Tag: productivity

Top 10 titles on work-life balance and productivity

I’m a productivity geek. I’m on a lifelong mission to tweak and improve how I do things. Each day is an experiment, mostly one that fails.

This used to be a secret practice, then I took part in a panel discussion on work-life balance. Alongside four of my colleagues I was quizzed on how to fit it all in. Suddenly my obsessive approaches were exposed company wide.

I’d hadn’t prepared for the panel specifically — instead, it felt like my whole life was getting ready for it. I get my ideas from podcasts, blogs and books. So to continue oversharing here’s my top 10 titles to help you experiment, refine and enjoy finding your own personal balance.

1) Getting Things Done — How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity by David Allen

The classic guide on how to be productive, manage an overwhelming amount to do whilst functioning with a clear head and positive sense of relaxed control. Quite a promise but the founding father of modern productivity delivers practical tips in his GTD system.

2) Manage Your Day-to-Day — Build your routine, find your focus & sharpen your creative mind, Edited by Jocelyn K Glei

In a sentence: use your time wisely to create your best work. With a foreword by Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, and published by the mighty 99U, this book helps you to make better decisions so you can focus on what matters most to you.

3) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey

The blurb says this is one of the most influential books ever written. This is not hubris. Nearly 20 million people have had their lives changed by Covey’s wise advice. Don’t have time for the book? Check out this brilliant video on YouTube.

4) Better Than Before — Mastering the habits of our everyday lives by Gretchen Rubin

Written by the bestselling author of The Happiness Project Rubin uses homespun tales to explain rigorous research. This book shows you how to how make good habits and break bad ones. Her four tendencies questionnaire has been so helpful to me — take it and know yourself.

5) Smarter, Faster, Better — The Secrets of Being Productive by Charles Duhig

Duhig is the author of The Power of Habit — my go-to bible on the science of habits. This book is a brilliant companion that focusses not just on doing things, but doing them better. As a Pulitzer Prize winner he effortlessly melds science, reporting and storytelling to explore productivity.

6) Deep Work — Rules for focused success in a distracted world by Cal Newport

This is an essential read for knowledge workers ie pretty much everyone who works in an office. Newport makes a compelling case for ‘deep work’ — the ability to focus without distraction. So switch off your alerts, leave Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and instead concentrate deeply. Who knows what you’ll achieve if you go deep?

7) Essentialism — The Discipline and Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Helping us to apply decision-making criteria for what is essential so we can gain control of our choices and make the best possible contribution in life. Stop the ‘trivial many’ and make time for the’ vital few’ activities.

8) Thrive by Ariana Huffington

Redefining what it means to be successful in today’s world. This deeply personal book combines memoir and research to describe the transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging and giving. Huffington outlines her ‘Third Metric’ to help us understand what success really means. Top takeaway — get some sleep.

9) Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Learn from the greats because frankly it’s all been done before. Currey distills the downright weird and wonderful habits of writers, thinkers and creatives to share how they create (and avoid creating). You’ll find delight on every page.

10) The 4-Hour Work Week — Escape the 9–5, live anywhere and join the new rich by Timothy Ferriss

Don’t wait for retirement! Read this step-by-step guide to living the life of your dreams NOW by the master of mindful productivity. Become a Ferriss groupie like me and check out his podcast, blog and Twitter. The man is a God.

Bonus title: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight

Underneath all the swearing (and there is a lot of swearing) there’s a deep truth: you need to understand what matters to you, and most importantly what doesn’t matter — and stop bloody doing it. Only by saying no will you find time to the stuff that makes you go yes, Yes, YES!

Bec Evans is a co-founder of Prolifiko a digital productivity coach which uses a research-backed productivity system to encourage writers to start and stick at their writing projects. She writes, works in publishing innovation, and was highly commended digital achiever in the Bookseller’s Futurebook 2016 awards.

Top 5 productivity books for writers

I’m a productivity nerd – nothing delights me more than a how-to guide on getting organised and getting things done. Over the years I’ve gathered a collection of titles that have inspired me to start writing, helped me deal with distraction, and offered advice on building a regular writing habit. Here’s my selection of those that made a difference.

Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity by David Allen

This classic productivity book was written in 2001 and has organised a generation of business people. Affectionately called GTD it has spawned many imitators and new systems like ’43 folders’.

Although the book is primarily about managing an overwhelming workload there are tactics that writers can use in their writing.

Get it all out of your head
This approach to collection can help writers get into the habit of gathering new ideas, edits and rewrite notes. By putting ideas into a ‘tickler’ file writers can get organised and – more importantly – stop getting distracted by shiny new thoughts when there’s work in progress that needs finishing.

Function often follows form
Allen has a section on thinking tools and writing instruments with advice for keeping notepads around the house. He says: “Give yourself a context for capturing thoughts and thoughts will occur that you don’t yet know you have.” Also having a cool looking pen does wonders for inspiration.

Creating the option of doing
This basically means get started. Allen uses a quote by Mark Twain to illustrate this: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” Rather than focus on the complexity of plotting a complete novel, ask yourself what’s the next action I have to do to contribute to that task.

In short: Getting organised frees your mind to create.

You might also like

Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind edited by Jocelyn K. Glei with a Foreword by Scott Belsky, founder of creative community Behance and brought to you by the inspiring types at 99U who provide insights on making ideas happen.

These next two were written with the academic writer in mind but are crammed full of practical advice that bloggers, creative and non-fiction writers can benefit from. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J Silva and The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations and Books by Eviatar Zerubavel.

No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

The founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) distils years of running the annual writing sprint into a 50,000 word book (hitting the NaNoWriMo word count target). He outlines four lessons that we should all take notice of:
1. Enlightenment is overrated.
2. Being busy is good for your writing.
3. Plot happens.
4. Writing for its own sake has surprising rewards.

Divided into two halves the first section deals with planning and preparation – Baty highlights the importance of coffee, scheduling, not over planning and tips to get your loved ones onside. Section two is a week by week overview to ‘bashing out your book’.

Basically, Baty believes that all you need to write a book is a deadline, he says a deadline is “optimism in its most ass-kicking form”. Successful writing is presented as an attitude and his energetic good humour provides a snappy can-do riposte to procrastination.

In short: Write the damn thing and have a jolly good time to boot.

You might also like

If a month is too short, why not take it easy and stretch your novel writing over 12 months? Read A Novel in a Year: A Novelist’s Guide to Being a Novelist by Louise Doughty. Once you’ve mastered novels it’s time to branch out to other writing with the expert How to Write Everything by David Quantick.

The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self by Julia Cameron

In comparison to Baty’s short-term tactic to writing Cameron’s 12-week course takes a holistic approach to integrating creativity into your everyday life – for the rest of your life. She outlines ten basic principles such as, “Creativity is the natural order of life,” and “The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.”

Cameron’s spiritual slant to engaging the ‘Great Creator’ to free latent creativity might not be to everyone’s taste. Regardless of whether you agree with her style, she offers tools that have helped artists and writers for over twenty years. The two pivotal ones being:

The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery. They are simply three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done immediately on waking, every day.

The artist’s date is a weekly block of time set aside to nurture creative consciousness. It has to be time alone, such as a solitary walk to watch the sun rise, listening to music or even going bowling.

The workbook outlines a week by week set of activities, tasks and reflections. To commit to these practices Cameron suggests signing a creativity contract.

In short: Get in touch with your inner artist to realise your creative dreams.

You might also like

The original morning pages habit came from the 1934 classic Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. If you’d prefer a kick in the pants to a spiritual awakening read The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win your Inner Creative Battles by straight talking Steven Pressfield.

Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors by Celia Blue Johnson

Johnson takes us on a tour – and detour – through the literary landscape visiting writers’ homes where we find Agatha Christie munching apples in her bath while she considers plot, watch Colette pick fleas from her pets, and avert our gaze from Victor Hugo who hid all his clothes until he finished writing The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Johnson’s guide to the superstitions, habits and quirks of famous writers balances the tendency for self-mythologizing with rigorous research from multiple sources. Johnson puts details like the description of Maya Angelou’s workspace – “a bottle of sherry, a dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, yellow pads, an ashtray, and a Bible” – within the full scope of a writer’s career elevating it from writerly tittle-tattle.

