Do you always feel like you could've done more during the day? You probably do. How about this – do you ever feel like time is just passing by too quickly and that you need more than 24 hours because you just can't find time for everything you need to get done?
We’ve all been there – feeling exhausted yet not productive enough, although that’s the best we can give at a given point in time. But actually, it’s about working “faster” if that’s what you’re thinking of. While yes, your speed does play into productivity, it’s only a tiny piece of the puzzle. What matters more is actually whether you work efficiently or not.
In this guide, we’ll introduce you to 10 productivity hacks so that you can become someone who knows how to make the most of their 24 hours. In other words, we’ll give you the manual to give yourself a productivity boost whenever you need it!
1. Don’t Avoid the Difficult Tasks
Most of us tend to start with the easiest tasks we can just to put off the complicated stuff, right? You know, we prefer to send an email or submit an invoice rather than work on revamping a strategy or reconstructing the team's hierarchy.
While it’s understandable, it’s actually not the wisest thing to do. If you think of it, at the beginning of the day, we usually have more mental capacity available (and physical energy), so those need to be invested efficiently before they decrease throughout the day.
Otherwise, what'll happen is that your concentration levels will start decreasing the more you put in energy towards the easy tasks. Then, when it's time for a difficult task, it'll either take you forever to get it done, or you won't be able to finish it in one go.
Therefore, the hack is to just get started with the difficult tasks due to the mental or physical commitment they require. And remember, “If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, that will probably be the worst thing you do all day.” — Mark Twain. In a nutshell, get rid of your difficult tasks because the longer they are on your plate, the harder they become to do.
Hold off on the easy tasks, stop dreading the difficult ones, and get started! Only then will you be making actual progress, not false progress under the cover of ticking a couple of small tasks off your to-do list each day. So, go ahead and check what you've been putting off, and do them first thing in the morning.
2. Do the Most Important Task First Each Day
Closely related to the previous point, if you always make it a point to start by doing the most important thing first, you become efficient, productive, and even fulfilled.
While different people have different definitions of productivity, there’s a consensus among many that productivity is about getting more things done each day. In reality, however, that’s not true. Productivity is about getting more of the right things done consistently. What’s the point of doing more if you’re not getting the most important things done at the right time, correct?
While all of our to-do lists are flooded with tasks, we all know only a couple of the items on them are truly important. Accordingly, when you start with the important things every day, you'll always get the important tasks done when they're supposed to. And if you're lucky, the most important thing won't always necessarily be the difficult task!
Author Kevin Kruse talks about this concept of “the most important task (MIT)” in his book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management – you might want to give it a read!
Anyway, the bottom line is that when you know what your MIT is, you’re better able to prioritise it over everything else, especially the unwelcomed interruptions that pop up during the day, including people stopping by, new tasks, countless emails, phone calls, and more.
3. Wake Up Early
Even if you wake up just one hour earlier than your usual time, you’ll be surprised by how much more you’ll get done in your day. But for that work, you also need to have a purpose that you’ll wake up for. So, ask yourself, “if I wake up early, what would I like to accomplish?”
It's also worth mentioning that your purpose doesn't have to be work-related. You can wake up early because you want to exercise, have a healthy breakfast, take your coffee in the garden, check your emails, or do anything else. The idea is about feeling that you've added an extra hour to your day that you wouldn't have had otherwise.
The best part about waking up early is the fact that the allocated hours are entirely yours! They’re a fresh start to your day, free of ringing phones, email notifications, meetings, and work commitments.
When you start your day on the right foot, which is the aim of waking up early, the rest of the day should go smoothly, and you should be more productive than ever before. So, set your priorities, get the most important things done in the morning, and enjoy the rest of your productive day!
4. Avoid Ineffective Meetings
Remember, the keyword here is ineffective. Meetings are certainly necessary and can certainly be beneficial for organisations, but it’s equally not hard to see that meetings have gone overboard. How many meetings do you have planned at the moment? Better yet, how many have you attended over the past months?
In most cases, not all of those meetings are productive. In fact, the majority tend to be unproductive, and those are precisely the ones you should avoid. Do you remember thinking to yourself, "this could've easily been an email?" You probably do.
When you have too much on your plate, and you genuinely want to get your work done, it's best to reject meetings upfront and clarify that you're not attending because you're tied up in other work.
And if your manager or boss isn't one to just give you the green light not to attend that easily, show them how you can be more productive if you aren't there – even if you'll have to outline what you'll get done during the meeting time.
But how do you know which meetings are ineffective? It's quite simple. Ineffective meetings are those with no agenda. They don't have discussion points, ending times, durations, or any details for that matter. Moreover, they also don't have outcomes, so no one knows the expected result from that meeting. Sometimes, the topics don't even affect you directly.
And also, the most ineffective meetings are those that are unplanned altogether – you know, the ones where you suddenly find yourself in a Zoom meeting that goes on for hours and hours, and you hadn't actually blocked a slot in your planner for them.
While the list can go on, you get the idea. It's best to avoid meetings that affect your productivity; that time could be better spent on the more important things. A meeting should never mean a waste of time, so it's best to avoid it if it does.
5. Declutter Your Email
Did you know that the average interaction worker spends around 28% of the workweek managing their email? That’s a very high percentage, and if anything, it means that emails have become a distraction more than ever before.
