What’s Your #1 Question About Increasing Productivity?

When I worked in an office several of my co-workers asked me how I managed to keep my desk organized and clean at all times, how I managed to whip together all sorts of travel plans without a headache, and even whether I actually got any work done with my flexible work schedule (my time of arrival was 10-ish and I even did my grocery shopping during the workday).

As a WorkAwesome writer, I try to write about what I think is useful to my awesomely dedicated readers based on experience – and on whatever I come across in my daily life.  I’m no productivity oracle but I want to help answer reader questions about increasing productivity.  You can always email me with your questions, but for now . . .

If you rubbed your monitor and I floated out in a poof of smoke as your little productivity genie, what 1 question would you ask me?

Freelance writer, translator and copyeditor currently living in Amsterdam. Former stressed-out marketing and public relations person in NYC. Likes languages but really doesn't like flowers. Contact through GreenRabbitTranslations.com.


  1. Sandro Salsi on the 9th August

    I would like to ask the following:

    What change has made the most difference in making you effective in your workplace environment?

    Thanks for your time 🙂

    • Ana da Silva on the 10th August

      Hi Sandro,

      Listening more made me more effective. When I was younger I thought I knew a lot but the more I listened the more I recognized I’d a lot more to learn (so I was always learning new things) and listening also made my peers and employers like working with me more: I was able to produce the results they wanted and to make them feel relevant in projects.

      But I’ll mention efficiency too, since I’m always working on improving it. It might seem silly but a small notebook made the most difference for me! Every morning I write in it by hand my to-do’s and goals for the day (it reminds me of a case I read about how a date book changed the lives of a group of Japanese workers).

      By the way, in my last full-time position (which I quit till last year), flexibility in my schedule along with autonomy was a combination that made the most difference in efficiency. As long as I met my deadlines I could come in late/leave early but also stay late if I needed to. The fact that I didn’t have to take a half-day off (and half-pay) just to go to a doctor’s appointment or wait for the plumber took weight off my shoulders so I could concentrate on my work.

      (I hope I answered well!)

      Can I ask your question to you Sandro?



  2. Rick on the 9th August

    What would ya say ya do here?


    keep up the great content – i especially appreciate the nice mix of productive tips and comical relief… i frequently share the Memo:Randoms with co-workers…


    • Ana da Silva on the 10th August

      Thanks on behalf of all WA writers!


  3. Mossab Alzeeny on the 9th August

    I got a question for ya,

    a Bad environment doesn’t help productivity at all, right ?
    what would you possibly do in order to improve that environment ?


    • Ana da Silva on the 10th August

      Hi Mossab,

      Bad environments kill productivity and morale and unfortunately I know this first hand. We gotta remember that it’s people who create bad environments so I suggest:

      1. Analyze your attitude and ask yourself if you’re contributing with negativity. Are you complaining to your co-workers? Is your reaction to problems constructive or does it sink you and those around you farther into the problem?

      2. Decide how to interact with those who are the source of negativity. If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who’s gossiping/complaining, get out of the conversation, it brings nobody any good. If that person’s always coming to you to complain politely tell them you don’t want to take part in these conversations anymore. Also, we all have toxic/envious co-workers who try to sabotage us and as hard as it may be sometimes we should remain friendly and polite; someone once told me to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” A fellow WA writer gave some good advice here: http://workawesome.com/office-life/toxic-coworkers/

      3. Be nice and smile. Share your positive attitude with others.

      Something that was really helpful to me in overall improvement of attitude was meditation and yoga. I also tried to make my co-workers laugh at least once a day, even the toxic ones.

      Let me know what you’ve tried that’s worked!

      🙂 <—smiling

  4. Hi,

    Great idea.

    What’s your secret to getting more work done is less hours?


    • Ana da Silva on the 10th August

      Hi Nabeel,

      Flexibility and organization. I cannot (and think that most humans simply cannot) sit at a desk for 8 hours straight and work every minute of those hours. We need to let our brains and eyes rest every once in a while. I can sit and work for a couple of hours but then I need to take a break and go for a walk, get ice cream, take a nap in the afternoon – whatever I need to do to recharge my batteries so that the 6 hours or so I spend working I’m at it 100%.

      This “chunking” of time is really effective for me because I know I don’t have time or need to be web surfing or succumbing to other distractions; I always know I’ll have some time soon and that I need to squeeze all the work I can into my chunks.

      In jobs where I had to spend 8 hours sitting at a desk I probably wasted half the time, sometimes without realizing it. I guess on average I was 60-75% productive during 4 or 5 hours of actual work 😀

      Oh, and one thing that seems small but helps a lot is keyboard shortcuts hehe

      Working fewer hours requires high efficiency so being organized is essential. I’ve always taken one morning per week (usually Mondays) to clear and clean my desk, arrange files, do financial stuff etc. I now have my small notebook in which I write in every morning my plan for the day. It helps that I’m slightly obssessive-compulsive because I keep everything where it should be so I don’t waste time looking for stuff. I’m always looking for new ways to organize though!

