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What’s the Story?

Well… June is here and this week takes me to Atlanta to deliver a workshop as well as a couple in New York. Very busy month coming up with a lot of international travel!

On the podcast and in the newsletter this week, I dive into the world of productivity and offer you the keys to the kingdom of getting things done: video.owenfitzpatrick.com.



How to be Productive

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes 57 seconds

In September 2007, I traveled from Dublin to Dallas, Texas, to watch the incredible Jim Rohn for a couple of days. While that was my only time seeing Jim in person, I also remember it for another reason. The first day I arrived in Dallas, before the seminar, I got a phone call that would change my life.

After months of auditions against dozens of other experts, I was selected to be the expert presenter of a brand new show on primetime television in Ireland, ‘Not Enough Hours’. The show would require me to go around the country each week and work with different individuals who were struggling with their work-life balance.

At the time, I had delivered some training on time management but getting this show made me dive deep into all things productivity. I wrote an Irish Times bestselling book called ‘Not Enough Hours’ and the show was a great success and was renewed for a second season.

Now, almost eighteen years on (it’s very hard to get my head around that), I’ve decided to pack the most important lessons I’ve learned on productivity into this article.

I’ll walk through the neuroscience of getting things done as well as motivation, prioritization, organization, and focus.

Effective vs Efficient

First, though, there is one important distinction that needs to be made between being efficient and being effective.

Being effective isn’t just about ticking off boxes; it’s about ticking off the right boxes that align with your biggest goals and aspirations. It’s choosing to do tasks that will actually move the needle forward in your personal and professional life.

Being efficient, on the other hand, is all about speed – getting tasks done as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. Mastering this means less time working and more time for more stuff.

To become as effective and efficient as possible, it’s useful to explore what happens in the brain when we are highly productive.

The Neuroscience of Productivity

If we look at the neuroscience of productivity, we can see that there are several chemicals responsible for how productive we are.

If you’ve ever noticed yourself being at your most productive whenever time is running out, that can be explained by what’s going on in your brain.

Cortisol and adrenaline can kick us into high gear when facing deadlines, making us temporarily more productive. The problem is that they can also lead to burnout if not managed carefully.

Dopamine and acetylcholine, on the other hand, play crucial roles in keeping us engaged and enhancing our focus during tasks.

Whenever we are motivated, dopamine is being triggered in our brain so motivating yourself is the first step to being productive.

Motivating Yourself

Motivation fuels our drive to get up and tackle our goals every day, turning the mundane into the meaningful. It’s the inner fire that pushes us to keep going even when the going gets tough.

There are a few ways to approach your workday that can impact how motivated you are:

Eat the Frog means tackling your most challenging task right off the bat, setting a productive tone for the rest of the day. It’s about getting the toughest thing out of the way early when your energy is at its peak. This then makes you motivated because you feel like you’ve already conquered the hardest part of the day.

The opposite approach is the Momentum Method where you start with the small tasks and build momentum. This means leveraging the small wins that pave the way to big achievements. This motivates you by getting you to feel like you are on a roll and on track for success that day.

Another key way to boost motivation when doing big projects is to break them down. Breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks can make overwhelming projects feel achievable.

This approach can reduce anxiety and make it easier to start and maintain progress. This helps us to feel like we’re on top of things and drives us forward.

While motivation is helpful, we need to be as clever as possible as to what we decide to do. This is where prioritization comes in.


Prioritization is key to productivity; it’s about recognizing what needs to be done now and what can wait. Effective prioritization keeps you focused on the tasks that offer the most significant impact.

Eisenhower Matrix:

The Eisenhower Matrix is a powerful tool for decision-making, helping you categorize tasks based on urgency and importance. It’s a strategic way to visualize where your attention and efforts should be directed.

For every task, you ask two questions:

  1. Is this really important?
  2. Is this urgent?

If it is urgent and important it goes into quadrant one and you do it.

If it’s important but not urgent, it goes into quadrant two, and you schedule it.

If it’s urgent but not important then it’s in quadrant three which means you delegate it or drop it

to the bottom of your priorities.

If it’s not urgent and not important then you delete it entirely.

ABC Technique:

The ABC Technique simplifies your to-do list by categorizing tasks into A (must do), B (should do), and C (nice to do) priorities, streamlining your workflow and improving focus. It ensures that you’re always working on what matters most.

You make a list of tasks and mark an A beside some, a B beside others, and a C beside the rest.

Then list the As. List the Bs. List the Cs.

Finally, you can ABC the As and then the Bs and then the Cs.

By doing this a couple of times, you’ll be a lot clearer as to the hierarchy of important tasks.

Pareto Principle:

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, suggests that 80% of results come from 20% of efforts, highlighting the importance of focusing on the tasks that yield the greatest returns.

Identifying and concentrating on these high-impact activities can significantly enhance your productivity.

