Self-control is over-hyped, according to Kentaro Fujita, a psychologist who studies self-control at Ohio State University.
Research suggests that the popular idea of self-control as the ability to resist temptation with willpower is fundamentally flawed.
“Our prototypical model of self-control is angel on one side and devil on the other, and they battle it out. We tend to think of people with strong willpower as people who are able to fight this battle effectively. Actually, the people who are really good at self-control never have these battles in the first place.” – Kentaro Fujita, psychologist at Ohio State University
How does this tie in with productivity? If you ask anyone what is the biggest challenge they face in trying to be productive, a likely response will involve something about a “lack of willpower”, or perhaps a difficulty staying focused.
These kinds of responses represent the popular understanding of what it means to exercise self-control.
The most productive people don’t necessarily have the best self-control, they just know how to work smart.
They’ve also most likely built up a lot of good work habits for saving time and effort, allowing them to alleviate some of the stress or discomfort that is one of the root causes of unproductivity.
In this article, I’ll outline 42 productivity hacks to help you understand how to work smarter, improve the quality of your work life, and build habits that will save you time, energy, and mental strain in the long-term.
Here’s the complete list of productivity hacks:
- Focus on what’s important to you
- Develop a routine
- Plan your month!
- Engineer fake pressure
- Listen to (the right kind of) music
- Gamify your goals
- Start your day right
- Set a time to check emails
- Make a to-do list
- Record each and every task
- Set deadlines for everything
- Prioritize your to-do list
- Eat your frogs
- Set realistic goals
- Stop wasting time in meetings
- Consider remote meetings
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good
- Get a second monitor
- Use keyboard shortcuts
- Stop multitasking
- Use the Pomodoro Technique
- Clean out your feeds
- Use News Feed Eradicator
- Use a website blocker
- Get rid of noncritical notifications
- Learn how to say “no”
- Optimize your workspace
- Utilize your commute journey
- Understand when you’re most productive
- Make time for deep work
- Prepare your outfit for tomorrow
- Lighten the load by clearing out smaller tasks
- Delegate and outsource
- Automate manual tasks
- Use templates to save time
- Save your work, often!
- Focus on the process
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Take a cold shower
- Stay hydrated
- Take breaks and exercise regularly
- Prioritize your mental health
If you’re struggling with staying productive, hopefully these productivity hacks will help you to approach your work from a completely new perspective.
Productivity hack #1: Focus on what’s important to you
It’s not by chance that I’m starting with this one. Understanding what’s important to you, not only in terms of your immediate work goals but also looking at the bigger picture can help you to focus and sets the stage for the whole of your work approach.
Where do you want to be 3 months from now? What about 1 year, or 5 years out? Not just your business but your personal life too. Aligning your work goals with what’s important to you is crucial in creating the motivation required to actually stay focused.
Of course, you may be so devoted to your business that this is as simple as understanding the most important business goals for your company right now. If that’s the case, be clear about goals.
Write them down, clearly define what it means to achieve them, and understand how things would be different once you succeed.
Productivity hack #2: Develop a routine
It’s all well and good to talk the talk of grand goals and ideal business situations, but you have to be able to put your feet on the ground and reign in those dreams one step at a time.
How do you do that? By making and following through with plans.
Build out a routine, and stick with it. Get into the habit of working at specific times (this is especially true if you work remotely) and you’ll find yourself wasting less energy on figuring out what to do next.
This extends to morning rituals and making time to rest and relax during the day as well. Once you get into a daily routine, you’ll be able to work better and stay focused for longer.
The Five Minute Journal is a great way to build this habit, and draw attention to the patterns in your life, both good and bad. Here’s how it works:
You could do the same on a blank piece of paper, or use the app. Whatever works!
If you’re still stuck for ideas or are finding it difficult to figure out a routine that makes sense for you, take a look at Tony Robbins’ for some inspiration:
Productivity hack #3: Plan your month!
Take the same principle from the previous point, and apply it to the whole month. Set goals and give them deadlines.
By giving yourself a time limit, you can better understand which tasks are more urgent, and plan the workload for the month.
