living happy at work : an interview



No matter how much you love what you do, staying happy and motivated at work can be a challenge. (And if you don't love what you do it can be a huge challenge!) It's something we all struggle with and, though I've written about it in my book, The Positively Present Guide to Life, I'm always looking for new resources and insights for how to keep the workplace positive.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Deborah Heisz, COO and co-founder of Live Happy magazine, about her advice for making the most of work. Keep reading for inspiration for making the most of your workday! (And if you don't work, don't worry — there are still tons great insights in the interview that you can apply to life at home or at school.)


  1. Staying positive at work can be difficult. What advice do you have for someone who struggles to stay positive at work? 

    Even though you may love what you do, in any job there will be moments when the printer breaks, your call is not returned or a key partnership falls apart. If you are handling a stressful situation or have been solving problem after problem all day, it’s helpful to just stop and take a breath. Sharon Salzberg, meditation expert and author of Real Happiness at Work: Meditation for Accomplishment, Achievement and Peace, suggests using mindfulness, compassion and other forms of meditation to improve work life. She says that beginning a daily meditation practice that is as short as five minutes can be life changing. Sharon and other experts share tips in our latest issue of Live Happy to help everyone on the path to a more positive workplace.

    Another important point is to focus on what aspects of your job are the most meaningful to you. If you interact with the public or clients, what can you do to feel you are making a difference in their lives or helping to make their day just a little bit better? Bringing a smile to someone else’s face can have a positive effect on your outlook as well. 

  1. How you start the day can have a big impact on the rest of the day. What things can someone do to start his or her day off on a positive note? 

    Find a reason to be happy and positive when you wake up to start the day off on the right note. I like to think of something funny my children did or said the day before that makes me laugh. Exercise, even just 10 minutes’ worth, will get the blood flowing and set you on a course of making healthy decisions all day. Setting your priorities for each day the night before can also allow you to be present so your first couple hours of the day aren’t lost in chaos.

    I enjoyed Amy Robach’s comment about this in our story on Good Morning America. She says that giving and receiving cheery greetings with co-workers each morning — even though the entire staff and crew starts their days very early — is exactly what she needs to feel positive from the minute she arrives at work. “The place is humming and alive,” she says, “and you just can’t help but be glad to be here.” 

  1. You recently interviewed the Good Morning America team. What did you learn from them about making the most of a work day?

    GMA is one of the most joyful and supportive workplaces I have ever seen. It’s clear that the staff loves what they do and that this contributes to a positive environment, as well as to their great sense of teamwork. Spending time with the GMA anchors made me realize that it is not just the light-hearted moments that convey positivity, but also the respect for every contribution made that builds trust and camaraderie.

  1. Not everyone loves what they do for a living. How would you recommend making the most of a not-so-great workplace? 

    It’s hard to believe that only 30 percent of all Americans are truly engaged and like their jobs. But for the other 70 percent, there’s a lot they can do to feel more satisfied and fulfilled at work and to create a better work environment. One of the easiest ways is to recognize that you can be a catalyst for change. Negative talk and gossip can impact your day to day experience, instead avoid those conversations and thank people, say good morning, share positive news.

    Happiness, like negativity, can be contagious.  You can be the person who brings everyone else in the office up instead of down. Shane Lopez, Ph.D., and Gallup senior scientist, says engagement at work is about more than happiness. It’s about being content with the work you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. He urges us to “take some control where you have it” and organize your day to make the most of it. Change your shift to work with people you enjoy and be curious about what other co-workers are doing who have a more positive outlook.

    Ask a colleague about what he or she is working on that they are excited about. Thank someone for going above and beyond on an assignment or acknowledge a job well done to set a more positive workplace tone for everyone. And if you decide that you do really need a change, just starting to explore new options or signing up for a class to learn cutting-edge skills can help you feel less trapped and capable of moving beyond your current challenging situation.

  1. Sometimes coworkers can be tough to cope with. What advice do you have for staying positive around negative colleagues? 

