We all have those days where we can’t motivate ourselves to get moving, or those weeks where we feel like we didn’t get anything done—despite spending all day at the office.
There are plenty of hacks and tricks that can make you more productive, but sometimes, the best way to improve your productivity and motivate yourself to work harder is to look through productivity quotes from philosophers, entrepreneurs, presidents, and other great thinkers, to see what they’ve had to say about productivity.
You might learn a new tricks, adopt a new perspective, or simply feel energized to keep moving; with 101 of these hand-picked productivity quotes from some of the world’s brightest minds throughout history, you’re sure to find something that resonates with you.
1. “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” –Aristotle.
Aristotle was an early riser, but my guess is this was less about the time of day you wake up and more about your diligence and consistency. Stay regimented, and get up on time every day if you want to maximize your morning hours.
2. “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle.
Excellence is a habit, not a single act. If you want to be productive, it’s less about making individual choices or actions, and more about eliminating your bad habits and replacing them with better ones.
3. “Improved productivity means less human sweat, not more.” –Henry Ford.
It’s easy to think that higher productivity means you’re working harder, but in reality, higher productivity relieves some of your workload. Automation is the best example here; it helps you get more done, while making fewer demands on your time.
4. “How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.” –Niccolo Machiavelli.
This is good advice to consider while reading these quotes—you can spend all day studying up on what should be done in an ideal environment to perfect productivity, but those ideal environments don’t exist, and most people don’t practice those habits anyway. It’s better if you recognize which steps are possible to take, and how these habits and considerations can manifest in a real, practical way.
5. “Great acts are made up of small deeds.” –Lao Tzu.
You don’t need to go from unproductive to super-productive overnight. Instead, your productivity is a composite of many habits, shortcuts, and improvements. For example, since we all love Gmail, you can learn one Gmail keyboard shortcut at a time, and eventually master the art of using keystrokes to control your Gmail interface. The art of war and the art of Gmail aren’t so dissimilar, after all.
6. “If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” –Brian Tracy.
You’ll find conflicting advice on whether to tackle easy or difficult tasks first, but I find myself aligning with Tracy on this issue. Knocking out a harder job first mitigates the risk of procrastination, and makes you feel good about your progress and accomplishments—you can then use that energy to fuel your tasks for the rest of the day
7. “Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.” –Dale Carnegie.
This is similar advice from Dale Carnegie, though his perspective is that easy jobs can be completed without stressing over them—or possibly that they can be easily delegated.
8. “When one has much to put into them, a day has a hundred pockets.” –Friedrich Nietzsche.
Do you ever feel like “the day got away from you?” Or that there “aren’t enough hours in the day?” This is a common sentiment, but Nietzsche argues that if you fill your day with meaning, you’ll find there’s ample time to accomplish everything you want to accomplish. Usually, those feelings of waste come from being busy with things that don’t actually matter (even if you think they do).
9. “The merit in action lies in finishing it to the end.” –Genghis Khan.
Even though Genghis Khan was probably talking about slaughtering an entire village (hopefully not), you can’t argue with his general perspective. Half-finished tasks and half-drafted emails aren’t going to help you; commit to completing tasks and projects before moving on to the next one.
10. “The winners in life think constantly in terms of I can, I will, and I am. Losers, on the other hand, concentrate their waking thoughts on what they should have or would have done, or what they can’t do.” –Dennis Waitley.
Much as you might like to, you can’t change the past. Instead of ruminating over what you might have done differently in the first year of your business’s operations, or even in the first few hours of the morning, shift your frame of reference to focus on what you’re going to do for the rest of the day, or the rest of the year—the future.
11. “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” –Francis of Assisi.
There are a few ways you could interpret this, but I think Francis of Assisi is saying that your priorities should naturally focus on what’s immediately needed, then only on what you can do. Worrying about far-off challenges or problems that don’t apply to you yet is a waste of your attention. Do this until you’ve wiped the board of your priorities and capabilities, and you’ll find yourself accomplishing far more than you had ever expected.
12. “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” –Albert Einstein.
Einstein’s contributions to physics are hard to exaggerate, but a common belief is that his greatest theories came to him overnight, as a flash of inspiration. In reality, it took him seven years of headaches, exhaustion, and desperation to come up with General Relativity. Was he smart? Certainly. But this quote gives testament to his commitment and hard work more than his natural intelligence.
13. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” –Albert Einstein.
Similarly, Einstein wasn’t afraid to bend some of the rules and break others (like throwing out Newtonian physics). You can’t improve your productivity by keeping things the way they are; you have to try new strategies, adopt new tools, and change your environment.
14. “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” –Charles Darwin.
This quote refers to evolution—it’s not necessarily the biggest, strongest, fastest, or most intelligent animal that evolution favors. Instead, it’s the most appropriate and efficient organism for a given environment, and the one that’s able to most quickly and effectively adapt to changes in climate, food availability, and other factors. Similarly, productivity isn’t necessarily about becoming an unstoppable work machine; instead, it’s about learning to handle and adapt to changes in your environment when they arrive.
15. “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” –Norman Vincent Peale.
Many of us surrender to thinking that we’re unproductive simply because we’ve been conditioned to believe it. But if you don’t have confidence that you can be better, or that you can accomplish more, you won’t make the active effort to change. Confidence has to come first.
16. “People can be really smart or have skills that are directly applicable, but if they don’t really believe in it, then they are not going to really work hard.” –Mark Zuckerberg.
We see the same idea reflected in this Mark Zuckerberg quote. If you don’t believe that what you’re doing matters, or that you’re capable of doing it, you’re not going to put your all into it.
17. “Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.” –Charles Richards.
This is crucial to understand. You might be working 70-hour weeks, never taking a vacation, but someone working 30-hour weeks might still be able to get more done than you. It’s not the number of hours you spend; it’s the value in each of your hours. It’s not the number of emails you send; it’s the value in each of those emails.
18. “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” –Elon Musk.
Entrepreneurs are calculated risk-takers. They’re less afraid of losing than they are never trying to achieve something great. If you truly believe in your work, or if you know the project you’re working on is important, you’ll be undeterred by the inevitable challenges and obstacles in your way.
19. “For all of its faults, it gives most hardworking people a chance to improve themselves economically, even as the deck is stacked in favor of the privileged few. Here are the choices most of us face in such a system: Get bitter or get busy.” –Bill O’Reilly.
Bill O’Reilly isn’t the most educated or eloquent person on this list, nor is he the most inspiring. But he does make an excellent point about the American system; it rewards hard workers, no matter what their starting position. You can choose to lament your current position, or start working hard to change it. In a business context, that often means that the sooner you stop complaining about a problem, the sooner you can start working to fix it.
20. “It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?” –Henry David Thoreau.
Everyone is busy. Their schedules are packed, they’re constantly moving, and they’re constantly complaining about how busy they are. But what are you really busy with? Productivity isn’t about keeping your schedule full; it’s about filling your schedule selectively, and only with meaningful tasks.
21. “Life’s gardeners pluck the weeds and care only for the productive plants.” –Bryant McGill.
The same idea is represented here. You can think of improving your productivity as pulling or pruning the weeds in your garden; only invest time and effort in the strategies and habits that end up driving results.
22. “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” –Bill Gates.
It’s easy to let your successes go to your head. When you have one good day, when you get a promotion, or when you land a new client, your work can take a toll—your false sense of confidence prevents you from recognizing the weaknesses in your approach. Remain humble to address those needs.
23. “Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” –Douglas R. Hofstadter.
Hofstadter’s Law is key to keep in mind when making your schedule or budgeting time for tasks. That doesn’t mean you should schedule items for longer than you think they need—then you’ll run into Parkinson’s Law—but it does mean you should be prepared for (and expect) a scenario in which you don’t finish in time.
24. “Life is too complicated not to be orderly.” –Martha Stewart.
Master of organization Martha Stewart reminds us that your work is complicated, and you need a good system of organization or categorization in place to make sense of it. That system looks different for every individual, but you need to take your time developing one if it’s going to help you on your journey.
25. “Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you.” –Mark Cuban.
We all work a little harder, and a little faster when we recognize there’s someone actively competing with us. Sometimes, all it takes is a little imagination to provide the fuel for that fire. When you think about calling it a day, imagine what that productive beast is doing, and take action accordingly.
26. “The great accomplishments of man have resulted from the transmission of ideas of enthusiasm.” –Thomas J. Watson.
Ideas without action are imaginary—they can’t influence the world. To make a true change in your environment, you need to take those ideas, get excited about them, and work to make them manifest in the real world.
