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Productivity Ninja Tactics

All 9 Characteristics of the Productivity Ninja are now at your disposal.

Your Productivity Ninja Action Plan will help you decide how to apply them in a way that makes sense to YOU, based on your personal preferences, work type, work environment etc.

But to help you along here’s some bonus inspiration.  There are questions to ask yourself, habits to challenge and examples of the types of tactics and tools we love – plus ones that our Productivity Ninjas in training have told us they’ve implemented.

Have your own favourite idea you would like to see added here?

Send it to us at (remember to tell us which Productivity Ninja Characteristic you were inspired by) and we could add it to this collection!

Zen-like Calm

Zen-Like Calm is different for everyone. It’s about that feeling of control, focus and making progress in the moment free from distraction and worry.

  • What environment helps you get in your focus zone and stay there?  Getting your desk set up just so?  Do you need silence, or the right kind of music?
  • Stop using your brain to hold so much information – get it out of your head into a built for purpose 2nd brain system (either digital or analogue).
  • Fight the tyranny of the to-do list.  It’s not about getting everything done. It’s about making the best choices about our hour to hour and day to day workflow.
  • Take Peter Drucker’s advice about the nature of Knowledge Work.  Separate Boss thinking and Worker mode activity so each happens better.
  • Implement Daily and Weekly checklists.  Do the harder Boss level planning first, and set up the right queue of executables for the Worker mode you.
  • Treat work units more like putting cherries on cakes.  Gives you more moments of feedback on progress, which in turn helps motivation and energy.
  • Feeling overwhelmed?  Take a break.  Get a change of scene, take a pit stop for refuelling time.  Regroup, review, re-plan – then restart.
  • How can you safeguard and protection your attention.  How can you manage and use your energy to best effect?
  • Use the other 8 Characteristics of the Productivity Ninja to support your efforts to achieve Zen-Like Calm and that precious experience of playful productive momentum!


Ruthlessness can sound a bit scary, and can often be counter to our existing instincts and habits, especially if we’re always keen please everyone!

Productivity Ninjas use Ruthlessness wisely, but lovingly and with good intent.  Sometimes we need to challenge, and make difficult choices.

  • Create your attention bubble and be prepared to defend it.  You might have to flex those assertiveness muscles a bit when reacting to the typical interruptions.
  • Aware of your own vulneraries when it comes to for instance indecision, distraction or procrastination?  Time for some loving self-ruthlessness to protect against those bad habits!
  • Self-control is over-rated.  Put in place strategies (or tech) or support your raw willpower.  e.g. app or website blocking extensions for your phone/browser.
  • We can’t do everything!  Implement ruthless realism at the level of the individual, team, department and organisation about what’s possible with capacity.
  • That’s going to mean some things aren’t going to get done and we’ll have to make difficult choices, and have the pragmatic conversations necessary to do so.
  • Be honest with others about capacity and whether/when you are able to take on their new request.  Be clear about expectations and what you can deliver.
  • Say “no” much often!  Saying “yes I’ll try and do that” may get them out of your way for a bit, but it’s actually delivering on finished stuff that matters!
  • Encourage a culture where people feel able to talk openly about capacity and how we assess and make choices to ensure we are using to best effect.


Productivity Ninjas love a good app, gadget, application and favourite Ninja-style software hack.  But remember – “psychology before technology”!

  • Select your trusted Productivity Ninja tools wisely.  Each should be carefully chosen to assist with a particular problem.
  • Learn how to use each tool really well– especially the ones you already have.  Far too often people are only using the most basic features.
  • When you find something that works, don’t be tempted to change too often just because the next few shiny thing shows up!
  • Choose the right 2nd brain platform that will work for you.  Get the tool choice right and it’s much easier to make the system stick!
  • Become an email Ninja – whether you use Outlook, Gmail or another email client, learn those advanced level hacks that can really help tame that inbox!
  • Challenge the culture of constant connection and endless email and message checking.  Learn how to control and calm those notification settings, work offline etc.
  • Ask colleagues and friends for their favourite app recommendations!  What are people using for focus, meditation, exercise tracking, habit forming etc.?
  • Ninja weapons aren’t all electronic!  e.g. Getting the right physical workspace setup, and tools setup for working on the road etc. can all unleash great Ninja-style moves.
  • Do you miss the “unplugged” world of 10-20 years ago?  Us too sometimes.  Let’s make all this great technology work for us, rather than the technology making us work for it!

Stealth and Camouflage

Striking the right balance between availability and solitude can be tricky (especially for managers), but it’s crucial to getting your best work done and delivering what’s expected.