    Practice mindfulness. Walk away from the negative unproductive gripe session.  Shake off outbursts or tense exchanges by stepping away for a moment for perspective. Focus on your breath or take a walk away from pinging email and desk clutter. 

    Kerry Hannon, author of Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, offers some great common sense tips we describe in-depth in our latest issue of Live Happy. One of the easiest and most useful tips from Kerry is to write down one thing you did well or that went right every day in a work journal. It’s easy to focus on that brusque comment or dismissal of your idea during a meeting or the printer that broke on deadline, but if you start focusing on the good, you’ll begin to notice that it’s been there all along.


Keeping a positive attitude isn't always the easiest thing to do during your work day, but if you take Deborah's insights on how to make each work day a bit happier and put them into practice, you'll find it easier to keep a smile on your face at the office. For more great insights on staying happy at work, check out




Absolutely hate your job and can't imagine finding happiness there? Do some soul-searching with the Finding Yourself workbook and discover more about yourself and what would make you happier (in life and in your career!). Download a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery to find inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you. Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what you value most. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own soul-searching copy here.

5 tips for keepin' it together (+ a giveaway!)

Run the DaySource


With the launch of my book, The Positively Present Guide to Life (yay!), I've had a lot going on the past few weeks. Not only have I been keeping up with regular blogger/writer duties, but I've also been writing tons of promotional articles and materials, speaking at local events, and working my hardest to sell my book to anyone and everyone. (Don't have a copy yet? You can buy it here!) It's been a dream-come-true to be promoting my very own book (and, even better, seeing it in the bookstores!), but it sure hasn't been easy staying on top of all the new to-do list items! 

Organization has always been important to me, but never more so than it is right now. When you add a new element to your life (like promoting a new project at work or having a new addition to the family at home), you have an entirely new set of tasks to deal with in addition to whatever was already on your plate. To make sure nothing slips through the cracks or gets neglected, it's useful to make use of whatever organization you can. The more organized you are, the easier life becomes.

I know, I know, some of you are probably cringing at the word "organized," but hear me out — organizing doesn't have to be a stress-inducing situation! I love organizing, but totally I get that not everyone has the heart-eyes-emoji-feeling I do when they think about arranging and ordering their lives. Here are some of the easy-to-do tricks I've been using lately to keep everything (including all of my new book promo tasks!) in line. 



I know this can be tough if you're not the naturally organized type, but having a designated spot for all of your things (or at least the important things that you use often) is so essential for streamlining your day-to-day tasks. When everything has a place and you know exactly where to find it, you save yourself tons of time and aggravation spent looking for things. If you don't already have everything in a set spot, it can take some time to create a system (and, if you live with others, to get them on board), but once you do this, I promise, you'll have so much less stress in your life. One of the things that's saved my mental state over the past few weeks is knowing exactly where things are when I need them. Knowing exactly where I can find my business cards or extra copies of my book or promotional materials has been a lifesaver when I had to quickly put things together. (Side note: this "everything in a place" doesn't apply only to tangible things — having designated spots for all of your files, images, and links is so essential for keeping everything together and saving yourself time.)



Because I love having a spot for everything and find it so helpful when it comes to keeping everything orderly, it's tough for me when something short-term comes up. For example, I now have lots of promotional materials for my book and extra boxes of books. Because I'm working a lot with these things right now, I need them often and can't tuck them neatly away like I'd like to do. So I've set up a short-term spot on my dresser where I keep everything new-book-related (pens for signing books, stamps and notecards for sending off bookplates, business cards, promotional bookmarks, etc.) at the ready. I won't deny that it drives me a little nuts having all of this stuff out in the open, looking as if it's waiting to be put away properly, but it's been a huge help having everything right there when I need it. This tactic is great if you have an upcoming work/school project, a big event coming up, or anything else that might require items to accessible in the short-term. 