27. “Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.” –John D. Rockefeller.
If you want your team to be more productive, don’t assume they’re going to stay at the same level. Watch what they’re doing, point out any flaws or discrepancies you see, and teach them how to work better.
28. “The only way you are going to have success is to have lots of failures first.” –Sergey Brin.
Don’t let your productivity or your work ethic suffer when you try something new and it doesn’t work out, or when an obstacle sets back your progress. You need to be prepared to deal with failures—and probably lots of them—before you find success.
29. “Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” –Peter Drucker.
Much of your productivity is going to stem from your ability to manage your time. Are you able to make the most of a 15-minute gap between meetings, or do you let yourself be distracted by your phone? Do you pay attention to the clock when you’re working on things? Do you try to squeeze value out of every minute?
30. “All our productivity, leverage, and insight comes from being part of a community, not apart from it. The goal, I think, is to figure out how to become more dependent, not less.” –Seth Godin.
Entrepreneurs are frequently inspired to own their own business in an effort to become independent—to forge their own path, and break from the norm. But to be more productive, it’s oftentimes better to engage with other people, and be an active part of your community. You can learn from the people around you, solve problems faster with the help of others, and stay connected.
31. “My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.” –Francine Jay.
This quote excellently describes a common fallacy when improving productivity. Instead of looking for more tasks to accomplish or projects to handle, work on finding ways to make your tasks easier, or ways to accomplish more with fewer hours and less effort.
32. “Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” –Thomas Jefferson.
Instead of questioning what you’re doing, or wondering what the next step is, actively make a change. Only action can drive results.
33. “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” –Voltaire.
Perfectionism is dreadfully common. On the surface, it seems like a good thing—you’re driven to observe details and make improvements until everything is just so. But because nothing is ever perfect, perfectionism often drives people to avoid making decisions, or making progress. So don’t strive for perfection—strive for good things.
34. “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” –George Bernard Shaw.
Along similar lines, we have this Shaw quote, explaining that mistakes through action are better than the pure nothingness of inaction. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when adopting new approaches or changing how you work—they’re far better than doing nothing.
35. “Don’t worry about breaks every 20 minutes ruining your focus on a task. Contrary to what I might have guessed, taking regular breaks from mental tasks actually improves your creativity and productivity. Skipping breaks, on the other hand, leads to stress and fatigue.” –Tom Rath.
Breaks may seem like they inherently take away from your productivity, since they involve you ceasing work. But in reality, they give your mind a chance to decompress, and allow your brain to make deeper, more novel connections, leading to more creative thinking.
36. “If there are nine rabbits on the ground, if you want to catch one, just focus on one.” –Jack Ma.
Founder of Alibaba Jack Ma is used to having multiple moving targets to worry about, but he doesn’t get bogged down trying to track all of them. Instead, he focuses on whichever target is most important, and dedicates his energy to that. One task, met with full focus, is better than a dozen tasks met with partial focus.
37. “Never mistake motion for action.” –Ernest Hemingway.
Doing something doesn’t mean you’re accomplishing something. Hemingway had a penchant for stating things concisely and plainly, because he knew that more words didn’t equate to more meaning—just like more “busyness” didn’t equate to more productivity.
38. “Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.” –Lou Holtz.
Holtz’s advice is perhaps best applied in the world of sports, but it suits the business world equally well. Some people are naturally more talented than others, but what you do with your talent comes down to your motivation and your attitude.
39. “Stressing output is the key to improving productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.” –Andrew Grove.
Grove reiterates the idea that productivity should focus on your output—your results—rather than how much time you’re spending on tasks. The trick is to do more in each hour to achieve your goals, not to spend more hours, or to accomplish more with each task, rather than work on more tasks.
40. “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” –Carlos Castaneda.
The amount of time and effort you put into your habits will solidify them—whether they’re good or bad. Procrastinating and beating yourself up about it isn’t going to help you change your productivity, but working on a new habit to replace that pattern of behavior could.
41. “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” –Stephen Covey.
This concise idiom guides us not to be mindless drones, always running to the next fire based on whatever reminder is going off, but rather to be active participants in shaping our own schedules, deciding when and how we spend our time.
42. “Don’t confuse activity with productivity. Many people are simply busy being busy.” –Robin Sharma.
