From work to side hustles to family to friends to health and more, it’s easy to feel incredibly overwhelmed. We drink coffee to kick start our productivity and knock out things on our to do list so we can feel a bit less overwhelmed. But what are other things we can do to long term level up our productivity? Here’s 15 productivity hacks for busy people.
How should you schedule your day?
It’s not just what we do in our day that matters but also how we structure our day. Developing an effective structure can go a long way in setting you up for productivity and more efficient work.
Work in short bursts and take regular breaks. People aren’t made to work nonstop for 12 or 16 hours at a time. Your attention, creativity, and energy are drained when you work continuously for full days. Instead of slogging through your full work day nonstop, work in short bursts that align with your energy levels. Are you a morning person? Make your first work burst start at 4 or 5 am. Do you often get tired after a meal? Add a break after breakfast and lunch. Are the mid afternoons the energy troughs of your day? Take a break then.
Be creative about how you spend your breaks. Go on a walk, a short run, or a bike ride. Meditate on your porch or do some yoga. Make a smoothie or a coffee. Chop your vegetables before dinner. Do your laundry. Call your mom or your best friend. Read a book. Read a poem that inspires you. Watch a funny YouTube clip. Listen to a podcast. Paint your nails. Do a face mask. Play with your kids. Sing along to your favorite song. Stop by the local farmer’s market. Browser your favorite online store. Breaks don’t have to be boring. If you do what you love during your breaks, you’ll feel more refreshed and work better before and after.
Set atomic goals throughout the day. Instead of having a seemingly never ending to do list that you keep adding to, break your to do list and other daily or weekly goals down into atomic tasks. For example, if one of your goals is to write a blog post each week, carve out time to do research from 2 to 3 pm on Monday, time to write an outline from 4 to 5 pm on Tuesday, time to write the article from 1 to 4 pm on Thursday, and time to edit the article from 9 to 10 am on Saturday. In this way, you block out the exact time you need to accomplish every atomic step of this task.
Theme your days and weeks. Context switching is a meaningful source of inefficiency. When you transition from one meeting to another meeting on two entirely different topics, you need to spend some time context switching. When you move from one project to an entirely unrelated one, you need to spend more time context switching. Of course, some context switching is inevitable as most people don’t have full control over their meeting and work schedules, but to the extent possible, theme your days and weeks. For example, have one day devoted solely to writing. Have another day devoted solely to calls with investors. Have yet another day devoted solely to data projects.
Batch process notifications. We’re all guilty of keeping your phones right in front of us as we work. Whenever a new notification pops up, even if it’s the world’s most insignificant thing, we’re tempted to look and respond right away. Even if you don’t or can’t respond immediately, we continuously think about that notification and how and when we will respond. To eliminate or at least ameliorate notification obsession, batch process your notifications. Set aside an hour (or whatever you think you need) each day or each half day to respond to all the emails that have come in since your last batch process. In this way, you don’t have to worry about missing notifications and you don’t have to be constantly distracted by notifications coming your way.
What habits should you develop?
Habits ultimately are the foundation for everything we do. Habits are the little actions that collectively make up our potential. How can you develop great habits to be long term more productive without feeling more overwhelmed?
Turn habits into rules. Going on a diet is a habit but not eating dessert is a rule. Going on a diet is incredibly ambiguous. What does that actually mean? It’s hard to put in practice and leaves too much room for discretion, and as we know, people don’t always make the most long term serving choices when left entirely up to their own devices. Instead of having general habits like “go on a diet,” have rules like “don’t eat dessert after dinner.” Instead of “be healthier,” try “go to the gym everyday.” Turn habits into rules so you can actually follow them.
Clear your calendar regularly. Tobi Lutke, founder and CEO of Shopify, clears his calendar at the start of every year. He deletes all recurring meetings from the previous year. While this may seem extreme, it actually invites people into an interesting frame of mind. Our default state is so often to have meetings, and we don’t genuinely take the time to reconsider whether we actually need these meetings. By clearing your calendar regularly, you give yourself and your colleagues the opportunity to design the ideal meeting structure from the ground up with the latest information you have now (which is likely not the same as when you initially scheduled the standing meeting).
