How to increase productivity by tenfold in just 14 days


A few weeks ago I had a realization.

I had been making incredible progress on the majority of my annual goals, mostly through sheer willpower. I am a driven person. Put goals in front of me, and I will knock them down. Unfortunately, despite the progress, two of my goals were lagging desperately behind. Not for lack of desire, but, lack of “time”. In fact, when it came to my fitness goal, I was losing ground. Instead of losing 20 lbs, I had gained four – and I knew it was a result of “willing my way” to success.

In other words, my goals were fighting against each other – far from living the integrated life I aspire to.

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So, I reached out to a group of friends (my mastermind group) and asked for advice. How do you fit in your exercise? What are you doing to squeeze in a workout? How do I get started? What tips can you share? Help!!

The response was profound. Not only did I learn quite a bit about getting healthy, I learned quite a bit about how to increase productivity. The past three months have been the most productive of my life.

So what was the advice? What did I do to increase my productivity tenfold in just a couple of weeks?

I started eating healthy.

You already eat. It doesn’t take any more time to change your eating habits, just more willpower.” That was the advice of one friend. He suggested that I work on my overall health, not just exercise. He was right: it was easy to flip a switch and start eating like a healthy individual — and it didn’t cost me any time.

Honestly, I think this move was mostly psychological. I’m sure it will pay dividends, but, more than anything, it made me feel like I was a healthier person and had the will power to do this.

Productivity boost: 0% gain but got me started

I started drinking water.

As I began eating better, I realized that the sugar I put in my iced tea and the Starbucks mocha that I was drinking regularly were a large part of my problem. So I tapered them down and replaced them with water – not only during meals, but throughout the day.

I began to notice an immediate difference in how I felt. Less sluggishness, more vitality.

Productivity boost: 10% gain

I started exercising regularly.

Here’s where the first big boost came in. Many of my friends recommended that I get a trainer to hold me accountable and teach me how to exercise. They suggested that paying up front would motivate me to “make my commitment” and that having an expert guide me would ensure that I achieve immediate results to fuel my commitment.

Instead of debating the value (the value of strong group of like-minded friends is that you can trust their advice and experiences), I just quickly found a trainer. Within a week I was signed up and ready to get started. Three days later I was feeling great! I could feel the impact physically (soar), but more importantly, I had found an untapped source of energy.

Productivity boost: 100% gain

I adjusted my routine.

In order to fit in my exercise routine, I had to adjust my schedule. This forced me to step back and figure out how to be more deliberate about my time. I had a new “big rock” to fit in and was forced to re-evaluate my “ideal” calendar, which enlightened me to the fact that a few things on my priority list were no longer the priority they once were.

Simply readjusting my calendar, focusing my priorities and reminding my assistant what on my calendar was essential that she protect, I was able to realize another incremental lift in productivity.

Productivity boost: 50% gain

I caught up on my to-do list.

Adjusting my routine reminded me how important keeping up with my to-do list is. When I have dedicated time to work, I want that time to be as productive as possible. Unfortunately, my to-do list had grown and become messy. I noticed that I felt overwhelmed by the nagging notifications that were indicating that this or that was overdue. I committed to spending one hour to clean up my to-do list, re-prioritize it, and get back on track. By doing so, I was able to get rid of the “nagging” the distracts my mind, clear several things that I had already done but not marked off the list, and figure out what the true priorities were.

I gained at least 10 hours back for the one hour investment — and that’s only counting the tangible hours saved over the course of the first week.

Productivity boost: 50% gain

I started standing to work.

One of the side benefits of exercise was that I started noticing my posture throughout the day. I could tell when I was slumped over. I felt “unhealthy” when I slouched over my keyboard. As I began to notice my body more, I looked back on additional advice that I had received from yet another subset of my friends – “try a standing desk.” Apparently sitting throughout the day is really bad for you and being on your feet helps your posture, keeps you moving, and reduces body fat.

So I got a standing desk and immediately began to realize that I had a significantly greater amount of focus when I was standing than I did while I was sitting.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve gained about five hours per week in focus. I’m not in my office a lot, but when I am, I’m pretty convinced that I’m two to three times as productive.

Productivity boost: 250% gain

I limited my email consumption.