You’ve likely met these types of people. They’re so busy being busy they may not even be able to tell you what they’re busy with. Don’t focus on overloading yourself or increasing your workload; keep your focus on results.
43. “Times of great calamity and confusion have been productive for the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace. The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm.” –Charles Caleb Colton.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, or an entry-level employee trying to work their way up the corporate ladder, you’re going to fall on hard times sooner or later. When you do, treat it as an opportunity. Periods of confusion and despair can bring out the best in people, so don’t give up.
44. “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.” –Lee Iacocca.
Your collective productivity depends on the work ethics and focus of your teammates. Make sure you choose the right people, find the right ways to motivate them, and reward them whenever they do a good job.
45. “There is no substitute for hard work.” –Thomas Edison.
Edison held nearly 1,100 patents for inventions, but like Einstein, these weren’t a product of sheer brilliance, or flashes of inspiration—instead, he credits hard work for the majority of his breakthroughs.
46. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –Thomas Edison.
Edison didn’t treat failure as a stopping point—he treated it as a source of new knowledge. When you find a strategy or tool that doesn’t work, ask yourself why it doesn’t work, and try to find an alternative that works better for you.
47. “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work in hand. The Sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” –Alexander Graham Bell.
A magnifying glass concentrating sunlight is the perfect metaphor for your attention and productivity. With the right focused attention, your concentration can be tremendously powerful, but when scattered, it’s much harder to accomplish anything.
48. “Consider everything an experiment.” –Corita Kent.
Treat your productivity as an ongoing experiment. Take measurements of how productive you are, make a change to your environment or your habits, then take another measurement. Discard any changes that don’t improve your productivity, or actively harm it, and keep any changes that yield an improvement.
49. “Learning isn’t done to you; it’s something you do.” –Andy Hunt.
Our education system makes our students passive absorbers in their environment; learning is an act done upon you, rather than something you acquire for yourself. But in the real world, learning is much more active, and requires motivation. If you want to learn and grow, you have to go out of your way to do it.
50. “It’s not about getting out of your comfort zone to reach your goal. It’s about widening your comfort zone so far that your goal fits comfortably inside.” –Richie Norton.
You often hear advice that you need to break out of your comfort zone in order to accomplish more, and there’s truth to that. But a better way to see it is to expand your comfort zone—don’t just put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Make yourself at home in a new situation. Easier said than done, of course, but with practice, it gets easier.
51. “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” –Earl Nightingale.
Too many people decide not to start their own business, or go back to school, or switch to a new career because of how much time it’s going to take. But the time is going to pass whether you want it to or not—so you might as well spend it doing what you want to do.
52. “Luck is only important in so far as getting the chance to sell yourself at the right moment. After that, you’ve got to have talent and know how to use it.” –Frank Sinatra.
Lots of people get lucky with an important opportunity every day—but only some people know how to turn that situation to their favor. When you have a lucky break, like an extra day to finish a project or a canceled meeting that allows you to work on other tasks, take advantage of it.
53. “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” –Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee reached an incredible level of physical fitness and martial arts mastery because he didn’t waste time hesitating about what to do next. He made a decision, and he moved forward.
54. “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.” –Bruce Lee.
When browsing through quotes and productivity advice, you can’t possibly take in everything. Make your own assessments, then follow this advice; adopt what you think will benefit you, forget about what doesn’t make sense, and add your own insights to make the perfect concoction.
55. “Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.” –Alan Watts.
If you spend too much time focusing on how many emails you sent out, or how many tasks you closed in a project management system, you’re just going to stress yourself out. Instead of measuring the success of your day purely on results, focus on how much time you spent doing important things, and how much focus you applied to those things.
56. “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
You don’t always have to have a grand, long-term plan before you start a project or a task. Sometimes, taking a single step in the right direction to get started with your vision is all you need to do.
57. “My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.” –Indira Gandhi.
There are two big takeaways in this quote; first, it’s better to do the hard work than it is to try and take credit for someone else’s. Second, and more importantly, is the fact that few people are willing to work hard. Whenever you strive to do something difficult, you’ll rank yourself among the precious few willing to do that work.
58. “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” –Muhammad Ali.
Quantifying your time and effort can only get you so far. Instead of tracking how many hours or days you’ve spent doing something, turn your attention to getting the most out of that time.
59. “You don’t get paid for the hour, you get paid for the value you bring to the hour.” –Jim Rohn.
