Productivity coaches are common—almost as common as the ubiquitous life coach. So how do you know who the best productivity experts in the business really are? Well, we here at 99designs are here for you. We’ve looked at the options and boiled it down to the 14 best productivity coaches in terms of professional credentials, writing style and specific productivity hacks they offer.
Michael Hyatt is a virtual mentor who has written numerous articles and books, and been featured in Businessweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., The New York Times, Success and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few. His big piece of advice? Don’t focus on a negative.
When you set your goals and clarify the life changes you want to make, focus on who you do want to be and what you do want to achieve, because your goals are, ideally, where your attention will be focused. For example, if you want to stop smoking because you can’t get fit and stay healthy and your goal is to quit smoking, all you think about and focus on is smoking—and that’s dangerous for your ability to succeed. Instead, you need to frame this in a different way and make it about what you do want. For example: “I want to be healthy enough to run in the half marathon for work in spring.” For this to happen, quitting smoking is a critical first piece of the puzzle, but it’s not your focal point. Being who you want to be is.
This also focuses your attention not on the past, but on the present and immediate future. In this way you don’t spend all your time obsessing on who you used to be, or where you’ve been. Hyatt sees this as the secret to succeeding, and, judging from his social following, millions agree.
2. Laura Stack
Laura Stack, also known as the Productivity Pro, is an MBA with expertise in organizational behavior, the author of seven best-sellers, a featured columnist on LinkedIn and in the American Business Journal, The Huffington Post, and Productive, Salesforce and Time Management magazines, and is a noted national authority featured by Bloomberg, the CBS Early Show, CNN, Entrepreneur, Forbes, NPR, The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.
Stack’s advice is to plan for downtime so you don’t end up wasting any of it. Especially if you’re juggling work travel, your home life, networking and your regular professional duties, the ability to really make the best use of what’s normally downtime can feel incredibly liberating. The reverse is also true; if you’re terribly busy, wasted time commuting or doing other menial tasks can be doubly draining.
Instead, make the most of your time by creating a stretch of downtime you know you’ll have—and even unexpected stretches, too. Do this by examining your schedule, reading between the lines to see downtime when it’s likely to be there, and planning ahead so you’ll be able to complete the most reasonable kinds of tasks during each “downtime” period, whether you’re commuting, waiting for a flight, actually flying on the plane or just sitting back at your hotel room after a day of work out of town. Stack writes for the Salesforce blog, “It may be easiest to write a report in your room, with Wi-Fi and a stable work desk, while the concourse may work better for responding to email on your iPhone.”
Stephan Aarstol is the author of The Five-Hour Workday: Live Differently, Unlock Productivity, and Find Happiness. He is also the founder and CEO of Tower, a holistic beach-lifestyle business, which encompasses SunglassesByTower.com, Tower Magazine, Tower Paddle Boards, and TowerMade.com, a direct-to-consumer beach-and surf-lifestyle company.
Aarstol’s main idea centers around limiting the workday to only five hours while extracting the same—or more—productivity from it. He offers tips that help you do just that, and one of them is borrowed from Tim Ferriss: the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of productive results come from 20% of your efforts. This means you should identify which 20% gives you those results and eliminate the excess. Swap out the “always available” mindset for a production mindset, and use technologies to improve your efficiency. In the end you might have to break 25 hours of work per week here and there, but watching your mindset and productivity can help you get to working less and achieving even more.
4. Tim Ferriss
If a 5-hour workday seems intense to you, wait until you get a load of Tim Ferriss, the man behind the 4-hour work week. Tim Ferriss has been one of Forbes’s “Names You Need to Know,” Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People,” an advisor and angel investor to wildly successful ventures like Facebook, Twitter, and Uber, the author of three #1 New York Times best-sellers, the mind behind a podcast that has exceeded 150,000,000 downloads and won “Best of iTunes” three years running, and been featured by in excess of 100 media outlets including CBS, CNN, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The New York Times, and TIME.
There are lots of ideas to take from Tim Ferriss, but we really love this one from The 4-Hour Work Week: work only when you’re most effective. “By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable. It’s the perfect example of having your cake and eating it, too.” This is really an intuitive, simple piece of advice, when you think it through, but it took Tim Ferriss talking about it—and proving to the world just how well it works—for it to become a mantra for the very successful.
