The Productivity Giants Series is all about, well, productivity, so doesn’t it make sense that we went straight to the source? Hailed as “the most productive man you’d ever hope to meet” by TED, Chris Bailey is a productivity expert and the author of two books, The Productivity Project and Hyperfocus

Chris Bailey has spent years personally experimenting with any and every technique that could positively affect your productivity. He also speaks to organizations around the world about how they can become more productive – without hating the process. Add a popular blog and podcast to the mix, and yeah – we think he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to productivity. 

We talked to Chris about the worst productivity advice he’s ever heard, the importance of letting your mind wander, and creating automatic accountability for yourself. Read on for the full interview.

His number one productivity time-saving tip…

Have a deadline. I really believe that we hardly need any productivity strategies when we have a deadline. If we have someone that’s metaphorically breathing over our shoulder for us to get something done, we’ll do it and we’ll find a way if we care about the work that we do. And if we don’t care about the work that we do enough to meet the deadlines that are set for us, then we should probably be doing something else for work. Because if we don’t care about our work under those conditions, when will we care about doing good work or being productive? So have a deadline. 

You get automatic accountability when you have a deadline. There are certain characteristics that our work can have that make us more likely to put it off, like whether a task is boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, or lacking personal meaning and intrinsic rewards. Usually, unstructured work is one of the biggest procrastination triggers that we have. So accountability is a way of disabling many of the reasons why we put things off.

On regaining lost focus…

I take a step back because if I’m not able to focus on something it means that I’m fatigued. Every once in awhile, it’s fine to lose focus. For example, our mind wanders for about 47% of the day, and that’s just the way it’s built. We wander to remember, right? We can’t focus on something and remember something at the same time, we need to enter into that mind-wandering mode. So, first of all, I’d make a distinction between productive mind wandering and unproductive mind wandering.

On bad productivity advice…

The worst advice is that we need to wake up early to be productive – that the early bird gets the worm. There’s no correlation between socioeconomic standing and what time we wake up. Zero. It’s what we do with the hours of our day after we wake up that make the biggest difference in our productivity and in how successful we are. 

A good example of this is the fact that many of us are night owls. If you’re working into the night and you’ve been struggling all day to focus and maybe relaxing a little bit, and you’re in the zone at 10:00 PM, why not keep going if that’s when you’re the most productive? That might be most beneficial for you overall.

On cultivating positive routines during quarantine…

Waking up at around the same time each day and going to bed around the same time is the biggest thing for me right now. Being able to cultivate how much energy I have every day is something that I’ve taken away from this fallow time. 

During non-pandemic times I was traveling 50 – 60% of the time and staying overnight in various hotel rooms. I was always interviewing people and being interviewed and giving talks and keynotes. Now I’m more in control of my daily routines and patterns.

The book that changed his life…

Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s based on the idea that our minds are for having ideas, not for holding them. The more we externalize ideas onto an external system, like a to-do list or a calendar, the clearer we’re able to think. 

Mindfulness in Plain English is the book that first got me interested in meditation and it’s a wonderful guide. I think it’s worth sticking with because of how powerful meditation can be for our productivity. 

On worthwhile investments…

Reading. It’s that simple, just reading as many books as possible. There’s nothing you can buy with your money that will give you a greater return on your time than a book. It’s got to be the right book but it’s still a book. Maybe a Peloton. I don’t know yet.

On top email tips…

I’m a big fan of email sprints. An email sprint is essential because email is often a low return activity that we spend too much time on. We need to figure out a better way to manage email. But that’s the entire reason that companies like SaneBox exist, obviously. 

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