March 19, 2015
Let's not waste your time with a fluffy intro about why you should improve productivity. I’m sure the title of this article caught your eye for a reason, else you wouldn’t be here. The criteria for a productivity hack to make it onto the below list? It has to be simple and practical. Something you can easily do on a Sunday afternoon. No extreme habit-change-requirements or unrealistic demands on your willpower allowed (e.g. “start going to the gym every day for 60 mins from Monday onwards” or “read Getting Things Done and implement the entire system today"). The tips have been grouped by themes, so you can easily see which hacks might be relevant for you. Off we go!
1. Hide your clocks Crazy but true: constantly being aware of the time doesn’t help you get into a state of flow. The solution? Hide all clocks in sight, including the one in your desktop taskbar. Here’s how to do that: Mac or Windows.
2. Buy yourself an egg timer If you don’t have one lying around in your kitchen, order yourself an egg timer. Done? Good, now you’re ready to start using the Pomodoro Technique. In short: work in 25-minute, undistracted bursts. More here.
3. Dive into a black hole from nine to nine To fall asleep more peacefully and wake up with more creative insights, disconnect (no phone, no internet) from 9 pm till 9 am and avoid screens. In other words, turn your home (or at least your bedroom) into a "black hole".
4. Turn off notifications Do it now! These are the best five minutes you’ll ever spend. Switch off mobile notifications for Clash of Clans, LinkedIn, Facebook, email, all of them. Exceptions only for the ones you really need. Steps explained here: iPhone and Android.
5. Install distraction blockers You shouldn’t purely rely on your willpower to try and avoid distractions, they’re simply too powerful. Call in some help by installing Freedom, the premium version of RescueTime or sign up for our upcoming product.
6. Play hide and seek with unproductive mobile apps The game is simple: don’t put any unproductive apps on your phone’s home screen. Instead, move them to second, third and fourth screens and only have productive apps on your first screen. Of course, the best solution is simply deleting distracting apps from your phone altogether.
7. Unfollow people, even good friends No matter how good a friend, nobody deserves having to watch someone else’s babies’ every move. The same goes for political ramblings and other craziness. These people deserve to be unfollowed on Facebook, Twitter and WeChat. It’s OK, do it now.
8. Clear your mind, and the rest will follow Empty your brain. Get all “open loops” out of there, simply by writing everything down (on paper, in Evernote, a digital todo manager, anything). Work obligations, personal commitments, ideas, everything. Done? Now you don’t have to worry anymore about forgetting anything, it’s all there in front of you.
9. Start using a todo list and calendar This one goes well with the previous point: if you don’t do so already, start using a todo list and calendar. Everything from the previous point can be planned using these two tools. Here’s one way to do it.
10. Review your current productivity system In case you already have a workflow in place, spend a bit of time now to review it. Ask yourself questions such as: what’s working? What’s not? Can you simplify? Are there things you do out of habit, but they don’t actually contribute to your productivity (anymore)?
11. Create a list of things you will stop doing or say no to It's natural to focus on doing more, but the easiest way to make more time is just stop doing certain things! Have a good look at your todo list and commitments. Ask yourself: is this really bringing any value? If not, toss it out.
12. Organize your Evernote with nested tags In case you’re an Evernote user, you might want to try nesting your tags. Instead of relying on the normal tag and notebook structure, this allows you to make more detailed hierarchies and connections. Thomas Honeyman explains you the details: Using Evernote (the right way).
13. Create email and paragraph templates For responses I send out frequently (whether it’s parts of an email or entire mails), I keep an Evernote notebook with copy-paste material at the ready. Just browse through your sent mails of the past weeks, see if you discover any recurring themes and start filing your template repository.
14. Let Zapier handle some mundane stuff for you This tool can automate things you might be doing by hand. Filing copies of Instagram pictures or tweets. Creating a spreadsheet based on the expenses you file in Evernote. There are literally hundreds of automations you can setup with Zapier. Chances are slim there’s nothing in there for you, here’s the full list.
15. Offload work to a VA (Virtual Assistant) Truth be told: finding a good VA to handle a lot of your work is not easy. But for the pretty mundane stuff that can’t be automated, I’m happy with SupaHands. They’re very affordable and do their tasks well. For example, they syndicate my blog posts to Medium and Quora, which saves me about 30 - 60 minutes of work each time (doing layout, adjusting image sizes, etc.).
16. Blinkist (not free) If you’re into reading non-fiction but don’t have time, the good folks at Blinkist might have a solution for you. Their team summarizes the gist of most books you might consider worthwhile reading. They break it down in ten segments per book, so you can consume the content in 15 minutes as opposed to several hours. For more on Blinkist’s business model, read a previous article by me titled Blinkist and the Rise of Service as a Software.
17. Monitor your time To measure, is to know. This holds true for money (budgeting), but also for time. Simply by using a tool such as Toggl and reviewing the reports once a week, you’ll likely start changing your (working) habits. Even easier is RescueTime, which tracks your time automatically based on which applications you’re using.
18. Take notes on what you've learned Journaling helps with learning and self-improvement. But perhaps writing every day is too much to ask for. Even reflecting back on the past week with a few sentences can help. Ask yourself one to three simple questions ("What did I learn?”, "What could I have done better?”, "What went well?") to speed up learning and self-development.
19. Define small, time-based goals for the upcoming week Is there something you have intended to do for a long time, but it’s just not happening? It could be reading more, practising an instrument or learning a language. Instead of focusing on one large goal (learn to play the guitar by September), try a very small goal instead: practise 5 minutes every day. This will make it much less intimidating to start.
20. Try using Stickk, instead of a carrot. Have a habit you want to change, but it’s just not happening? If you don’t like carrots, stickk.com might be just the tool for you. Select your goal, put money on the line and appoint someone as referee. Now make it work or your money is gone. Good luck! Hopefully you found something to your liking in the above suggestions. Have any other easy tips, tricks or tools you use? Please do share them in the comments below. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!