Make time for reflection. We are so often in a “go, go, go” mode each day that we don’t take the time to genuinely reflect. We learn so much throughout the week both intentionally through reading and unintentionally through the serendipitous experiences we have and the people we work with and observe. It’s a shame not to take even just a bit of time (30 minutes or so) to internalize these learnings.
To effectively reflect, write down what surprises you as you go about your day. Did your colleague say something interesting in a meeting? Did your friend share a fun fact? Did you discover something fascinating while executing on a project? Did your users give you thoughtful feedback? Did you read something cool? Write it all down. Then, at the end of the week, carve out 30 minutes for a meeting with yourself where you reflect on these learnings and think intentionally about how you can incorporate these to be better next week.
Follow the one touch, 2 minute rule. If there’s something you can do in one touch or 2 minutes, do it right away (unless you have the world’s most urgent meeting in the next minute). For example, if your boss asks you to bring 5 people together in a Slack group, do it right after you speak with her. If your friend asks you to like her LinkedIn post, do it right away. If all you need to say in an email response is “got it, thanks!” do that right away. After you confirm a meeting with someone, if a calendar invite still needs to be sent, do that right away. Our to do lists are surprisingly filled with tons of “little” things like these. By pushing them off, we block other people, create mental blockage for ourselves, cultivate an insanely long to do list, and end up having to do more work down the line.
Have other people rely on you. It’s interestingly a motivating thing to have other people rely on you. When you know your work doesn’t matter, you won’t be motivated to do it. While you probably can’t change the mission or the organizational structure of the company you work for, you can do smaller things that go a long way in helping you feel motivated. For example, you can try to get ownership of a project. You can reframe your KPIs so you’re responsible for the ultimate outcomes. You can get a mentee who has a medium term, concrete goal they’re working toward that you can really help them with. When other people rely on you, you place greater emphasis on your role and the impact you can create, which can energize you.
Have overarching priorities. Learning to say “no” is one of the most important yet hardest things. You should have 1-3 concrete, high level goals that are clear enough for you to use them for proper decision making. These overarching goals should form the framework through which you prioritize. Whenever new opportunities or optional asks arise, take a moment to ask yourself whether they fit into your goals. Be judicious. If they don’t fit, feel confident saying “no” without a fear of missing out.
How do you stay focused and avoid distractions?
We’re all human and can easily succumb to distractions whether it’s a funny YouTube video or cat photos on Instagram or group chats with friends. Here’s how to set yourself up (physically) for focus:
Block distracting apps. If there’s a social app or other site that you just can’t stop visiting, block it on your main browser. Know yourself and know what you have trouble controlling. Then put the structures in place for you to avoid these distractions.
Listen to productivity music. Instead of playing a YouTube video, the news, songs with words, or a Netflix show in the background while you work, pick something that keeps you from being distracted and lets you stay focused on your work.
Find the tool stack that works for you. Apps are so often associated with productivity, and so many people see “productivity apps” as a panacea for their problems. In reality, some people with 0 tools can be much more productive than someone with 100 tools. Don’t look for technology to solve your problems. Technology can augment you but it can’t replace your habits. Know yourself and find the tool stack that compliments you best.
Have a dedicated work space. With remote work, many of us are probably working out of our bedrooms. We don’t often associate the bedroom with a place of productivity. We sleep, watch TV, and hang out with friends in our bedroom. Being in such a place doesn’t stir our productive instincts. Instead, if you can, find a separate place to work. Set up a workstation in your library, living room, basement, or garage that is solely associated with work. You can more naturally and easily stay focused when there and “turn off” whenever you leave.
We hope this guide is helpful for you in staying meaningful strides toward living a more productive life!