23 Ways to Improve Your Productivity

by Henrik Edberg

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Leonardo Da Vinci

“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.”
Olin Miller

10 years ago I was a big slacker. I procrastinated most of the time and had very few helpful habits for when I actually did some work.

These days things are a different. I usually get more done in a day than I used to get done in a week back then.

So today I would like to share 23 habits that have helped me – and still help me – to make such a big shift in my own life over the past years.

I hope you will find something helpful in this article.

1. Do the most important task of the day first thing in the morning.

Getting the most important task of the day – this is also most often one of the hardest ones – done early in the day will lift a weight off your shoulders. You’ll feel good about yourself and feel less inner resistance towards taking action and getting more things done for the rest of the day.

2. Use a very limited to-do list.

If you have a to-do list with 10 items then it can very easily feel overwhelming. Or you become unfocused or confused about what to work on. Or you procrastinate on the few really important tasks as you work on the rest of the list. So instead, limit your daily to-do list to just 2-3 of the most important items.

I sometimes only have 1 item on my list. But if I get that one done then it usually means more than getting 10 of the less important tasks done.

3. Single-task both work and rest.

Multitasking might feel like you are doing things quicker. But it usually winds up in depleting your energy faster, in several things being done not as well as they could have been and in few things actually being finished.

So instead, do just one thing at a time. No matter what it is that you do during your day, if it is work or something you do while resting and recharging.

It will reduce stress either way.

4. Keep a minimalistic workspace.

I find it is easier to focus on the most important things, to keep the stress away and to single-task when my workspace is simple and uncluttered.

I keep a minimalistic workspace with only a laptop and a glass of water on a black and small wooden desk.

5. Take small steps.

By just focusing on taking one small step at a time you can greatly reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and the impulse to flee into procrastination. So break projects or daily or weekly tasks down into small and actionable steps.

Then single-task it one step at a time.

6. Take even smaller steps when needed.

If you have a small step you want to take but find that you just get lost in procrastination when you think about it then go even smaller.

Find an even smaller step that will move you forward. Perhaps just getting started with your essay for 2 minutes or even just 1. Instead of the 10 or 30 minutes as you had originally planned.

7. Go slow.

One good way to do more focused work is to simply to slow down. To take a step forward but to do it slowly. I have found that by just doing something at a slower pace it also feels less like a mental burden and so I am less likely to procrastinate.

8. Eliminate.

Regularly ask yourself: what tasks can I simply eliminate and not do with few or no consequences? It is easy to just keep doing things because “you should” or because it is what you have always done.

So question how you go about things to free up time, energy and your attention.

There is often room in life to simplify through elimination.

9. Block out the common time-wasting sites online.

When I write then I am usually not even connected to the internet. This greatly reduces the risk of being distracted.

If you have to be online while working then try using an extension for your browser like StayFoucsd or some similar program to block your access to the websites where you know you are likely to waste time or procrastinate.

10. Work in a cone of silence.

Don’t’ stop at being disconnected or with blocking time-wasters online. Shut the door to your office if possible. Shut down instant messaging programs and notifications for new emails. Put your cell phone on silent and put it in a drawer where you can’t see for a while.

Then enjoy the silence and being able to focus with a lot less risk of distractions.

11. Balance fully focused work with fully focused rest.

By doing so you’ll be able to keep your mental sharpness and energy up for the whole day and workweek. I do this by setting my egg-timer for 45 minutes. During those minutes I only focus on the task at hand and it becomes easier to do so because I know that I only have to do it for this limited time period.

When the egg-timer rings I set it for 15 minutes. During those minutes I focus fully on just resting by having a snack, taking a short walk or resting with closed eyes on my couch.

12. Celebrate both small and bigger triumphs.

If you achieve something big then celebrate it by treating yourself to something for example.

And if you have only had small triumphs during the day then still take 2 minutes at the end of it to appreciate and celebrate what you have accomplished.

This will motivate you to get going tomorrow too. And it will make you feel good about yourself and that feeling will spread to the people in your life too.

13. Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned.

Be kind to yourself and ask yourself: what is one thing I can learn from this?

Use what you can learn to do things better and to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Instead of spending time and energy on regretting the past that you cannot change anyway.

14. Do what you really, really, really want to do.

When you are doing what YOU deep down find fun, exciting, interesting or fulfilling then the motivation tends to come naturally and in big doses. So try to find ways to spend more of your time on doing what you really want to do.

15. Refuel your enthusiasm regularly.

On some days the enthusiasm may be lacking. If so, try to refuel it. Get an enthusiastic vibe by listening to a podcast or audio book or by reading a book or blog for just 10 minutes created by someone who is enthusiastic.