For this, you make a list of tasks you have to do on one side of the page and goals you want to achieve on the other side of the page.

You walk through each task and try to connect it to each goal.

What you’ll find is that some tasks help you with more than one goal and some aren’t even related to a goal. This will help you find out what matters most and which tasks are the 20% that make most of the difference.

You can use any of these techniques or a combination of them to prioritize effectively.



One of the things that can help you to prioritize is being as organized as possible.

Organization is the backbone of productivity, reducing chaos and making room for efficiency. A well-organized workspace sets the stage for clearer thinking and more effective task management.

Open and Closed Lists help manage ongoing and completed tasks, providing a clear view of what’s ahead and what’s been accomplished. This method ensures nothing gets missed and everything has its place.

An Open List is a list you make of EVERYTHING you have to do. You use it to organize, prioritize, and build your schedule for weeks and months ahead.

A Closed List is a list you make of what you want to get done THE FOLLOWING DAY.

You might do this the night before and it should not be added to but you can swap things on the list for things that come up if they are more important than what you’re supposed to do.

Another cool technique that research shows is one of the best time management exercises is Time Blocking.

This involves dedicating specific blocks of time to different tasks, which can help minimize distractions and make large projects more approachable.

This technique ensures that every part of your day has a purpose, maximizing productivity.

You take a weekly calendar and make sure every single hour is assigned specific slots.

Then, practicing Deep Work means dedicating uninterrupted time to concentrate on cognitively demanding tasks, which can lead to higher quality outputs and more profound satisfaction in your work.

It’s about going deep, not wide, to create something truly valuable. Give yourself 2 to 3 X 90-minute slots of deep work each day if you want to really be at your best.

Lastly, regularly checking in on how you use your time can help you make adjustments to improve efficiency and effectiveness. This self-audit is crucial for continuous personal and professional development.

You monitor where your time goes for a couple of weeks and compare that to where you want your time to go. Once you do this, it will show you exactly what you need to focus more on.


Speaking of focus, maintaining your attention is crucial in a world full of distractions. It’s about keeping your eyes on the prize and not letting the noise around you knock you off course. Sharp focus is what separates successful outcomes from unfinished projects. Here are some techniques and strategies that can help.

Taking breaks is essential for long-term productivity, preventing burnout, and refreshing your mind for new challenges. Strategic pauses can boost your energy and improve your focus when you return to work.

The Pomodoro Technique, popularized by Francesco Cirillo, involves working in focused sprints followed by short breaks, balancing intense concentration with necessary rest. This cycle can help maintain high productivity without leading to fatigue.

The initial intervals were 25 minutes long followed by 5-minute breaks. This plays a big part in helping you maintain high levels of concentration and productivity.

Asking questions is a really effective way of building focus. Our brain tends to try and answer the questions we ask. When you give yourself specific questions to answer, your brain will find a way to deepen understanding and foster creativity.

Batching similar tasks together can reduce the time lost to switching between different activities, increasing efficiency and streamlining your workflow. It’s about grouping like-with-like to power through tasks more quickly.

Lastly, managing your environment to support your productivity goals can include everything from organizing your physical workspace to setting boundaries that protect your focus. A tailored environment can significantly enhance your efficiency and effectiveness.



The final thing to mention when discussing productivity is not to fall into the productivity trap, where you’re always “doing” without assessing the value of your actions. Constant busyness doesn’t necessarily mean effective progress.

Finding a balance between work and personal life is crucial for sustainable productivity. It ensures that success at work doesn’t come at the expense of your health and happiness.

Setting boundaries is essential for protecting your time and energy, ensuring you can focus fully on the tasks at hand without undue interruptions. Clear boundaries help maintain your priorities and safeguard your mental space.

Embrace your limitations, find joy in the mundane, and prioritize what truly matters. This challenges us to question the relentless pursuit of efficiency and urges us to find balance, meaning, and even joy in the art of missing out.

Remembering what ancient Stoics called Memento Mori – the ancient practice of reflecting on mortality – can help prioritize your life and focus on what truly matters.

Ultimately, this means reminding yourself that you are going to die at some point. This perspective keeps you grounded and mindful of the finite nature of time, urging you to make the most of each moment.

This is such an important point. When I started working with people on the TV show, I soon realized that the thing that really made a difference wasn’t the hacks or techniques.

It was getting them to understand that time is finite and know where their time was going. Once we figure that out, we can start to deliberately invest our time in the right things that are most worthwhile.

As Jim Rohn himself stated:

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.



The Brain Prompt

Try these three questions to help you focus on what really is important:

  • What are the things that matter most to you?

  • How much time do you currently invest in them?
  • How can you invest more time in that which matters the most?


Please share the newsletter with any of your friends or colleagues who are interested in productivity. They can sign up at owenfitzpatrick.com/newsletter.



P.S. To watch this week’s Changing Minds podcast episode on ‘How to be Super Productive’, check it out here.





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