As I became aware of my productivity gains, I also became aware of areas in my life that weren’t very productive. One of those areas is my email management. It hit me that whereas in my calendar and to-do list I try to “batch” like responsibilities, my email hammers me every day, throughout the day, and on an ad-hoc basis. What if I began to start managing my email instead of letting it manage me?

So I tweaked my calendar again. I blocked off two stints throughout the day – one in the morning and one in late afternoon – to answer email. Then I removed my email from my phone. That’s right. I disabled it. I no longer get a moment by moment update on which email I’m receiving. Furthermore, I have committed to leaving the email app on my laptop closed while I’m working.

Without these distractions, I’m able to work much more productively – and surprisingly, I’m able to wiz through processing the email when I finally get to it because I’m in “email processing mode.”

I’m obsessive compulsive when it comes to email. There’s nothing that screams more “unprofessional” to me than not responding to a note in a timely fashion. So I found a system that works for me. I still live my 24 hour rule, I just don’t live the one minute rule. Hopefully you can wait until either 6AM or 4:30 PM for a response.

Productivity boost: 300% gain

I started exercising my focus.

All of this progress in productivity brought to light an issue I have with focus. I became acutely aware that my mind races, and races, and races. And as it races, it jumps from one thing, to the next, to the next.  And then it hit me, the same “flaky” people on the internet that seem to recommend standing desks (which I now love), also recommend “meditation.” Not in the sense of spiritual mediation, but in the sense of exercising your mind’s focus to gain productivity.

So I started using an App called Calm to enhance my focus. It costs me just a few minutes a day, but I think it’s actually starting to work.

Productivity boost: 40% gain

I started delegating more administrative items.

I’m actually pretty good at leveraging my EA for help, but there are a handful of things that pile up that I just don’t feel comfortable having her help with. For example, I needed to do some research for a trip I wanted to take with one of my kids. I also needed some help configuring one of the social media tools that I need. These items had been on my “to-do” list for, literally, months. And they were driving me nuts, wasting mental cycles, but they’d never bubble up as the most important thing.

And so I delegated them to a virtual assistant. I signed up for a few different services and experimented. I have settled on FancyHands. I’ve purchased a subscription and as “administrative” things come up that I don’t necessarily think it’s right for my EA to do for me, I request the help of FancyHands.

Productivity boost: 100% gain

So there you have it.

An estimated 800% productivity boost. I’m getting significantly more done in moderately less time. As an example, on one plane flight I wrote 13 blog posts. Just pounded them out. In one 45 minute session, I destroyed my to-do list. In less than two hours a day I now process all of my email – and I’ve eliminated distractions throughout the day. So, if you’re looking for a productivity boost, why not try some of these simply fixes and increase productivity immediately?

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Aviva Goldfarb says:

    You are so inspiring! Glad drinking water and eating healthier are part of your productivity boost. I’ve been practicing guided meditation for 10 minutes or so most days too, starting about a month ago, also to increase focus and decrease mental chaos. Will have to check out Calm because I’m still searching for the right tool to use.

    1. David DeWolf says:

      Thanks, Aviva. It’s almost embarrassing how much improvement I had. If I can help anyone avoid that, I’m happy to share!

  2. Mohan Rao says:

    David, this is an amazingly well thought out plan! Like almost everything that’s fantastic, it’s simple but not simplistic. Plus it fits into a 2-week sprint! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    1. Nitin Agarwal says:

      Mohan, I agree with you. The plan looks simple, but it is not easy. I believe “simple” does not necessarily mean it is easy.

      David, I do not want sound critical, but anyone who could do all these things to me it would mean he/she has achieved nirvana.

      1. David DeWolf says:

        Nitin — Nirvana is doing it 100% of the time, perfectly. Actually implementing them and maintaining a reasonable commitment is something that I believe is truly doable for almost anyone. I agree with you Mohan — definitely fits in a 2-week sprint. Much of it is making smart decisions throughout the day — like choosing the salad instead of the steak for lunch or powering through the first three days of stand-up-desk pain in order to build the stamina necessary to carry through.

        Unfortunately, I’m far from perfect. Since I’ve implemented these practices, I haven’t complied perfectly with them. For instance, I was on vacation and visiting my in-laws last week and my exercise really fell off the map.

        I have found, over and over, that the key to many things in life is having the discipline to stay as consistent as possible — and when necessary, to quickly get back up and start over.

        I challenge you to give it a try. One step at a time!!

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