5. Merlin Mann
Merlin Mann is an independent speaker, writer, and broadcaster in San Francisco. He is the creator and editor of 43folders.com, a website about finding enough productive time to do your best creative work. He is also a podcast creator and the mind behind the Inbox Zero concept.
No, Inbox Zero doesn’t mean having zero email messages in your inbox. It means learning to pay zero attention to your inbox when you are busy with other tasks, and it’s a totally transferrable concept, which is what we love about it. For example, it is about learning to pay no attention to social media when you’re doing something else. It can be about limiting the ways people can interrupt and disturb you when you’re in the midst of critical work times. It’s also about how, when and how often you’ll need to plug back in and check on each channel, and how much time to allot for each when you do.
Julie Morgenstern, called “the queen of putting people’s lives in order” by USA Today, is an internationally recognized expert in time management and organizing. She’s also a New York Times best-selling author, keynote speaker and consultant for companies like American Express, FedEx, and Sony Music—so you can pretty much go with that “queen” title.
Morgenstern strives to maintain organization in her work by keeping a spare workspace, clear of everything except what she’s working on right then and her self-designed Balanced Life Planner. “I might have a client file or media interview folder, but if I’m not working on it, I don’t keep it out,” she says to Fast Company. “Once you start leaving things out, it becomes visual Muzak and distracting. I store everything else within a spin of my chair.”
7. Chris Bailey
At 28 years old, Chris Bailey is the author of The Productivity Project, a best-seller which has been published in more than 60 countries. In the book Bailey describes in detail an entire year of experimenting with different productivity strategies; in a way, he’s tried them all so his readers don’t have to.
The best productivity hack we love from Bailey is this: it’s only a hack if it works for you. He discovered during an experiment in which he woke up every day at 5:30 am—long a cherished productivity tip—that he hated waking up early and wasn’t improving his productivity. In fact, as a natural night owl, he was losing productivity! He found himself being forced to stop working and get ready for bed right during the time of night when his creativity, focus and energy were peaking. The bottom line from Bailey is this: one-size-fits-all productivity advice isn’t always such great advice. Choose habits based on how well they work for you.
8. Tor Refsland
Tor Refsland, also known as the Time Management Chef, has a productivity blog and an anti-procrastination coaching business. In about 14 months of blogging he’s been featured more than 100 times as an expert, published 35 articles (in addition to his blog posts), given 18 interviews and won seven awards—pretty amazing.
Tor Refsland’s focus is on avoiding the trap of procrastination and freeing up more time to use in whichever way seems best to you. One of his tips that we like best is also a little scary, because for most of us, it destroys something we rely on a lot: multitasking. Refsland’s position is that multitasking just doesn’t work, and it’s also hurtful to your productivity in the end because it makes your mind less effective and forces you to produce below-average results for every task instead of fewer tasks at a time that are high-quality.
The answer? Focus all of your attention on just one task at hand, finish it and move on. It takes discipline, but gets easier with practice. It also gets you better results.
9. Jim Collins
Jim Collins has sold more than 10 million books all over the world; he is the author of How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap…And Others Don’t, which has been translated into 32 languages. He’s also known for having worked with both the United States Marine Corps and Johns Hopkins.
Jim Collins offers this interesting productivity hack that you can put into action right away. Instead of simply making goals, objectives and “to do” lists as part of your productive day, you should also think in terms of a “stop doing” list. If you had only a short time left on this planet and endless resources, what would you stop doing? Translate that list into a “stop doing list” for yourself in recognition of the fact that time is your most precious resource, no matter how much you’ve got left. This way you keep yourself at maximum productivity.
10. Helene Segura
If “the queen of putting people’s lives in order” doesn’t seem hardcore enough to you, meet Helene Segura, known as The Inefficiency Assassin™. A productivity expert and Amazon best-selling author, Segura consults with professionals about how to eliminate inefficiency at work in order to decrease stress levels, reduce absenteeism and turnover, and improve morale. Segura has served as a productivity expert for more than 100 interviews and been featured by Money Magazine, Woman’s Day Magazine, and ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates.
