Evolution tells us that we’re capable of immense change and adaptation, yet we like to gravitate towards things we feel connected to. The first step in becoming more productive is changing behavior. For that reason, you don’t base the person on the hacks, but the hacks on the person.
Deciding on the best productivity hack is like choosing the ideal career. Before you can get anywhere, you need to identify your strengths, interests, working style, inclinations, affinities, experience, traits, and so on.
There will always be those who seem to accomplish incredible things effortlessly, as if by magic. Fortunately, it’s not magic… it’s not even as spectacular as a card trick or a balloon animal. It’s a simple commitment to tried-and-tested working practices, mixed with the most relevant, thus effective, productivity hacks.
It’s great if you have your performance-boosting techniques, but we’ve gathered some wonderful productivity hacks as inspiration if not!
Before you get stuck in, you need to situate yourself in the best possible position for productivity. It never hurts to remind oneself of the fundamentals, considering that they often end up underappreciated and overlooked.
A recent MoneyPenny poll revealed 10:54am on a Monday to be the most productive time of the week. However, studies long before that have found that, unless you’re a young adult, morning is the best part of the day for cracking on with work.
The Eat the Frog productivity methodd capitalizes on this very fact by having you tackle the most intimidating task first thing.
Without setting yourself up properly, there’s no way you can reach uber-productivity. It’s boring, we know, but getting those 7 to 9 hours of sleep – as the National Sleep Foundation recommends – is just as important as any to-do list or task-management tip, even more so when starting a challenging project.
Having the energy to power through your work day is essential, and no amount of coffee can replace good shut-eye. Providing you’ve had adequate rest, you also should consider a nutritious lunch that will allow you to maintain stronger focus throughout the day.
Tip: Though many have been told to avoid the blue light of digital screens before bed, it’s important to avoid stimulating the brain all together. Incorporate reading or meditation into a consistent sleep schedule and your body will soon adapt.
The importance of choosing the right project/task management tools depends on how you interact with them. Complex interfaces don’t work for everyone, but there are lots of more intuitive structures that still provide the same advantages.
Above all, pick a task management tool that fits with your workflow. If you find that you're not using it, or it doesn’t feel like you’re well-suited to it, don’t delay choosing a new management style.
This topic is a little too big to get into here. If you are in the market for a sophisticated way of organizing projects, or life generally, mosey on over to our best personal task management tools analysis.
Tip: As you’d expect, we recommend Friday as your go-to task-management tool! It’s a powerful work HQ, effortlessly adapted to individuals, teams, or entire organizations. You can get started with a daily planner, before exploring additional features and numerous app integrations.
Overexerting oneself is an easy way to be left with 20 unfinished tasks at the end of the day. Ambition is obviously a vital part of attaining goals; after all, it is the first thing you’ll need in order to even set personal or professional goals.
Being too ambitious is not a weakness in itself – it’s kind of charming and admirable – but repeatedly failing to recognize you need more realistic and achievable targets is going to hold you back.
Tip: If you’re looking for something specific and unchanging, try out the Ivy Lee method, a six-item daily task-list. You can mess around with the type and difficulty of tasks you include, but the man himself declared it should always be six.
Throughout the typical, everyday zip-zapping between tasks, you may be oblivious to how much time is wasted by mentally readjusting to jobs that require different mindsets or procedures.
Sporadically checking emails throughout the day draws vastly greater energy than scheduling specific times where you address many messages at once. While scanning emails is typically done first thing in the morning, the first-hour rule would rather you allocate that crucial quiet time for more complicated project work.
Grouping similarly-accomplished tasks together, formally known as task-batching, is a brilliant way of raising efficiency and reduced fatigue. Aside from the fact that a day of disparate tasks requires you to physically move around, it also wastes time by being more taxing on your mental resources.
Tip: Task-batching is a divine gift from the productivity gods. By restructuring the way you approach tasks, you really will increase your productivity significantly.
