The Secret To A Lifetime Of Productivity – And Five Ways To Find It


It’s not the “doing”.

It’s not how fast,  or how well.

Nope, it’s none of these.

The secret to a lifetime of productivity is simply this:  Making the best selection of WHAT to do at any given moment.

(Although it certainly doesn’t hurt to do things fast and well – as long as they’re the RIGHT things)

In any day there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of actions you can take.   Which ones you choose are critical to living a productive life, or being the most productive person at the office.

It’s the art of constant prioritization – a mental “to do” list that goes through a special kind of algorithm, a kind that only a properly focused  human brain can pull off.

And that’s the rub: a focused brain.  If we all had the time to sit down and write out all of the things we needed to do, and then painstakingly arrange them in order of priority, the world would certainly be a much more productive place.

But we can’t do that.

So we must develop an intuitive process to make these split-second assessments on the fly.  How can we help our brains with this task?

I’ve found that there are 5 things we can consciously do to pave the way:

  • Turn off the yes reflex. Your brain doesn’t have a chance to react and process  if  “yes I can” is the first thing out of your mouth.  Over committing is the cardinal sin of productivity.   Try  “Let me think about it” or “I’ll get back to you”  – or just “no” (once you get better at the intuitive stuff)
  • Reduce the multitasking severely.  Think about how hard it is to have a meaningful phone conversation while you are answering e-mail or Tweeting at the same time.  Now add the critical task of prioritization on top of that. Tilt!! Our minds are a marvel of nature, but there not that good!
  • Come up with a daily “Top 5”. While writing down everything is impossible,  you can certainly sit down and focus for 5 minutes every morning and at least put to paper the 5 most important things you need to do that day.  That’s it, just 5.  Your brain will thank you for the assistance  (I do this as often as I can, and it works very well).
  • Learn how to take the  “Big Picture”.  Don’t get lost in the weeds – take that step back before moving forward.  Taking a “big picture” perspective can only be enabled by your ability to pause, breathe, rise up a few thousand allegorical feet, and “see” the situation from a better place before making a decision.
  • Cut your losses on bad decisions. Don’t waste time carrying through on something that is clearly failing or not working. We humans are proud lot, and sometimes our “refuse to lose” attitudes can put us down dead-end roads that keep us away from more fruitful pursuits.  That pride needs to be swallowed every now and then.

Do these 5 things consistently, and you’ll get the focus you need to make better and better decisions.

And productivity will certainly follow.


  1. says

    Great advice. Especially in this social media, uber-connected world, it’s WAY too easy to get pulled into a million directions, and then suddenly find, despite how busy you are, that you’ve accomplished nothing.

    Thanks for some really sound tips on how to make it work. You rock!

    Jennifer Fong

  2. says

    Thank you for this great blog post. I have that awful “yes reflex” affliction, or as my staff might say “yes” reflux!
    Chris Brogan mentioned this post this morning on Twitter, and I’m so glad he did. You might get somepointers from my blog also:
    Have a great MOnday!

  3. says

    I absolutely agree that you need to get yourself into a situation where you can make these decisions. It’s hard work and it depends upon context.

    I’m writing an ebook for educators called #uppingyourgame – I’ll be mentioning this in the next chapter. Thanks! 🙂

  4. says

    Great article, love it!

    I think most people suffer from the “yes reflex” almost like a knee-jerk response. They do it automatically.

    If only we gave ourselves permission to say “no” more often. 🙂


  5. says

    This post is a terrific antidote to the “I-can-do-it-all-in-just-7-Simple-Steps-or a-Game-Changing-Challenge” multitasking myth.

    I like #1–but I expand the definition of the “yes reflex” beyond over committing yourself to unwanted tasks.

    I’d include information overload as a “yes reflex.” While seemingly productive–aren’t you just staying updated?–one can waste way too much time bookmarking, clicking tweet links, reading engaging posts and (presently guilty) posting comments.

    As you note, one needs to stop saying “yes”–counter-intuitive though it feels.

  6. Bridget says

    I agree with all of this. While I need to learn to say no more in my personal life, I feel tons of pressure to always say yes at work – like there’s not much understanding for a “no” or even sometimes “let me get back to you.” Thoughts?

  7. Barb Dworak says

    Great Article. I have to keep reminding myself to apply these basic principles to the job search as I did on the work front. You learn to say no when you assess the business environment and plan your actions to ensure that you meet your customer focused deliverables. It is easy to loose sight of these principles and the big picture with all of the choices of tasks we face each day in our search for employment.

  8. says

    Love the tips! We all need to regularly assess our productivity. I am experimenting with setting time limits on tasks that I can easily get lost in, such updating/checking Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook or reading professional blogs and articles. I’ll even set a timer, if need be!!

  9. says

    Hello Terry, thanks for this post! I will try the ‘Top 5’ rule and I have to re-think my Twitter habit… It certainly takes a lot of discipline and determination to get things done.

    Great post.


  10. says

    great article, there are lot of choices in front of everyone at every moment, and what decision he takes might be a life changing one, prioritizing things, always keeping in mind a bigger perspective would definitely help a lot

  11. says

    Hi Jaimie, Jennifer, Lois, Doug, Craig, Lorraine, Bridget, Barb, Sharon, Priyanka, Jeannie and Nik for your comments and kind words – I’m glad this post resonated with all of you. For me, the mere fact of writing these thoughts down “on paper”, much like the “Top 5” list, was a great way to refocus my own brain towards better productivity. Because as I’m sure you all know, these things aren’t easy to do.

    Thanks again – I’m honored that you would take the time to write your thoughts down too!

    All the best,


  12. Karen Hinson says

    I really needed to read this…I constantly pile it on and on until I get so overwhelmed, nothing gets done. I am actually going to print this out and put it up as a usable guide somewhere so maybe, just maybe, I can get myself out of this hole full of projects I’ve put myself in! Thanks!


  1. 5 tips for becoming more productive — forever…

    You have to be more focused to make yourself more productive, and that means limiting multitasking and not saying “yes” to every request, Terry Starbucker writes. Another tip: “Don’t waste time carrying through on something that is clearly failing …

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