While some people are hyper-organised and their inboxes are always at “1” or “5” at the very most, email inboxes bring chaos to countless people because of their overflowing state. It really doesn’t help when you have an endless list of tasks to get done AND a thousand (or tens of thousands) emails to go through, does it?
Well, now’s the time to declutter your giant pile of unread emails so that you can be more productive. Just like you set time for every other task on your planner, you need to put cleaning your email inbox on the planner too.
Start organising your inbox into folders, use labels, and categorise your emails. Then, you’ll be able to set up automatic filtering based on elements like subject line, keyword, sender, and more. For instance, you can have a folder called “important stuff”, another called “for later”, and add as many folders as you like to help you streamline your inbox.
While we’re at it, it’s also best to separate your professional email account from your personal one, unsubscribe from newsletters you never read, and get rid of promotional emails.
Pro Tip: After you’re able to reach inbox (0), always remember to check in on your email throughout the day – just set aside 10 minutes per day to do so to avoid pile-ups happening again. You’ll be thrilled!
6. Make To-Do Lists
We’ve been talking about to-do lists a lot since most people make them, so if you don’t really rely on them, now’s the time to get started. Sometimes, you feel that you have a million tasks to get done, which can stress you out and bring you anxiety, leading you to ultimately do nothing. But the reality of the matter is that not everything is due on the same day, is it?
That's where to-do lists come into play to help you lay down your tasks and plan them out according to their due dates, the time they'll consume, and more factors. When you have a to-do list for each day, you'll no longer have to worry about all the tasks at once – instead, you'll direct your focus to the ones you have to get done today.
Luckily for you, today, there are plenty of options regarding how you choose to make your to-do list. So whether you want to use an app or a planner, a keyboard or a pen, a blank notebook, or a bulleted journal, the sky's the limit.
For them to be efficient, though, make sure to assign due dates for the tasks you’ll list down, limit yourself to around 3-5 tasks a day, revise the list daily to make sure you’re setting realistic targets for yourself, and most importantly, make sure your to-do list consists of tasks, not goals! And last but not least, don’t miss out on the glorious feeling of ticking an item off the list!
7. Make Your Commute Productive
It may seem like we’re going overboard with this one, but we’re really not. Daily commuting to and back from work eats up a significant amount of time for most people, and that’s worldwide. Therefore, it’s quite vital to leverage this time to your advantage and stay productive on the go.
In this case, being productive doesn't even have to be work-related. You can listen to podcasts, learn a language, make some calls you've been postponing, read a book, check your email, and do similar activities. Of course, it also helps if you always have an internet connection to empower you to do more with your time.
8. Say ‘No’
How often do you accept too many things at once because you feel pressured to do so? Do you accept taking on more tasks than you can handle? Doing favors whenever they’re asked of you? Juggling different jobs? Accepting anything that gets thrown your way out of being nice?
Okay, but who said that saying yes is the best ever and that saying no is a bad thing? Actually, saying no is a good thing. Why? It’s because when you say no, you’re aware of your priorities, what you have on your plate, and your capabilities. Don’t take on more than you can handle because the result will be that you’ll lag behind on your objectives and goals.
In his book, Getting Back to Happy, co-author Marc Chernoff says, “Don’t be afraid to say “no” to unnecessary obligations. In a world with so much noise and clutter, you must make room for what matters. That means pruning nonessential commitments and eliminating as many distractions as you possibly can. No wasted time, no fluff, no regrets. When you’re crystal clear about your priorities, you can painlessly arrange them in the right order and discard the activities and commitments that do not support the ones at the top of your list.”
What we (and Chernoff) are trying to say is that saying no doesn't mean you're a bad person. It just means that you're establishing healthy boundaries and eliminating any pressure that can hinder your productivity.
9. Try Out the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is all about taking breaks! While so many people think that being productive means not taking any breaks or even taking very few of them, that’s actually counterproductive. To be productive, you need to recharge your batteries every once in a while to be able to keep going, even if just for five minutes!
And that's what The Pomodoro Technique focuses on. This management technique entails using a timer to divide your day into blocks of focus and rest, called "Pomodoros" in Italian. Between the Pomodoros, you take a 5-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. Yet, the condition is that when you're working, you're really working and nothing else!
You repeat this cycle four times, take a 15-minute break, and then start from the beginning. Alternatively, you can also choose to have your Pomodoros be longer than that for the sake of having longer rest periods, and that’s also fine.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, you'll be training yourself to separate work from breaks and exclusively focus on working during the work intervals. You can do much more with this technique if you follow it properly!
10. Focus On the Light at the End of the Tunnel
Finally, we all do what we do for a purpose, right? Whether it's to travel at the end of the year, support our families, get a fancy pair of shoes, or just make cash, there's a purpose. When you're feeling unproductive, push yourself through by remembering the end goal.
That'll increase your chances of completion, encourage you to keep working and make work more tolerable overall. Ultimately, you want to think of the reward you'll get when you finish a specific task or project – and that's what should fuel you to continue.
24 Hours Are Enough!
Once you start putting our productivity hacks into action, you’ll start noticing that the 24 hours of the day are actually more than enough to get everything you want done. As you see, productivity can be boosted in many different ways, but it’s a matter of trial and error at the end of the day. So, try supercharging your productivity and let us know what worked for you!