The same sentiment is echoed in this Jim Rohn quote. Spending more days at work or working long nights shouldn’t get you a raise—earning more value for the company should.
60. “Sometimes, things may not go your way, but the effort should be there every single night.” –Michael Jordan.
Experiencing a failure or being stuck with a lack of resources shouldn’t be an excuse to put less effort into a project. Even if you’re on rails to an uncertain or undesirable outcome, the effort you spend is good practice to improve your efforts on projects that will matter in the future.
61. “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” –Pablo Picasso.
The best art is concise—there’s nothing present in a great painting or a brilliant film that doesn’t deserve to be there. You should treat your work days the same way. If there’s a habit, or a task, or a meeting that’s taking your time, but not adding value, get rid of it.
62. “Reflect on what you do in a day. You may have never realized how some simple, harmless activities rob you of precious time.” –Vivek Naik.
It’s important to take the time to reflect on how you’ve spent your work day, utilizing data visuals to see where you’ve spent your time. You’ll be amazed at the small, yet frequently recurring tasks and responsibilities that drain your hours away.
63. “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” –David Allen.
Most of us need to spend more effort figuring out what’s taking all our time and effort. If we can’t recognize how we’re spending our time, we’ll never be able to improve it.
64. “It’s not knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know.” –Tony Robbins.
The world’s top performers aren’t the ones who magically know all the answers, or have flashes of insight on what to do next. They’re the ones who recognize their own strengths and areas of expertise, and take action in a way that allows them to maximize those skills.
65. “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that in itself is a choice.” –William James.
Procrastination is often about delaying an important decision, or avoiding a project by doing nothing. But that indecision is a decision of itself; you’re electing to accomplish nothing by not moving forward with anything.
66. “How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” –William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare eloquently illustrates the importance of recognizing how slowly things can improve over time. When you cut yourself, it takes days, or even weeks for the wound to fully heal. So why do so many of us expect that a single new app or add-on will magically give us hours’ worth of productivity improvements in a single day? It takes time for changes and improvements to take effect, and it takes the accumulation of many small improvements to make a major impact on your productivity.
67. “The key to productivity is to rotate your avoidance techniques.” –Shannon Wheeler.
Wheeler’s making a tongue-in-cheek joke here, but there’s some truth to this. If you procrastinate in different ways, you’ll never fall into a destructive habit, which can then be impossibly hard to break. You’ll also make use of productive avoidance strategies, like delegation or automation.
68. “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower could have meant a couple of things by this statement, but I interpret it like this: no matter how much you plan, or how many variables you foresee, unpredictable events could make your plans worthless. However, the act of planning equips you with the foresight and considerations necessary to deal with the future. In other words, try to plan your work for the day ahead of time, but never get too attached to a single schedule or plan of attack.
69. “Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” –Teddy Roosevelt.
Teddy Roosevelt was always boisterous, so it’s no surprise to hear his penchant for accepting projects and challenges before he knew, precisely, how he was going to tackle them. The takeaway here is that it’s good to set the bar high, even if you aren’t sure of the path to achieve those goals.
70. “You can’t get much done in life if you only work on days when you feel good.” –Jerry West.
There are going to be ups and downs in every profession, and in even the most exciting workplaces. Instead of learning how to maximize your productivity on the days you feel good, spend more effort optimizing the days when you feel down, tired, or stressed—those are likely to be your biggest weaknesses.
71. “While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” –Henry Link.
The time you spend thinking about your past failures, or pausing because you’re afraid of an uncertain outcome is time you could be spending preparing for the worst-case scenario or planning for an alternative.
72. “Don’t confuse the urgent with the important.” –Preston Ni.
Masters of productivity realize that urgency and importance operate on different continuums. Something is urgent if it needs to be taken care of soon, but it’s only important if it has a direct impact on your long-term results. For example, answering a voicemail from a client requesting work who hasn’t paid you for services rendered in the past is urgent, since a delay could result in a lost opportunity, but isn’t important, since that opportunity may not result in actual revenue.
73. “If you commit to giving more time than you have to spend, you will constantly be running from time debt collectors.” –Elizabeth Grace Saunders.
Too many people fail to consider their time as a resource, and fail to budget it the way they budget their money. If you constantly make time commitments in the future, such as scheduling meetings until your days are packed with them, you shouldn’t be surprised when most of your working hours are spent running from commitment to commitment.