Your calendar is your friend. Make the most of it, whether it’s blocking out time for calls, setting aside a couple of hours each week to go over your KPIs and core business goals, or even just making sure you have a weekend reserved in advance for a little rest and relaxation.
If you plan your month in advance, you’ll waste less time deliberating over details like which task to prioritize first, or how long you think a particular job will take.
There are a few other factors to consider when approaching your calendar like this, like keeping a to-do list, and learning how to prioritize your tasks. I’ve given each of these points their own section, so more on that soon.
Productivity hack #4: Engineer fake pressure
For some people, pressure can help to kick-start them into work mode and perform to a higher level of productivity.
If you’re one of those people who finds that the pressure of a deadline or review helps you get more work done, consider engineering some fake pressure into your routine.
You can do this by setting deadlines for yourself, organizing meetings with supervisors or others on your team to present and get feedback on your work, or using an app like Beeminder.
Beeminder is an innovative motivational tool that allows you to wager your ability to stick to your own goals against a real monetary value, which you risk losing based on whether or not you stick to your plan.
Productivity hack #5: Listen to (the right kind of) music
You’ll often hear people recommending music as a productivity booster. In reality, it depends on what exactly you’re listening to.
In my experience, my focus decreases in correlation with the complexity of what I’m listening to. The more I’m drawn into the sounds of the music, the further away I drift from the work at hand, especially if the music has vocals.
By far the biggest success I’ve had with using music (or more generally, sound) to increase productivity is listening to very simple, long, repetitive pieces. At the extreme, and what works best for me personally, is quite simply the sound of static noise. I believe this works as a kind of “substitute for silence”, by essentially blocking out all other sounds and prevents my mind from wandering.
This is my experience, your mileage may vary. Perhaps something less harsh, or more melodic may be more suitable for your ears.
Brain.fm is another great tool that allows you to utilize music (or what they term “functional music”) for focus and concentration.
Functional music to improve focus in 15 minutes. That’s their pitch, and they are working with experts in the fields of neuroscience and psychology to develop ideas, run experiments, and continually improve the “neural phase locking” technology behind their music.
In any case, music (or sound) can be a powerful tool for concentration, and by experimenting you can figure out what works best for you.
Productivity hack #6: Gamify your goals
Gamification is turning your tasks into a game to motivate yourself. By offsetting the difficult or unpleasant nature of certain tasks with a sense of reward or accomplishment, you become more enthusiastic about your work, and thus more productive.
It works because that feeling of reward, however small it might be, helps progress feel more tangible and keeps us pushing on to the next task.
I’ve been using Forest to gamify daily writing tasks and other focus-related goals. The app rewards uninterrupted periods of focus with trees grown in your virtual garden. Forest also offers a real-life tree planting feature after you succeed in keeping your focus for long enough. A simple concept, but one that succeeds in motivating me to sit down and get started with work.
Habitica is another innovative example of a fully featured gamification app. There are a whole bunch out there.
But gamification doesn’t necessarily equate to using technology. It’s simply the idea that you’re rewarding yourself, or “winning” when you accomplish your goals.
Low-tech or no-tech gamification might be something as simple as treating yourself to a reward if and when you complete a certain task.
Productivity hack #7: Start your day right (by making your bed in the morning)
Take a look at this infographic from a recent BestMattress Brand study:
The survey found that doing this gave participants an early sense of accomplishment that made it easier for them to carry on with that momentum throughout the rest of the day.
Not convinced? Here are some more stats from the same study:
Productivity hack #8: Set a time to check emails
Just like notifications, sometimes you can’t just ignore your inbox. The trick is to set a time every day, where you check-in and clean up to inbox zero.
The more consistent you can be with this task, the weaker the urge will become to randomly check your emails, and by sticking to the same time each day, you’re building good habits around self-discipline.
Productivity hack #9: Make a to-do list
To-do lists can help you feel better about the work you’re doing, and ultimately be more productive by clearing out mental clutter and mapping out a clear, quantified vision of the things that are most important to you.
