we are given more and more information. In fact, in a lot of cases, our decisions become worse. Think on that next time you think deep research is what you need to do. Often that’s just procrastination in disguise.

10,000 hour rule: His other big idea on productivity comes from Outliers – a fascinating study on what makes people stand out in their domain. The non-magical, sobering answer: They practiced. A lot. On average: 10,000 hours before they started to pull away from their peers to join superstar ranking. Lennon, Gates, Jobs, Michael Jordan – same formula for all of them. It’s a great read of what makes for success. Some luck, some timing, but mainly hard, deep work.

Key read: Blink, Outliers

TL,DR – short version?
That attitude isn’t going to make you an outlier any time soon. Though it is thin slicing so fair enough: http://gladwell.com/outliers/outliers-q-and-a-with-malcolm/

Top tip for right now?
Research less. Take a thin slice, then go do your 10k hours. You’ve read it already: embrace mastery and do deep, undistracted work to get there.

malcolm tip

Anders Pink insight: Our app is trying to help you blink faster and get a little less lost in the haystack. We think of our filtering approach as a way of thin slicing the best content based on what you need. When your team collaborate and push the best of the best to the top, you thin slice it even finer.

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That’s your 10 for today. But who did we miss? We’d love to do a part 2 with your help, let us know – and sign up to the beta to get some real time help in staying on top of information, and becoming the best lil’ Outlier you can be.