74. “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” –John F. Kennedy.
Every action you take, and every change you make to your productivity habits, comes with an inherent risk. But even the worst of those risks pales in comparison to the risks associated with doing nothing. Complacency leads to inaction.
75. “Gentleness doesn’t get work done unless you happen to be a hen laying eggs.” –Coco Chanel.
Dealing with problems sometimes gets messy. If you treat those problems too gently, or if you’re too easy on yourself and your team, you won’t be able to encourage a real change. That doesn’t mean you need to be cruel or brutal, but you can’t be afraid to be firm and/or insistent.
76. “Big ideas come from the unconscious… But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.” –David Ogilvy.
You won’t be able to come up with innovative ideas unless you let your mind wander, nor will you be able to come up with them if you’re ill-informed. Spend lots of time doing research, reading, and learning, then spend just as much time relaxing, meditating, exercising, and allowing your mind the peace and quiet it needs to consolidate those ideas.
77. “All things will be produced in superior quantity and quality, and with greater ease, when each man works… without meddling with anything else.” –Plato.
Plato is calling out multitasking about 2400 years before empirical studies ruled it out as an effective strategy for getting more done. Put down the phone, close out those social media windows, turn off notifications, and focus.
78. “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.” –Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin was a man of temperance, and here he warns of avoiding extremes in your judgments and reactions. If you experience a setback, resist the temptation to make more of it than it’s truly worth. A significant obstacle has the power to ruin your day—but it certainly doesn’t have to.
79. “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” –Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin also notes the importance of having passion in your life—an energetic enthusiasm to motivate your actions. But behind that passion should be patient, rational thinking, which can guide your passion to its most effective applications.
80. “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There’s no reason not to follow your heart.” –Steve Jobs.
Jobs held some strange philosophies, but this is a powerful, effective one. As long as you’re okay with the morbid self-reflection of contemplating your own death, it’s an easy tactic to put your problems into perspective. What do you really have to lose? Chances are, it’s less than you think.
81. “My general attitude to life is to enjoy every minute of every day. I never do anything with a feeling of, “Oh God, I’ve got to do this today.” –Richard Branson.
Branson is a constantly busy man, but he never shoulders that burden of busyness. Instead, he makes it a point to treat every minute of the day as if it has value, and he plans his schedule and priorities around that idea.
82. “A year from now you may wish you had started today.” –Karen Lamb.
This quote encourages us to contemplate the long-term effects of our actions. It may seem like a chore to switch to a new task management system, or learn how to use a new plugin, but a year from now, you’ll be glad you made that effort.
83. “Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” –Napoleon Hill.
There’s never a perfect time to do anything; there will always be something holding you back, whether it’s time, money, or other obligations. At some point you have to decide to take action in spite of the limitations facing you.
84. “You’ve gotta keep control of your time, and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.” –Warren Buffett.
Investor and business mogul Warren Buffett understands the importance of saying “no.” Saying no gives you control over your own schedule and your own priorities; it enables you to avoid going to unproductive meetings, and prevents you from taking on projects that aren’t going to help you complete your goals. Learning to say no can be a challenge, especially if you aren’t already in a position of leadership, but it’s a vital skill to learn.
85. “In life, people tend to wait for good things to come to them. And by waiting, they miss out.” –Neil Strauss.
Your productivity isn’t naturally going to get better on its own. Those tasks aren’t going to complete themselves. If you want to see progress, you have to get started; take action sooner, rather than later.
86. “It is no good getting furious if you get stuck. What I do is keep thinking about the problem but work on something else.” –Stephen Hawking.
Too many people experience difficulties with a project or a task, and decide to keep at it, indefinitely, in an effort to get closer to the finish line. But instead of simply working through the problem, it’s often better to pull yourself away from it. Taking a break refreshes your perspective, gives your brain a chance to decompress, and relieves stress so you can return to the problem with more energy and clarity.
87. “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” –Barack Obama.
After committing to improve your productivity, you may find that your first sequence of changes does nothing—you may see few, if any changes, or hate the new systems you work with. But you have to keep experimenting, and pushing for change. It takes at least months, and up to a lifetime, to perfect your working habits.
88. “Tomorrow becomes never. No matter how small the task, take the first step now!” –Tim Ferriss.
