Know the Warning Signs and Stay in Control

Being proactive is about being in control. You don’t wait for problems and tasks to fall into your lap. Instead, you define a strategy and execute it.

Productivity and proactivity are intertwined. Productivity requires you to control your work and shape it to be efficient. You cannot be productive without being proactive.

Reactivity is like standing in the snow with your tongue hanging out. You can’t control what falls in, nor how much. Is that even snow? Reactive people bounce from task to task. They feel busy but lack direction and purpose.

It’s easy to lapse into reactivity, even if…

Master the most effective productivity trick in the book

There are thousands of productivity tricks, but only a few deliver outsized results.

Top of that list is email batching. The simple trick of checking email twice a day (and no more) will have a dramatic impact on your work output. Once you see the light, you’ll be amazed how your colleagues get any work done. Hint: they don’t.

I’ve been email batching since I read The Four-Hour Work Week in my early twenties. Fifteen years later, surprisingly few people have adopted the practice. It’s a great way to get ahead of the herd, while reducing your daily stress.


Why asking the same questions helps you learn more

I recently discovered a simple trick for asking more effective questions.

It turns out I was too focused on the content of my questions, which is not as important as I thought. My recent transition to a new job taught me the power of asking the same questions, over and over.

In this article, I’ll give three examples of how asking consistent questions has been valuable to me. I’ll also give examples of the questions I’ve found most helpful in each case.

Understanding a New Company

My recent job transition took me from a mid-level manager to a senior leader. This meant I needed…

Discover why a simple to-do list can’t keep all the plates spinning

If you only have one project to focus on at work, this essay is not for you.

This essay is for people who have to balance competing priorities and somehow make progress across all of them, simultaneously. The people who’ve discovered if you do a task well, you get three more.

Almost every job I’ve had has been in this category. And I’ve slowly figured out a way to ensure progress happens across multiple threads, even with urgent stuff arriving at the front door. It’s not rocket science, it’s just a simple system that seems to work.

The Trouble with To-Do Lists

Productivity geeks love…

Commuting to the dining table is harder than it looks

Working from home isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

At first, you relish the novelty of working in pyjamas and walking upstairs to work. But once the honeymoon ends, you may discover loneliness and stress are the new neighbours.

Staying happy, healthy and productive requires effort when you’re working at home. This essay provides five suggestions for keeping things on an even keel.

1. Physically Separate Work and Play

In the UK, the average commute is 30 minutes each way. As a result, most people consider the lack of travel a key perk of working at home. Who wouldn’t want an extra hour at home…

Deadline pressure is your secret weapon

Your work is due in two hours and you’re staring at a blank page.

We’ve all been there. Fortunately, nothing focuses the mind like a looming deadline. There’s something magical about deadlines that gets the best work out of us.

In fact, productive people use them as a tool to maximise their effectiveness. Instead of seeing deadlines as the enemy, they learn to embrace them as their best productivity friend.

This essay explains why deadlines work and how to use them to boost your productivity.

Parkinson’s Law

In 1955, a civil servant writing in The Economist opened his piece with the sentence:

What’s the difference and why does it matter?

In 2012, Elon Musk described a new mode of transport called a Hyperloop. Compared to the four existing methods — planes, trains, cars and boats — Hyperloops promise significant reductions in travel time for distances of up to 900 miles.

A Hyperloop is a sealed tube system with most of the air pumped out. Inside the tube, a capsule would magnetically levitate above a track. The same magnets would propel the capsule up to operating speed.

By reducing the barriers to forward motion, the capsule should achieve fantastic speeds with minimal energy. No air particles are hitting the capsule, because…

Practical advice for declining meetings without hurting feelings

Everyone wants fewer meetings, but declining invites can be daunting.

You might worry about how the organiser will react. Will they be angry? Will they see it as an arrogant move?

Fortunately, declining meetings is a skill that gets easier with practice. This article describes four common scenarios and provides example text for your response.

1: The weekly status meeting

Status meetings are an inefficient way to share small updates between a large crowd. The cost of these meetings is astronomical — often a dozen man-hours per time. Most attendees sit on mute and browse the Internet. “ Sorry, I missed that question. …

Life is more than a glowing screen; here’s how to claim it back

I’m grateful that I finished university before the smartphones were invented. I enjoyed three wonderful and chaotic years with my classmates, full of misadventure, alcohol and actual human conversation.

I can only imagine what university is like today. If the students leave their dorms at all, it’s presumably to congregate in a room and stare at tiny screens together. The simple joy of boredom has been lost forever. Which is a great shame because that was the trigger for most of the mischief if I recall correctly.

Today it’s hard to imagine we ever survived without our pocket companions. Research…

Achieve more by holding yourself accountable

Self-improvement is about making small but consistent efforts to shift your life in the right direction. Whether you’re improving your work output or your personal life, these small gains must accumulate to deliver the results you’re striving for.

The challenge with self-improvement is how easily you can go off the rails. One workout doesn’t make you ripped. Nor does twenty. As a result, you can easily slip into bad habits due to low motivation or by simply forgetting to stick with your new programme.

Conversely, because the gains build slowly, you can easily underestimate the progress you’ve made. Like a…

Duncan Jones

Essays on productivity and focus, for busy professionals. See for email list.

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