The internet is rife with productivity hacks, offering better ways to do everything, from folding clothes to cooking eggs. But to really hack the most out of your day, you need to keep an eye on return on investment.
Here are the productivity hacks offering the biggest bang for the smallest change and the least amount of time.
1. Stack habits
If you’re reading this article, it means you probably want to change something, to improve. But change is hard, just think of all of those New Year’s resolutions that died an early death.
After your initial burst of enthusiasm wears off, it’s hard to get out of bed to go for a run, or carve out the time to write in your journal. This is where the concept of habit stacking comes into its own – reducing the barriers to creating new habits.
Habit stacking involves adding a new habit, preferably something short and sharp, to something you’re already doing. If your goal is to do 10 push ups, do it just before you take a shower. If you want to stretch every day, do it while you wait for your coffee to brew. James Clear recommends drafting a list of current habits, a second list of habits you would like to start, and then draw connections and look for appropriate pairings.
2. Break free of the feed
It’s hard to really focus in a world when everyone can grab your attention at any moment. A quick fix would be to stop using social media entirely, and there are plenty of testimonials on the benefits of ditching Facebook and Twitter especially.
But if eliminating social media entirely is a step too far, there are a number of ways to block the likes of Facebook and Twitter to give yourself some distraction-free time. Self Control lets you put chosen websites on a black list, and block them for a set amount of time. Cold Turkey is a similar app for blocking sites for set periods. Freedom actually goes even further, allowing you to block the internet entirely for stretches of time. The browser extension StayFocusd works in the opposite manner, allowing you to create windows of time when you can visit social media sites, making sure the entire day isn’t blown.
If you can’t bear to be away from social media for even a couple of hours, do some spring cleaning. Fine tune your Twitter feed so you aren’t wading through a bunch of junk. Use Facebook’s friend organiser, make friends whose updates you don’t really need to see into acquantances – you will only see the most important of their updates.
3. Take walking meetings
Face to face meetings can be a major time sink, and there are loads of strategies to cut them down, from emphasising email to insisting on preparedness. A special favourite of many executives is stand up meetings, using discomfort to drive speed.
But if you want to kill a few birds with one stone, try going on a walk when you have a meeting. Steve Jobs was noted for his walking meetings. Mark Zuckberg is also known for it, and Freud and Aristotle were too.
Not only does taking a stroll give you some exercise, fresh air and a chance to disconnect, but studies have linked taking walks with creativity.
4. Do one thing at a time
When your aim is to get a bunch done, it can be tempting to take on as much as you can. And for many years, we were treated to experts espousing the benefits of multitasking.
But expert opinions appear to be going in the other direction now. “The research is in. The brain is not capable of handling more than one thing at a time effectively,” says Molly Green. Taking on too much of a cognitive load increases stress, impacts focus and makes you more prone to error.
Singletasking, on the other hand, gives you space to focus, to say no, and to schedule your day. The trick is figuring out how to be a singletasker in a multitaskers world.
5. Evaluate your day
In the end, if you really want the most out of our day, you need to take time and evaluate. There’s no better way to figure out what changes to make, and if they are working for you. You need time to gain some perspective and see whether there has been any benefit or if there is more space for improvement.
Consider keeping a list of what you do each day. Legendary investor Marc Andreessen calls it an “anti-to-do list”. It’s a chance to feel proud of your accomplishments — even the tiny little wins you experience every day.
“Each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet,” writes Andreessen.
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