Productivity hacks are a great way to improve your personal output. Let’s face it, when faced with the question would you rather work more or fewer hours each day, the answer is a simple one.
In fact, success doesn’t depend on how many hours we put in. Rather it is about what we put into those hours that counts.
Peak productivity is a trademark of every success story ever told and productivity hacks to maximise your output are everywhere.
Every day, a new app is created, a new nutritional supplement hits the shelf and a new self help book on time management appears on my Amazon suggestions (how does Amazon know?).
However, with all these different options, how do we know which productivity hacks are best for us? Check out my 21 favourite productivity hacks below.
21 Top Productivity Hacks
Having a pre-selected outfit to wear each day makes your morning routine a little less stressful. This frees up cognitive resources to focus on creativity and problem solving rather than figuring out how to adopt the latest fashion trends. Super successful people such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs took this to the extreme by wearing the same combinations every single day. If you work in an office, consider buying a number of the same style of item and wearing it in rotation. If you work from home, putting on a work outfit, no matter what it is, signifies the start of the work day and gets your mindset out of breakfast mode and into production mode.
Exercise Before Work
This exercise-related productivity hack delivers on a number of different levels. Getting your workout in before the day begins definitely gives you an energy and productivity boost that makes you more alert and focused to tackle your big challenges. The other benefit is you tick off a huge to-do list item before most people have even started their day. This sends your brain the signal that you mean business, building momentum you can take into the rest of your day.
Schedule Email Check Ins
Being reactive to every email to land in your inbox is one of the best ways to reduce your focused productivity. Instead of continually checking for new messages, schedule time each day to check emails. Setup an auto-response message to let people know when you will be checking in, and if necessary, give people an alternative contact method for emergencies. Then, close down Outlook or your browser window and take on something more meaningful and productive.
Learn How To Say No
Overwhelm is a great mental state for those who want to minimise their productivity and maximise their stress levels. For the rest of us however, it keeps us away from our primary focus so even though we may be busy, we aren’t necessarily being productive. Learning the word No is a great productivity hack. If you work for yourself, learn to turn down white noise activities cunningly disguised as opportunities. If your his asks you to take on something else, ask where this ranks in the priority list and what can be dropped in order to make this happen (this often results in them asking someone else for help!). If you can’t say no, master the process and then delegate or outsource it to free your time up again.
The average person spends 5 hours and 35 minutes per month waiting in queues. It seems crazy to let over half a working day go to waste each month, so instead of complaining about the person who clearly has more than 10 items in their basket, find a way to squeeze additional value out of those minutes. Write your next blog post on a notepad app on your phone. Squeeze in a few minutes of an audiobook. Shut your eyes and get in a quick meditation session. You might not complete the entire activity, but these extra minutes all add up. Where do you think this blog post was written?
Although coffee definitely lights you up, the lasting effects of caffeine aren’t all supportive of maximal productivity. Instead of hitting double espresso on the coffee machine three times (not just me hopefully) try a different beverage. Yerba mate is drunk widely in South America and provides benefits such as increased mental energy, focus and better mood. Another option, verging on nootropics, is lions mane and chaga. Four Sigmatic have managed to convert these into an awesome mushroom coffee (not as bad as it sounds) that provides significant clarity and attention without the crash that comes when your espresso hit has worn off. This is my go to drink when I need to focus and be most productive for doing deep work.
Carry A Notebook
Richard Branson apparently carries around a notebook everywhere with him, so if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for the rest of us too. I’m often amazed at the strange places good ideas pop into my head, and having somewhere to store them when they do arise is critical. Digital notepads are a good option too, although I have to admit, I still like the feeling of writing down ideas on paper.
Turn Off Notifications
It is difficult to ignore the buzzing sensation in your pocket that happens when you a new notification comes in. Also, without checking your phone, you can’t tell if that notification is something important, or just another goats yelling like humans video. Turn off all the notifications on your phone that aren’t directly related to your productivity. You will still be able to go into each app later and check for updates, but you can do this at a scheduled time, or when you have to visit the bathroom. Another option is to put your phone on airplane mode when you really need to focus, and then to leave your phone in another room. Notifications include any desktop pop-ups you have activated as well, so close down skype, whatsapp or whatever IM system you use when you need 100% productivity and focus.
Write Distraction Free
As someone who regularly writes in a browser window, having those tabs visible results in unnecessary temptation that will eventually deplete your will power. Switching to full screen removes those visual distractions and helps you stay in the zone when it comes to your on-screen efforts. This takes a little getting used to, as your screen layout will seem different. However, once you are used to the new visuals, the reduction in distractions from this little productivity hack will have you cranking out the word count in no time.
2 Things Per Day
There is a big difference between busyness and productivity, and prioritising key tasks is what makes the difference. Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog, talks about the importance of getting the right things done each day, suggesting that if the worst thing you had to do each day was eat a live frog, you would probably want to get it over and done with straight away. This is great advice, but why stop at just one frog? Instead, pick two key tasks on your list that, if you were to accomplish them both, would make a significant impact on your productivity. Then arrange your day accordingly to make sure that these get done before your deadline.
