In the truest spirit of being productive and not wasting your time, I will spare you the long opening paragraph and get right to it. Here are 50 (simple) #ProductivityHacks you should know and apply that can make your life easier while improving your relationship to time management.
Turn Off Alerts
It’s terribly tough to get into your Zen zone when your phone is buzzing every few minutes. Depending on how chatty your phone is, you may get notifications for everything from emails to retweets. It’s essential you shut these notifications off! Trust me, you’ll see efficiency skyrocket once you tell your phone to shut its blabbering mouth.
Ignore The News
As I lengthily discussed in an earlier article about productivity, the news can be a tremendous time sink. The idea that we need to keep up to date on the news is largely outdated. Most of what passes as news today is prettily packaged garbage–it’s trivial, depressing, and unreliable. If something major happens, you’ll find out one way or another. Instead, focus your attention on what’s useful and actionable in your life.
Exercise In The Morning
It’s been shown that exercising in the morning can greatly improve your productivity. Exercise energizes rather than exhausts you, contrary to what the couch potatoes might tell you. (Not that I’m judging. I can be very spud-tacular myself at times.)
Exercising also promotes good health (quick, alert the press!), and some studies have shown that exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours following your workout. Less stress, more efficiency–it’s definitely worth setting that alarm 30 minutes earlier.
Have 30-Minute Meetings
As Jeff Haden notes in an Inc.com article, “whoever invented the one-hour default in calendar software wasted millions of people-hours.” The truth is that most meetings never need more than 30 minutes to accomplish their missions. Many really only need 15 minutes. Don’t be a calendar-default deadbeat. Next you’ll tell me you kept your phone’s default ringtone, too.
Most of us don’t drink nearly as much water as we should. Our bodies thrive on water–just like the rest of the world! Drinking more water gives you more energy, keeps you healthy, and gives you an excuse to get up for bathroom breaks so you’re not stuck in a chair all day (which is horrifically unhealthy too, so you’re killing two birds with one water bottle).
Give Yourself A Break!
You work hard–you deserve a break! Maybe with a Kit Kat, maybe with a cup of tea, maybe with a walk in the park. It’s easy to burn yourself out if you try to work at full throttle all day long. The truth is that our minds just aren’t designed to work that way. For optimal productivity, try the popular and praised Pomodoro technique–work for 25 minutes, then give yourself a five-minute break.
Don’t Be Afraid To Say No
This one is a pretty standard productivity tip, but it makes the rounds for a reason–when you’re too eager to please, you often end up getting in over your head. Remember, it’s not simply a matter of being agreeable–when you take on too much, all your work suffers. You may end up missing deadlines, and despite good intentions, you could end up disappointing others when you are unable to meet the extraordinary expectations you’ve created for yourself. Sometimes you just have to say no, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Hug Your Dog
Many studies have shown how having pets can promote physical and mental well-being. Employees who are allowed to bring their dogs into the office are less stressed and often report more job satisfaction. There’s nothing like a cuddle with a furry friend to alleviate some of that toxic stress.
Make The Most Of Lost Hours
Depending on your commute, you may spend hours driving to and from work in your car. Those hours don’t have to be wasted–consider scheduling calls in the morning that you can take during your drive to work. Subscribe to popular industry podcasts and listen to them on the way home. Stuck waiting at the boarding gate before a flight? Catch up on industry news and articles. Make the most of those previously wasted hours.
Silence Your Inner Perfectionist
New college grads still try to pass off perfectionism as the ultimate worst-trait-that-isn’t-really-a-bad-trait in interviews, but it’s time to recognize that being a perfectionist really is a dangerous deal. Yes, a single piece of work can always be better, but what are you sacrificing by laboring over slight improvements? Do the best you can do in a reasonable amount of time, and then stop. Your inner perfectionist can be helpful, but it also needs to be kept in check.
Down With To-Dos, In With Scheduling
Have you ever had that to-do item that simply wouldn’t disappear? It hovers at the bottom of the list or scratched in the corner, petulantly scowling at you for days, weeks, even months! As more time passes, you feel even less inclined to give it attention.
We’ve all been there–it’s just one of the reasons I’m saying out with the to-do list and in with scheduling. As Eric Barker, a writer for The Week notes in the article “How to Be the Most Productive Person in Your Office–and Still Get Home by 5:30,” scheduling requires you to be realistic about what you can get done. It makes you seriously sit down and consider your available time and what specific slots you can designate to completing certain tasks in a given day.
To-dos are pipe dreams. Scheduling is a game plan. Studies show that even scheduling free time can be rewarding and can result in better quality of time spent–even if that time spent is playing PS4 or reading a Stephen King novel.
