The 10 Really Obvious Ways to Be More Productive


Everyone likes talking about secrets. The “secrets” of productivity. The “hacks” to accomplish more.

What about the really obvious things?

In my opinion “hacks” and “secrets” account for only a small proportion of your ability to accomplish more. It’s the really obvious things that account for most of it.

Unfortunately, obvious solutions are ignored by most writers. Typically for two reasons:

  1. Obvious doesn’t make headlines or sell books.
  2. Obvious things are often impossible to change. We like actionable advice. Telling someone how to reorganize their desktop is actionable. Telling them that having kids is a productivity drain doesn’t stop people from procreating.

So what are the “obvious” ways to be more productive?

#1 – Be Single and Childless

It’s easier to work heavily when you’re not responsible for anyone but yourself.

This isn’t an argument not to get married or have kids. There are things in life far more important than the number of hours you can put into your career. For many people this will be a wonderful tradeoff. Just accept it is a tradeoff.

If you accept this, it means that your single and childless years are probably a better-than-average time for starting something remarkable (that requires a lot of work).

#2 – Love What You Do

Procrastination is life’s way of telling you that you hate your work.

The best way to be more productive isn’t to have more lists, action items and goals. It’s to love what you do. Sorry for all the people in shit jobs, but it’s true.

#3 – Be Insanely Obsessive

Forget life balance. The world’s most accomplished superstars are almost always obsessed to an extreme degree. Way beyond what is healthy or normal.

Does this mean life balance isn’t valuable? Of course not.

Just keep in mind that for every person who works a highly efficient 6 or 8 hour day, there is someone working a highly efficient 12 or 14 hour day. Often, because they are obsessed and have no life outside their obsession.

#4 – Be Immune to Rejection

I’m sure you’ve all heard the folk tale about the entrepreneur who pitched his idea 1000 times, only to get the door slammed on his face each time. Then on the 1001st time, he sells it and becomes a millionaire.

The sad fact is, most people wouldn’t get past 10 or 12, never mind 1000. Really accomplished people have an almost masochistic immunity to rejection. It’s not that they have lots of willpower, just that getting rejected 1000 times doesn’t bother them.

Unfortunately, most of us sting when we get turned down, so the most we can hope for is aspiring to be the folk hero. Even if, in reality, we hate being rejected.

#5 – Have Your Project as a Full Time Job

If your side business is your full-time job, productivity is easy. Because you have nothing else you need to do all day.

As I’ve written about before, that isn’t a reality for most new entrepreneurs. I run this business in addition to full-time studies. Most other successful people started in their spare time. But, out of necessity, not because having a full-time job doesn’t drain you.

#6 – Be Boring

There’s a myth flying around that says rockstar, adventure-having, travel-happy people are also getting the most work done. I think this is ridiculous.

The people who get the most work done, spend most their time working. Not base jumping and wandering the world as a vagabond.

Of course, because these people are usually passionately obsessed, they don’t see their work as boring. They probably can’t imagine doing anything else.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel, have adventures or be interesting. As with all these points, just realize you’re making a deliberate tradeoff when designing your life.

#7 – Know People and Be an Extrovert

Inward focused loners don’t do well. Not because they lack intelligence, talent or even a fierce work ethic. But simply because the world rewards people who are well connected.

Introverts, like myself, often want to make comparisons between the stupid jocks and intelligent nerds. We like to point out how rich and famous Bill Gates is and focus on the minimum wage jobs our now beer-bellied, former high-school rivals now have.

But for every ten smart nerds and dumb cool kids, there is one person who is smart, extroverted and likable. That person is your real competitor.

(Oh, and Bill Gates made heavy use of his personal network when building Microsoft)

#8 – Speak the Language Fluently

If you can’t read, write and speak correctly in the language of your field, productivity hacks don’t matter.

I feel sorry for many freelancers trying to compete in an international design or programming marketplace. They will often be passed up for less talented, more expensive designers who can speak the language fluently. It’s unfair, but communication trumps talent in many cases.

For the current moment, English is the dominant language in business. That may change in the next 50 years, so native English speakers shouldn’t anticipate linguistic dominance forever.

As someone who is currently learning a second language, I can say this equally applies for accomplishing anything in a non-English speaking country or field.

#9 – Have a High Self-Esteem

This point is a bit of a double kick to the groin for people who have low self-esteem.

Unfortunately, it’s true. If you feel good about yourself and the work you do, its easier to get more done without the agonizing doubt and tortuous procrastination.

I don’t think self-esteem can be faked, the way some people would like it to be. Nor can it be given by friends and family “supporting” whatever your doing. It’s something internal that comes with experience.

The real question is: if you don’t feel good about yourself or the work you do, why is that? And what are you going to do to change it?

#10 – Be Happy

I think the vision some of us have of alcoholic, suicidally depressed people who achieve extreme success is limited to artists, writers and maybe some politicians. For most of us, we’ll get a lot more done when we’re happy.

This last point is the exception to all the rules above. If something makes you unhappy, it will also probably make you unproductive. Design a life that makes you happiest, and not just one that cranks out the accomplishments.

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  • Mark Foo |

    Hi Scott,

    Thank you for this refreshing insight. It’s so true that these are rarely talked about when it comes to increasing one’s productivity cos’ I’ve not seen it anywhere else! 🙂

    But I’m not too sure if you need to be an extrovert. I’ve met very successful people who are introverts. And though they’re introverted, they were still able to build pretty good networks. A lot of people may have the misconception that introverted people are less adept in socialising, but that may not be all true.