Or talk to an enthusiastic person in your life and let his or her feelings flow over to you.

16. Write down your top 4 priorities in life.

Post that note where you can see it every day to stay on track with what matters most to you. And to not get lost in busy work or in what may frankly matter more to other people than it does to you.

17. Let emails and other checking wait until the end of the day.

Or at least a few hours. Don’t start your day with processing email – if possible – because it can add a lot of stress and suck away energy early in the day.

It can also make it hard to truly focus later on as you try to work on the most important tasks of your day. Or even to find enough time for them if you get too distracted by your inbox.

18. Limited your daily information input.

Regularly unsubscribe to blogs, podcasts, forums and email newsletters that you rarely spend any time on or that doesn’t add much value to your life anymore.

Keep only the most helpful, inspiring and best ones. This very simple thing can free up quite a bit of both time and attention in a month.

19. Have a disconnected day or weekend.

I usually take at least one internet free day a week. I rarely check my emails on Saturdays or Sundays. Instead I spend time with the people in my life, a good book or movie, being outdoors or I do some other fun activity.

This recharges me and by having this clear boundary between work and rest I do not get stuck in worries, stress while trying to rest or in being distracted by work in my mind while trying to have quality time with the people in my life nearly as much as I used to.

20. Focus more on the how to and not so much on the what-ifs.

Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis, overthinking and the worry and lack of self-confidence that usually comes from that. Instead, focus on what you can do, on what action you can take to move forward.

Ask yourself: What is one small step I can take today to move forward towards my goal or out of this situation?

21. Each day ask yourself questions that help you to focus or refocus.

It is easy to get off track during a regular workday. To stay on track or to get back there if you get lost use questions like:

  • What is the most important thing I can do right now?
  • What would I work on if I only had 2 hours for work today?

If you like, write these questions down on a note and put that note where you cannot avoid seeing it during your day.

22. When overwhelmed, breathe and then say to yourself: just take care of today.

Focus only on that. Forget about all those tomorrows and your yesterdays that could be bouncing around in your head. Go small, narrow your focus greatly and just take care of today.

And then take care of tomorrow when it comes.

23. Don’t forget about the 3 fundamentals of energy.

By that I mean getting enough sleep, exercising a couple of times a week and eating healthy. This may seem very obvious in theory.

But in practice and in my experience it makes a world of difference for your optimism, energy levels, ability to handle stress and to think clearly.

Image by Ben Smith (license).

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Brandon Vaughn November 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm

GREAT list! I recently did a whole podcast over many of these topics at FirstThingsProductivity.com.

irfan butt November 14, 2013 at 7:09 am

Its simple and every day human reaction that comes to you naturally but someone calling same from outside reinforces your belief on the inner call !

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Thank you, Brandon! Glad to hear you have found these habits to be helpful too.

coralcrue November 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Amazing! I am a huge procrastinator….this is is the list I have been needing. I usually know most of the points but I keep forgetting and then putting things off. Great way to get stuff done. thank you.

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Glad to be of help!

Chaki November 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Nice list there, very helpful. Especially #1 (for me).

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Thank you for reading Chaki and good to hear that you found it helpful!

Marigolds9 November 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Thank you for another great post. I’ve been reading your blog for almost. 6 months now, and I think it’s helped me a lot… I can sense more positivity in my life and myself since following your tips on your newsletters. Just want to say thank you and keep up the great work you are doing by helping so many people in your own way. Cheers.

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Awesome, thank you for the support and hope you will find the blog just as helpful in the next 6 months too!

Sarah Wood November 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Great list! I’m printing it out to where I can always see and refer to it. I plan on incorporating all of these suggestions in general, but specifically over the next 23 days, I will focus on one on each of the 23 days, writing in my journal how I implement the “suggestion of the day.” I will specifically detail what this means for me in terms of how I do it, and how it influences and connects with and changes how I go through my days… :)

Response to previous post: Someone IS coming — ME (lol)

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Thank you, Sarah, hope these 23 days will have a big positive impact on your life!

Diana November 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm

what a great post, Henrik! Sending you some social media love, too!

I can’t simply choose a favorite tip to post along with my updates, sigh. However, i wanted to thank you for the 19th tip – about the informational input every day.

Recently i am struggling with my email as it is always full with all kind of stuff and notifications – LI groups, news, clients’ emails, new blog posts (boy, those bloggers are blogging, daily, and a lot!!!) and i open my eyes in the morning and i start off the day with 50+ emails – how crazy is that?!

and i have been contemplating on the need to clean up my subscriptions (as much as it saddens me – i simply no longer can keep up with all that i am subscribed to. one should prioritize, eh?

so thanks for the reminder – i will start cleaning my subscription list gradually right away!