Declutter That Desk
Clutter on your desk leads to clutter in the mind. A messy workspace can make you feel disorganized, unfocused, or even downright panicked as you look at all the papers and junk around you. It doesn’t take long to clear things off–especially if you have a lot of trash lying around–and the benefits of working on a cleaner desk are immediate.
Equip Yourself With an Arsenal of Productivity Tools
Staying on task can be tough, but there are tons of great tools available to help you out. Don’t ignore these handy helpers–when someone offers you an ax in the zombie apocalypse, you take it, don’t you?
- For tracking your time management, try Toggl or Yast.
- Are you a savvy social manager? Go with Hootsuite, which offers a central dashboard for managing all your social media accounts. Also consider Buffer, which makes it super easy to share found articles across various social sites.
- For saving articles to read at your leisure, go with Feedly, Pocket, or Evernote. These apps are compatible across devices; you can earmark a blog post on your laptop and read it later on the train via smartphone.
- Sick of forgetting passwords (then resetting them, getting an email, and choosing a new password, which you’ll forget again next time)? Try LastPass, which keeps tabs and secures all your various passwords for you. If you use numerous accounts in one day (and who doesn’t?), this one can be a serious timesaver.
Begin With Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts have traditionally been the vegetable reviled by children across the country (although now that roasting is in, their reputation is improving). The truth is that you’ll enjoy those pork chops and potatoes much more if you eliminate the Brussels sprouts first. The same is true for productivity–eliminate your least favorite tasks right off the bat, and you’ll find the rest of your day to be more pleasant and productive.
Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day–it’s no ruse put on by Dunkin’ Donuts. A morning meal gives you the fuel you need to be present and productive at work, so don’t skip it.
The Two-Minute Rule
The general productivity consensus is that if a task takes less than two minutes to complete, you should finish it immediately. Whether that means responding to an email or confirming a doctor’s appointment, get those small (but often weighty-feeling) tasks done with, rather than let them collect and snowball.
Don’t Drown in the Shallow End of the Pool
When a hundred little tasks are nibbling at your brain, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost at sea. However, a little perspective can do you good–remember to not sweat the small stuff. If you’re going to worry, worry about the big things, not the little ones.
It’s easy to break a promise to yourself, but it’s much harder to break a commitment you’ve made to another person. Words have weight and power–make vows to friends (and ask them to hold you accountable), and you may find it easier to keep commitments you wouldn’t necessarily hold yourself to.
Get Your Sleep On
Another tried-and-true classic–you absolutely need sleep if you want to be productive. Sometimes you might feel that if you only stayed up a few hours later, you’d get more done, but major sleep loss will ruin the entire following day.
In fact, Margaret Heffernan notes that losing one night’s sleep is cognitively equivalent to being over the alcohol limit (with none of the fun parts, unfortunately). Equipment needs to be properly cared for to work correctly. Your brain is no different! Getting a good night’s sleep of seven to eight hours is mandatory, not optional.
Sign In on Sunday (Just for a Minute)
Sunday is definitely a day for relaxing, but if you’re often overwhelmed come Monday morning, logging in briefly Sunday evening may help you alleviate some of that Monday mania. You don’t need to make calls or even answer emails–simply assess what your Monday game plan will be, and you’ll sleep a little more soundly.
Make Bad Habits Difficult for Yourself
Sometimes the best way to break a bad habit is to make things incredibly difficult for yourself. If you hate that you watch too much TV, keep the remote control in the upstairs closet. If you can’t help but surf the Web when you need to be focusing on a blog post, disconnect your Wi-Fi for a bit. While the extreme lengths you take to avoid certain habits can seem excessive, once those habits are broken it will be well worth the struggle.
Pause Your Inbox & Silence Your Phone
Go airplane mode. If someone totaled up all the time you spend in a given day responding to emails, answering calls, and responding to text messages, you’d probably be surprised–if not incredulous–at the results. If you want to actually get things done, shut down everything and focus on the tasks at hand interruption-free.Inbox Pause for Gmail lets you literally pause your inbox, which does the trick perfectly.
Work On Next-Day Task Lists
It’s true that focusing on the present helps you get tasks done faster, but working on your next day’s to-do lists will help in two ways: First, you’ll help your future self by setting a prioritized list of items in advance, and second, you’ll be clearing your mind of tasks you don’t need to worry about today.
