When it comes to productivity, there’s no one-size fits all approach.
We all have different goals that require different levels of effort. But no matter what your goals are, anyone can benefit from improving their daily productivity habits.
As with anything in life, there’s not one magic habit that’s going to completely transform your productivity overnight.
Change is an accumulation, not an event. With that being said, there are an abundance of productivity hacks out there that can gradually improve your ability to work more efficiently.
In today’s article, we’re going to talk about 12 productivity hacks that will have a substantial impact on your workflow.
#1: The Ivy Lee Method
I’m putting this one first for two reasons:
- Most people don’t set up their to-do list the right way
- It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my own productivity
The Ivy Lee Method was created by, you guessed it — Ivy Lee. He was actually hired by Charles Schwab in 1918 to improve the efficiency of his executives.
He sat down with each executive for 15 minutes, and didn’t charge Schwab a dine for his services. Instead, Lee told Schwab that he could send him a check after three months for whatever he felt the information was worth to him.
When that three month period was up, Schwab was so pleased with the results that he sent Lee a check for the modern-day equivalent of $420,000.
The process that Lee outlined with Schwab’s executives was a simple daily routine that set them up for success.
Here’s how it works:
- Step #1 – At the end of each day, write down six things that you need to accomplish tomorrow.
- Step #2 – Once you’ve written down six things, rank them in order of importance.
- Step #3 – After you’ve woken up and started your work day, only focus on your most important task until it’s completed.
- Step #4 – Follow the same structure for the rest of your list.
- Step #5 – At the end of the day, move any unfinished tasks to a new list of six for the following day.
- Step #6 – Repeat this process every day
The beauty of this method is its simplicity, which is what drew me to it in the first place.
It accomplishes the two crucial components of an effective to do list — prioritizing important tasks and getting specific about what you need to accomplish.
The Ivy Lee method only takes a few minutes to complete each morning, but it will set your entire day up for success by ensuring you make progress on the things that really matter.
#2: Apply The Two Minute Rule (For Small Tasks)
This one comes from legendary productivity expert David Allen.
It’s inevitable that small, tedious tasks will pop up during the day. When this happens, the best thing to do is to get them out of the way quickly. You don’t want them taking up space in your mind.
We’re going to go over a different version of the Two Minute Rule in the next section, but this version goes as follows:
If a task takes less than two minutes to do, just get it done immediately.
The downside of putting off seemingly insignificant tasks is that they have a tendency to build up over time.
After a day of putting off small tasks, you may have 5-6 of them waiting to be completed. Now, a two-minute task has just turned into a batch of tasks requiring 10-15 minute exercise.
If you can make the two minute rule a habit, you’ll be able to avoid this problem altogether and minimize your stress on a daily basis.
#3: Apply The Two Minute (For Large Tasks)
This is one of my favorite productivity hacks out there. The two minute rule doesn’t just apply to small tasks, you can also leverage it to tackle tasks that are of great importance.
One of the main causes of procrastination is the fact that we tend to overwhelm ourselves. The problem is not doing the work, the problem is starting the work.
Think about the last time you simply forced yourself to sit down and work on something that was looming over your head.
How did you feel? Probably pretty good right?
Progress is the most effective form of motivation — once we start working on something, we get natural motivation that pushes us to do more.
Here’s how to apply the two minute rule to your high-priority tasks:
Whenever you find yourself procrastinating, simply commit to working on whatever you’re putting off for two minutes. After that, you’re free to stop working.
By reducing the time commitment associated with the task, your brain will perceive whatever you’re putting off as far less stressful. Resistance will quickly dissipate as your brain thinks to itself, “Well, I can manage two minutes.”
I apply the two minute rule every single day. And most of the time, I end up working for at least 30 minutes, sometimes hours.
Not because I had the audacity to set the bar high, but because I had the humility to set the bar low enough.
#4: The Pomodoro Technique
The secret to effective time management is thinking in…tomatoes rather than hours?
It may seem silly at first, but many people swear by the life-changing power of the Pomodoro technique.
The technique was developed by university student Francesco Cirillo. He was struggling to focus on his studies, so he decided to commit to just 10 minutes of focused work.
He found a tomato shaped kitchen timer, and thus the Pomodoro method was born. (pomodoro means tomato in Italian).
The main goal of the method is to alternate brief periods of work with short breaks in order to stave off mental fatigue and operate at peak efficiency.
Here’s how it works:
- Step #1 — Pull out your to do list and set a timer for 25 minutes
- Step #2 — Focus on a single task until the timer is up without any distraction.