They’re a great stepping-stone to approaching more complex methods for upping your productivity, like prioritization matrices.
Once you’ve written down all of the tasks you need to do, you can begin figuring out which tasks are more important, which are time-sensitive, and so on.
Check out this daily to-do list template to get started.
Productivity hack #10: Record each and every task
Following on from the to-do list, you can optimize this kind of task-based productivity approach by making sure you clearly and attentively record each task that’s important to you.
By keeping an up-to-date list of tasks, you can be sure you’re not overlooking certain factors when deciding on priorities and planning your workload.
You could use a good old pen and paper to record your tasks and to-do-lists; many people work like this, and it’s perfectly suitable for personal jotting and keeping track of small-scale projects and priorities.
But if you’re trying to grow your business, or you’re managing a lot of tasks, or even if you’re just tired of keeping track of all your paper forms and to-do-lists, you should consider using a software like Process Street to make your life easier.
For example, you can quickly and easily edit the daily to-do-list template to include your tasks and priorities.
You can specify dynamic due-dates or include form fields and file upload forms to record detailed information about each task, whether you need to add a new task to the list or record details about how and when you completed it.
This weekly review template is another good example. It’ll run you through a detailed checklist of tasks and priorities to steer you through each working day.
Productivity hack #11: Set deadlines for everything
Deadlines help you to get work done. This works identically to engineering fake pressure, but it’s worth mentioning as its own point simply because of how powerful setting deadlines can be.
Task management doesn’t work if you don’t take your deadlines seriously. Deadlines force you to consider the ‘when’ as well as the ‘how’, and that means you’ll have to be more efficient with managing your time.
It sounds obvious, but many people don’t appreciate the importance of deadlines when trying to understand productivity.
If we flatten economics for a moment and consider productivity as the amount of work a person can do in any given time-frame, the importance of deadlines should be obvious.
If you’re already obsessed with deadlines, try cutting them in half (or at least pulling them in a bit).
This will force you to work harder, faster, by engineering some fake pressure! (Not for the faint-of-heart).
Productivity hack #12: Prioritize your to-do list
Run your to-do list through a prioritization matrix and figure out which tasks are the highest priority.
This is essentially one-upping your typical to-do list by a filter that allows you to view your tasks in order of priority.
Pretty simple, and also pretty effective at helping you get a feel for the difficulty level of each of the tasks, as well as understanding which tasks are most important.
Which brings me to the next point…
Productivity hack #13: Eat your frogs
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain
What Twain’s saying here, in a little unorthodox way, is that by finishing off your most difficult tasks first, everything else feels easy in comparison!
The original quote was popularized by Brian Tracy in his book Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
Here’s a great summary of the book:
BONUS HACK: Instead of reading the book, save time by reading the review or finding a consolidated summary like the video above.
Many books in the self-help or pop-sci genre essentially take an article’s worth of content and expand upon it with real-world examples, anecdotes, and repetition to drive core points home.
These messages and values can often be distilled into a far more concise summary. If the topic is particularly interesting to you, go for it.
Otherwise, consider the abridged version!
Productivity hack #14: Set realistic goals
It’s great to set the bar high, and in some cases (like the engineering of fake pressure) it can be a powerful motivator.
But this must be balanced against a consideration of whether your tasks are realistically attainable.
You’ve got a couple of big projects this month – are you sure you’ll have time to finish both by the end of week one?
You want to go from 50 to 10,000 customers by the end of the first quarter – while that’s certainly possible, are you sure your strategies are mapping onto that roadmap?
Strive to over-achieve, but learn to set the bar just high enough that you’re pushing hard, but not wasting time and energy on an impossible mess of unrealistic and unattainable goals.
Productivity hack #15: Stop wasting time in meetings
Often, meetings are scheduled according to some arbitrary value like 30 or 60 minutes, and the structure is an afterthought, stretched thin across that frame like some twisted Hellraiser nightmare.
Consider first: What is the purpose of the meeting? What needs to be communicated?
Often, there is very little information of value departed. Could you wrap it up in 15 minutes? You’d be surprised how much could be functionally cut, freeing up everyone’s time to go and get their work done.