      Do you have any tricks to share?


    • Ana Da Silva,

      Thanks a lot for your detailed answer and tips.

      It will really help me and I will be implementing them!


  5. Tamara Paris Collins on the 10th August

    What are some tips you can offer to help jumpstart my date the right way?

    • Ana da Silva on the 10th August

      Hi Tamara,

      I’m guessing you mean “day” and not “date” (I can tell you about those too if you wish! 🙂 Here are some tips:

      -Have a good night’s sleep. Waking up feeling tired is just a killer so don’t eat too late, invest in a good pillow and meditate/use relaxation techniques before going to sleep. Don’t work up your mind for one hour before bed.

      The following morning:

      -Waking up and listening to music can really put you in a good mood!
      -Stretch. When you wake up start stretching in bed then get up and stretch a bit more.
      -Exercise. If you’re one of those morning folk this will be great! If you’re a night person and exercise at night you should be tired enough to get a good night’s sleep.
      -Sing in the shower (or at least hum). In Brazil we have the saying “he who sings drives away evil things.”
      -Eat fruit. Step away from the donut!

      I also used to walk down the street (and into the subway) thinking to myself that other people’s rudeness had nothing to do with me. If they were being rude to me it was because they were envious of one of my nice hair 🙂

      If you try these please let me know if they work for you!

      Ana 🙂

    • Wow great tips again!

      This will help me be charged up for work in the morning, since I find this a big challenge!


  6. Iris on the 10th August

    How do you sustain motivation? I feel like I have a tendency to be productive for several days straight but the minute I get a taste of procrastination it becomes so addictive and I can’t get back into hard-working mode!

    • Ana da Silva on the 11th August

      Hi Iris,

      Motivation can be tough, even if you like your job. Setting daily or short-term goals helps a lot though, like giving yourself 1 hour to finish a template.

      But you gotta break the routine. Anything from taking a different route to work to moving your monitor from the left to the right side of the desk can help. Do you like your workspace? Is there something you want to change within company policy?

      Then, find something you can to take from your job, not just what you can give it. For example, I couldn’t whip interest together to do spreadsheets. They bored me and I was taking forever to do them so I learned shortcuts to cut down the time I spent on spreadsheets (I then had much more time for myself because my boss didn’t know I could finish the reports in half time now hehehe).

      Our brains need excitement! We need to learn new things to stay motivated. Definitely look outside of work: play a sport, take knitting classes, teach a language. All this will make your work a means to an end and not the end itself.

      Try some things and let us know what works!


  7. Rasmus on the 10th August

    Great idea 😀

    my question:

    What can i do to stop being so distracted and turn to the internet, facebook, and all other things.. So basicly.. How to stay focused?

    • Ana da Silva on the 12th August

      Hi Rasmus,

      Maybe you need to push a little in the motivation sector (see my response to Iris above); your work might not be challenging enough for you.

      -You can try software to time how long you’re spending on non-productive things and that might put things into perspective.

      -As you can see by reading my answers to some of the comments on this page, scheduling short breaks might help: work for a couple of hours straight then take a short break and walk away from your desk. I call this “chunking time” but others also call it “timeboxing.” I recommend this article: http://workawesome.com/productivity/timeboxing/ There’s software you can try that works as a timer too.

      -And think about this: are you really missing anything if you don’t go on FB 10 times a day? Try a FB diet and only go on it twice a day, in the middle of the day and then later at night.

      Let me know if anything works!


  8. Phillip on the 10th August

    Hi Nabeel!

    Using breaks effectively without slacking. It’s hard to work a job for a straight eight hours, but tough to decide how long or frequent breaks should be.

    I second the vote on keyboard short cuts!


  9. Emiliano on the 10th August

    Hi, i’ve been working in the same place for over 3+ years now, im currently developing in PHP and doing a lot of work in different social networks also i do some server maintenance (UNIX mainly).
    We have a nice environment (lots of jokes and music, so its cool) but recently i have been designed as chief of infrastructure department wich makes me responsible of many many things (from lights, to servers, datacenters, hardware and software of my co-workers pc’s and so on). To tell you the truth except doing things inside servers (from my chair, in a console) i hate doing that kind of job that really really makes me feel uncomfortable and angry and i really dont know what to do, i know that if boss says that you ought to do something you just have to do that.. but well…

    Being introduce in my scenario i ask you this.

    What do you think i should or could do to maintain my productivity and proactiveness under this non-wanted features?


    • Ana da Silva on the 11th August

      Hi Emiliano,

      Your situation reminds me of when I had to do pitch calls to editors in public relations. I was often yelled at and I so detested making those calls.

