In today’s distracted world — filled with overflowing emails, mobile phone and social media notifications — it’s harder than ever to focus on our important goals and get things done.
Every day, we struggle with procrastination and waste precious time — that we can’t get back — on unproductive tasks. We’re under immense pressure, stress and overwhelm, with the number of tasks that we need to get done on a daily basis.
Compounding to this overwhelm, is the information overload from the vast ocean of productivity tips and hacks available on the web.
To alleviate this stress and confusion, I’ve put together the top 5 productivity strategies that will significantly improve your productivity today. Here they are.
1. Use Elon Musks’ “3 step” first principles thinking
Contrary to popular productivity advice, how you think, not what you think, is the key driver of peak productivity, innovation and decision-making.
One of the best thinking techniques to solve difficult problems and improve productivity, is called first principles thinking. It’s a technique that has been used by some of the most brilliant minds of all-time, including Aristotle, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
But, no one embodies this ancient thinking skill better than billionaire and entrepreneur, Elon Musk, who has used this technique to build three revolutionary multibillion dollar companies in completely different fields — Paypal (Financial Services), Tesla Motors (Automotive) and SpaceX (Aerospace).
In addition, Musk has worked approximately 100 hours a week for over 15 years and only recently scaled down to 85 hours per week.
During a one on one interview with TED Curator, Chris Anderson, Musk broke down the first principles thinking into 3 simple steps:
- STEP 1: Identify and define your current assumptions
- STEP 2: Breakdown the problem into its fundamental principles.
- STEP 3: Create new solutions from scratch
You can read a more detailed explanation of the steps here. In a nutshell, first principles thinking helps you to identify your current assumptions, break these down into their basic truths and create better solutions from scratch.
2. Use the Ivy Lee Method
“I want you to start at number one don’t even think about number two until number one is complete.”
The Ivy Lee Method is a 100-year old, simple, yet powerful strategy for stress-free productivity, that highlights the importance of doing the most important thing first each day.
It was created by Ivy Lee — a highly respected productivity consultant — who used the method to significantly improve the efficiency of a struggling Bethlehem Steel Corporation in just 3 months. And within a few years, it helped the company grow to become America’s second-largest steel producer and largest shipbuilder. 
Here’s the 6 step method Ivy Lee recommended for achieving peak performance and high productivity on a daily basis:
- STEP 1: Clearly define your vision, goals and objectives for your life, business, health etc.
- STEP 2: At the end of each, preferably in the evening, write down the six most important tasks that you need to complete the following day to achieve your vision, goals and objectives.
- STEP 3: Rank and prioritize these six tasks in order of importance.
- STEP 4: Each morning, begin with most important task on the list and do not move onto the next task until the previous one is complete.
- STEP 5: Work your way through the six tasks on the list in order from the most to least important task. If at the end of the day you don’t finish a task, move it to the new list of six tasks for the following day.
- STEP 6: Rinse and repeat this process every day.
The Ivy lee method is a reminder that fewer priorities lead to better work and performance and that simplicity can help make it easier to take action.
3. Manage your energy, not your time
“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”
Contrary to popular belief, the primary reason why some people achieve 10x more in a given day, than most people do in a month, isn’t because of better time management— it’s because they manage their energy better.
According to peak performance experts, Jim Leohr and Tony Schwartz, our emotions, energy and willpower levels move in cycles.
There are certain time periods of the day, that we have more energy to perform better than others. The best way to get more done by doing less, is to schedule around your energy levels, not your time.
Action: Over the next 3 days, take a quick note of when your energy levels are highest and lowest. After this time period, begin to schedule your most important, creative tasks, when your energy levels are highest and your least important, less creative tasks, when your energy levels are lowest.
4. Use the time blocking method
The time blocking method is a strategy used by highly successful CEOs, entrepreneurs and productivity experts, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Cal Newport.
It involves planning your day in time increments or ‘time blocks.’ Each time block is assigned with a specific task or activity.
For example, Elon musk blocks out his daily calendar in 5 to 10-minutes time blocks for responding to overdue emails, eating meals or work meetings. 
His entire 24 hour calendar is filled with time blocks. There is no ‘free’ time.
Here are 3 easy steps to apply the time blocking method.
- STEP 1: Divide a piece of ruled paper into two columns. On the left column allocate every two lines to each hour or 5-minute block of your day (whichever you prefer).
- STEP 2: Estimate the amount of time each task is going to take to complete, then write these tasks on the left column inside their respective time blocks. Optional: add commentary notes in the corresponding right column.
- STEP 3: Add buffer times or extra room around each time block to allow for adjustments or unexpected activities.
The image below is a quick reference on the three steps above.
Time blocking is a simple, flexible and effective way to help you to regain control of your time, even when your life is hectic.
5. Quit on your goals
“Once a significant amount of time, money and energy has been invested, it becomes more difficult to quit, even though sticking to the goal could cost us much more than we’ve lost already”
– Mayo Oshin
There’s a famous quote by legendary NFL coach, Vincent Lombardi—regarded as one of the greatest coaches in American sports history — which says that “Quitters never win and winners never quit.”
But, is this always true?
It turns out there’s an upside of quitting.
According to entrepreneur and marketing expert, Seth Godin, winners quit all the time — they just quit the right stuff, at the right time. By quitting early on an unfruitful goal, winners create more time and energy to devote towards another rewarding goal.
Action: Take an honest audit of your goals. If the cost of pursuing a goal — in business, relationship, idea, work—has outweighed the benefits for an extended period of time, maybe it’s time to consider cutting your losses and focusing on something else.
To sum up, here are the top 5 things you can do that will have a significant impact on your productivity:
- Use Elon Musk’s first principles of thinking
- Use the Ivy Lee Method
- Manage your energy, not your time
- Use the time blocking method
- Quit on your goals
You can use one or more of these strategies, however, I’d advise that you pick one strategy and use it everyday for the next 5 days. If it doesn’t work, you can drop it and try a different one.
Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement ideas and proven science for better health, productivity and creativity. To get practical ideas on how to stop procrastinating and build healthy habits, you can join his free weekly newsletter here.
A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com as “The Top 5 Things That Will Significantly Improve Your Productivity Today.”
- In this interview, Musk talks about this 100 hour work week. This is his interview on TED about first principles thinking.
- Impact of the Ivy Lee Method on Bethlehem Steel was highlighted within LeBoeuf, Michael (1979), Working Smart, Warner Books. pp. 52–54.
- These energy cycles is called the ‘Ultradian Rhythm.’
- Information on Elon Musk was found at various sources. These include: Musk’s biography by Vance, this interview, Independent article, business insider piece.