Productivity hack #16: Consider remote meetings
Do your meetings really need to be in-person?
Consider hosting remote meetings and save your whole team a bunch of time and energy by cutting out potentially long and mentally draining commutes to work.
Developing a system for coordinating remotely and scheduling meetings from a distance also makes it easier to organize last-minute meetings, issue company-wide announcements, and even bolster workplace happiness through asynchronous communication.
Productivity hack #17: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good
Chasing perfection will not help you be more productive. In fact, it’s more likely to hinder your productivity.
It’s great to have a clear idea of what kind of standard you’re working towards, but learn to understand when something is “good enough”.
Move on to other tasks and accept that chasing the unattainable illusion of perfection isn’t always the best way to achieve your goals.
Productivity hack #18: Get a second monitor
You won’t be able to appreciate the real benefit of this one until you’ve tried it for yourself. Running two or more monitors will allow you to declutter your workspace and free up more mental energy.
It’ll save you a ton of time flicking between important tabs and windows if you can split your view in two and have the most important stuff like your calendar, inbox, and process management suite open for permanent and immediate reference.
If you’re worried about distractions, remember you can simply turn the monitor off for deep work.
Productivity hack #19: Use keyboard shortcuts
A little goes a long way, especially when it comes to small time-saving tricks like this. You might only save a second or two with a quick alt+tab, but the compound gain is not insignificant.
Keyboard shortcuts also help you preserve focus and energy by keeping both hands on the keyboard, as opposed to switching to and from the mouse. Many tasks, like switching tabs or copy-and-pasting, are significantly speedier using the keyboard.
Productivity hack #20: Stop multitasking
Multitasking is a kind of myth that has popularly confused our understanding of getting work done.
Instead of trying to split your brain between multiple tasks, rapidly switching between activities and working on each of them simultaneously, you’re better off committing your focus to a single task at hand.
Productivity hack #21: Use the Pomodoro Technique
This is a simple method for getting into a state of deep focus and ultimately improving your productivity.
It works like this: you work for 25 minutes, and take a five-minute break. Do this three times, then take a 30-minute break.
By offsetting those 25 minutes of work with a short-term reward (a five-minute break), your brain finds it easier to focus. It’s also great for seated office work because it encourages you to get up and stretch every 25 minutes.
I’ve had a lot of success with the Pomodoro Technique, and the best results come once it becomes part of your daily routine.
Productivity hack #22: Clean out your feeds
Ask yourself whether or not your feeds are providing you with value. Are the posts appearing on your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even newsletters in your Gmail inbox doing you any good?
If the answer is no, unsubscribe.
Leave only the essentials, and the stuff you know will provide you with actual value.
You should think about doing this regularly for maximum effect.
Productivity hack #23: Use News Feed Eradicator
Perhaps Facebook forms part of your work routine, or you can’t quite bring yourself to cut the cord completely.
If that’s the case, consider using the News Feed Eradicator plugin to minimize your time on the website, if and when you feel the need.
News Feed Eradicator replaces your newsfeed with one of their “inspirational quotes”, so you’re less likely to get sucked into the Facebook time vortex.
It’s also possible to customize with your own messages – you could even put important goals or reminders to keep you focused and remind you why you should log out ASAP.
Productivity hack #24: Use a website blocker
Some of us have developed a habit that goes something like this:
- Step 1. Mindlessly open a new tab;
- Step 2. Immediately insert the first letter of the most frequented website with a muscle-memory jerk of the fingers, allowing autofill to do the rest and then rapidly hitting ‘Enter’;
- Step 3. Proceed to wonder where the next three hours went.
If this sounds familiar to you, you should probably consider using a website blocker.
We humans aren’t so great at the whole willpower thing, and when it comes to the promise of dopamine versus sitting down and getting some cold, hard work done, your bad habits have already won.
Sometimes the best answer is to simply cut out the bad option, blocking out those bad neural pathways and forging new, more desirable ones – by using a website blocker.
Productivity hack #25: Get rid of noncritical notifications
Sometimes, notifications are important and you need to pay attention to them for work. Slack, Intercom, even Gmail are all examples of this.
