Slate Magazine asked a select group of accomplished people—writers, politicians, artists, businessmen—to answer the following question: What’s your single most effective trick for getting things done?
Judd Apatow, filmmaker
“I am always driven by the terror of humiliation. I do not need to trick myself into getting anything done because the voice in my head is always there reminding me that if I don’t get it done, my world will collapse. It is not true. It makes no sense, yet I believe it every time. It is not a healthy way to motivate oneself. I have gone to the therapist for almost 20 years to remove this type of thinking from my head, but I can’t argue with its effectiveness.”
Curtis Sittenfeld, author
1) If I’m writing, my trick—which isn’t that tricky—is to close all windows and files except for the document I’m working on and not to check e-mail (I truly don’t understand how anyone who has e-mail that pops up automatically ever accomplishes anything) or to answer the phone. And I don’t have a smartphone, which eliminates that temptation. If in the course of writing I need to look up information online, I’ve found that it’s best to just put a place-holder in the document and find the information later—once I’m on the Internet, all roads ultimately lead to celebrity gossip. Right now, I’m not sure if it’s more embarrassing that I’m conversant with Avril Lavigne’s divorce or the disappearance of Jessica Simpson’s Maltipoo.
2) If I’m trying to get something done that’s not writing-related, my similarly untricky trick is to turn off my computer. I’ve found that when I step away from it but leave it on, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I should be responding to e-mails, even though when I’m actually sitting in front of the computer, I have no problem doing things other than responding to e-mails (see above re: Jessica Simpson’s dog).
3) Politely saying no can free up astonishing amounts of time. I’m still trying to learn how.”
Patty Stonesifer, chairwoman of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents
“My most effective tip for getting important things done is deciding what NOT to do so that you have the calendar freedom to focus on the big stuff
I used to say yes to far too many commitments, which littered my calendar and kept me from giving the big stuff the time it deserved. Really big stuff often has less hour-by-hour schedule urgency but needs dedicated time for focused work, consultation, and study—and that is far more important than the schedule-litter I found I was being driven by.”
Find more at Slate.