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Thanks a lot, Diana! Yes, email can easily become overwhelming and very distracting. Good to hear that you are simplifying that for yourself.

nic November 14, 2013 at 12:32 am

I love this, it’s the second time this has caught my eye which probably means I need to read it every week for a while!

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm

That’s great, Nic, hope it will continue to have a positive impact in your life!

Larry Hochman November 14, 2013 at 3:03 am

I love this list, Henrik! If you don’t mind my adding a 24th (it’s actually # 2.5)….

Decide what you will have God/The Universe/use whatever word or phrase you want for infinite intelligence do for you.

From experience…when you set your intentions clearly and decide which parts are in your direct control, you’ll also find which ones your creative partner is willing to bring to you. As long as you do your part, the Universe tilts in your favor. :)

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thank you for the kind words and for sharing your tip, Larry!

Anna Sunter November 14, 2013 at 5:16 am

I find these suggestions very helpful. Also, what a great idea to have a ‘disconnected’ day once a week. It is all too easy to get sucked into the virtual world of the Internet, only to discover that hours have passed without you realising it.
“Shut the door to your office if possible.” If only! I work for a government agency in New Zealand in an open plan environment. People regularly have conversations across the partitions in spite of having quiet areas set aside for this. In the end I resorted to using earphones and listening to classical music to reduce the level of distraction. That seems to have done the trick for now.

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm

That is a helpful alternative if it is not possible to shut a door, thank you for adding it, Anna!

Minesh Dias November 22, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your tips on life with the world.

I greatly appreciate it buddy! I’m an 11th grader living in Dubai who is often easily overwhelmed just thinking about the things I must do, and reading your blog these last couple of days has really given me a sense of ease.

Please continue doing what you do.

Thanks and God bless.

Anonymous November 14, 2013 at 5:16 am

Thank you

Henrik Edberg November 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm

You’re welcome!

Sean - Fire Your Life November 14, 2013 at 7:08 am

I know a lot of people who have mental illness. I happen to be one. One concept that we use is to take things one minute at a time if we have to. For some the simple task of getting up out of bed can be daunting. One of the things you mentioned really helps. Chunk things into smaller tasks. Commit to getting out of bed for a minute. Celebrate your victory then get back into bed. Succeed at that and then build up until you actually get out of bed and do something. It can be overwhelming. I’m saving this list to help my friends.

ositsena Igebu November 14, 2013 at 7:47 am

This has inspired me this morning and I’ll put theml to practice to be more effective And productive.

Harry @ GoalsOnTrack November 14, 2013 at 8:31 am

Wow, those are great tips, everyone of them will surely boost our productivity. Thanks for sharing them!

Mickey Law November 14, 2013 at 11:31 am

Wonderfully good, practical and to the point! “9. Block out the common time-wasting sites online.” is much useful to me. Thanks.

Stuart Young November 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm

An excellent list. I certainly DON’T have an uncluttered desk. I still have to keep things in line of sight in order to remember to do them. I’ve found recently that blocking my day off hour by hour with my tasks actually gets me to laser focus and get more done in the same amount of time. The other useful tip I found was dean Jackson’s 50-20-50. Two 50 minute sessions of undistracted work sandwiched with 20 minutes of doing whatever you want.
Thanks Patrik. :)

Gareth November 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Increase productivity by stop reading productivity blogs ; )

Thanks Henrik, good job!

SJ Scott November 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm


Love the list here. So many of these are things I myself also try to do on a daily basis.

Personally I got the biggest impact from your #1. The Brian Tracy, “Eat the Frog” method, where you get the nastiest, most difficult and/or most unpleasant task done first thing.

I find this really gets my juices flowing when I am done, because I know that everything after is downhill.


Felicia November 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Excellent list, it’s great to remind myself of the most important things to do in my day. Thank you! :)

Shary Raske November 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm

All fabulous tips, particularly the energy balance one. One other thing that has worked well for me is I have had an accountability buddy for our four years with another career strategist in Toronto, Each evening we email each other what we plan to accomplish in just 24 hours, then report what actually happened the next day.

deborah November 14, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Excellent article Henrick! It’s very important to stay focus, work hard but also to reward ourselves. That’s something most of the times we don’t do. We are required to work long hours non stop. That’s a pity. It’s a truly excellent list. Thank you again! :)

Anonymous November 15, 2013 at 12:08 am

Thank you – this was exactly what I needed…

Tanish Goel November 15, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Hi, When I read this post of yours I thought this is specially written for me. I have been struggling with all the problems that you offered solutions to. I hope all your readers simplify their lives with these tips.