If you ever find yourself thinking “I’ll do this tomorrow,” multiple times for the same activity, chances are it will never get done. If you can’t muster the willpower to get it done today, what makes you think you can muster it tomorrow? Know your priorities, and tackle them when appropriate—not when it’s most convenient.
89. “One of the great challenges of our age, in which the tools of our productivity are also the tools of our leisure, is to figure out how to make more useful those moments of procrastination when we’re idling in front of our computer screens.” –Joshua Foer.
The devices and apps that have the greatest power to improve our productivity have a similar potential to sabotage it. Your most vulnerable moments will be sitting in front of your computer or holding your smartphone open between tasks; learn to master those, and your productivity will skyrocket.
90. “If you don’t have daily objectives, you qualify as a dreamer.” –Zig Ziglar.
You might have long-term aspirations to start your own business or become a millionaire and retire early, but if you don’t think about those big goals in terms of daily changes and activities, you aren’t going to get any closer to achieving them.
91. “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” –Walt Disney.
Disney takes a similar position here; rather than talking a big game about how you’re going to be in a year, or what you’re going to accomplish, focus on doing something today, or right now, that will take you closer to that eventuality.
92. “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Find a way to get started in less than two minutes.” –James Clear.
Clear offers more pointed advice on getting started; we’re all chronically busy, but everyone on the planet can find two minutes to get started on a task. Once you’ve started something, it’s much easier to keep that momentum going. Since starting is the hardest part, learning how to get over that initial hump will be one of your greatest tools for success.
93. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” –Mark Twain.
Mark Twain agrees with this idea, though he doesn’t offer any secrets to follow it.
94. “Position yourself to succeed by doing the other things in your life that rejuvenate you. Exhaustion affects your quality and productivity.” –Jeff VanderMeer.
After a long day of work, or a stressful week, you might be tempted to keep going, so you can get even more done. But it’s important to schedule time for yourself, so you can do what you love, whether it’s reading a book, hiking, or spending time with the family. If you let yourself get too stressed or too tired, your productivity will greatly suffer.
95. “There is no royal, flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it. For if I have accomplished anything in life, it is because I have been willing to work hard.” –CJ Walker.
The path to productivity and success isn’t obvious or glorious; it’s much less noticeable, and buried under the daily habits that make up your life. Only if you’re willing to walk that dirty, sometimes risky path will you get to where you want to be.
96. “Worrying gets you nowhere. If you turn up worrying about how you’re going to perform, you’ve already lost.” –Usain Bolt.
If you’re under a tight deadline or if you don’t have as much time as usual to do your work, you might be wracked with anxiety and apprehension—but these feelings are counterproductive. Finding ways to calm that anxiety, and build confidence in your upcoming performance is necessary if you want to do well.
97. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” –Winston Churchill.
Churchill’s advice should be taken with a grain of salt. On one hand, it’s definitely a good idea to remain firm in the face of adversity, and keep going even when things are difficult. But remember, you also need to take breaks, and give yourself opportunities to recover from stress and exhaustion.
98. “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” –Steven King.
There’s a lot to unpack in this Stephen King quote; first and foremost, getting started often requires bravery. The first sentence of a novel, or the first line of your cover letter are by far the hardest to write. But you’re capable of doing these things (and you need to believe you’re capable of them), and you know that you should. The final piece of the puzzle is taking that actionable step.
99. “There is never enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over.” –John W. Bergman.
This is an interesting quote because it implies a few things. First, you need to let go of your perfectionism; there will never be enough time to do anything perfectly, because it’s practically impossible to do most things “perfectly.” However, you’ll almost always have enough time to make edits and improvements to work that wasn’t good enough the first time. This is part of the underlying philosophy behind the concept of a “minimum viable product.” It will also allow you to spend your time creating “good” things rather than “perfect” things—remember Voltaire’s quote (#33) earlier.
100. “Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it.” –Mahatma Gandhi.
Focusing too much on the destination—achieving your end goal—can rob you of the focus and confidence you need to actually reach it. Instead, pay more attention to the processes—the daily actions, processes, and habits—that will eventually lead you to your goal.
101. “Just do it!” –Shia LaBeouf.
Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Say what you will about LaBeouf’s meme-worthy video; it captures the spirit of many of these quotes in the space of just over a minute of motivational content.
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