Delegation is not my favorite. I like to think I can (and try to) do everything myself. Most of the time this is fine, but when it comes to big events — like the launch of a book! — it's important to learn how to ask for help and to delegate some of the to-do list tasks. (Even if you're not facing a big or unusual event, delegation can save a lot of time and greatly reduce your stress level.) Though it was hard for me to ask for help, I reached out to those around me (especially my amazingly helpful mom!) to assist me with tasks like sending out packets or spreading the word about the book launch. While I would have loved to do everything myself, delegating some of the tasks made it easier for me to focus on the things that only I could do (like signing books). It's useful exercise to ponder what tasks only you can do and what tasks you might be able to ask a partner, child, or colleague to help with. A reminder for all of you DIYers like me: asking for help doesn't mean you're not doing your job. 



I'm certainly not going to advise you spend all of your time organizing your life (I couldn't live without my reading time or Netflix binges!), but I will say that it helps to spend a little bit of your down time preparing for the tasks to come. I'm a big preparer — I plan my outfits days before I wear them, I determine blog post topics weeks in advance, and I love making plans well in advance — but I know that not everyone is neurotic forward-thinking as I am. You don't have to worry about every little detail, but it does help if you can do one thing during your down time to help make the next day easier on you. For example, while watching TV, make a to-do list for the next day or use commercial breaks to choose your outfit or pack your lunch for the next day. When I was sending out promotional materials for my book, I wrote out envelopes and cards while watching TV. This made me feel productive, but I was still (sort of) relaxing. It really helped me see that doing little things when you have down time now can make things easier on your future self. 



I've saved the best (and most essential!) for last. When it comes to keeping things together, the most important thing you can do is write it down. Whether it's a task you need get done (add it to your to-do list), a brilliant idea you have at 2am (keep paper by your bed), or notes from an important phone call (keep paper everywhere), write it down as soon as it happens. There are two reasons for this: (1) you don't have to keep thinking about it if you put it on paper and (2) you're likely to have more accurate information if you put it in writing rather than relying on your memory. Particularly if you have a lot of things going on at once (and who doesn't?), writing things down is one of the best ways to keep it together (literally and emotionally). I have notebooks everywhere and I also have two important tools that I couldn't live without: the Every Day Matters planner and The Spark Notebook. I helped design both of these so they work really well for my needs. Regardless of what method or notebook you prefer, find a way to write things down because, I swear, it's the absolute best way to keep it all together. 




The-Spark-NotebookSpark Layout
I'm offering you an opportunity to one of my favorite keep-it-together tools: a copy of The Spark Notebook. The Spark Notebook is a place for you to store your most important notes, goals, and big ideas so you’re always at the top of your game.It achieves what no other notebook has before: it combines the beautiful design of sleek, professional notebooks with the functionality of big life-planners and organization guides. All of the great organizational tools without any of the fuss or frills. I helped design this so I'm a bit biased, but it really is one of the best organizational tools out there. To enter to win, see below! 



1. Enter by doing one (or all!) of the following. Each counts as an entry.   

    * Friend PositivelyPresent or The Spark Notebook on Facebook
    * Link to The Spark Notebook on any social media outlet
    * Follow PositivePresent or Popforms on Twitter
    * Follow PositivelyPresent or Popforms on Instagram
    * Follow PositivelyPresent or Popforms on Pinterest
    * Link to The Spark Notebook on any social media outlet

2. Leave a comment below, including:

    * Where / how you entered (every follow / like / tweet / etc. counts!)
    * Your email address (in the email box, not the comment box)


* Every follow / share / tweet / like, etc. counts as one entry
* Open to US residents only (sorry, international friends!)
* Enter as many times as you'd like to increase your chances
* Winner will be chosen and notified via email on 4/6/15

the positively present guide to life!

Book Published

Tomorrow is a very exciting day for me. It's the official debut of The Positively Present Guide to Life, a book I've been hard at work on for over two years!

Back in 2012, I left my full-time job in Marketing to pursue writing and blogging. Since then I've self-published a book, Stay Positive: Daily Reminders from Positively Present, as well as written a variety of e-books, but this in my first in-the-bookstore, traditionally published book and I couldn't be more excited about its launch! 

If you're already as excited as I am about it and want to order your copy ASAP, you can grab a copy on Amazon or check in with your local bookseller to see if it'll be in stock tomorrow. If you're not sure if this is the book for you, here's what you need to know about the book... (and scroll down to the bottom of the post to check out the bonus freebie!)