I am going to try all of these.
may god bless you henrik!!!
tanish goel

shernett November 16, 2013 at 2:51 am

Thanks Henrik this is a very good and helpful article .

Anonymous November 16, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Thank you so much Henrik most valuable

Charles Wood November 17, 2013 at 12:24 am

I like two of your tips very much. Limiting the internet! It is super important to relax and rediscover the world of people :) Also knowing the most important 4 or however things that are important and remind yourself of them throughout the day is an excellent thing to do. I was writing about this as well recently. My list is more to do with getting an important tasks done and stopping procrastination. http://www.charleswoodway.com/defeat-procrastination/

Minerva Wu November 17, 2013 at 5:33 am

I read up to #4 on keeping a minimalistic workspace, glanced at my desk and was like “I do that.” Then I saw that you mean nothing but laptop and water. I took 2 minutes to clean my desk off and it was amazing how refreshed I felt just after that. Thank you! ^_^

Anonymous November 17, 2013 at 8:19 am

Thanks Henrik, this is an interesting and helpful article; God bless you!!

Sherri November 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Good article! I have really found the “disconnected day” to be really helpful. Also, on the take “smaller steps” I have found a timer to be very helpful. Sometimes I just set it for 5 minutes and then take a 5 minute break :-) . It’s amazing how much you can do in 5 minutes.

Really look forward to your emails everyday, Henrik.

Marlene November 18, 2013 at 1:59 am

Great Points! I especially like #5. Take small steps and #6. Take even smaller steps when needed. These points focus on the concept of “Baby Steps” — has anyone watched “What about Bob?” lately? In my experience, it is the small steps — applied with consistency — that get me to my destination-goal, every time!

socratezonline November 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Nice post! Getting an early rest is important to wake up full of energy. I had a long weekend and it’s so much harder to grab momentum when you’re still tired! I think another trick to increase productivity is to be around productive people; their habits will rub off on you one way or another. You motivate and support each other to work on the things you’re passionate about.

Adithya Shetty November 18, 2013 at 2:08 pm

hi Henrik,
awesome list of tips to increase productivity. . . I do important task first so that I feel little stressed for rest of the day. . .
thanks for sharing! :)

Paul Smithberger November 18, 2013 at 11:56 pm

19 is a killer for me right now… I’ve tried but always give in to the siren call of the internet by the end of the day!

saravanan November 19, 2013 at 7:31 am

Hi Henrik Edberg

Very nice article. Really useful tips. It takes time to make this as a habits. But practice makes perfect.


Don @ BreathOfOptimism November 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I agree with a limited to do list. I only put things on my list that I feel are important that I need to complete that day. Then I take it a step further and break that list down into the things that absolutely need to get completed today. If I put everything single thing on my to do list, it is going to be a page long and overwhelming.

Susan Cooper November 27, 2013 at 5:40 am

What a great list. I do many of these things. The fact is, I forgot. How important is it too really look at things that waste time. Thank you for the reminder. :)

Egle November 28, 2013 at 11:26 am

Awesome list! I keep using various tips from the list all the time, thanks!!

isabel crest November 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm

awesome list my friend! using this list will surely help people to increase their productivity and will surely make them a better person. thank you for this great post keep it up.

Gaurav Arora November 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Sir #17 is not possible in many sectors.

Madalina December 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

Having a small to-do list is definitely better than having a really long one. When you look at an incredibly long list of things, chances are you feel overwhelmed and don’t do anything at all. Also, having a disconnected day (or weekend, though I highly doubt it that people would go this long without checking e-mails, voice mails, etc.) is incredibly beneficial for one’s health. By disconnecting, you get to relax, you let go of angst and stress. Nature is my favorite place when it comes to disconnecting and recharging my own batteries.

Bernardo Villar December 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Hey! great post! very usefull, just what I am needing this days in my life!!!

Beau Norton December 11, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Great tips. I know lack of productivity is my greatness weakness. Getting better though. These tips will help. Thanks!

Karen Martínez P. December 11, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Great list!

I’d have to say #10 is really important. We’re surrounded by so many distractions (Smartphones, blogs, social media, TV…). We need to unplug.

I love to work with white noises, such as rain, wave sounds and coffeeshop noises. It’s relaxing.

Love your blog! :)

sagar nandwani December 24, 2013 at 4:05 pm

As blogger working for longer periods makes us feel exhausted . I liked the line , in which you said , Why to wait for new year if we want to change something . That is completely correct .

Irina December 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Great list Henrik!
I also try do not use computer and car once a week. I like a tradition of Jutish people having Shabbat, I think it is great opportunity to take a break from all electronic devices and relax better.

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