It’s easy to get distracted once you’re busy working. A particularly cited UCI study suggests it can take as much as 23 minutes to get deep focus back. Finding productivity hacks that keep attention where it should be is crucial for effective time-management.
Aside from you or your laptop spontaneously combusting, there's nothing worse for productivity than notifications popping up. These deceptively chirpy sounds rarely bring good news, but instead act as a dangerous reminder of the world outside your deep-focus.
The truth is, notifications are practically impossible to ignore, so don’t even try. Rather than succumbing to relentless group texts or maddening apps alerts, you can just turn them all off. It may feel strange at first, but that disconnect is a gift if you’re wanting to get more done.
With the Friday planner, you can enjoy focus time by blocking specific websites (we’re looking at you, social media) and their notifications. Of course, there are other apps for doing this, but if you enjoy the greater convenience of a centralized work hub, you know where to find us!
Tip: Learn how focus time works to schedule a super-productive session with the friday.app tool kit. Trade the distracting beeps and bubbles for productivity that you’ll want to post about later.
Much like florescent leg-warmers, lava lamps and murder-mystery novels, multi-tasking has largely fallen out of fashion. There are times when it works, but the general rule of getting more done by dividing attention across a few tasks has been debunked.
Lots of research has shown that attempting to juggle many tasks at once is not only counterproductive, but also unhuman. We’re not wired for it.
Trust us, your brain would rather be single-tasking.
Manage one task at a time, and you will find that your productivity will skyrocket.
If you’re interested in learning more about why multitasking fails to deliver better results, check out the multi vs single-tasking comparison.
Tip: there’s plenty of time-management skills that work alongside a single-tasking approach, so there’s lots of scope for incorporating it into your work.
In films, we’re used to seeing the underdog get ahead by working hard, putting in the extra hours, and regularly staying late (or even sleeping) at the office. However, if these stories were anything close to reality, we’d see them taking a heck of a lot more breaks.
It might make for a less exciting movie montage, but the science undeniably shows that modern attitudes towards work rhythms are all wrong. Taking regular breaks is essential for maximum efficiency. Although it seems counterintuitive, those taking four or five breaks throughout their day are likely to be a lot more productive in the long run.
A 2011 study advised that around 12% of the day should be dedicated to breaks. Applied to the eight-hour norm, that’s just under an hour of rest. Dr. Brent L.S. Coker, the author of the paper, also suggested short rests be scheduled intermittently, in the place of fewer breaks of longer duration.
It’s no coincidence that popular sites regularly condone things like the 52/17 Rule, the 90-minute rule, or the many variants between. If you’re more interested in the science of it all, it’s our ultradian rhythm, the fact that we don‘t just experience cycles in our sleep, but also the time spent awake.
Tip: If you can’t justify taking 4 or 5 breaks a day, look into micro-breaks. These 1-2 minute breaks reduce eye strain and the health risks associated with office work, as part of a sedentary lifestyle.
It’s no secret that music can help people work better, while lifting their mood at the same time. Listening to tunes, in some situations, is absolutely a productivity hack, though there are other cases where it proves a burden. Knowing when to employ music depends on personal preference and the type of work you’re doing.
One comprehensive study, involving nearly 300 office workers, found that “music listening had stress-reducing functions... [and] that music listening helped them to concentrate on monotonous tasks.” However, others said that concentration and music contradict one another, whereby it was “impossible to concentrate properly and listen to music.”
The answer is unclear. A separate experiment, using 53 software engineers, saw improvements to both quality and speed when working with music. It’s best to try and see whether it works for you. Instrumental music is considered substantially less distracting than the lyrical stuff.
Listening to acoustic music, perhaps one of the relaxing playlists commonly created on music-streaming apps, can help boost your productivity, providing your current task doesn’t demand your full attention, and you’re the kind of person who can manage it.