  • If you’re always available, people are always going to want you.  Balance communication and “team play”, with regular retreats offstage to get solo work done with attention and focus.
  • Sometimes the Productivity Ninja needs to employ a bit of old-fashioned stealth and camouflage – sneaky (but ethical) ways to boost performance.  Actual tactical hiding, aka “going dark”.
  • Use signage and other social signals (e.g. headphones) to let people know when you are “head down” and encourage them to leave you alone.
  • Working near other people can be motivating, but also very distracting.  Work from home, in a café, in the park, or perhaps swap desks with a colleague on another floor.
  • Only be online for tasks that absolutely need it.  Whenever possible get unplugged and offline, especially when you need to fully concentrate on being creative etc.
  • Control all the ways others have to interrupt and distract you – use notification settings Ninja-style to silence the pings.  If you know there are messages you’ll only be tempted to check them!
  • Don’t fire up email as the default first task of the day – you’ll be dragged down the rabbit hole.  Plan your own priorities first, then adjust only if really justified by the new information.
  • Work on emails in dashes, rather than having it always on throughout the day.  Create windows of processing new inputs with good spaces to actually DO the work in between!
  • Don’t just use your planner for meetings and deadlines.  Also schedule in when your actual work is going to happen – this holds yourself accountable AND protects those slots from others!


What’s important is the end result.  It doesn’t matter if you use the conventional route to get there.  Don’t get stuck in a “this is the way we do this” rut – innovate and experiment.

  • Seek fresh perspectives and new ideas from outside your immediate field/industry.  How would a revolutionary, a parent, an artist, a designer, or an entrepreneur approach this?
  • Challenge the existing organisational culture and status quo.  Ask the provocative questions.  Break the unwritten rules.  Do it differently; shake things up.
  • Set up your own productivity laboratory.  Chief Ninja Graham ran a series of month-long extreme productivity experiments ( to find what works (and what doesn’t!).
  • Make changes and monitor the results.  Keep what works for you and discard what doesn’t.  Build up your armoury and successful Ninja tactics and share ideas with other.
  • Don’t be so serious.  Make it silly; make it fun.  Try new, perhaps mischievous approaches.  Use psychology and headology to break resistance and create momentum!
  • Trick yourself into working on procrastinated tasks.  Tactics include “Eat That Frog” (, “Power Hours” (, “Guilt Hours” (
  • We love games.  They motivate, create momentum, and they’re fun!  What could you do to turn parts of your work (either solo, or as a team) into a Ninja-level Productivity challenge?
  • Break up larger tasks into smaller less overwhelming units, then take a break / reward, e.g. the awesome multi-purpose “Pomodoro Technique” (
  • What’s the wildest thing you could dare to change to create the right environment and mindset for your best Productivity Ninja-style work? Go on, try it!


Productivity Ninjas stay agile and light on their feet.  But that sort of nimbleness doesn’t come for free – it requires setup and practice.

  • A Ninja needs to able to react appropriately to what is going on around them – but must also ensure that they are not constantly firefighting and being dictated to by events around them.
  • Some days are routine, and on others the truly unexpected happens, both for good and ill.  Ninjas train hard to be ready to use their skills in the heat of battle.
  • When the plan is working, stick to the plan.  But when the unexpected happens (and it will!), think like actual professional firefighters – prevent, prepare, react, debrief, learn, recover.
  • Don’t let the “small and now” get done at the cost of the “big and later”.  Keep the big picture in sight and don’t let the day to day tactical stuff make you lose perspective.
  • When processing, if an email or task only requires an action that can be done in less than 2 minutes do it right there and then.  Help keep those next action lists small and light.
  • Categorise your tasks by “Context” i.e. where you need to be, or what you need to have to hand to do them.  That way you can be productive even if the internet goes down, when travelling etc.
  • Sequential monotasking (not multitasking).  Yes, we know this one’s controversial.  But we believe that one thing at a time is the way to go: one task, then the next, then the next… repeat.
  • Batch small or alike tasks (that need the same mindset/skillset) together – there’s a cognitive overhead to constantly changing task type and the setup needed that will slow you down.
  • But including variety in your day will help maintain momentum and stave off fatigue.  Match task selection to energy and mood – there’s a time for being creative, and a time for housekeeping.


Mindfulness?  This was the new big thing 5 years ago, but surely it’s passé now?  No actually, it works.  Not for you?  Well, it’s not the only Ninja option here.  Get thinking about thinking.