Ok, so, there are tons of self-help books on the market, but this one is different. First and foremost, it blends serious content with inspiring illustrations, something you don't see too often in the self-help space. And, more importantly, it's not a book about achieving happiness (though happiness is a lovely by-product of living a positively present life) and it's not about perfecting your life. Instead, it's about learning to live positively in present — no matter what the present moment holds. This is the book you need to face whatever challenges you currently have in your life, to create the relationships you want to have, and to learn how to make the most of every moment. 

Featuring five inspiring and insightful chapters on home, work, love, relationships, and change, the book provides practical advice for creating a nurturing home, building a fulfilling career, developing great relationships, appreciating true love, and embracing change. It also includes 30 easy-to-do exercises to inspire action, create transformation, encourage positivity, embrace the moment, and achieve fulfillment. And it has additional features such as inspiring illustrations and access to additional online content like free worksheets to use in conjunction with the book (see here).

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to stay present, live positively, and make the most of every moment.   




Obviously, as the author and illustrator of the book, I think the book's awesome, but you'll have to be the judge of that yourself. Here are some exciting things to know about the book. These are the things that really make it unique and inspiring, and I hope these features will help you feel motivated to live a more positive, more present life. 

  • FREE WORKSHEETS: If you visit, you can download free PDFs of worksheets that accompany the content in the book. The worksheets aren't necessary, but they are a great bonus if you're the type of person who likes to have everything organized (and color-coordinated with the book) and wants to really engage in the activities from the book. 

  • INSPIRING ILLUSTRATIONS: This is one of my absolute favorite parts of the book, and I think it's one of the things that makes it so unique. To accompany the content, I created illustrations throughout the book to offer additional inspiration and motivation. These illustrations, paired with quotes, have been created to keep you inspired as you read. 

  • EASY-TO-DO EXERCISES: One of the most important things to me when I created this book was to make it a practical guide for living positively in the present. For that reason, each section of the book has a practical activity that will urge you to apply the topic in your real life. As I wrote about recently, self-awareness isn't enough. Action is where real change happens. 

  • POSITIVITY REMINDERS: In the book, you'll learn about the six essential Positively Present Principles. These are the vital foundation for living a positive, present life. To help you keep these in mind, I've featured reminders throughout the book that highlight how a particular principle is relevant to that particular topic. 

  • STEP-BY-STEP ADVICE: Of course, the most important thing about the book is the content. In each of the five sections, you'll find six chapters with insights, inspiration, and step-by-step advice for tackling life's many challenges. The advice I offer comes from my own personal experience. It's worked for me — and I know it'll benefit you too!


I've worked so hard on this book and I really think you'll love it! Tomorrow (March 10, 2015)  the book will be available in select bookstores. You can purchase a copy online at AmazonBarnes & NobleAmazon UK, or IndieBound. If you purchase the book and would like to leave a review on Amazon or GoodReads, I would be forever thankful! And if you'd like to help spread the word about the book via social media or to friends and family, that would be ah-maz-ing. 



Want a PERSONALIZED, SIGNED bookplate (aka, pretty sticker signed by me to put in your book)? Email me (dani [at] with the name you'd like on the bookplate (yours or a friend's) along with your mailing address and I'll send signed bookplate your way! Bookplates are perfect for gift-giving (and they also make the copy you get for yourself feel like an extra special gift!). Note: There are limited quantities available so be sure to send your request soon! 

6 life lessons from 6 years of blogging

Six-YearsImage Source


Positively Present turned six years old last Saturday. SIX!

It's hard to believe that just over six years ago, I was sitting on my bed, laptop on my lap, pushing the keys and deciding to create a site where I'd share my attempts at living a more positive, present life. I can vividly remember the moment when I shared with my then-boyfriend what I thought the name should be. I had no idea, way back then, what the words "Positively Present" would come to mean to me — and to my readers. Those two words have changed my life and I hope, if you've been following along for awhile, that they've somehow changed yours too. 