Establish A Micro-routine
Forming a long-term habit, like a morning meditation routine, takes time. Forming a short-term habit yields similar benefits, but can be implemented immediately. Instead of introducing some new activity to keep track of, sort your current requirements into digestible circuits. For example, you could break each hour down into a repeatable process: 15 minutes of communication catch-up, 15 minutes of simple tasks, and 30 minutes of a difficult, larger task.
Break In The Middle Of A Task
Breaks are important. Taking 10 minutes to clear your mind can give you enough of a mental boost to save 15 minutes of eventual effort. Even though it might be tempting to take a break when you finish a task, since you’ve reached a natural milestone, it’s actually more beneficial to break in the middle of a complex task–that way, it’s easy to jump back into things.
Set Sprints For Yourself
Large, complex tasks are the usual culprits in slowing us down. The idea of a large task can distract you or weigh on your motivation. Instead of trying to plow your way through it, break it up into sections of effort. You’ll trade one large task for several smaller ones, and it will be easier to motivate yourself and measure your progress.
Perform Mindless Tasks As A Break
Mindless tasks are annoying when they’re on a task list, but when you’re actually doing them, they can be quite relaxing. If you don’t have time for a real break, take time away from your current sprint to work on something mindless. It will keep you productive while giving your mind a chance to decompress.
Deactivate Your Internet Connection
No matter how focused or busy you are, the Internet is always a temptation. Even if your motivations are purely professional, such as checking in on your LinkedIn contacts or tweeting on behalf of your company, there are heavy distractions on every corner of the Web. To stop yourself immediately, choose a handful of tasks to work on offline, and disconnect your Internet for a set amount of time.
Replace A Meeting With A Bulleted Email
Some meetings are genuinely productive. Most meetings are not. Find an unnecessary meeting to skip–possibly an internal one–and replace it with a bulleted email that contains a list of objectives, a list of deliverables, and a list of questions (if applicable). It will keep everyone organized and on track without wasting time in circular or redundant discussion.
Work On Sunday Night — Just A Little
You need to take time to relax on the weekends in order to keep your sanity, but working Sunday night can be a great way to catch up and prepare for the week ahead. On Sunday night, you won’t be bothered with phone calls or emails. Instead, you can look at the week to come with a refreshed mind and tackle a few tasks while you’re at it.
Turn Off Notifications
When you have your work planned out, you don’t want to be disturbed by an email notification in the bottom right of your screen. Switch off all notifications. When you receive an email notification or any other type of notification, it disturbs your focus. If you turn them off you can have calm, undisturbed focus for as long as your brain will allow.
Get Rid Of Your Low Priorities
The low-priority tasks on your list will only serve to distract you or make you feel more pressure throughout the day. Find a way to get rid of them. If they take less than two minutes to complete, do them. If they take longer, then either delegate them to someone else or schedule them for completion on a future date.
Commit To Starting Your Least Pleasant Tasks
We all have tasks on our lists that we dread, but we can’t postpone them forever. Getting the worst tasks out of the way first can clear your path for the rest of the day, so commit to at least starting those tasks as early as possible. You might find that once you get started, you’ll be more motivated to finish quickly. If you need to break in the middle, you’ll have still accomplished the start of the task.
Your list is long and it grows longer by the day. Sometimes the easiest way to get something off your plate is to avoid accepting it in the first place. Don’t be afraid to say no to a task or a meeting that you feel would be unproductive.
Optimize Your Commute
Depending on how close you live, you could have half an hour or more time to catch up on voicemails, listen to an audiobook, make voice memos for the day ahead, or just relax with some calming music. Make the most of your trip.
Give (10+2)*5 A Try
Let’s start with a classic but very effective hack called(10+2)*5 created by Merlin Mann, author of 43Folders.com. Don’t worry. This is not a complicated Mathematical formula you need to solve. The (10+2)*5 simply means 10 minutes work + 2 minutes break multiplied by 5, completing 1 hour. It is crucial to stick with the time limits and not skipping work and break schedules. The point of this is for you to create a jam-packed routine of work and break schedules. The result? You will eventually skip your break schedules.
Use Red And Blue More Often
Clean your desk and remove things that might distract you. According to a Science Daily study about which colors improve brain performance, red was found out to increase attention to details while blue sparks creativity. Surrounding your workplace with these colors not only benefits your brain, it’s also pleasing to the eye.
Create A Break Agenda
List all the things you want to do on your break be it surfing the web, checking your emails, snack time, taking selfies, Facebook/Twitter—everything. Like the (10+2)*5 hack, squeeze these in between work time but the difference is you schedule these activities for ONLY 20 minutes. Eventually, you’ll take your break minutes wisely. You’re finishing tasks while sidetracking to doing the things you enjoy.
