13 Pieces of Productivity Advice I Borrowed from High Achievers

This is how you find more time to do what you love.

Tim Denning
Jul 29 · 9 min read
Image for post
Image Credit: davidaholland.com

If it were up to me to be productive, I’d sip lattes and watch success porn.

Most of what I know about productivity, I borrowed from others. Finding the right advice was a matter of searching for quotes. Why quotes? Because who the heck has time to read endless books about productivity and search for answers? Warren Buffet after making a fresh billie (billion dollars), maybe. For the rest of us it’s easier to look at high achievers.

These odd individuals defy the odds and find extra time in places many of us forget to look.

Some of these high achievers I’ve borrowed from you will know, and others will be a “holy shit” moment for you. Let’s get into it to save time — tip one (joking).


“Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before.”

— Franz Kafka, writer

That’s the whole point of productivity. You don’t decide to become more productive for shits and giggles. The reason to be more productive is so you can find time for the things you really want to do.

Use the advice like this:

Decide what you never have time to do. Implement the productivity hacks below to find the time. Schedule that previously missed activity in your phone’s calendar.


“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.”

— Francine Jay, author

This has become one of my three life goals.

Having nothing to do is a blessing.

When you have nothing to do you can sit in silence and think. You can watch the world go by and wonder whether you have made an impact. If you haven’t, there’s still time.

Use the advice like this:

Think about how you can cancel invitations in your calendar, even if they are invitations with yourself (most of my calendar is made up of bookings with myself). A full calendar makes you feel stressed and it will affect how you perform. If you had three things to do this week and then you were going to die, what would they be? If there was a gun to your head what would they be?


“Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.”

— Bruce Lee, martial artist and actor

Your job in life is to curate.

Like the curator of a museum, you find works of art from all aspects of history and put them on display for those around you and those on the internet to see. Being useful is massively underrated.

How do you be useful? Consume what is useful. Ingest useful information from people you like on social media. Surround yourself with useful people.

Then there’s useless. Useless is a lack of care for something or zero desire to move forward. When I get asked to do a podcast, I instantly feel bored and uninterested. Most podcasts are useless. So, if something is useless, all you need to do is reject it in silence.

The final step is to add something useful. How? Add your experience and stories to everything you do. That’s how you add usefulness and it’s damn simple.

Use the advice like this:

Write down all the ways you are useful in your notes app. Choose one way you can be consistently useful.

Do that useful task as many times as humanly possible before you die. You’ll become wealthy — financially, mentally and in your relationships — if you do.


“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.”

— Leo Babauta, online blogger

This advice is back the front and that’s why it’s helpful. Many people spend their time looking for the right things to do.

Starting the other way round is more helpful. What is essential in your life? Build your life around it.

Use the advice like this:

Write down what you can’t live without. Make that your daily priority. (Mine is writing — to not write is to die in my mind.)


“You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool your own mind.”

— David Allen, author and productivity guru

Productivity can become a fool’s game if you do it for the wrong reason. The two biggest downsides I see people fall into is fame and money. People want to get famous on the internet and think it will make them happy. It won’t.

Just ask writer Tim Ferriss who explained in an interview that when traveling he has had murderers try and pick him up from the airport pretending to be his chauffeur driver. Completely crazy and completely true.

Fame is a nightmare.

If that’s why you want to be more productive then you are fooling yourself. Money is not much better. You can never have enough money. Being productive for the sole purpose of making money is like being a hamster stuck on a hamster wheel. You see these oddballs in the corporate world all the time. They spend their entire day thinking about the word “revenue.”

They run their business based on revenue. They treat people based on their interpretation of whether they can make revenue go up or down. Revenue going up, good boy. Revenue going down, bad boy.

Their nights are spent looking at spreadsheets trying to find trends in numbers. Meanwhile their family sits in the lounge room waiting for them to come and talk to them. They never do. The revenue has got them distracted from life. “Must have more revenue,” is all they can say in a cookie monster voice.

You can follow the money/revenue and never know why. The “why” you want to be productive is more important than what you do. Money is the worst reason I can think of to be productive.

Use the advice like this:

Notice when fame or money is screwing up your thinking.

Spend your time looking for why you do what you do. When you find it, be productive as hell and work your way towards it. What you might come across, like I did, is the “why” could have nothing to do with you at all.


“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

— Bruce Lee, actor

This is a common trap for writers. They spend their entire careers looking for the book idea that is going to become a bestseller and then never write the books that might lead up to that achievement.

There are a million different ways to be productive and reach your goal. Pick one and get started. Whatever you think is going to be the path to fulfillment will probably be wrong, and that’s the fun part.

