Ladies and gentlehumans, today I’ve decided to eschew my usual pseudo-philosophical flummery in favour of some practical advice. No, not tips on how to get wine stains out of a shirt (answer: Wear a wine-coloured shirt) Instead, I offer you advice on becoming more productive in your life and business.

If you ask ten different entrepreneurs their opinion on tax rates, economic growth factors and the next market disruption, you’ll probably get twelve different answers. But there’s one thing I think they’d all agree on – in order to be successful, you have to be productive.

Hardly a revelation I grant you, but it remains the holy grail for every entrepreneur. Being able to squeeze more activity out of the 24 hours we’re given each day is the hallmark of top performers in nearly every industry.

Most of us know some bright spark – maybe several – who seem to have access to a time machine. Somehow, despite running a business, (in some cases multiple businesses) family commitments and countless demands for their attention, they seem to hit every target without fail.

Alas my dear reader, I am not one of those people. I sometimes feel as if I’ve been cursed with fewer hours in the day than everyone else. While I get most of my work completed, I never have that heady feeling of crossing off a huge todo list at the end of the day. There’s always one more piece of work left to complete at the end of the night and a quick glance at the clock reveals that I’ve worked so late it’s actually EARLY again.

Perhaps many of you are in similar position. We all want to get more out of the time we’re given, and we know that productivity is tied to success. What to do?

No Time Machine Required

For some time now, I’ve been conducting a super-top-secret project, studying the habits of absurdly-productive carbon-based lifeforms in an attempt to figure out just how they get so much more done in the run of a day.

The results were shocking. They did not, as I suspected, have access to tankers of high octane coffee, nor did they employ some manner of time-warping device similar to (but nearly as cool as) a Delorean. No, instead they employed some very clever, and in many cases quite simple, “hacks” to their daily routines to increase their efficiency.

What follows are five tricks you can use to amp up your productivity. No time travel required. Unfortunately.

1. Schedule Email.

Super-productive humans don’t check their email 17,000 times a day, as many of us do. They set specific times for checking and dealing with emails, and they stick to them. They also make use of message “rules.” This is a feature – found in nearly every email client – that allows you to sort emails automatically based on specific criteria. It’s not unlike a spam filter, only with more options that “delete” or “forward to someone I don’t like.” Messages can be prioritized based on the sender or sent to specific folders. They can even auto-respond to specific emails based on sender, subject, etc. The best part is, all of this happens automatically in the background while you tackle more important tasks.

2. Uni-task.

Multitasking is probably one of the most dangerous concepts ever introduced to business. The idea sounds enticing: get more done by doing multiple tasks simultaneously. However, as most of us quickly realize and studies have confirmed, human-flavoured humans are not built to multitask efficiently. The human brainbox simply cannot compartmentalize like that. There are some who believe they’re skilled at multitasking, but research has shown that a multitasker’s performance is invariably worse than those who tackle a single project. Focusing on one task at a time is far more efficient and super-productive humans know this intuitively. Leave the multitasking to your computer.

3. Employ the Three D’s.

Extremely productive humans never put off tasks to a later date. Doing so simply wastes time. When something enters their space, be it an email, phone call, voice mail, alien predator bent on world domination etc., they employ one of the three D’s: Deal with it, Delegate it, or Delete it.

4. Embrace “No.”

This is one I have the most difficulty with. Perhaps you do as well. Uber-productive homo sapiens are able to use this ultimate form of disambiguation whenever required. They tend to avoid half-hearted phrases such as “I don’t think I can.” Saying no is incredibly difficult for many of us (I almost couldn’t type it) because we often feel as if we are letting others down. In reality, the opposite is true. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you say no, what you are saying is, “I realize your project is important, but unfortunately I don’t have the time to give it my full attention. It would be a disservice to you and your project for me to take this on at this time.” All of that in two letters? Now that’s efficiency! Difficulty saying no can lead to stress and burnout – I know this from experience. Learn to embrace those two letters, and watch your productivity rise.

5. Eat a Frog.

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” So said Mark Twain, a human never at a loss for a pithy nugget of wisdom. He’s right of course, and super-productive humans take his advice. (Figuratively I hasten to add.) Productive bright sparks look at their todo list each morning and do the most unpleasant task first, leaving the rest of the day free for the tasks they enjoy. It’s a bitter pill… er… frog, but the feeling afterward when you realize the worst is over is well worth it.

A Finite Number of Days

Ladies and gentlebeings of the jury, we are all assigned a finite number of runs around the sun, and as such we constantly look for ways to be more productive and efficient with the time we have. These are just a few suggestions that I’ve come across in my own research. Feel free to share some of your own tips for productivity!

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