Set A Timetable For Your Tasks
Like any other habits, procrastinating is a tough wall to break. Replace this habit with another habit. When you’re assigned a task, set a timetable for each step. Let’s say you have a big research task. Here’s a sample timetable:
9:00 – 9:10 am – Set up all your tools, browser tabs, emails, coffee, etc..
9:10 – 10:00 am – Internet research
10:00 – 10:45 am – Look through existing files
10:45 – 11:00 am – Break time!
11:00 – 12:00 pm – Outline the research report
Deadlines are the best hack for getting things done. Setting a specific time to finish a task creates time pressure even if the deadline has passed.
Take It Outside
Do yourself a favor and don’t ruin the comfy vibe of your home. If you need to work on a stressful project, do it in a library or coffee shop. You’ll never finish it anyway. Your cozy sofa and toasty bed will just lure you into napping yourself to doom.
Become Productively Lazy
Instead of finding all sorts of ways to unproductively procrastinate, use your habit to look for shortcuts and new ways to finish your tasks. Staple multiple papers at a time or master the 3-second t-shirt folding technique. A strong drive combined with laziness sometimes bring out the productive and creative side you never knew you have!
Assign A Task Deputy
It could be your colleague, your supervisor, or your significant other, anyone who has the unforgiving guts to reprimand you when you procrastinate. You could go the extra mile by paying up unfinished tasks or times you open your Facebook or watch a funny cat video on YouTube. Let’s see how five bucks every time you procrastinate will change you.
Consider A Gadget-Free Desk
According to a study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, average users check on their phones 150 times per day and having your phone just an elbow away just creates sizzle to this habit. Removing mobile devices and gadgets allows you to focus on your work without the constant interruption from notifications, calls, and text messages. It eliminates the very distracting ambiance and the urge to unlock your phone just because.
Prepping The Night
Before hitting the sack to oblivion, prepare everything you’ll need the next day. This will probably take you 15 minutes tops, saving you more time for coffee in the morning. Spin class at am? Pack up your gym clothes, shoes, socks, etc. or better, create a checklist so you don’t miss anything. You can also prep your food into containers and just grab one before leaving.
Do A 10 Minute Workout In The Morning
Exercising is proven to increase productivity and stimulate release of endorphin or “Happy Hormones”. Take a jog outdoors and get warmed up for the day. Don’t feel like running outside? Hop on a treadmilli. It’s a great investment and there are a lot of ways you can use a treadmill like endurance running and metabolism training. On a budget? Here’s a 10 minute, no-equipment needed workout you can do at home.
Set Up Mini Tasks
If you’re given a big project, break it down into mini tasks. Create a checklist and start with the easy ones until you finish. Got an article to write? Just start with the title and the first sentence. Or perhaps you have a visual presentation to make? Spend 15 minutes on your outline, take five minutes coffee break, then finish the first two slides. Accomplishing something, no matter how tiny, still gives you that sense of fulfillment.
Create An Inspirational Board Or Reminder
I found these mini desk chalkboards from Etsy you can use to write motivating quotes like the ones from Pinterest. Or you know what? Just simply write “Do it now!” and stare at it for 10 seconds every time you feel like dropping by on Reddit.
Unsubscribe To Newsletters
Unsubscribe to as many newsletters as possible. Let them clog up some other email inbox. If you really need to stay subscribed, subscribe under a different email address. This way, you reduce the number of emails coming into your work email address.
Ready Your Snacks
You know that trip to the pantry? It’s just seconds away but it took you several minutes just to get your fruit snacks in the fridge. Before starting a task, prepare your nibbles on your desk to avoid zoning out and losing yourself on the way to the pantry.
Schedule Your Chores
Write down your chores in a weekly basis with matching day and time when you should be doing these. For the artsy folks, you can create fun chore charts like these or simply stick the list somewhere visibly annoying e.g. mirrors, doors, TV. The trick is listing as many chores as you can for the week and including unfinished chores the following week. Who likes seeing a long list of chores first thing in the morning?
Most hacks in general are not permanent solutions but rather quick fixes. Although they can improve your relationship to time management, don’t expect your workload to magically decrease. I think it’s also fair to acknowledge that not every hack will work for every person which is why so many exist and I provided you with 50 which have some similarities to each other. If and when you apply some of the hacks from this list, there is a strong chance you will remove the distractions and “time bandits” that are currently derailing your schedule and provide you with some clarity and hopefully some sense of ease.
*The hacks I have listed in this article originally appeared in various articles from www.inc.com and www.lifehck.org