Segura offers this piece of advice to INC., grounded in behavioral modification research: avoid “reminder dismiss syndrome.” This happens when the reminders you’ve set for one task “pop up” and notify you when you’re in the middle of something else, prompting you to dismiss them before you’ve actually finished the task. In the end, those unfinished tasks become new fires to put out, and the whole situation can snowball out of control. Instead, each time you set a reminder about completing a task, also schedule a time for it on your calendar.
11. Rory Vaden
Rory Vaden authored the best-selling book Take the Stairs, co-founded Southwestern Consulting, a data-driven sales growth consulting practice, and founded The Center for the Study of Self-Discipline (CSSD). He consults with businesses like Novartis, P&G and True Value on the psychology of procrastination, and has been featured by CNN, Fast Company, Fortune, Fox News, Inc., The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He is a regular contributor for American Express Open Forum, The Huffington Post and The Tennessean, and he hosts The Rory Vaden Show.
Rory Vaden’s productivity hack is to transform your procrastination until it is intentional. The idea is to think differently about choosing and prioritizing your tasks, because by putting more thought into if, when and how things ought to be done, you change your perspective on both time and productivity. By seeing what does and doesn’t need to be completed right this minute frees you up to make choices, including the choice to “procrastinate” and put if off on purpose. If you can take ownership of your time and the tasks you choose, you are in charge of your life, charting and navigating a course, rather than being moved about by the current.
12. David Allen
David Allen is best known for his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, but he has also written Making It All Work and Ready for Everything. He is a featured blogger for The Huffington Post, a top five executive coach according to Forbes, a “Top 100 thought leaders” according to Leadership Magazine, and CEO and founder of the David Allen Company.
A fantastic productivity hack from David Allen is to create a rapid fire filing system that is at-hand and simple enough to be able to file something within a minute of picking it up. If your system is difficult to use, too complicated, or a mess, you won’t use it. Make sure it’s “fun and easy, current and complete” instead. More specifically, Allen recommends cutting down your search time with an alphabetical system close to your desk. As soon as your files get about ¾ full, cull them and shred and recycle what isn’t needed, or digitize it.
13. Craig Jarrow
Craig Jarrow is known as the Time Management Ninja. He has published hundreds of articles on goal setting, organization and time management, and his blog has been featured all over, including by Accomplish Radio, American Express OPEN, the International Business Times, Law.com and Spinsucks.com. He has also taught time management for huge enterprises such as The Home Depot and the U.S. Navy. More recently, he has published the book The Top Three Productivity Mistakes People Make (And How To Fix Them).
Craig Jarrow recommends that you maximize your productivity by taking charge of your technology, rather than letting it control you—resisting the “electronic leash” effect of smartphones, for example. Smartphones can enhance productivity, but only if we command them. Specifically, don’t always be reachable or responding to messages or inquiries. Check and respond to messages at specific times, and the rest of the time, mute your notifications. If you have to be responsive (for example, if you’re in sales or customer service) at least set limits; set hours or limit who can reach you during certain blocks of time. Jarrow reminds us: technologies aren’t the real work; they are here to help you get real work done.
14. Erik Fisher
Erik Fisher is an author and the host of the Beyond The To Do List podcast, which gives voice to productivity experts from all over. As such he has become an expert in his own right, writing, speaking and coaching lifehacking, productivity, creativity and work/life balance. He is also the author of the Ready, Aim Fire! series.
Of course you can listen to Erik Fisher’s podcast to hear what some of the biggest names in productivity are doing and thinking—and in fact, that’s reason enough to follow him. Let Fisher do the work of finding out who’s important to listen to, and then just listen to what that person says on his show! You can also get specific advice from Fisher on productivity apps in several podcasts with detailed descriptions of why they’re useful and examples of what you’d use them for.
The bottom line
These 14 productivity coaches carry some serious weight in the business world. But even if you’re just starting a business, running a one person show, or already feeling pretty productive, these experts in the realm of squeezing more out of every day have something to offer. This is especially true for those of us who are more creatively inclined, and hoping to free up more time for what we’re really all about—that creative work. Try following these productivity hacks for awhile and see where it gets your work and state of mind.