A lot has happened in the past six years. I've left my job to work on Positively Present full time, I've experienced my life-long dream of writing books, I've fallen in love, I've faced tough break-ups, I've suffered some serious loss (particularly my sweet little Bella), I've discovered new passions, and I've sure as hell discovered a lot about myself. When I look back on it, it's been a pretty amazing period of my life, and I've learned so much not only about myself, but about blogging, about writing, and about life in general.

Here are some of the life lessons I've uncovered over the past six years...



When I started off, I kept the blog a complete secret. It took me two full months to even put my name out there (see here), and much, much longer before I shared the link with people I knew in real life. I'm not a shy person and I've been sharing my writing for as long as I can remember (in fact, one of my fondest memories of this is when I was in the midst of writing a short story for English class and all of my friends took turns reading it, all of them dying to know how it was going to end). But for some reason, I had a really hard time sharing this site with the world, probably because a lot of the posts are pretty personal. Whatever the reason, I started off very slowly and I realize now that that's okay. Going slow generally isn't my thing (I'm more of an instant gratification kinda girl), but starting off slowly isn't a bad thing. It gave me time to form a vision, to discover what worked best for me and my blog, and to let the content and design evolve naturally. Starting off slow helped me realize that you don't have to rush to make something a success. 


2009 Blog
Positively Present in 2009!



After three years of blogging, I decided I wanted to give it a go as a full-time career. This didn't happen on a whim. I did a lot of planning and a lot of adding to my savings account before I took the plunge. In 2012 I left my full-time job and, man, was it a scary move to make. I had some really great coworkers and a pretty decent income and even though I wasn't in love with what I was doing, I certainly was comfortable. All of that changed in March 2012 when I said goodbye to the comfy corporate work and leapt into the unknown world of working for myself by myself. Taking this plunge was actually pretty exciting. The scary part came after I'd done it and found myself alone in my apartment all day, trying to get a handle on what exactly I was doing and how I was going to tangibly turn my ideas into a business. It was scary just starting out and it was scary doing it all on my own. But I'm not going to lie: it's pretty awesome to be in control of what I do all day, to decide when and how I'm going to work. My situation wouldn't be ideal for everyone, but the lesson I've learned is this: whatever you want for your career (or your life!), go all in. It'll be terrifying, but it'll be worth it. 



For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer. As a kid, I would daydream about what it would be like to see a book I'd written propped up on a shelf at my favorite bookstore. Admittedly, when I left my job to focus on Positively Present, I didn't have a very specific plan of how I was going to make the whole publishing-a-book dream happen, but I knew that's what I wanted more than anything. I knew if I worked hard enough and put myself out there, it would somehow happen. And now it is. It's all happening! (For days I've had this scene from Almost Famous in my head...) Just last week I received an advanced copy of my book The Positively Present Guide to Life, which will be in stores and available to ship online March 10. It was literally a dream-come-true moment. I felt like a princess in a fairytale, but instead of twirling around a ballroom dancing with a prince, I was awkwardly jumping up and down in my apartment with a book in my hand. A book with my name on it! My picture on the back flap! It was such a surreal moment and it made me realize just how important it is to have goals and dreams. Working toward something (and seeing it come to life) is really one of the best feelings in the world. 


Positively Present Guide to Life
The day my book arrived!



Writing a book was always my goal, but I wasn't the best at going after it in the traditional sense. I wanted the instant gratification of publication, which is why I chose to self-publish my first book, Stay Positive: Daily Reminders from Positively PresentIt was a successful venture, going the self-published route and I was content to keep heading down that path. As I was working on my second book, I received an email from Watkins Publishing, wondering if I might be interested in writing a book. It turns out they were looking for something Alice in Wonderland-themed and had discovered my site via this Alice in Wonderland article in an online search. It was an article I'd written years ago about a topic I was extremely passionate about: one of my favorite books. For most of my life, Alice has been my favorite, but I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined my love of Alice landing me a book deal. While I didn't end up writing about Alice, the connection made with the publisher led to the book that's debuting in a few short weeks. (YAY!!!) I've learned that what you love (in this case, Alice) and what you do (in this case, writing a blog post about it) can lead you to very unexpected and exciting places. What you do matters. What you love matters. 



