Imagine this: It’s 3 pm and you’ve already downed your (second) afternoon coffee. You stare blankly at your computer screen. Trello is open, but you haven’t moved a card in hours. To add to it all, you’re distracted by Every. Single. Notification. There is no flow state — no deep work in sight. You’re trying to muster up some motivation, but to be frank, you’re just not feeling all that productive. Whether you take a quick walk around the block, do a few stretches, or find a co-worker to chat with, sometimes you need a moment to refocus and get back into the zone. One of our favorite ways to seek inspiration is to turn to the experts — the people who are smarter than us. That’s where these productivity quotes come in.
Experts love to talk about productivity. There are books, podcasts, and everything in between. Though the term can be overused, it’s something that most of us strive for. At the end of the day, we all want to find a way to get more done and do it faster, better, and smarter. We could preach the benefits of productivity all day, but instead, we’ll leave it to those aforementioned experts.
The 14 best productivity quotes
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” – Bruce Lee
Sometimes you just need to let go. If you’re hung up on a certain task, move on and leave it for later. Overthinking tends to be counterproductive. To double down on your productivity, swap a task that’s stumping you for one you know you can get done. An easy win will kickstart your productivity.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King
As one of the most prolific writers in modern times, Stephen King has more than a few inspiring productivity quotes. Though you may not feel particularly brilliant one day, you need to trust in yourself and try. Deadlines mean you can’t always just put off a task. Instead of stewing in your unproductiveness, just keep going. You’ll be surprised how a little bit of effort can yield a massive surge in motivation.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” – Steve Jobs
A commonly touted practice is learning how to say no. If you say “yes” to everything there’s no way you’d ever have time to be productive. To set yourself up for a productive week, think about the things you’re able to say “no” to so you can focus on what actually needs to get done.
“Never mistake motion for action.” – Ernest Hemingway
Far too often we mistake production for productivity. Doing a lot doesn’t mean you’re making the best possible use of your time. Instead of focusing on volume of output or speed, focus on the action or goal you actually want to complete. By having extreme clarity on and dedication to your goal, you’ll feel more empowered to get it done. And it’s in completing something fundamentally important that you’ll find true productivity.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
Maybe he was humble, but Einstein was also, most definitely, “so smart”. The point he makes is still an important one. Productivity is far more a reflection of dedication than speed. This might seem to contradict Bruce Lee’s quote above, but this isn’t about agonizing over decisions; it’s about giving difficult problems the attention they require. If you’re feeling a bit demotivated because a task is taking a lot of brain power or a lot of time, think of how good you’ll feel on the other side of it.
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Norman Vincent Peale
Productivity + motivation = a very good combination. Sometimes to get projects started or to get yourself out of a funk, you need to draw on some good vibes and general optimism. Studies have shown our brains are 31% more productive when we have a positive outlook. Believing in yourself might be corny advice, but it really does impact your productivity.
“The only way you are going to have success is to have lots of failures first.” – Sergey Brin
Productive or not, sometimes the work you do won’t turn out as you expected. But just because you deem something a failure, doesn’t mean it hasn’t helped you move a project forward or learn a lesson that will impact future work. There’s a silver lining in a storm cloud, so find yours and use that learning to improve your productivity moving forward.
It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things. – Leonardo da Vinci
Do you want to be an accomplished person? Maybe you’re looking at the next rung up in the corporate ladder, or you want to go for that job you’re just not quite qualified for. In Leonardo’s view, passively waiting for circumstances to change isn’t smart. It’s much better to actively work on making things happen.
Well done is better than well said. – Benjamin Franklin
You could spend hours crafting the perfect brief to maximize your chances of getting approval from stakeholders. You could obsess over setting up the most effective kickoff meeting your organization has ever seen. But it’s easy putting all that effort in the setup, it’s much harder to follow through. So in Franklin’s view, it’s better to put your effort into that follow through. Plan and share what you’re doing, sure, but focus on what you’re doing first and foremost.
Skills are cheap, passion is priceless. – Gary Vaynerchuk
Vaynerchuk may be the king of productivity quotes.There are two themes to think about here. First, it might seem like Vaynerchuk is dismissing skill in favor of passion, but that’s not exactly the case. “Skills are cheap” doesn’t mean that skills don’t matter. Rather, it’s that they’re not as hard to acquire as you might think. Don’t let a perceived lack of skill keep you from doing something when there are unlimited resources out there for building your skills. Second, passion makes the difference between a good collaborator and a great one. If you want to achieve great productivity, be mindful about what you’re passionate about, and try to find the places where your passion intersects with what needs to get done.
Action is the foundational key to all success. – Pablo Picasso
Picasso could undoubtedly be called one of the great masters of action. It’s believed that he created over 50,000 artworks over his lifetime, and he painted for around 12 hours a day. Now, you don’t need to work for that long to consider yourself a productive person, but it’s important to isolate an important component of this process. Output. Inherent talent and genius aside, would Picasso have become the great painter he was without continually creating paintings? Could you consider yourself a great collaborator if you weren’t regularly doing things that impacted your organization in one way or another?
Great acts are made up of small deeds. – Lao Tzu
This concept is well-known to [project managers] and other leaders but isn’t always obvious to their collaborators. Think of the last big project you worked on, or maybe one looming over you right now. How massive does it seem when you try to think of it as a whole? That’s why the best way to get any project done is to break it down into smaller tasks. That way, your productivity becomes more trackable; you’re not making arbitrary progress towards a giant goal anymore, you’re piling up small victories.
Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. – Sun Tzu
Productivity quotes are often about optimizing and improving your process. Trying to be more productive in bug fixing? Figure out your process, streamline it, and repeat it. Writing blog posts? Streamline, optimize, and automate where you can. But when we get too entrenched in our processes, we miss the opportunity to adapt to our circumstances. Sure, maybe your process will save you most of the time, but don’t ignore those situations when it’s advantageous to flex and adapt.
While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior. – Henry C. Link
The fear of making mistakes can be utterly paralyzing. It keeps people from achieving their full potential and it keeps teams settled in a comfort zone that limits the amount of good they can do for their organization. That fear can come from a mismatch between your perception of your abilities and the task at hand. But the most productive people aren’t the ones who don’t have that fear. They’re the ones who charge ahead despite that fear. Because the irony of the thing is you can only shrink the gap between your abilities — perceived or actual — and your goal by jumping into it.
There you have it — the 14 best productivity quotes. The next time you’re about to reach for your third coffee of the day, save yourself some heartburn. Read a line or two and get back to it.
Need more inspiration for your team? Check out our motivational quotes roundup.