In many ways, technology has revolutionized the way most of us work. Thanks to the availability of smartphones, tablets, Bluetooth devices, and high-speed Wi-Fi, we’re more connected than ever, making it possible to work from anywhere, anytime. Despite these advantages, too many of us find ourselves at the end of the day feeling like we didn’t really accomplish anything valuable.
If you’re burned out, unmotivated or unproductive, the following 15 productivity hacks can help you do more in less time.
Productivity Hacks #1: Get an Early Start
While waking up early can take night owls a few weeks to get used to, you’ll soon discover that mornings are the best time to begin attacking your goals.
You’re refreshed from a good night’s sleep, providing a full tank of mental and physical energy for getting things done.
You’ll also face fewer distractions from family members or coworkers if they aren’t awake yet. Getting a few items checked off your to-do list first thing in the morning can provide the momentum you need to stay productive all day.
Productivity Hacks #2: Begin Your Day with a Plan
Without a set schedule, it’s all too easy to fritter away your time with nothing meaningful to show for it. First thing in the morning (or even the night before), sketch out a framework for your day.
Begin by filling in appointments and meetings that already have an assigned time, and then add the items you want to accomplish, giving each one a precise start and end time. This will help you keep moving from task to task and eliminate any opportunity for procrastination or indecision about what to do next.
Productivity Hacks #3: Set Three Top-Priority Tasks for the Day
As you’re creating your daily plan of attack, identify the three most important tasks for that day. Ideally, you’ll schedule them in the early part of the day to ensure they get done, but the most important thing is to identify a window of time for each one and a detailed description of what you need to accomplish.
The more specific you can be, the less likely you’ll get pulled away by some tangential task.
Productivity Hacks #4: Complete Your Hardest Task First
Too frequently, we put off the most challenging tasks on our to-do list because we’re afraid of falling short or intimidated by the effort required. Allowing anxiety to build up around the task creates its own energy drain, leading us to put off the task even longer.
Instead of ruminating about it, simply make your hardest task your first assignment of the day. You’ll get it over with, so it won’t weigh on you for the rest of the day, and you’ll start your day with a powerful feeling of accomplishment that can keep you motivated through quitting time. This is when it is best to utilize the concepts of deep work.
Productivity Hacks #5: Use a Decision-Making Matrix for Time Management
If you struggle with prioritizing projects or tasks, try using the Eisenhower Matrix. The 34th President and U.S. Army general relied heavily on this method to manage his time and direct his focus by sorting tasks into one of four categories:
- Important and urgent, such as a report for your company’s board of directors that’s due tomorrow
- Important and not urgent, such as a presentation for the vice president of your business sector that you’ll be delivering in two weeks
- Not important and urgent, such as responding to a meeting invitation or returning a phone call
- Not important and not urgent, such as scrolling through social media or chatting with a coworker in the break room
Important tasks are critical to keeping your job and accomplishing your long-term goals; urgent tasks have a near-term deadline or must be accomplished quickly in order to remain relevant.
Once your tasks are sorted into the four categories, begin with the “important and urgent” tasks, since they are the most time-sensitive and critical to your short- and long-term success.
Next, establish a timeline for completing important/not urgent tasks to keep you from waiting until the last minute and failing to deliver your best work.
When possible, delegate tasks that are not important but urgent, like having an assistant answer calls while you focus on more important projects.
Tasks that are neither important nor urgent should be eliminated or moved to the bottom of your priority list, since they do little to contribute to your professional and personal success.
Productivity Hacks #6: Subdivide Your Goals
Important projects and goals can often feel intimidating, leaving us unsure about where to start or how we’ll find the time or energy to achieve them.
By breaking big projects and goals into more manageable sub-goals and tasks, we can address them one by one to get closer to the finish line.
These smaller tasks should be easy to accomplish and incorporate into your existing schedule, allowing you to make gradual progress until you reach your ultimate objective.
Productivity Hacks #7: Identify the “Why” Behind Every Task
When adding tasks to your to-do list, stop to consider how they relate to your short- and long-term goals. If you can’t identify any connection between them, ask yourself why you’re devoting time and energy to them in the first place and whether they can be eliminated. Time is a scarce resource, so don’t waste it on purposeless pursuits.