The same year that I left my job (2012), I took my first online class at Nicole's Classes to see if I could pick up some tips on graphic design. I'd always been fascinated by graphic design (I can remember as a kid playing around on my laptop designing book covers for my yet-to-be-written books and spending hours just testing out different font pairings!), but I'd never considered it something I could do. After all, I didn't have any professional experience and I hadn't studied it in school. I decided to give it a try anyway and found out that I love it. Since that first online class, I've spent countless hours taking classes, experimenting with the design programs, reading books, and doing what I can to educate myself on design. And all of that hard work has paid off, turning itself into a new part of my career! Just last year, I launched Twenty3, my design studio and have put together a pretty decent little portfolio. Writing will always be my first love, but I really enjoy designing, and I never would have uncovered this new passion if I hadn't given something new a try!


Dani DiPirro
Working as a designer now!



Even though I work for myself and I spent most of my time by myself, there is no way I would be sitting here writing this post today if it weren't for the help, support, and encouragement of other people. My friends and family have supported me 100% throughout the past six years (when I eventually opened up enough to tell them about it!) and there's no way I would be where I am if it weren't for them. I've also needed other people to help me learn new things, to create connections, and to form new online friendships. I've also been lucky enough to have people take a chance on me as a new designer, which has helped me learn and grow not only personally, but professionally as well. I consider myself an independent introvert, but even the most independent ladies need the help and support of others. Sometimes it's hard for me to ask for help or to reach out to create connections, but I've learned over the past six years that, even though I work alone, I am by no means completely on my own. No man is an island, as the saying goes, and no one who is successful in business (or life!) is doing it all on his or her own. 



For those of you who have been reading for years, thank you! You don't know how much it means to me to know you're out there, reading and supporting and encouraging me to keep writing. And for those of you who are new visitors or who just stumbled on the site today, welcome! I hope you'll enjoy what you find and that my words will show you just how powerful staying positive and present can be. It's changed my life and it can change yours too!




One of the best ways to discover insights about life is to discover insights about yourself! Now is a great time to discover more about yourself and what you want most by downloading a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your very own soul-searching copy here.

a foolproof guide to getting more done

GetMoreDonePhotos by Sarah Lovrien


Today’s post was written by Kate Matsudaira, founder of Popforms. In addition to building tools to help you be better at your job, she also just launched a Kickstarter for The Spark Notebook: a notebook that combines the function of a big life-planner into a beautifully designed, professional notebook. She came up with the great ideas and I took care of the design work. Check it out here! 


I am lazy.

If there is a shortcut I will take it. 

I love feeling accomplished, but I don’t always love the hard work it takes to get there.  And my inertia used to be a big hurdle, but over the years I transformed into a high bandwidth entrepreneur (aka, doing the work of a whole team of people) and this article describes my process.


What my life was like

When I started working out of college it was a rough transition.  Every task was brand new and the fear of the unknown paralyzed me.

Each day I would head into the office gung-ho about all the work I was going to complete, and inevitably I would find myself searching the internet Googling things like “stop procrastination” and “be more productive."

When the weekend came around, I would sit on my couch contemplating everything I should be doing. I had developed akrasia, which is worse than procrastination because you aren’t really relaxing because your mind is occupied by the things you should be doing.   

At some point fear would set in and the adrenaline would get me going and I would start work furiously. This sprint mentality worked well and 90% of the time I would get all the work completed on time. However, every single time I would end up with the haunting thought:

“If I could work like this all the time I would be unstoppable.”

And that became my quest: to be productive all the time, not just right before the deadline.


How I get things done

The key to being productive is to have a plan. The first part of a plan is getting started.  And getting started means dealing with your mind and emotions.

It is really hard to get things done if you aren’t motivated to do the work.

One of the reasons I was so productive was I had extrinsic motivation — I would never get promoted if I didn’t complete my projects. I am also naturally a people pleaser so I would hate to disappoint my manager. Some work (like writing this blog post) you may do because of intrinsic motivation; you enjoy the process.