A Deloitte study from 2016 found that:
- People look at their phones ~47 times per day on average
- Younger people look at their phones ~82 times per day
Most of the time, however, notifications do little more than distract and hinder our ability to focus and get work done.
Turn your phone on silent (or better yet, place it away from your work area), close that Gmail tab, and disable Push notifications and you’ll find yourself able to reach your flow state far easier.
The idea of “flow” is useful for understanding how to improve focus, and ultimately switch over from the “have to” to the “want to” of getting work done.
Productivity hack #26: Learn how to say “no”
If saying “yes” to every task that falls to you is leaving you overwhelmed, you might need to learn how to use a certain two-letter word.
This can be a stressor in itself, of course, so make things easier for yourself by using templates or scripts to simplify the conversation. This will ultimately reduce the amount of mental energy you will spend.
Productivity hack #27: Optimize your workspace
It’s been proven that your environment can significantly influence your mental state, and as such you should consider how to tweak and optimize your workspace for improved productivity.
Try one of these tips to stay motivated, creative, and productive in your workspace:
- Use colors to induce focus
- Work closer to natural lighting
- Use comfortable, ergonomic furniture
- Keep a bottle of water (and other refreshments) close by
Productivity hack #28: Utilize your commute journey
Make the most of that commute to check your emails, respond to important messages, or even learn something new with an audiobook or podcast.
You could also expand the options available to you by using a free app like Instapaper to convert text on a webpage to speech, so you can listen to the articles if you can’t devote 100% of your attention to reading.
Productivity hack #29: Understand when you’re most productive
You might be the type of person who loves to get an early start, and gradually simmers down in intensity as you ease into the afternoon.
Maybe you’re the opposite, and your most focused working hours are after you’ve spent time waking up, perhaps having gone to the gym and had something to eat.
Or perhaps you’re an inverted sleeper.
Whatever the case, you need to understand what works best for you so you can maximize your efficiency during your best working hours, where you’ll be able to hit your stride and work at your peak performance.
Productivity hack #30: Make time for deep work
Deep work can be summarized as the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches of time. Newport argues this is key to high productivity.
“Deep work is hard and shallow work is easier and in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work becomes self-preserving.” – Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
He also offers this new law of productivity:
“High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
Understanding how to tap into deep work can help you focus on your work for longer, which means higher productivity, at a higher quality.
Productivity hack #31: Prepare your outfit for tomorrow
Spend the last 15 minutes of your day planning what you’ll wear tomorrow.
This simple task will help you save time and stress in the morning and allow you to focus on getting a productive start. As one of the first things that enters your mind at the start of a day, it’s a decision-making process that can get in the way of important work tasks or simply cause unnecessary stress.
Get this out of the way the night before and you’ll be free to focus on the morning with a fresh head.
Productivity hack #32: Lighten the load by clearing out smaller tasks
Sometimes it makes more sense to get those big projects out of the way as soon as possible.
Other times, you may want to build up your momentum or clear out some mental space by getting multiple smaller tasks done first.
Using a project management tool like Airtable can help you keep track of tasks and quickly assess which ones are “smaller”.
Our content team uses a monthly sprint planning system that assigns point values to each task based on how long it is assumed that task will take to complete.
As such, it’s trivial for me to jump into Airtable and see which tasks I could clear out quickly.
Productivity hack #33: Delegate and outsource
As a business owner, it’s normal to want to oversee every little task. But being a control freak can lead to an overload of responsibility.
Don’t be afraid to delegate work – trust that your employees and teammates are competent enough to get the work done. You’ll sleep easier for it.
Take a look at your task list and figure out what you can delegate or outsource. Once you do this, you’ll be free to focus on more important tasks.
Productivity hack #34: Automate manual tasks
There are so many workflow automation options available today that there’s no good reason not to take advantage of the tech.
You can automate your email responses, client onboarding tasks, invoices, quotes, you name it.
Tools like Zapier make it easy for you to automate all of the business apps you use every day, like your CRM, project management suite, or BPM software.
