2019: How to be a productivity ninja

Ninja skills! Think Productive’s Graham Allcott gives TJ yet more great productivity tips.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Want to kick-start your new year? It’s time to move beyond the traditional time management techniques and think like a ninja. Here are the nine characteristics of the Productivity Ninja that will help you cut through the noise, win the battles ahead and make an impact in 2019.

Zen-like calm

To do great work, we need Zen-like Calm – that sense of feeling relaxed, present and sure of our focus. What takes us away from this is often our own mental chatter – the nags, ideas and commentary about all the things we’re missing.

Get all this out of your head. Develop a ‘second brain’ of lists where you can manage and prioritise your projects and actions. This will help give you certainty and a sense that you’re focusing on the right stuff.


A Productivity Ninja defends their attention ruthlessly. Quality attention – not time – is our most precious resource, and we need to ensure that we don’t waste it in someone else’s boring meeting or scrolling for hours through an email inbox that is basically a list of everyone else’s priorities. 

Take inspiration from unusual places. Challenge the status quo of your own habits and routines.

Learn to say ‘no’ to other peoples’ demands as gracefully and quickly as possible.

A good second brain of lists helps here too: if your boss is trying to heap piles of new work on top of the already huge queue of work on your list, then turn this into an objective re-negotiation of what you’ve got on your plate, instead of a conversation where you feel anxious for taking on too much or guilty and judged for pushing back.


Ninjas love their weapons. But a Productivity Ninja uses weapons in a savvy way. It’s far too easy to succumb to the latest gadgets or apps all the time. A ninja finds good tools and sticks with them. Before you run off downloading new apps, have a look under the ribbon in Microsoft Outlook, for example.


Some of the functionality there is cool when you know how to use it. A quick YouTube video tutorial is often all you need.

Stealth and camouflage

In an open plan office? Learn the art of tactical hiding. Be deliberately less available. Disconnect. Make space for the clear thinking that drives productivity (it won’t happen by accident). If this means retreating to a coffee shop or meeting room a couple of times a week, then do it.

This is equally as true when it comes to digital connectivity. Use your phone’s airplane mode to reduce notifications and interruptions, block out times in your diary for planning and prioritising – and if you think your colleagues will disregard your diary’s entry for planning time and book over it, call it ‘Project Magenta’ – everyone will assume it’s important!


Take inspiration from unusual places. Challenge the status quo of your own habits and routines. When you do this, you’ll find the brain looks for ‘interesting and better’, more than it looks for ‘how we did it last time’ which helps us to continually improve.


Reacting to the inevitable emergencies is much easier when you have a clear idea of what’s on your plate and so know what you’re dropping when you need to ‘drop everything’. So regularly reviewing your lists, thinking ahead and anticipating potential bumps in the road is all part of staying agile.


Whether it’s meditation, yoga or more everyday activities like singing, running or just going for a walk in the fresh air at lunch time, our brains need a reset every now and then. Tuning into our own thoughts can be a powerful way to recognise procrastination, as well as refreshing our focus. Apps like Headspace, Buddhify and Insight Timer make meditation accessible and easy.


A ninja constantly in battle and never resting will end up being defeated. Getting the right sleep, exercise, nutrition and hydration should never be viewed as luxuries. These are essential to quality thinking, and therefore to our success, so don’t ever feel guilty for prioritising them.

Likewise taking some time to organise and keep everything tidy, so that you can find what you need when the pressure is really on, is all part of the game. See preparedness as giving your future self a vital gift. If you’re not in the heat of battle, prepare for the next one.

Be human, not a superhero

When you put all of this together, everyone will think ‘wow, they must be some kind of superhero’. And the great thing is, you’re not. A Productivity Ninja is a human being, with great tools…but zero special powers.

That means you’ll still screw up sometimes, you’ll have your bad days, and that’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong and learn to embrace imperfections. You’ll be more productive when you lose the fear and guilt and allow yourself to be a human being, as well as a human doing.


About the author

Graham Allcott is the founder of Think Productive, host of the popular business podcast, Beyond Busy and author of How to be a Productivity Ninja published on 3 Jan by Icon Books £9.99.


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