Think but don’t forget to act.

Use the advice like this:

Have you been thinking about a goal for a long time? Do you make excuses like “when I retire” or “when I get a less stressful job” or “when I have more money” — do you? That’s okay.

The key is to focus on small steps. If you want to start a business, create your first piece of content. If you want to find the love of your life, download a dating app. If you want to change careers, talk to one person who has the career you want.

Direct your attention towards tiny steps.
Tiny steps help shape your thinking.


“You don’t need a new plan…. You need a commitment.”

— Seth Godin, marketing author

Plans are overrated. Commit to one thing and only one thing.

I started this year with a commitment: to write every single day. Not some list of wishy-washy new years resolutions that I’ll never achieve. When you commit, you cut off all the other options. You go all in. You decide.

A decision will change your life, not a plan.

Use the advice like this:

Make a commitment. Then get an accountability partner who is going to embarrass you if you don’t follow through. Now you have leverage, followed by massive momentum.


“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

— Stephen King, US author

Why wait? The time is never going to be right. You know how you feel like doing the work? You start with one task that is so dumb and meaningless that it distracts your mind from realizing “Hey, I’ve started.” Once you start, you probably won’t stop.

Use the advice like this:

Pick an easy task like sending an email, writing one sentence, filming 60-seconds of a video, doing three minutes of an online course, reading the first page of a book, or making your first $1.99 on the internet.

Go small, to later go big.


“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”

— Herb Kelleher, US airline billionaire

What every large corporation needs to hear. You don’t need an innovation lab, you need to get stuff done. When would now be a good time? Doing stuff eats strategy for breakfast.

As soon as you write the strategy, something has changed. That change affects your strategy. Long-term strategy assumes a business or human stays static. They don’t. Send the strategy consultants home and hire doers.

Use the advice like this:

Fall in love with back-of-the-envelope plans. They are essentially rough plans that are written in the moment and take minutes to write. They are rough which means you can toss them in the bin or rewrite them.

Become a doer and you’ll change your life by doing things nobody else has time for.


“If there are nine rabbits on the ground, if you want to catch one, just focus on one.”

— Jack Ma, Alibaba Founder

Start with focusing on one thing. Anymore than that and you’ll probably overwhelm yourself. One thing is easy to focus on. You can remember one thing but you probably won’t remember or prioritize ten things.

Catch one thing. Master it. You may never want to catch another thing again when you do.

Use the advice like this:

What’s the one thing you can focus on that gives you a lot of what you want?


“Focus on being productive instead of busy.”

— Tim Ferriss, #1 podcaster and author

I am sure you’ve met a person who always tells you how busy they are. Do you ever wonder what they’re busy doing and why they feel compelled to tell everybody?

Busy is a nightmare.

Being productive is living life on your terms with a heavily curated list of tasks that give you meaning in your life and bring fulfillment, and perhaps joy.

Use the advice like this:

Get used to saying no a helluva lot. Busy people say yes far too much.

Productive people start with no and then see what happens. Make your default answer no. Then do a 360 turn if the opportunity makes you shout a Derek Sivers “Hell Yeah.”


“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”

— Dale Carnegie, American writer

This is the simple way to prioritize. The hardest thing I do in my day is write. So I start with writing whenever possible. Avoiding hard stuff only makes it get bigger and more scary in your mind. Squash the boogie monster while it’s small and do the hard stuff first.

You’ll feel much better once you do the hard stuff. Also, don’t forget if you are avoiding hard stuff it might be because you’ve become obsessed with being perfect. You can never be perfect, so just focus on doing the hard stuff the best you can.

Use the advice like this:

Take the hardest task in your day and start with it (right after coffee).


“Lost time is never found again.”

— Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States

Young Benny Boy is still dropping bombs long after his death. I only discovered this quote today and it knocked me flat.

You can’t get a refund on the time you’ve spent. That’s why you have to spend your time wisely. When someone asks for my time, I think of it as a slice out of my life that takes me closer to the day I am no longer alive. When you think of your time in such an extreme way, you’re less likely to waste it or spend it on poor choices like fame.

Use the advice like this:

Where are your time leaks? Look at your calendar. What is sucking the life out of you and bringing you closer to your eventual and natural end in life?

Find yourself by finding your time. Your calendar is a clue with breadcrumbs leading to the answer.

Join my email list with 40K+ people for more helpful insights.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Sign up for Elevate Weekly

By The Ascent

A weekly tip to live a better, more sustainable life and help humankind live up to its fullest potential. Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. www.timdenning.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 105,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. www.timdenning.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 105,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store