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What Mark Twain knew about productivity at work

Everyone wants to be more productive, which, in contrast to just being ‘busy’, means that you actually get through your to-do list and have a life outside of work. It’s a no-brainer. But, if you’re working long hours and getting nowhere, what are you doing wrong?

We’ve searched far and wide, drawing wisdom from Harvard Business School, Life Hacks, the Japanese Art of Tidying and many more, to create a ten-point plan for you that actually works.

Address your OWN goals

You finish the working day, exhausted, and think ‘I didn’t even get to my own to-do list yet.’ If this sounds familiar, you’re reacting to your workplace, rather than focusing on your own goals. According to Harvard Business School, you should devote at least 50% of your workday, and your most productive times, to your core goals. Give these goals your best attention, and address everything else ‘quick and dirty’.

Avoid multitasking

Contrary to workplace bravado, multitasking doesn’t work. The mind can only pay full attention to one thing at a time, or monotask. Interrupt it in the middle of something complex, and it’s forced to make a three- or four-second ‘attentional blink’ as it switches to the new project. Added up over the day, all those blinks chew up as much as 40% of prime work time. To support monotasking, turn off all notifications from your phone and PC, too. Read more about it in out blog here:

Eat the frog or BANJO

Mark Twain said that “if it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Basically, this means that if a job really needs done, or is nasty, get it done first. You’ll feel invincible for the rest of the day. Some will know this as ‘BANJO’ – or Bang a Nasty Job Out. It’s horrid, but delivers.


Experts from Harvard recommend OHIO – ‘only handle it once’. Don’t file emails for later. Read them, deal with them, or delete them. Nothing else. Sounds brutal but it works. It also trains those around you not to send unnecessary emails.

Use the two-minute rule

If it takes less than two minutes, just do it now. Ring-fence a bunch of small tasks like this every day and knock them down. This also gets you into the habit of breaking up big, ugly jobs into more attractive, two-minute chunks.

Declutter and Organize

Tidy your goddam desk. No-one can make decisions in the midst of chaos, and research has proven this. In addition, we lose important things. Over our lifetime, we’ll lose 3,680 hours – or 153 days – just searching for lost stuff. If that’s happening at work, it’s a big dent in your bottom line. We’ve written about this before, and you can read more here:

Have fewer meetings

Count how many times you’ve had a short and effective meeting that achieved results within the allocated time. We’re guessing not many. Meetings invariably involve some degree of timewasting, socialising, or grumbling. So, choose them well. Need a quick answer? Phone or email. Need to brainstorm? By all means get your folks round a table. Bring donuts.

Manage Interruptions

Working on a big task? Mark your calendar as ‘busy’ or ‘unavailable’ to get some peace. Turn off your phone if possible, and come out of your email application. At the very least, let others know that you need some mono-tasking time, but you’ll be fully present when it’s done. If the job is a real biggie, work from home until it’s delivered.

Take Breaks

‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.’ We don’t care who said it, because we (and IT helpdesks the world over) know this is true. If you are getting nowhere with a task, leave it. Get up, get outside if possible, and have some water. Just one micro-break (between 30 seconds to 5 minutes) can improve mental acuity by 30%. Enough said. 

Use Tools

This one is very close to our hearts, because we’re committed to designing tools to take the stress out of running a company. isCompliant is the product of 15 years’ experience in business and management systems consultancy – combined with a desire to make life easier, and get everyone home on time. We wanted to get our work/life balance right, and put the fun back. Could isCompliant help you, too? Bag a free trial here:

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