Tip: If you really value music at work, use it as a reward for working hard. Incorporate some tunes into your scheduled breaks, or listen to a single song as part of a micro-break.
A really productive day is cause for celebration in and of itself. Before you treat yourself, however, you should allow some time to reflect on your progress. If not, you’re missing a huge opportunity to improve future productivity.
Committing time to something you consider worthwhile is clearly rewarding. However, if it later turns out that work didn’t align with your goals, you can quickly feel deflated and defeated.
Periodically check that the tasks you’ve spent time on are in fact critical, that they actually contribute towards larger aims. You can use techniques like Warren Buffett’s 5-25 Rule to keep your goals at a minimum, allowing you to focus on a small selection rather than getting lost in too much drive.
By reflecting on which tasks are critical to your business, you are better able to schedule productive days. If you find yourself regularly doing something that is yielding little reward, delegate or eliminate it.
Tip: the Eisenhower matrix is specifically designed to categorize tasks by their value and urgency. It’s a brilliant tool for deciding what’s worth doing yourself and what needs to be outsourced.
The 80-20 Rule, or the Pareto Principle, dictates that 80% of our total output comes from only 20% of our input. In other words, a large proportion of our energy is misplaced, or inconsequential for targets you set. We’re all familiar with that sinking realization that you’ve worked for hours, yet accomplished very little.
You can use this theory to evaluate how best to apply your efforts and available time. If you spend the time reflecting on how the 80-20 split affected the previous week, you can create a more accurate schedule for your next.
You cannot maximize productivity without first understanding how to manage time. You cannot manage time without first understanding how you use and waste it. Manipulate the Pareto principle to give insight into which tasks of yours are actually valuable, from which you can gauge the appropriate time to spend on them.
Tip: time-boxing is great for when you need to limit less-productive tasks. It allows you to stay conscious of your prime 20% input, reallocating time and resources to things that lead to measurable results.
Negating critical questions, such as how well you matched expectations or fulfilled scheduled tasks, leaves a huge gap in the ecosystem of self-improvement. If you’ve recently adopted something new, it’s particularly important to evaluate your experience with it.
It’s fair to say you’ll have an instinctual reaction to the effectiveness of a productivity hack. If they feel good, you’re more likely to repeat them. Regardless, you may miss some gems or throw away easily-reworked techniques when there’s no apposite review stage.
Evaluating not just how well productivity hacks worked, but also their influence on specific accomplishments and failures of a given period, allows you to better retain new findings and infer your most effective principles for achieving objectives.
Tip: If you use a journal, you already have the perfect opportunity to self-evaluate. You can use a weekly log to not only organize life, but review progress as well. You could stretch out to a monthly spread, or write out daily task reports for a more systematic review process.
Meta is an ancient Greek term for beyond, whereas cognition comes from the Latin cognit, roughly translated as knowledge. Smash them together and you get metacognition, the awareness of one’s own thought process, the way in which you form ideas and act upon them. It’s an insanely valuable skill, albeit a tad difficult to master.
The term is more commonly seen within learning theory, but it has recently been applied to general task management. In a 2020 study, psychologist Patricia Chen (et al.) explored the effectiveness of metacognition. She wanted to see how this kind of self-aware strategizing effects performance.
In three experiments, involving college GPAs, health and fitness goals, and even the speedy cracking of eggs for a $100 prize, it was found that “the more people reported employing such strategic behavior during goal pursuit, the more progress they actually made toward achieving their goals.”
Basically, it doesn’t matter whether you’re wrapped up in the painfully mundane or the truly thrilling, taking the time to think about how you think results in better work. Analyzing your own thoughts is a little strange at first, but it will ultimately lead to stronger self-perception and goal-commitment.
Tip: The notion of metacognition is broad, so it can be applied to lots of productivity systems. You may want to read up on the complementary idea of Goal-setting Theory (GST) in our goal-setting guide.
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Glue all of your work together and end each day feeling more accomplished.