The practical details of schedules, word count goals, and productive habits such as John Le Carre’s writing commute are fascinating. You may be tempted to adopt some of the practices but Johnson warns us the “chances are you still won’t invoke genius”. So sit back and enjoy the gems and boost your literary gossip.

In short: Writers’ quirks are as fantastical as their writing.

You might also like

Published before Odd Type Writers Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a Who’s Who of creative habits and includes artists, composers, filmmakers alongside writers, poets and playwrights.

If biography is your thing there’s no substitute for the Paris Review Interviews. Started in 1953 this canonical series allows writers to discuss their writing life in their own terms and contains unparalleled insights into the greatest literary minds.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

After conquering happiness in her last book Rubin turns her attention to self-improvement by exploring how we change our habits. Rather than share the habits of productive creative people she urges us to get to know ourselves and choose strategies that work for us as individuals.

Rubin develops a framework called the ‘Four Tendencies’ that categorises people by how they respond to expectations – outer ones like deadlines or inner ones like New Year’s resolutions.

  • Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
  • Questioners question all expectations; will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified.
  • Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner.

Tens of thousands of people have taken the Four tendencies survey and I urge you to do so. If you hadn’t guessed already from my own quest for productive habits and this glance at my bookshelf that I’m an upholder.

Rubin, a fellow upholder, offers advice on foundation habits, namely:

  1. Sleep
  2. Move
  3. Eat and drink right
  4. Unclutter

She explains the principles of good habits by sharing research and homespun wisdom on tactics like scheduling, monitoring, accountability and reward. She wears her intelligence lightly and the book is a delight to read, peppered with quotes and anecdotes. In this guide to getting to know yourself you come to care about Rubin’s family and friends and their struggles with habits.

In short: Self-knowledge is the first step to becoming a better version of yourself.

You might also like

Get in the habit of habits with theses accessible academics: The Power of Habit: Why we do what do and how to change by Charles Duhigg; Making Habits – Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes that Stick by Jeremy Dean; and Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney.

What productivity delights have I missed?

My bookshelves are heaving with books on the psychology of habits, self-help productivity guides, and writers’ biographies. I tried hard to keep the list short and only recommend those I’ve read and which had an impact on my life and writing. What delights have I missed? What are your top productivity books? What inspires you to start and keep writing? Comment below or tweet us at @beprolifiko @eva_bec

Bec Evans is a co-founder of Prolifiko a digital productivity coach which uses a research-backed productivity system to encourage writers to start and stick at their writing projects. She writes, works in publishing innovation, and was highly commended digital achiever in the Bookseller’s Futurebook 2016 awards.

NaNoWriMo for publishing folk

Ditch your resolutions

January 17th is a day that divides the world into two groups: people who accomplish their New Year’s Resolutions and people who don’t. It’s National Ditch Your Resolutions Day, and as an avid goal-maker and to-do list lover, I whole heartedly support it.

Two weeks in to a new diet, exercise regime, or career plan is usually the point when we all realize gosh, this is difficult. In fact, there are entire industries peddling beautiful planners, offering goal-building courses and incentivizing memberships through the promise of ’New Year, New You’.

But old you is pretty great, and I bet present you is awesome, too. You may have lofty ideas about your career progression, freelancing gigs, and business building, but in honor of this special holiday let’s develop legitimate career goals by ditching our resolutions.

Drop your resolutions like a bad habit

You may have just decided on your career- or business-related goals a couple weeks ago, but don’t we often make emotional decisions during the holidays, under a deadline, and exhausted from the last 3 months? So quit them right now (in the name of this new holiday). Yes, even the good ones! Because if you love something, set it free, if it comes back it’s yours. If it doesn’t, then it’s not the right resolution for you.