- Step #3 — After the timer goes off, mark off one pomodoro and record what you completed
- Step #4 — Take a 5 minute break
- Step #5 — After four consecutive pomodoros, take a longer break — between 15-30 minutes
Some additional rules for applying the Pomodoro technique are as follows:
- If you have a batch of smaller tasks to complete, like “Write rent check,” or “put laundry in the washer,” then you can combine tasks like these to fit into one pomodoro.
- If you get distracted during one of your 25 minute Pomodoro sessions, simply take a 5 minute break and then restart the timer.
- If you have a big task that you will take longer than 5 Pomodoros, break the task down into smaller sub-tasks
When you use the Pomodoro technique, you have a clear measurement of your efforts, which allows you to plan your days more efficiently and build consistent work habits.
Additionally, as you make this routine a habit, the timer will act as a trigger to get in the zone and fully concentrate on whatever you’re doing.
The Pomodoro technique isn’t one of those productivity hacks that you use once and then shelf, it’s an organized system for getting the most out of your day.
#5: Download Website Blockers
The internet is a blessing and a curse when it comes to productivity.
The blessing? We can find anything we want with a simple Google Search.
The curse? We can find anything we want with a simple Google Search.
Jokes aside, mindlessly browsing the web has a significant impact on your productivity.
Research has shown that once you stop working on a task that you are fully engaged in, it can take you up to 23 minutes to reach the same level of concentration that you had before you got distracted.
Luckily, one of the most popular productivity tips that turns the internet into your ally is downloading website blockers.
Website blockers are browser extensions that prevent you from accessing certain websites. There’s a bunch of these tools out there, but here are a few of the most popular:
- Stay Focusd
- Cold Turkey (the one that I use personally)
In each of these softwares, you’ll be able to schedule blocks of time where you want to restrict your access to certain websites.
Personally, I know that every day from 7-12 in the morning is my time to sit down and hammer through my to-do list.
So, I make sure to set that up inside Cold Turkey. And once I do, there’s no more Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. until noon.
Why rely on willpower to resist temptation when you can just remove the potential for self-sabotage altogether?
#6: Work In The Same Place Every Day
This might seem like one of those insignificant productivity hacks that I just threw on this list to fill space, but I can assure you that it’s not.
Your environment is crucial to maximizing your productivity because your brain is an association machine.
Think about this for a second — almost every area of your house is dedicated to certain activities.
Your bathroom is dedicated to showering, going to the toilet, brushing your teeth, etc. Your kitchen is dedicated to cooking food. Your couch is dedicated to scrolling through your phone or watching TV.
That’s because at some point, your brain learned that is where each of those activities should take place.
Can you see where I’m going with this?
You need to designate a certain area of your house to productive, focused work.
That way, when you find yourself in that area of your house your brain will associate it with productivity and concentration. These positive associations will make it less likely for you to fall victim to distractions.
If you’re skeptical of whether or not this actually works, try this — the next time you have work to do, go sit on your couch and see how productive you are.
I’ve tried to get focused work done while sitting on my couch before, and it usually doesn’t go well. That’s because my brain is experiencing conflicting associations:
“Wait, this is where he usually fucks off and watches TV, why is he trying to work here?”
Why do you think that people choose to work at coffee shops? It’s an environment that’s generally considered synonymous with productivity.
Obviously, there’s coffee, which we all associate with work. And typically, there’s other people on their laptops besides you who are being productive. Our brain registers all of this and forms an association between work and coffee shops.
So if you’re looking to maximize your productivity, pick one area of your house that is dedicated to focused work and only work there.
#7: Download the “Unhook” Plug In
If you find yourself repeatedly falling down the rabbit hole of Youtube’s recommended videos, I have one of the simplest and most effective productivity hacks ever to share with you.
For years, my biggest vice was Youtube recommended videos. I’d start off by watching highlights of a basketball game from the night before, and then an hour later I’d find myself watching clips from the Joe Rogan podcast.
Luckily, I’ve actually found a way to completely obliterate this crutch from my life by using a chrome extension called “Unhooked”.
If you’re on a different browser than Chrome, I’m sure there’s another tool just like it for your browser.
Anyways, the beautiful part about Unhooked is that it disables recommended videos from appearing on Youtube.
This means that the only time you can actually watch a Youtube video is when you type it in the search bar and browse the search results.
Most of the time, we don’t really want to watch whatever Youtube is recommending to us. We just click on it because it’s there and requires minimal effort.
