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June 19, 2014 at 1:00 AM

8 simple tips for being more productive

The Internet abounds with tips for accomplishing more things in less time. But do they work? I mean, does it really matter when you check your email or whether you keep a spotless workspace?

A lot of work habits are personal preference — e.g., check your email whenever you want, just don’t let it take over your day. Other areas, however, are less open to interpretation. Here are some tips for doing more of what’s important and less of what’s not:

Stop waiting for the perfect moment. No matter what the task, conditions are never ideal. Moreover, successful people know that they don’t need to feel like doing something in order to do it; they just do it.

Start with easier tasks. Many experts say to do the hardest thing first, but you may find that knocking off a half-dozen smaller tasks fills you with such a sense of accomplishment that you’re inspired to do more. Try it.

Make yourself less available. You don’t have to reply to every text, do every favor that’s asked of you, attend every meeting and answer every email. You really don’t.

Get an accountability buddy. Find a pal to check in with every week. You will find yourself accomplishing things just so you can make a good report.

Make a to-do list. It sounds old-fashioned, but writing a list — by hand, on paper — and then physically crossing off items as you do them is incredibly satisfying and powerful.

Make a not-to-do list. Productivity isn’t always about doing more; sometimes it’s about doing less. Figure out what you can outsource (trips to the cleaners) or cut out entirely (watching reality TV).

Harness the power of habit. Identify your low-value “mindless” tasks and make them into habits. Do them at the same time every day without thinking much about them.

Take time for physical fitness. So many jobs are bad for your body (too much sitting, too much standing). You will work better and faster, and be happier, if you are as fit as possible. So eat well, sleep well and exercise. These are the non-negotiables — the things you need to do every day.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: goals, motivation, work/life balance

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Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.


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