Today’s top productivity influencers write books and blogs, record inspiring talks, and send out actionable advice with a few taps of a Tweet. There’s also a lot to learn from our taskmastering forebears, who revolutionized getting it done before the word “digital” ever made a mark on the public lexicon.
To get your brain chugging, we’ve rounded up a list of the top productivity influencers from past and present. Check out their philosophies for tips on taking care of business without losing your marbles.
1. CRAIG JARROW
Craig Jarrow tops nearly every “top productivity expert” list out there, and for good reason. He’s built a career around his blog, Time Management Ninja, and has written hundreds of articles and several books on how to “win the battle against wasted time, disorganization, and all other things evil.”
Touting a time-management philosophy that embraces “learning proper skills, habits, and tools that empower people to take control of their professional and personal lives,” Jarrow offers courses and downloadable eBooks on his site, and maintains an active social media presence with more than 35,000 followers. Follow him on Twitter, or visit the TMN blog to learn more.
The creator of the Zen Habits suite of books, video courses, and blog series, Leo Babauta has made his mark on the productivity-sphere via a simple, grounded approach to embracing meaningful life changes. A father of six, passionate vegan, and fitness enthusiast, Babauta’s books tell the story of his journey to a better life; his courses invite others to find their path and align their values.
Case in point: On Babauta’s site, he lists his current projects with a note that he reads: “These are my priorities. I say no to everything else: new projects, promoting anything, etc.” Want to learn how to streamline your life and focus on what matters most? Visit the Zen Habits blog, or join the nearly 200,000 people who follow Babauta on Twitter.
3. LAURA VANDERKAM
Laura Vanderkam is the author of several uber-successful productivity books, including I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. She’s been widely published in national publications like USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, and her website features video appearances of her sharing time-management insights on The Today Show, Nightline, and a 2016 Ted Talk.
One highlight: Vanderkam encourages professionals to imagine their performance reviews a year in advance — she recommends that you ask yourself what 3-5 things you want to accomplish, and how you can backwards plan your year to get there. Find Vanderkam on Twitter for more prompts and productivity advice.
4. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
A beloved founding father known for his inventions, common sense, and enthusiasm for beer, Benjamin Franklin also kept a tireless schedule that slotted time for work, rest, and reflection. The ultimate Renaissance man, Franklin rose early and emphasized hard work, but also allowed ample time for dining, socializing and “diversion.”
A successful newspaper editor and author of Poor Richard’s Almanac, there’s no doubt that today “The First American” would be a prolific blogger and social media presence. A potential tweet: “What good shall I do today?” Which is still a worthy question for anyone solidifying their modern productivity routine.
5. MIKE GARDNER
Author of the best-selling book Business Owners: Your Family Misses You, Mike Gardner is also the man behind the website The Time Doctor, which offers practical tips for diagnosing and addressing common productivity issues.
Gardner’s approach is informed by his personal commitment to his family, hobbies, and health. A survivor of three heart attacks and a stroke, he’s a passionate advocate of work-life balance, and a vocal proponent of making the most of our precious time on Earth. Ready to begin? Follow Gardner on Twitter.
6. JOHN WANAMAKER
An early pioneer of the department-store model, John Wanamaker might have some choice words about the shift from brick-and-mortar stores to eCommerce. But he’d also be delighted to see the range of calendar apps and tools at our collective disposal.
In 1900, Wanamaker popularized the kind of daily diary that informs our modern schedules (not to mention the multimillion-dollar personal planner industry) by merging a paper calendar with his store’s annual catalog. The result was a stylish, easy-to-use scheduler underwritten with ads for products featured in Wanamaker’s stores. Wanamaker also was an innovator in keeping his stock moving and store overhead low; he popularized seasonal sales on merchandise way before Black Friday was even a thing.
7. MARIE CURIE
Granted, Marie Curie may not immediately spring to mind as an example of someone with good work-life balance. After all, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist did ultimately die from exposure to the radium she made her life’s work.
However, Curie’s legacy offers some lasting notes on how to work hard and ignore distractions. As the productivity blog Lifehacker notes, Curie lived by three key time-management tenets that are still pertinent today: 1) ignore gossip, 2) keep detailed journals, 3) forget your accomplishments. By avoiding life’s daily drama, Curie ensured that her scientific contributions lasted way beyond any petty talk about her ability or gender.
A rising speaker in the field of concentration and mindfulness, Dandapani graduated from university in Australia with a degree in electrical engineering, but left it all behind to become a Hindu monk and live a life of personal discipline. After his vows expired, he decided to move to New York and translate his spiritual experience into the secular world.
With a TEDX Talk on concentration that boasts more than one million viewers, Dandapani also conducts workshops for organizations and individuals looking to unlock the secrets of mindfulness and focus in an increasingly distracted age. Follow Dandapani on Twitter to learn more about how to integrate these practices into daily life, and to learn more about his retreats and workshops around the world.
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