  • Scott Young


    The point isn’t specifically to be naturally extroverted (if there is such a thing), it’s about being social, meeting people and making connections. If you can do that while being an “introvert” then your practically an extrovert, even if you don’t feel that way.


  • Dominic

    Scott, this is another quality post; I especially liked #8 about speaking the language fluently. That is not something commonly talked about, but you see it everywhere.

    It doesn’t seem to matter if you are the person with the next Nobel Prize idea: if you can’t communicate it fluently to other people, it’s worth nothing in the world. I think this is also why we frequently see top executives and presidents of numerous organizations with a college degree in English instead of business. Not to say communication trumps every other skill, but I agree with you in that without it, the other skills you have won’t be recognized or appreciated in the world.

  • Lynn Lane


    A very good list to help people think about our actions and where we need to grow.


    Lynn Lane–>
    The Warrior Of Success

  • Gordie Rogers

    This is one of the most interesting blog posts I’ve read in a long time.

    Interesting about not having kids. I think it’s a huger trade-off that people need to think carefully about. Do your best to build your business up before having kids, put systems in place so that you can then spend time with your kids if and when you choose to have them.

  • Matthew Brown

    This is a great post, #1, #3 and #5 are all things I’ve recently realised are very important in the running of my relatively new business. I’m sure there is a time later on down the track for these things, but at the moment it simply isn’t possible to really knuckle down and be competitive with these things. Thanks for pointing out the obvious and reminding me of some of these things mate!

  • Carlos Pero

    I liked the “obvious” angle, and your points inspired me to pen my own blog post with my thoughts. So thanks.

  • David Chaumette

    Great post, Scott. A few years ago, I realized that the more prolific people in my profession were all “empty nesters;” their kids were all out of the house. Like you said, recognizing that it’s a tradeoff was a big step for me personally.

  • Sam Nash

    Great post. I have had a moderate degree of success in life (run a small company). After 21 years of founding and then growing the company I’ve learned that the difference between small/moderate success and big success is dependent on the opportunities you focus on rather than how hard you work. Assume you get 12 hours of productivity while someone else gets six. You’re only going to double your result. However, if you focus on an opportunity that is 10x, 100x, 1000x, or 10,000x the size you can leverage your result much more dramatically. Going to a Berkshire Hathaway sales meeting and absorbing how Warren Buffett thinks about this truly changed my mindset on business/business models.

  • Brett –

    Hey Scott,

    #7 is perfect. As an introvert, like you, I’m trying to be more extroverted. Though I’d rather think of myself as an “extrovert in disguise” – I’m very, very extroverted when I’m around people I know and feel comfortable around, but I’m working on building connections with people I don’t know, both in real life and in social media. Networking is definitely my weakest trait.

  • Brent P. Newhall

    Great post! Inspiring. I particularly appreciate the points about obsession.

    +1 for Mark Foo’s note, though. Being social, meeting people, and making connections doesn’t make one an extrovert. Introversion/extroversion deals with how people recharge their batteries. For example, I consider myself a “social introvert”–I’m definitely introverted, but I have half a dozen social engagements every week. I just need to ensure I get some “alone time” amongst all that.

    Instead of “Be an extrovert,” I’d say “Be social.” But maybe that’s just me. 🙂

  • John froster

    While I agree having a kid is a time
    drain it doesn’t necessarily make you less productive. Since my time is now more limited I approach work differently and more productively than many of my coworkers. If I check facebook at work I know I am stealing time away from my kid, so I have almost stopped doing it.

  • Ken Pollard

    A very nice list. I’ve had my own business for 13 years now, and have found that attitude (most of the points) is at least important as knowledge.

    For me, #7 — Know People and Be an Extrovert — was a late discovery. It’s almost the same as working out regularly. You might not want to take the time to do it, but when you do, life (and business) is better.



  • Pamela Miles

    These are all great points, and I’d like to elaborate on being childless and single.

    Because I’m not childless.

    But my “kids” are now in their twenties. Although I raised them as a self-employed single mom, I did not direct my energy toward building my business until after the baby left for boarding school. Until that point, I was always faulting myself for not getting enough done. Once I was alone, I realized it was amazing that I had gotten anything done besides raising two kids!

    In my case, it worked well because I really loved being a full time hands-on mom, and in those years, I was gaining the experience which became the platform for later growth. It’s not just that I could not have done it all at once; it was simply not doable all at once.

    We all have different abilities and needs, and circumstances. Parents can clearly hand off a lot more than I was willing to do and still be very engaged parents. But it is a decision that is best planned for. If it’s too late for that, then sit down now, before your kids are grown, and come up with a model that works for you and your family. The obsessive productiveness that builds a business is best left at the office when there are children waiting at home, but it’s just not a switch that flips off so easily.

  • Alina

    Wow. Everything is really obvious but I enjoyed the article.

  • Stefan |

    In all our hard working in finding great secrets for more productivity, we forget the obvious. Thanks Scott, for pointing out the obvious points. But the problem with these obvious ways is that they are way harder to implement.

  • Ozichi Alimole

    Hello Scot,
    I guess I’m the newest convert to your blog. I find most of the points very instructive although I have difficulty with the link between kids and productivity. The family is a primary source of happiness in many cultures. And, as you rightly pointed out, happiness is a critical component of productivity! To be sure, I am motivated to work harder when my spouse makes me happy!

    I fully agree with you on the question of language. I have just started a new retirement career in a field that’s totally different from what I did for over 30 years in the public service. My first challenge is social networking and I have decided to take a course in Spanish to cultivate my immediate neighbors.