6 Productivity Tips — From 3 Dead People, 2 Comedians, and 1 Monk

Habits of Genius

Here are the tips:

  • Just get started.
  • Adapt and advance.
  • Make a schedule.
  • Trudge your ass in.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Come as you are.

There. You can stop reading now.

The rest is for you productivity-craving habit hackers wanting more information (and irreverence) about how to:

  • get started on a hard project
  • create an effective schedule
  • foster teamwork
  • build a habit
  • solve a problem, or
  • cut yourself some slack

The 6 geniuses below have some timeless—and encouraging—words for you.

You won’t be as smart as Albert Einstein. You won’t be a polymath like Ben Franklin or a storyteller like Mark Twain. You won’t be as funny as Tina Fey or Jerry Seinfeld. You won’t be as forgiving as Pema Chodron.

But you don’t have to be.

This isn’t about what those wonderful people did, it’s about how they did it. It’s about the prosaic daily habits that helped each of them realize their gifts, face their fears, and have a lot of fun.

It turns out that the “how” doesn’t change all that much. It’s not about technology. And it’s not about genius per se. It’s about the habits that will help you find your own genius.

Check out their productivity tips below.

Photo of Mark Twain

Mark Twain: Just Get Started

Too often, we try to make things perfect the first time around. There are some professions in which this is a good thing.


The rest of us can misspell a few words, file a few documents incorrectly, and royally screw a few things up from time to time without killing anybody.

Stuff happens. Keep moving forward.

It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t think you can finish a task perfectly, but in reality it’s a lot easier to finish something with a lot of mistakes and then go back to fix the mistakes.

No matter what methodology you follow or what tips you find inspiring or what productivity technology you use, getting started is better than all of them.

Black-and-white photo of Tina Fey

Tina Fey: Adapt and Advance

Comedy is backbreaking labor. Look at Tina Fey. She’s a comedian; screenwriter; TV star; film star; New York Times bestselling author; winner of multiple Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, and Writers Guild awards; and the second-best Sarah Palin (after Sarah Palin) in the world.

She’s also a master of improv.

Improv is all about adapting to the moment and advancing the scene. When it’s done well, there’s a flow and a wholeness that make it hard to believe it’s not scripted. But there’s an unconscious intelligence at work.

Same with business.

You can plan all you want but once you’re deep in the doing, you need to be able to adapt in the moment, while still advancing the project.

Fey’s “four rules for improv” also apply to business:

  • Say, “Yes.”
  • Say, “Yes, and …”
  • Make statements.
  • There are no mistakes, only opportunities.

Illustration of Revolutionary-era printers at work

Benjamin Franklin: Make a Schedule

There’s more to Benjamin Franklin than being the world’s most famous kite flyer. The founding father and polymath was a scientist, writer, inventor, and, let’s be honest, a bit of a player.

Franklin taught himself to read French, Spanish, Latin, and Italian. He experimented with electricity, and his “single fluid theory” led to the electron theory in 1900. He was a master of many things, including getting things done.

If it was important to Franklin, he scheduled it. This included sleep and preparing for the day. He adjusted this daily schedule over time and didn’t mind when life got in the way and he had to alter it. Take the basic idea of his schedule for yourself and set a time you get up every day which is a few hours before you have to start work.

Duplicate contacts killing your productivity? See how Scrubly can help in this 100-second video.

Black-and-white photo of Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld: Trudge Your Ass In

The reason that Jerry Seinfeld has had as much success as he has isn’t the fact that he’s incredibly funny, even though he is.

It’s not because he’s lucky.

It’s not because he had friends that got him into the industry.

It’s his dedication.

He turned the task of writing jokes from a chore into a habit. It’s this habit that got him where he is today. To get there, he used a simple, beautiful system. You can, too. All you need is a calendar and a fat red magic marker. It applies whether you want to improve your comedy, read more, learn to code, start a business, or anything else.

Photo of Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein: Keep It Simple

The idea isn’t to learn how to work more; it’s to learn how to get more out of the time you work. Einstein published five papers in 1905. Three of them were merely groundbreaking. A fourth won him a Nobel Prize. He did all this while working six days a week at the patent office in Switzerland.

Einstein’s habits? Define the problem first. Embrace clutter. Keep things simple.

Einstein believed in focusing on a select few ideas and only working on one at a time until it was completed. Devote your time to the task at hand and give it your best. Remember, it’s impossible to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. At best you’re switching between them very rapidly, which is unproductive.

Black-and-white photo of Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron: Come as You Are

You’re too hard on yourself.

So cut yourself some slack.

As Pema Chodron says, “The path of our lives altogether has to do with curiosity, inquisitiveness. The ground is ourselves; we’re here to study ourselves and to get to know ourselves now, not later.”

Get the Guide

Want more details on how to be productive?

Want more brilliance from Tina Fey?

Want to hear what Mark Twain says about eating frogs?

Then get “Habits of Genius,” our free 22-page guide to habit change.

[Download the complete guide.]

Start small. Come as you are. And let us know how it goes.

— Brian Meyer and Team Scrubly


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