Think about what gives you pain

We spend a lot of time as humans avoiding pain and even avoiding thinking about pain. This step, therefore, probably won’t be enjoyable. Reflect back on the year (and years before that) and think about those work projects that made you want to gauge your eyes out. Reminisce about that really, truly, awful client or that time you wasted a whole week trying out a productivity tool that was just not your jam.

Imagine future you in all your glory 

As a reward for going through all that pain, you can now think about all the good things that are just 6 months, 1 year, 5 years+ down the road. Get specific. What does a day in the life of future you look like? Start with your commute whether it’s 3 train connections or 3 steps from your bed. Imagine the work you’ll be doing, who you’ll be collaborating with, and how you will end each day.

Compare apples and oranges

Now, what are the painful parts of the past that do not exist in future you’s daily or weekly routine? I’m sure we all wish we could skip taxes, but be realistic about what’s possible to eliminate or change. Or add. Sometimes the lack of something is the silent killer of your joy and happiness. You probably already have a few new ideas about what to drop or bring into your work life.

Plan from a new perspective

Now take a look at those original goals we dropped and ask yourself is this resolution a solution to both last year’s pain and future me’s life? Is it specific, realistic and explicit enough to accomplish? Have you made strides in the last couple weeks? Do you feel confident about your progress? Statistics show that 59% of New Year’s Resolutions do not bring the resolvers any closer to accomplishing their career goals, but 100% of resolutions made on Ditch Your Resolutions Day are successful*.

So, take this opportunity to ditch your resolution and piece together a goal that solves your dilemma by bridging the gap between your past pain and your future happiness. What are your career goals for 2017?

*32% of statistics are made up on the spot, but I got one of mine from www.statisticbrain.com

This is a guest post by Bree Weber. Bree is a book designer and publishing consultant who loves Oxford commas. You can reach out to her on Twitter @thebookoctopus

The Productive Publisher: Tips for getting things done, so you spend time doing what you love

It’s no secret I’m a productivity freak. A friend recently drew a cartoon birthday card of me as Little Miss Just Get It Done and my secret Santa gift from colleagues at Emerald Group Publishing this Christmas was a mug emblazoned with the words: Get Shit Done. At home, my shelves are overflowing with books on productivity, self-management and life hacks – if you set about reading them now you wouldn’t have any time for anything else for the next twelve months.

But productivity isn’t just a way to show off to colleagues and suck up to your boss. Getting things done allows you to spend more time doing the things you love and want to do. Here’s a few tactics to make short shrift of the long to-do list.

Most Important Task (MIT)

Many of us ease into the working day by checking emails over a cup of coffee, perhaps catching up on some professional reading, and networking on Facebook. A lovely start to the day, but not the most productive. When meetings kick in at 10.00 you won’t see your desk for the next seven hours, so don’t leave your work until home time.

The Most Important Task, MIT for short, was coined by Zen Habits master Leo Babauta. It’s an essential part of his morning routine, and he tackles this task just after waking up and having a glass of cold water (none of this caffeine and Facebook slacking).


Nailing your MIT will only work if you’ve effectively prioritised. Working on your prioritisation skills will help you deliver better results. Here’s a few approaches to hone this super power.

First up is Eisenhower’s Important-Urgent Principle, a matrix that helps you calculate where a task falls. You tackle tasks in the following order:

  • Important and urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important and not urgent.

It’s certainly an effective method, but for me it takes too long to divide my to-dos into quads. I prefer working out what not to do and take my inspiration from unnamed female General in the US Army who was quoted by Roy F Baumeister in his excellent book Willpower.

She said: “First I make a list of priorities one, two, three and so on. Then I cross out everything from three on down.”

My advice is to write your priority list on a post it note – the space is too small to fit too much on. You get bonus points if you prioritise the night before as you’re clearing your desk to go home.

Finally, just learn to say no. As Steve Jobs said: “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

Swallow a frog

Back to getting things done. A variation on the MIT is swallowing a frog, – namely, that beast squatting on your to-do list which is hard and horrid to do.