Get Good Sleep
We need energy to be productive, and poor sleep can really derail our energy levels. Ensure you get good sleep by reducing screen time before bed, limiting your caffeine intake in the afternoon and trying to reduce the number of unfinished tasks left for the next day. There are lots of great apps and products designed to help improve sleep quality. Fitbit watches even track your sleep and the amount of deep sleep you are getting each night so you can experiment with your various solutions to see which work best for you.
The Pomodoro technique involves intense work periods of 25 minutes interspersed with a 5 minute break. By knowing how long you are going to focus on a given task, you can put more effort into the activity, helping you be much more productive. In order for the Pomodoro technique to be effective, you need to plan your work in advance, identifying the tasks that fit in to each time slot as well as estimating how long each will take. If you finish a task during any given interval, you must use the rest of the available time to overlearn. A quick search for Pomodoro using your phone’s app store will identify plenty of free apps to support this productivity hack.
This is less of a productivity hack and more an approach to getting out good work. As a bit of a perfectionist myself, I recognise the dislike of producing a first draft, complete with all its mistakes and errors. However, the first draft is an essential step on the road to perfection, and the improvements that come from editing and reviewing your work is what brings it closer to perfrection. If you are sitting there trying to figure out how to be perfect on your first go, this is going to drastically reduce your productivity. Instead, get the first draft out, get some objective feedback, and then get immediately back to the drawing board to work on version 2.
It may be organised chaos, but even the slightest visual distraction will pull you out of the zone. De-cluttering is a simple productivity hack, but the clarity that comes from a clear workplace flows over into your mindset as well. Reducing mess and clutter helps you get clearer on your ideas, make stronger, more powerful arguments and identify new connections in the information you have available. What does your workspace say about you?
Using an outsourcer from a site such as Upwork is a great way to add additional bandwidth. There are skilled workers all around the world, so no matter what you want to achieve, there are keen outsourcers who are available to support your efforts. Virtual assistants, data entry agents and online research are a few easy ways to get started outsourcing, but this can fast become a way to offload all of your structured and defined process-based work. You can give full creative permission to your outsourcers, but I find early on, handing over defined processes allows you to build a successful early relationship that can grow moving forward.
2 Minute Rule
In researching some additional productivity hacks, this simple rule of thumb seemed to pop up regularly. The rule is that if a task takes 2 minutes or less, then that task should be done immediately. Don’t put it off, just get it done and tick it off the list. Our to-do lists usually have too many items on them anyway, so use this productivity hack to shrink that list fast. You’ll also find that the completed exercises no longer require cognitive effort, freeing up more mental energy for you to invest in your more significant tasks.
Minimise Bad Habits
There are always temptations nagging us to waste our time rather than invest it wisely. Finding a way to reduce temptation means you won’t have to rely on will power alone. This means deleting your time wasting phone apps, hiding the TV remote when working from home or tidying your house or apartment before you start working… you’ll be surprised what seems tempting as an alternative to work.
Motivational videos, audio programs and speeches are a great way to help you feel inspired and productive. However, they can also drag you into an internet binge that ends up in you watching the entire TED catalogue. Instead, find your favourite resources (video or audio), those that can get you into the right state immediately, and then know how to access them quickly when you need a little bit of external encouragement.
Stand Up Meetings
Reducing the number of meetings you attend can often ruffle feathers. After all, if we don’t have meetings, how will we ever know what to do? However, what we can do is reduce the amount of time each meeting takes. By switching to a stand up meeting approach, you will find that only the essential topics get discussed, saving valuable time to get actual work done. Also, override the default 30 minute setting for your calendar and consider holding 15 minute meetings instead.
Reducing inbox overload is a key goal for the super productive, so open those emails that you only check once in a while, scroll down to the bottom, and hit unsubscribe. Don’t feel guilty, you can always re-engage with your favourite websites later on, but on your own terms. Keep your inbox for only the most essential communications. If you really don’t like the idea of unsubscribing, get a free email account from gmail or hotmail and use this address for your subscriptions. You can then still check in, but perhaps a little less often than your primary email address.
Finally, I always wondered why some people felt the need to have multiple screens for their computer. I mean, I was fine with my laptop and you can only ever pay attention to one screen at a time right. I’d even mastered my CTRL+ALT shortcut to switch between windows super fast. However, when I finally got a second screen, it made things so much easier. If you need to refer to other documents when working, the dual screen approach makes you faster and more productive. As you can see the information at the same time as working, you don’t need to hold it in your short term memory, freeing up maximum cognitive energy for you to invest more intelligently.
Thanks for reading and I hope you try a few of these productivity hacks outlined above. Each of these hacks has extensive research, and I’ll attempt to expand on the most popular. Also, please post your favourite productivity hacks in the comments below. Now get back to work!