This plug-in has literally saved my productivity. Aside from the Ivy Lee method, downloading this plug-in has been the best thing I’ve done to increase my efficiency.
Sound a little far fetched? Here’s some context:
A year ago, I’d routinely spend around two hours per day on Youtube. Now, I spend no more than 30 minutes per day on the site. That’s close to 90 minute of extra time that I’ve gotten back since installing Unhooked my computer, and I’ll never go back.
If Youtube regularly pulls your attention away from your work, this plug-in will be a game-changer for you. I recommend installing it as soon as possible. (of course after you read the remaining productivity hacks that we’ve yet to cover)
#8: Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law
Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law?
If not, here’s the gist — Parkinson’s law suggests that no matter how long you have to complete a task, you will do it in the given amount of time.
If you have a year to do something, it will take you a year to do it. If you have two hours to do something, you will find a way to get it done in two hours.
The bottom line is that your productivity increases when you know that a deadline is coming up. So in order to give yourself a healthy sense of urgency, bring some of your longer-term deadlines into the near future.
No matter what external factors are present, your brain will find a way to get that task done before the deadline that you set.
#9: Schedule in Time For Guilt-Free Play
Does it seem odd that one of the productivity hacks on this list actually encourages you to consciously distract yourself from your work? Well, it shouldn’t.
We all need breaks from time to time, we’re not robots. However, it’s often the context of these breaks that matter the most.
Carl Rogers, one of the pioneers of humanistic psychology, developed a term called incongruence in the 1950’s.
Incongruence suggests that unpleasant feelings can result from a discrepancy between your ideal self and your perceived self. When the distance between these two selves is too far apart, this can lead to discomfort, anxiety, and guilt.
In simpler terms, we feel bad when we’re not doing the shit we know we should be doing.
If you’re binge-watching Game of Thrones when you know you have a presentation to finish, you’re gonna feel guilty because you’re in a state of incongruence.
However, if you’re watching Game of Thrones because you actually scheduled in time to watch Game of Thrones, guilt is no longer a factor. You’re doing what you said you were going to do, so you’re in a state of congruence.
The problem with many of the distractions that we give into on a daily basis is that we get sucked into them by accident.
So if you want to give yourself a break and avoid the negative feelings associated with binge-watching your favorite show, or scrolling through social media, make sure to schedule it on your calendar.
When you do this, you get to relax and enjoy yourself without a guilty conscience, and you’ll feel more motivated to get back to work.
#10: Waking Up Early
I won’t spend too much time explaining this one because it’s one of the most common productivity hacks there is.
The reason waking up early is so beneficial for your productivity comes down to one word — control
You simply have more control over the early hours of the morning than you do over the rest of your day.
If you wake up at 6 a.m., and the rest of the people in your house wake up at 8, that’s two hours of uninterrupted time you have to spend how you see fit — whether it’s working on your side hustle or building a new exercise habit.
Given that most of your friends and family are asleep early in the morning, you’ll have the peace and quiet you need to fully engage in your work. Just think of all of the things you could knock out before most people even roll out of bed.
If you’re able to start your day off on a productive note, there’s a good chance that the rest of your day will follow suit.
#11: Use a Password Manager
This isn’t so much of a productivity hack as it is a way to avoid an annoying situation.
We all have a million different logins, which means it’s easy to forget certain passwords that we end up needing to reset. Downloading a password manager like Lastpass will keep all of your logins in one place.
This will eliminate the need for you to play the back and forth game of checking your email for verification codes and resetting passwords whenever you have a brainfart.
#12: The O.R.E.O Method
Last but not least on this list of productivity hacks is the O.R.E.O method — which stands for “only read emails once.”
Too often, we open up our inboxes and let emails that don’t belong there take up space.
This is the quickest way to turn your email inbox into a monster that haunts you on a daily basis.
From now on, when you open an email, decide what to do with it immediately.
- If an email warrants a reply, then reply to the email immediately.
- If it’s a waste of time, simply move it into your trash bin
- If you think it may be important later, archive it.
When you take a proactive approach to managing your email, you’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary headache.
Final Thoughts on These Productivity Hacks
Whatever your sticking point with productivity is, I hope that you found that some inspiration from this list of productivity hacks.
We’ve all heard the expression — Work smarter, not harder.
Successful people recognize the simple truth that it’s not really about the hours you put in, it’s more about what you actually spend time on during those hours.
Hopefully these 12 productivity hacks help you work a little more efficiently.