Take a look at your tasks and processes and figure out what you could automate. There’s a good chance you could shrink your workload significantly!
This webinar goes into detail about how to use Process Street’s conditional logic feature to automate your checklists:
Productivity hack #35: Use templates to save time
Templates are great for saving time when you know you’ll be sending a lot of the same kind of message.
You can also use templates to make presentations, meetings, or any kind of customer interaction more streamlined.
Process Street has a huge library of free, custom-built templates to help you save time and up your productivity. Check them out here.
Productivity hack #36: Save your work, often!
This one’s more of a contingency hack. If you make sure to save your work often, you’ll reduce the likelihood of ever having to waste time recovering (or worse, re-writing) lost work.
Make sure that auto-save is on!
Productivity hack #37: Focus on the process
This is one of Process Street’s company values. Being mindful of the processes you use daily can help you identify areas for improvement. It also allows you to think about your work in terms of inputs and outputs, which is essentially what productivity is all about.
What are you putting into the process? What specific tasks do you need to complete to get the desired output? Are all of these tasks necessary? Could you be doing certain tasks differently; more efficiently?
These are all questions to ask yourself as you focus on and develop a business process management approach that will ultimately help you work more productively.
Productivity hack #38: Get a good night’s sleep
Another classic, and rightly so – sleep is one of the most important factors if you want to stay productive.
If you find yourself wondering if you should stay up those few extra hours for that little extra push, consider the impact sleep loss will have on your productivity tomorrow.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is equivalent to being over the alcohol limit. Getting a good 8 hours should be essential for any productivity-focused individual.
Productivity hack #39: Take a cold shower
The benefits of cold showers are clear, and they include an impact on your ability to work productively.
As well as long-term health benefits, scientists have discovered that cold showers increase mood and alertness, which can help with focus and goal-setting.
Start your day with a cold shower!
Productivity hack #40: Stay hydrated
Most of your body (and your brain) is made up of water. It should be no surprise that hydration has a significant impact on your performance.
Research has shown that even as little as 2% water loss can impact your cognitive performance, similar to the effect alcohol has on the body.
Consequently, studies have shown that staying hydrated can result in as much as a 14% rise in productivity.
Productivity hack #41: Take breaks and exercise regularly
Bob Pozen, MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer, believes that taking regular breaks can help to improve focus and productivity.
Pozen recommends taking short breaks every 75-90 minutes. This recommendation comes from his research on professional musicians, who are seen to be more productive when practicing for this amount of time in a single sitting.
“Working for 75 to 90 minutes takes advantage of the brain’s two modes: learning or focusing and consolidation. When people do a task and then take a break for 15 minutes, they help their brain consolidate information and retain it better.” – Bob Pozen from his seminar Maximizing Your Personal Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive
Similarly, Tony Schwartz (author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working), shows that the length of time it takes to go from full focus to physiological fatigue is about 90 minutes.
Productivity hack #42: Prioritize your mental health
Human capital is one of the most valuable resources in our economy. Despite this, there is a distinct lack of focus on how elements like mental health and wellbeing impact metrics like performance and productivity.
Risks like burnout, overworking, and loss of purpose are all very real consequences of putting productivity before your mental wellbeing.
Being honest with yourself and your work colleagues about mental wellness is crucial to making sure you’re able to work at your full capacity, and avoid the dangers of overworking.
How to hack productivity with Process Street
As I’ve already mentioned multiple times in this article, you can use Process Street to supercharge your productivity.
Process Street is designed to make recurring work fun, fast, and faultless, so if you’ve got any kind of interest in saving time and working smarter with automation, you should give us a try.
It’s free to sign up and takes about two minutes. Why not give it a try?
In the meantime, check out these productivity-related articles for more tips and tricks:
- Productivity Software for Beginners: The Ultimate Stack
- A Practical Guide to Increase Productivity with Process Mapping
- The Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation
- Ultimate Guide to Small Business Automation with Zapier
What’s your number-one productivity hack, and how does it help you get more work done? Let us know in the comments below! I will personally respond to every comment.
Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.