Stop feeling bad about how long it’s been sitting then and just do the damn thing. And follow Mark Twain’s advice to do it first thing:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Mark Twain

If you need an incentive, tap into your baser psychology and plan a reward for when it’s done. When you’ve eaten your frog, treat yourself to a victory shopping spree, or tuck into whatever edible reward tickles your tummy. You’ll radiate with productive smugness all day (or that could be the frog repeating on you).

Follow the masters of getting things done

If that frog has been squatting on your to-do list for a while, there’s probably a good reason. Yes, it might just be a hard task you’re avoiding, but it’s likely it’s too big, or not clearly defined.

This is where the master of productivity can help. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is a classic for many reasons. Packed within this tome is a bunch of super helpful tips, so even if you don’t embrace the whole GTDTM system, you can pick out the tactics that work for you.

Allen talks about “creating the option of doing”, which I loosely translate as: start doing things. Allen quotes one of the founding fathers of productivity, yep the frog swallower himself, Mark Twain:

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

Allen suggests selecting a task on your list, and asking yourself: what’s the next action I have to do to contribute to that task?

Super small next steps

Allen’s next action advice has been thoroughly researched by Stanford’s B J Fogg and turned into a practical Tiny Habits Programme. In short, Fogg recommends breaking down tasks into such tiny actions that doing them is easier than procrastinating. He uses the example of flossing teeth – start with just one tooth. Tiny indeed!

At Prolifiko (formerly Write Track) we’ve been working on a small steps system for writers. We developed a 5-day writing challenge which helped writers identify a goal and break it down into small steps that must be achieved by midnight the next day. We had hundreds of people sign up at New Year and have over a 60% completion rate.

Don’t diss the list

LinkedIn found that 63% of professionals use to do lists. Yet, despite their popularity, people rarely achieve what’s on their lists. Research by team progress tracker I Done This found that 41% of items on a list are NEVER completed.

However, lists can be super helpful if you think differently about their purpose. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff I need to do, I write long list of everything racing around my head. I use a version of morning pages each day to help me focus – you could try The Five Minute Journal and make like Titan Tim Ferriss.

It’s a similar idea to David Allen’s tickler file (just the name makes me happy). A tickler is a folder you keep on your desk and the moment you get a distracting thought about something else to do, you write it down immediately and file it. Then each week you go through to allocate a priority and time to complete. Job done.

From hairy to smart: got to get goals

There’s no point assembling a series of small steps and actions if you don’t know where they’ll take you. To head in the right direction, you need a goal.

Silicon Valley is in thrall to the moonshot –a catchier version of Jim Collins’ Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or BHAG for short (actually I’d rather not). It’s a goal so big it will inspire and direct your work for 10-20 years. Or intimidate the hell out of you.

More common is SMART goal setting, often used in workplace appraisals. It’s a handy system, and easy to remember:

  • Specific – the goal must be clear and with no ambiguity about what you want to achieve.
  • Measurable – it should be quantified so you can tell if it’s been accomplished.
  • Achievable – it must be realistic and attainable with your skills and available resources; you can stretch yourself but not too much.
  • Relevant – it must make sense in the wider context of what you are trying to achieve and be aligned with your purpose and values.
  • Time bound – this can take two forms, either giving yourself a target deadline date to complete or specifying a time when you should perform the task each day.

As games designer Jane McGonigal says: “Smart goals, or quests, ensure that every day you’re making a better life for yourself, right now, in the present moment. An epic win is in the future; a quest, or smart goal, is what you do today.”

Fundamentally that’s what productivity is all about. Being productive isn’t an end in itself; it’s the means to a better life, one where you have the time for activities that matter to you.

So, with that in mind, go forth, get things done, and spend your new found freedom on a side project, hobby, box set, volunteering, or with people and animals.

Bec Evans is a co-founder of Prolifiko a digital productivity coach which uses a research-backed productivity system to encourage writers to start and stick at their writing projects

Five reasons to take a publishing course

We all know that training is good for us, whether that be joining a gym or learning a new skill, but if you already work in publishing and have already studied publishing, should you still do additional courses?

Here are five reasons to do vocational training…

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