Personal Productivity: Nine helpful yet REALISTIC tips.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Nine helpful yet REALISTIC tips for boosting personal productivity

I confess: I can’t touch each piece of paper just one time. I can’t return every email within 24 hours. I can’t maintain a clear desk at all times. I can’t go paperless. Nevertheless, I’ve found some realistic strategies for getting things done that have helped me a lot.

One thing I know about myself is that an accumulation of tiny tasks, even if they aren’t particularly irksome in themselves, combine to make me feel overwhelmed and drained. If I can keep little chores from piling up, I feel much more capable of tackling bigger, more difficult tasks.

For that reason, many of my most important daily personal productivity rules are very low-tech and simple – they’re aimed to help me accomplish the most basic tasks of my day.

1. Follow the “one-minute rule.” I don’t postpone any task that can be done in less than one minute. I put away my umbrella; I glance at a letter and toss it; I put the newspapers in the recycling bin; I close the cabinet door. Because the tasks are so quick, it isn’t too hard to make myself follow the rule, but it has big results.

2. Observe the “evening tidy-up.” I take ten minutes before bed to do simple tidying. Tidying up at night made our mornings more serene and pleasant, because I’m not running to and fro like a headless chicken; and it also helps me prepare me for sleep, because putting things in order is calming, and doing something physical makes me aware of being tired.

3. Do a daily errand, or a bi-weekly errand afternoon. I keep a list of things I need to do (get a prescription filled, buy a new toner cartridge, return library books), and each day, I do one of them. Doing one errand is manageable, and although it doesn’t sound like much, it adds up. My mother prefers to spend one afternoon every few weeks running errands—perhaps a more efficient strategy in a place like Kansas City, where she needs to do a lot of driving from place to place, in contrast to New York City, where I usually do my errands while I’m walking someplace. And while I’m running those errands, I…

4. Buy necessary supplies and keep them in order. Nothing annoys me more than spending time vainly searching for some obscure yet important office supply: a jumbo binder clip, an index card, a ruler, double-sided tape. I dislike running errands (therefore, tip #2), but having the right equipment, and keeping it organized enough so I can find what I want, makes a big difference to how much I can get accomplished in a day. Also my level of aggravation.

5. Ask yourself, “Why do I need this?” before you keep anything. I have a friend who filed the stubs from her gas bills for years. “Why do you keep those at all?” I asked, when she was complaining about how far behind she was with her personal paperwork. “My father always told me to keep that kind of thing,” she said. That’s not a good enough reason!

6. If there’s something you don’t want to do, prepare all the necessary preliminary steps the night before, and make yourself do it first thing in the morning. For example, I dislike making even the easiest phone calls, so I always steel myself to do those right away. (Check here if you need more tips for making yourself place phone calls you don’t want to make.)

7. Be diligent about “unsubscribing.” I need to be better at this. We all find our way onto email lists and newsletters of all sorts, and I often let weeks or months go by before taking five seconds to unsubscribe. But it’s worth it, to weed out clutter from your in-box.

8. Keep a daily scratch pad. You know those notes you write to yourself—phone numbers, URLs, the “call John Doe” reminders, the quick “don’t forget” notes…all those nagging loose ends that clutter the surface of a desk, and then vanish, get thrown away, or can’t be deciphered when you’re looking for them? Now I keep a scratch pad on my desk, and anytime I have the urge to make a note, I discipline myself to write it there. At the end of the day, I copy anything I need to keep (this is important!), then toss the paper.

9. Remember my Eighth Commandment and “Identify the problem.” This sounds so obvious, but it’s astonishingly helpful. For example, I like to work in coffee shops, and for years, and I mean years, I spent a lot of time running out of battery power and chasing around looking for someplace to plug in my laptop. Then I asked myself: “What’s the problem?” Answer: “I need more battery power.” Light dawned. I could buy an extra battery! I did, and it gave me a huge boost in productivity.

I’ve started sending out short monthly newsletters that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I haven’t heard of the one minute rule, it sounds so simple but I really think it would help me. Thanks for posting these!

  • Lovely! They are all things I try to practice too (but tend to forget about very quickly). Thanks for the reminder.

  • vernette

    my handbag is filled with little notes – to do lists, phone numbers, ideas…most times they get lost. I never thought about a scratch pad tho. Thanks for that tip.

  • Great tips!
    In theory, I write my notes to myself on the right-hand side of my day planner each day. In reality, I need to use your note pad idea.
    For common supplies, I have in Iris drawer set with labels for pens, pencils, tape, stapler, etc. & I try to keep it stocked. It is so stress-relieving to be able to find what I am looking for without hunting through the whole house.

  • I like the scratch pad idea. I have a lot of loose to-do lists, and nothing is more frustrating than looking for the list!