Productivity Hacks #8: Stop Saying Yes to Everyone
If you’re a people-pleaser who finds it difficult to say no to a request or assignment, you’re probably exhausted and overwhelmed, with an overflowing to-do list and little to show for it. Instead of reflexively saying yes to everyone, respond with “I’ll check my calendar and let you know.” That buys you some time to consider whether the request aligns with your goals and priorities; you can then follow up with a hard yes or no.
Saying no to your boss can be tricky, but if you’re truly overloaded, try asking him or her which of your other urgent tasks you should delay or eliminate in favor of the new request. This may prompt a reevaluation of whether or not it makes sense to add to your existing workload.
Productivity Hacks #9: Adopt the Pomodoro Technique
This proven time management technique divides your day into concentrated 25-minute blocks of work time followed by a mandatory five-minute break. The Pomodoro strategy allows you to concentrate all of your attention on one specific task, knowing that at the end of the time period, you’ll have the reward of five minutes to spend however you choose.
Try setting a timer to keep you focused on the urgency of your task and alert you when it’s time to take a break.
Productivity Hacks #10: Complete Related Tasks in Batches
Grouping similar tasks together for completion through the same general time frame can enhance efficiency by keeping your brain focused on a specific subject matter area or activity.
For example, you might schedule a period of time at work to return all of your outstanding phone calls or emails or set aside an afternoon at home devoted entirely to cleaning.
Batching allows you to complete all related tasks and then move on to something completely different, which can smooth workflow and boost productivity.
Productivity Hacks #11: Make a List
The simple act of writing things down helps us commit them to memory and track their completion. For the tasks that don’t fall under the aforementioned two-minute rule, keep a running list and review it when you’re setting your schedule for the next day, adding items based on their urgency and importance and delegating or deleting the rest.
For more about digitizing your to-do lists, check out our post A Productive Mindset’s List Of Best To Do List Apps
Productivity Hacks #12: Use the Two-Minute Rule for Small Tasks
Every day, we’re bombarded with new tasks and obligations that demand our time and attention.
While some of them may simply be trivial time-wasters, the majority are things that will eventually need to be addressed, such as responding to a meeting invitation or unloading the dishwasher.
If the task can be completed in two minutes or less, go ahead and do it to maximize efficiency and get it off your plate. If it can’t be completed in two minutes, add it to your list and handle it later.
Productivity Hacks #13: Check Email Only at Set Intervals
Thanks to the constant presence of our smartphones, most of us check our email every time we have a free moment or hear the notification ping. Before we know it, we’ve wasted precious minutes that could have been better directed to more critical tasks.
To avoid the email trap, turn off notifications and identify a few set times each day to check your inbox and respond as needed—for example, 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. It will take a few weeks to break the habit of constantly checking your phone or computer, but the productive time you’ll recapture is well worth the effort.
Productivity Hacks #14: Eliminate Distractions
Whether they’re unwanted distractions, such as a coworker wandering into your office, or distractions we choose, like flipping through our social media feeds, we waste a substantial amount of time each day on tasks that do nothing to advance our goals.
When you need to get an important task done, be proactive in preventing distractions by closing your office door and putting up a polite “do not disturb” sign, muting your phone and clearing the clutter from your workspace.
Eliminating distractions will help you maintain your focus and produce your best work in less time. Again, this is the perfect time to practice deep work.
Productivity Hacks #15: Trade Multitasking for Focus
For most of us, multitasking has become a way of life and even a badge of honor. While we may feel more productive when juggling several projects simultaneously, studies have shown that multitasking actually diminishes productivity because we’re splitting our attention between several (usually unrelated) tasks.
As a result, each task takes longer than it should, and the quality of our work product suffers. Instead, choose one discrete task to focus on at a time, complete it and move on to the next item on your list.
Final Thoughts on Productivity Hacks
As technology evolves and the lines continue to blur between our work and personal lives, we’ll find ourselves striving to accomplish even more in the 24 hours we’re given each day. The 15 productivity hacks here can help you use your time more effectively and ensure that your energy is directed toward meaningful tasks that advance your goals.