Therefore, the first part of any task is to figure out the why behind it. What is the inspiration behind it?

Finding your work rewarding is really a whole other post in and of itself — you can check out this post on How to Forever Cure to Your Lack of Motivation.

You are emotional and your brain is emotional, so you need to find a connection and a “why” for your work (even if it is just the bliss of marking something complete).

Once you know why you are doing the work, then you need to understand why you aren’t doing the work.

In my case, each task was about one week long. And these big bites were hard for me to get my head around, and the fear of the unknown would increase my inertia. The less I knew about the work, the harder the inertia would be to overcome.

One of the best tips I ever got was to break up my projects. And I don’t mean just breaking them into the logical pieces of work.  After all, if you knew all the logical pieces of work then it wouldn’t be so scary and unknown right? Literally the powerful realization was to break up the work into the pieces of how I would start the work. What would I search for on Google? Who would I ask about the project?

All you really need is the next action, so just focus on the next thing needed to move that project forward. 

Those are the items I put on my list, I start with those small things and make sure I make progress each day. One small item at a time.



Get organized 

It sounds cliché, but if you aren’t organized, you end up wasting time. Whether it is creating a pile of receipts on your desk or searching for your keys, if you don’t have a system then you will be losing time where you could otherwise making progress.

At a minimum, I think you need the following caches for your stuff:

  • A task list for your day-to-day work
  • A someday list for all the things you might do in the future
  • A contact list for people, along with a place for notes about them — things like where you met and the names of their children
  • A place for your ideas and insights (ideally one you can use on the go too)
  • A way to organize your bookmarks (I used to use a browser but moved to Evernote to keep notes about them too and organize them more logically)
  • A place for receipts (I keep 3 folders — one for tax-deductible receipts, one for business expenses, and one for everything else. Expensify is also a great app for staying on top of work receipts.)
  • A calendar to organize your time and your day
  • A method to organize your electronic documents on your hard drive 

These systems are important because they will save you time looking for things, but they also will help you get started much faster when you sit down to do your work.

I use Things for my task list (although I probably would use a free one now, but when there weren’t a lot of good options — I would just make sure it syncs to mobile and your computer). And I use Evernote for all sorts of things — for example, I keep blog post ideas in a note and then when I sit to write, like tonight, I can just pull one off the top.


Managing your mail

Email in many ways is someone else’s priorities or requests, not your own. And I think checking email and the gratification you get from “finishing it” causes an addition-like behavior. This article summed it up well:

“You may not like spending long amounts of time in your inbox, but you probably think about checking it pretty often. When you hear that ding (or vibrate), you know there’s something waiting for you. To make things worse, because you do not receive email at set intervals and you don’t know if that email is going to be something you want, your curiosity is piqued the moment the ding occurs just so you can find out if you’ve received something you want or if it’s a waste of your time.

When I have a lot of “thought work,” such as writing code or articles like this one, I limit the frequency of email checking.  Since I started working on my startup, popforms, I even put up an auto-responder so people don’t expect a prompt response. I schedule time to “do email,” and if I don’t finish it then I won’t tackle it until my next email slot.

I use Text Expander and anything I find myself typing more than once I create a template for it. You can also used canned responses in Gmail for common email responses which won’t work everywhere, but it is free, and email is where I use them most (I know people who also use signatures in outlook for similar purposes).

To give you an idea of how useful these are here is a small set of the snippets I use:

  • Recruiter thanks, but no thanks response
  • Vendor thanks, but no thanks response
  • Introduction templates
  • My address (one for home, and I used to have one for work when I worked outside of my house)
  • Directions to my house
  • My websites
  • My bio
  • Response to people wanting to advertise on my website
  • Offer letters
  • Setting up interviews

The sky is the limit here, just make sure you have a smart naming system, because once you have them the trick is training yourself to use them.


Now get to work

Your systems and infrastructure may be optimum to do the work, but the real work is putting the rubber on the road. And for me that was an exercise in discipline and prioritization.


