Top Tips from 10 Learning and Productivity Legends

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We all want to be legends when it comes to staying productive and learning efficiently. But sometimes you need some inspiration. Like us, you’ve probably had a great teacher or mentor who inspired you to be your best. We cast a wide net when it comes to heroes here at Anders Pink. We’ve compiled a list of ten people at the top of their game that you need to track if you want to raise your learning game. They may not be in the learning profession, but as at least one of them says – you need to be diverse when you’re looking for inspiration.

The Motivators

Before you get down to the business of continuous learning, figure out what you’re trying to achieve, and why. Here are three gurus who know how to get focused.

dan pink1. Daniel Pink

Big idea for learning:
Daniel Pink (no relation, but we like to think he’s our spirit animal) has focused in on the engine that turns the wheels of learning: 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 reads: Drive and When  – his new book on why timing is everything

TL,DR – short version?

Top tip for right now?
Want to be more a productive learner? Start with bigger questions. Learning isn’t an end 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.

Follow Daniel:

Carol2. Carol Dweck

Big idea for learning:
Do you believe you’re born with a certain amount of intelligence and talent? 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 for continuous learning.

Key read: Mindset

TL,DR – short version?

Top tip for right now?
Check your head. 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.

Our take: One way to move into a growth mindset is to expose yourself to fresh thinking on a topic. You can use our curation tool to do just that – create a briefing on any topic and get fresh content every few hours.

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cal3. Cal Newport

Big idea for learning:
So you’ve settled your mindset, you’re in Drive mode, and it’s time to finally read that long form article. Right after you check this email. And maybe a quick look at your Twitter feed…wait, how is it 2pm already? 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, and that includes deep dives into learning about a new domain, 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?
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 browsing through social media unless you can make a very strong case for how it improves your work. And without being overly deep: Our app can help you stay out of social media rabbit holes. Apply intelligent filters that let you control the quality and quantity of content you receive. Add the 30 people on Twitter you really want to see updates from, and filter by topic so you don’t see their holiday pics (unless you want to).

Follow Cal:
Not easy, Newport has no social profiles (because that’s Shallow, you see). But his latest thinking is on his site.

The Processors

Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, you’ve got to learn and work the right way. Here are some heavy process hitters to help you get in the game.

dave4. David Allen

Big idea for staying focused:
Allen is the granddaddy 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. They work very well for learning:

  1. Capture – use a closed loop system for collecting all the projects and tasks you face (including what you want to read, consume, reflect on)
  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 and what you’ve learned – Do at least a weekly review to stay up to date and make sure you’re focused 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 watch a 25 minute TED video. 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 personal hard drive. 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. He may have inadvertently created continuous learning…

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tim5. Tim Ferriss

Big idea for learning and productivity:
Tim Ferriss was one of 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 and learn about what makes you passionate, outsource low value tasks to a virtual PA – but you’ve heard them before but 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. And so often the interviews cover how high performers learn, apply and reflect. 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. Use that time for learning and doing things. (sounds a bit aggressive, but works in some cases).

Anders Pink insight: We want you to get a lot less email too – particularly 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 and curation in one place – and it’s not your inbox.

Follow Tim:

daniel6. Daniel Levitin

Big idea for staying focused:
Most of us think multitasking makes us more productive. You can read emails, talk, and learn at the same time, right? But multitasking is a myth. As we flick from mail to social media while pretending to listen in a meeting, we think we’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 view: Multitasking makes us tired and causes a sugar crash in the brain. Instead, focus on one thing and see it through. Mono task, you’ll get more of the right stuff done.

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. Get a rebate.

Follow Daniel:

The Habit Makers

Continuous learning is not about pulling an all-nighter – you’re not in school anymore. You need to build new and sustainable habits for learning every day. Here are some great voices on those topics.

jane7. Jane Hart

Big idea for learning:
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. Most people rate classroom training and elearning courses much lower than web resources and collaboration with their teams . 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).

Our take: 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 things that aren’t relevant to you. Our App helps you filter by finding the top influencers, and only showing you the most relevant content from them. Less pruning, more quality content.

Follow Jane:


BJ8. BJ Fogg

Big idea for habit forming:
Any change you want to make, including being more of a lifelong learner, means forming a new 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 your first coffee in the morning, read 3 articles on a topic you’re interested in. After you brush your teeth at night, write one sentence on what you learned today. Simple but very effective.

Key Read:

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 Briefing (that’s just a suggestion – could be tea if you prefer…)

Follow BJ Fogg:


oliver9. Oliver Burkeman

Big idea for learning:

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 with Oliver doesn’t do him justice but if you’re in a real hurry.. 

Top tip for right now?
To be an effective continuous learner, narrow your attentional filter. Too much information 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 tool helps you do both. You may never see a cat video again. Unless that’s of vital professional relevance (in which case, what’s your job?).

Follow Oliver:

malcolm10. Malcolm Gladwell

Big idea for learning:
So many from this “Intellectual Adventurer” (which looks very good on a LinkedIn profile), but here are two relevant to learning and 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 smaller 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 and learned how to get better. And they did that 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 constant learning and practice.

Key read: Blink, Outliers and his fantastic podcast on overlooked and misunderstood things: Revisionist History.

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:

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

Follow Malcolm:


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.

Want to keep up with these 10 learning legends? Here’s a constantly updating feed with content they’ve written or shared, filtered for content only about learning, performance and productivity. See if it helps you kickstart your continuous learning. You’re on your way to legend number 11 status…


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