      I’d think that if your boss gave you these extra duties it’s because he trusts you with these additional responsibilities, which is a good thing. However, I don’t think that we have absolutely to do everything our bosses tell us without question; if something makes us very uncomfortable and we have a good reason for it, we could speak with our bosses and explain the situation; if we just don’t feel like doing certain work our bosses will think we’re just lazy but if an activity causes so much distress that it might interefere with our main work, it’d be in the bosses’s best interest to find a solution with us. BUT you know your boss best to know if this might work out with him or if it will just cause tension.

      If it turns out that indeed you have to take on these extra responsibilities, really consider why you feel uncomfortable doing the work. Is it because there’s too much interaction with other co-workers and you’d rather work alone, in your chair as you say? Or is it because you don’t want to walk around the office at all? Is the work not challenging, maybe you feel like it’s entry-level work?

      Let’s say you’d rather work quietly alone, can you schedule most of the work for early in the day or another time when the office is quiet? You might not want to do this forever but at least while you’re adjusting and finding ways to slip into this new role this might ease the feeling of “shock.” If it comes down to it and if it’s appropriate in your company, you might even listen to your mp3 player while going from one place to another.

      If it feels like entry-level work then look at it as a break from your main work; heck, it might actually help you resolve some issues from your main role because now you have this extra time to let the little hamsters in your brain run free for a little bit. Think of your going around the office as exercise, which you’ll be thankful for as you get older – I hate to confess that!

      If you get really angry/stressed out, take a quick trip to a private room/bathroom and do some breathing exercises. You’ll need to keep a positive attitude to make it 🙂

      (By the way, with my pitch phone calls I ended up pretending I was in a movie playing a character. It didn’t seem so hard then!).

      I hope I’ve helped but always feel free to email me!


  10. Gene on the 10th August


    What do you use to track your daily tasks, your long term goals, delegated tasks, follow-up tasks, waiting tasks, morning tasks, evening tasks.. etc..

    Is there an easy way to have these tasks without rewriting them everday??

    Notepads, Word, Outlook, Computer, do you carry it with you?


    • Ana da Silva on the 11th August

      Hi Gene/Gary!

      For me the little notebook’s the best solution and I carry it everywhere. Otherwise a smartphone’s probably your best bet for a portable device that you can use without internet; the iPhone for example has a Notes app that’s simple.

      For the computer Gmail has a task manager widget (you can even add an email to your task list). Outlook has a task feature where you can also add emails to your list of tasks but I haven’t explored it since I don’t use Outlook anymore.

      For my long term goals I keep a list behind my door and I also keep a little journal on 43things.com, where you set your goals and then make journal entries on your advancement towards it. The site shows you other members who are working towards the same goal and how those who accomplished it did it 🙂

      What do you use at the moment?


    • Gary on the 11th August

      I created table in word that breaks up my day… around 6 columns.

      So it shows my long term goals, and my lists of tasks I need to do based on grouping: groups are defined as Recurrirng tasks, daily tasks, night tasks, delegated tasks.

      I created the file in dropbox and have a shortcut to my work desktop and home desktop so I have my list at home and at work.

      I tried using outlook/google but too rigid for me.

      I think the key is to look at the lists continuously through the day. I was just curious if there were people that had a system they would share that would even be more automated.

    • Ana da Silva on the 12th August

      Hi Gary,

      I’ll submit that question to my editor and have it posted on WA for everyone to answer.


  11. Ana da Silva on the 12th August

    Hi Rasmus,

    Excuse me for not answering earlier but for some reason I couldn’t post an answer to your question!

    Maybe you need to push a little in the motivation sector (see my response to Iris above); your work might not be challenging enough.

    -You can try software to time how long you’re spending on non-productive things and that might put things into perspective.

    -As you can see by reading my answers to some of the comments on this page, scheduling short breaks might help: work for a couple of hours straight then take a short break and walk away from your desk. I call this “chunking time” but others also call it “timeboxing.” I recommend this article: http://workawesome.com/productivity/timeboxing/ There’s software you can try that works as a timer too.

    -Try a FB diet and only go on it twice a day, in the middle of the day and then later at night.

    -Try using the first 90 minutes of your day to do the hardest or least challenging work. Just forget everything else and remember you’re on the clock. After 90 minutes you take a 10 minute break.

    Let me know what works!


  12. Omoba on the 12th August

    I just love your content, it has changed my life for good.

  13. Darin Walker on the 2nd July

    The title of this post is a really good alignment question!

    Thank you for asking it.

    I believe we all have within our consciousness a great storehouse of solutions and improvements to our lives, and we need only to ask the “question” to get this storehouse focused on revealing it’s contents.

    “Alignment Questions” are the basis of ThoughtStorm (http://tinyurl.com/RightForYouGoals)

    As a new copywriter myself, I’m on the lookout for ways to improve my copywriting. So.., with that said,

    My question is: What is the most important productivity skill a copywriter should focus on developing first?


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