Set priorities

Each week I establish my 2-3 themes for the week. These are the major things I really want to get done. I will check my goals each week and make sure that the work I am doing fits into my big picture.

Then daily I take a moment to plan my day. I try to do this before anything else — including getting caught in my inbox. Need some inspiration to take charge of your mornings? Read this post: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.

When I created the Spark Notebook, I took this philosophy into the core design of the notebook. The notebook has weekly goal pages so you can set your intentions for every week, and then daily time organizers so you can priorities tasks throughout the day. It’s easy to get swept up in the many things other people ask you to do, so by laying out your priorities in front of you, you can make the best decisions about when and where to spend your time.

And if you need more time, make it a habit to start getting up earlier. This didn’t work for me (I don’t think I will ever be a morning person) but I know a lot of people who swear by it.



Make the most of your time

I use my calendar to set aside time for important tasks. I block it off so I don’t get distracted or pulled into meetings. This technique is great for email, because you know when you “do email," and for me it reduces the desire to check email and allows me to get more work done. 

Batch similar tasks together whenever you can.

This is a great article on batching tasks and doing work that shares the same context. Errands are an extreme example, but I also batch things like reading the news and curating articles for a weekly newsletter I used to do.


Make the most of small slices

It used to be that if I only had 15 minutes, I would write it off as lost time and spend those minutes on Twitter or shopping online. Now I keep a list of items that are less than 15 minutes.  And a lot of these can be done on my iPhone; like responding to some emails or reading articles I have set aside to read later. I fill in the cracks with productive work.

When I drive in the car I always do conference calls or listen to audiobooks. It is like a university in the car. I stay on top of new business books, and I think that listening to them makes me a better driver (well, at least a less aggressive driver). After I get out of the car I try to write my top 3 takeaways from the reading session so I can remember and retain what I heard.

The key to really good retention is writing things down and then revisiting those notes regularly to make sure the information sticks. Make sure you’re keeping your notes somewhere you’ll be able to return to them easily (no disorganized piles of sticky notes) and make connections between things you’ve learn. 


Get disciplined

Willpower is like a muscle and the more you exercise it, the stronger it will get. One technique I swear by is to set a timer and just start working (this is also called the Pomodoro technique). I will tell myself if I don’t feel like working when the timer is up in 10 minutes, then I will do the task later. However, I usually get into a groove and work as originally planned.

You have to build your willpower muscle, and this ultimately is one of the biggest factors in my super-charged productivity. I have spent years building up my willpower and discipline to just start working and making progress.


When you need a break, take a break

I don’t adhere to a 9-5 schedule, since that isn’t my rhythm. I do certain tasks in the morning when my head is foggy (like I said earlier, I am not a morning person), but I save the more focused smart thinking work for later in the day when I am at my best.

I also make a point to unplug for a bit to spend some quality time with the family. Then I will often pick back up since I get productive later at night.


Set up an environment for success

Distraction can be a problem; however, it was ultimately not one of the ones that really interfered with me. I found that once I set to do something, I would finish it. However, if you have a problem with distraction I thought this was a great post on the topic: Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose.

I do think it helps to have good tools (computer, keyboard, mouse, pens, paper, etc.) and a comfortable environment. Put yourself in a place where it is easy to be successful (I get distracted if there are dirty dishes in the sink, so I always have to wash them before I can work — it is just one of those things I suppose).


The hard reality

There aren’t any shortcuts to make work take less time. All of the work to being more productive is learning to be more disciplined and organized (making you more efficient). The good news is that you get better at it with more practice and effort.

I created a Kickstarter project based around my philosophies on productivity and success, where I am building “the perfect notebook." It combines all the awesome organization and productivity tools of a big life-planner, but it’s all tucked inside a beautiful, professional exterior.

It’s the notebook I always wished I had when I was designing my own productivity systems, and it combines all the function I know we all love with a sleek exterior you would be proud to carry into an important meeting.

You can check it out at — I hope you will. Let’s make becoming amazing at your job just a little bit more beautiful. 

Have other tips and tricks for being more productive?
Leave them in the comments, I am sure others would love to know!