By Karen Axelton

87506114Being the type of person who loves reading books on organization and productivity, I couldn’t wait until I had a spare moment to read the March issue of Inc., with its cover story on “Secrets of the Highly Productive CEOs.” I do tend to get a lot done, and friends often ask me for tips and advice on being more productive. But the biggest tip I picked up from this article was this: You’ve got to find what works for you.

The tactics that make us productive differ from person to person. For example, Julie Morgenstern’s book Never Check E-Mail in the Morning changed my life–using that one tip alone (ignoring e-mail for the first hour of the day), I pretty much doubled my productivity. But for my business partner Rieva Lesonsky, that advice just didn’t work.

So I could relate to Inc.’s diametrically opposed examples of Jordan Zimmerman and Mark Cuban. ┬áZimmerman, CEO of Zimmerman Advertising,conducts most employee interactions by cell phone, not e-mail. “I like the directness of phone conversations,” he says. On the other side of the coin, billionaire entrepreneur Cuban does everything by e-mail: “Anything you can say on the phone you can put in an e-mail,” he contends.

Then there’s Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr and the new startup Hunch, whose system is…no system. “My schedule is completely random. I work on whatever instinctively feels like the right thing at the moment. But I’m one of the most productive people I know,” says Fake, who adds, “I think it’s a sickness in business to always try to do more things in less time. I spend more time.”

I can appreciate the intuitive aspect of Fake’s way of working. Clearly, it works for her. And that’s the key: Are you controlling your system, or is it controlling you? When you find the system that’s right for you, you’ll know it. Then it’s simply a matter of sticking to it.

There are plenty of good tips in this article–and whatever way you prefer to work, you’re likely to find a technique worth trying. My personal favorite is Fake’s advice for keeping meetings short: Have everyone drink 16 ounces of water before the meeting begins, and when the first person has to go to the bathroom, the meeting is over.