  • Want to give workplace meditation or mindfulness a go?  There are great apps out there to help you get started.  Some of our favourites: Headspace, Buddhify, Calm.
  • Prefer an alternative?  Substitute with what works for you to give those regular moments of stepping back, re-centering, mentally refuelling.  Walk round the block?  Under desk powernaps?
  • Productivity Ninjas think just as much about the way in which they are doing their work, as they do about the work they have to do.  Attend to your “metawork”.
  • Reflect on and review systems, tools, habits and choices to ensure you are managing their energy, concentration and motivation in a sustainable way to get your best work done.
  • Identify factors reducing your productivity and take action as needed.  Know your vulnerabilities, and adapt your work environment, style and systems accordingly to compensate.
  • Challenge your “Lizard Brain”.  The amygdala is the primitive part of our brain that tries to keep us out of trouble.  But it can also create resistance to change, fear and especially procrastination.
  • Homeworker?  Start mornings like you used to when you commuted – wake up, (exercise?), eat, wash etc., and THEN start work.  Otherwise you’ll still be in your pyjamas at noon!
  • Set out larger and more critical “Big Rocks” tasks first (‘Big Rocks’).  Smaller tasks (pebbles and sand) fit in around these (but leave capacity for the new incoming stuff!).
  • Build in opportunities for stepping back to see the big picture.  Reflect on clarity of gaols, progress made versus effort expended etc.  What adjustments could you make?


If you know someone who’s super-organised then they’ve already embraced the power of Ninja Preparedness.  Being able to do your best work requires deliberate setup or “metawork”.

  • Productivity Ninjas recognise success in battle requires planning and preparation.  We want to replace constant firefighting and confusion with a purposeful structure and plan.
  • You need the right tools.  Set up and refine your workspace with the kit that you need (physical and digital), whether that’s for your fixed desk, your home office or in your travel bag.
  • Investigate and learn how your tools can help you.  Get weapon-savvy.  Look for opportunities to use templates, procedures or tech hacks to simplify, streamline, automate.
  • Did it go wrong?  What could you do to help avoid or protect against that in the future?  Debrief, reflect and redesign.  Don’t run into the same crises again and again.
  • Set up the scaffolding.  Create structure, especially for repeating processes.  Mark weekly/ monthly cycles and tasks on your planner/diary as “hard landscape”, just like meetings.
  • Look ahead.  Be proactive, not reactive.  Resist getting caught in the daily torrent, and wondering “wow, where did the day go?” and “what did I actually achieve today?”.
  • Start each day well with an established boot-up routine and perhaps a Daily Checklist – what’s current, what’s a priority, what are your deliverables, dependencies or potential pitfalls?
  • Don’t get caught being too busy to take stock, regroup and plan.  Make your Weekly Review the centre of your Ninja productivity approach – you’ll reap the rewards many times over.
  • Preparedness isn’t just planning and organizing, but also resting and regrouping.  Working more hours only leads to rapidly diminishing returns.  Here’s the science (

Human, not Superhero

Productivity Ninjas aren’t superheroes.  It’s not about perfection, but about being human and working to maximize our strengths, and embracing and learning from our mistakes.

  • Let’s create workplace cultures that embrace and celebrate our humanness, not ignore it – or require us to sacrifice our wellbeing in ways that ultimately aren’t productive.
  • Get a “have done list”.  Track your achievements.  Concentrating on what’s been done, rather than what’s still left to do creates a sense of progress and is motivating.
  • Fuel up, do your maintenance.  Attention, concentration and creativity are all serious brain work.  Remember to attend to food, drink, fresh air, exercise, play, sleep.
  • You’re only human.  Take breaks (lunch is NOT for wimps), set a work end time and stick to it.  Regularly working late into the night or at weekends isn’t worth it, or sustainable.
  • Tactics for home workers: create real and/or psychological divides between at work and not at work modes, e.g. different PCs (or different logins), ‘mock commute’ etc.
  • Brains (and bodies) need looking after.  We need to recognize our limits, and know that (counterintuitively) sometimes the most productive thing to do is STOP working and rest.
  • Over connected?  Refresh your brain by going regularly “unplugged”.  Swap your smartphone for a dumbphone when off duty, try screen free weekends (
  • What replenishes your mojo?  What stops you thinking about work so you can fully recharge – hobbies, family, exercise, creative activities, volunteering etc.  Recharge.
  • Home time?  Shut it down, then ignore it all till tomorrow (  Yes, we really did say that.  If you’re worried the world might end if you did that, we promise it’s quite safe.