  • The way I take notes makes a big difference in how effective (and unstressed) I feel.
    I have experimented with two methods.
    One is to have a bound notebook where I write down all task-related things (notes from conversations, things to do, work ideas, etc.) This keeps them all together and I can refer back to them (rather than coming up with the same list again and again).
    The other is to write each to-do on a different piece of paper. Then I chuck the page when I’ve completed it. This eliminates the problem of having one done thing and one undone thing on the same page, and getting confused.

  • Ben B

    Good article, but is there some reason there are two 2.s?

  • Thanks for these realistic ideas, Gretchen!
    I keep a notebook in my purse for writing down bits of information when I’m away from home. In that notebook I also keep a list of non-urgent errands that need to be done (with any pertinent information, like sizes or model numbers) and when I go somewhere I check to see if there is an errand I can get done in the same neighborhood.

  • Heather

    Thanks, Gretchen, these are very helpful. One other thing that helps me is to always put things where they ultimately need to be (if I know…) I mean simple things really: I *always* put my keys back in my purse after I open the door, I always put tickets and airline info in my purse when I get them even if it’s months before I’ll need them, I always open up bills and put them in a special slot so they’ll all be there when it’s time to pay. I find this saves me a lot of little worries about forgetting things I need.

  • Great additions!
    I fixed the two “#2.” Thanks for the catch.

  • Elissa

    These are great. I have a few to add.
    1. The modern equivalent of the notepad is your smart phone. Put urgent items in right away. For other items, send e-mails to yourself with Calendar, Contact, Task, or Memo in the subject. Once a week or so, search e-mail for the subject (“task”)and spend 20 minutes updating.
    2. Ask “What is the desired outcome?” before starting anything, but especially something you dislike. In the case of a phone call, could you schedule a frequent lunch or recurring appointment at then end of your prior one? Or, could you send your friend a note instead? Focusing on outcomes rather than on tasks helps me prioritize quickly and satisfactorily.

  • Oooh, unsubscribing. That’s getting added to my mental “automatic” list.

  • Amazing!! I’like it, thanks for the tips..sometimes we really not get in with our life time balance

  • In this day and age, I use my iphone notepad feature as my daily scratch pad. Any ideas that I have for my blog i write on there. Think about it. You always have your phone anyway, and many of them have a notepad, and some even have a voice recorder, if you do not want to type.

  • Kelly

    Hi Gretchen,
    I admire what you are doing re: happiness. I hope it’s working, however, you don’t come across (in your picture or your writng) as the least bit happy to me. I’m on a happiness quest myself and thus come across your blog sometimes, always to feel like i’ve stepped in a dry stream.
    I’m sure it’s me.

  • Good stuff here…as usual, Gretchen.
    Mark Daniels

  • I just realised that my laptop needs a new battery!

  • Jonathan Silber

    Greetings, Ms. Rubin.
    Here’s an unusual definition of happiness worth contemplating:
    “Happiness is essentially a state of going somewhere wholeheartedly, one-directionally, without regret or reservation.”
    The author is W. H. Sheldon (1898–1977), an American psychologist and the author of The Varieties of Human Physique: An Introduction to Consitutional Psychology; and Atlas of Men.

  • Ellen

    I think that almost everywhere in the U.S. except the inner core of a metropolitan area, it makes more sense to group errands and do them in an afternoon. With gas at $4 a gallon and rising, I can’t afford to drive back and forth to the nearest towns each time I want to accomplish something!

  • Thanks for the tips. upon reading the following tips it help me more to develop my personality. Try the site of impactful action in is a goal setting and enhance your personality productivity.

  • I think these are excellent rules. I especially like the “one minute” rule, it’s a good way to decide whether or not now is the right time to do something.

  • jen

    fab, thanks.
    what’s with no.6? I am the same. It’s developed since my teens. I hate using the phone. Texting is a boon for me – I can communicate butindirectly. Why do you think we hate using the ‘phone? Have you posted on thsi in more detail elswhere?

  • Pam

    Hi Gretchen
    Thanks so much for your presence here. Your project brings me happiness. Great ideas and I also appreciate and enjoy all the useful and interesting links. One way to get focus and clarification is to use TEN INTENTIONS FOR A BETTER WORLD, see
    Intending to see you on Oprah sometime:)
    PS Your one minute movie, SECRETS OF ADULTHOOD is great. I liked your tie-in with days are short years are long


    Nice tips and solutions for relief

  • Pooja Jain

    Hi…The tips and tricks you’ve shared are great….It seems that the life is same watever country you are in and watever life you follow…I am from India and people here face the same problems in their daily lives…However there still are differences in the situations….For example, at times you are so tired that every cleaning task seems impossible to do…..also you have to model and remodel your schedules according to ….if you have a small baby….an elder fussy one…n if u r working…then everything seems to go haywire and finally you come on the same page…