26 Smart Hacks to Maximize Your Work Productivity
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At the end of your workday, do you ever feel like you could’ve done more?
Maybe written more words. Completed more tasks. Or simply just did more work.
And does it leave you feeling a little… incomplete? Like you’ve wasted your day?
Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.
You can leave work feeling satisfied and fulfilled with what you’ve accomplished, and all it’ll take are a few “productivity hacks” to get you there.
(Side note: One quick productivity hack is to use a filtered news service. A great tool to do this is to join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that's informative, witty and FREE!)
You don’t know the “hacks” for success.
You probably know a productivity tip or two, am I right? Sure you do, we all learn enough to get by in life because as long as something works we’re willing to use it.
But this also means we restrict ourselves to old tactics, even if they turn out to be sub-optimal.
You never cared to upgrade your methods.
And since we usually stick with the same old tactics, we stop the search for better ones. We don’t modify or seek improvement, because what we already do is “good enough.”
Improve your productivity with these 26 hacks.
But I’m guessing you want to do more than just “get by,” right? You won't feel like you’ve actually accomplished something each day. You want to feel “complete.”
Well, this is where you can learn how.
Use these 26 productivity hacks and you’ll elevate your ability to get things done starting TODAY.
What You Will Learn
- 1. Use the Pomodoro Technique
- 2. Write Down Your Three Most Important Tasks (MITs)
- 3. Set Specific Times to Check Email
- 4. Learn to Say “NO”
- 5. Implement the Two-Minute Rule for Quick Tasks
- 6. Use Website Blockers for Distracting Content
- 7. Listen to Productive Music (or Sounds)
- 8. Use Templates for Routine Tasks
- 9. Batch Similar Tasks
- 10. Use the Important / Urgent Matrix for Your Decisions
- 11. Start Your with a Tough Task (or an Easy One)
- 12. Use the “One and Done” Rule
- 13. Keep a Pen and Pad Nearby
- 14. Use a Password Manager
- 15. Work Near Natural Light
- 16. Plan Your Day Ahead of Time
- 17. Get Rid of Any Possible Distractions
- 18. Break Down Your Goals
- 19. Take Time to “Reattach” to Work Each Morning
- 20. Wake Up Early
- 21. Make Sure Everything You Do Relates to a Goal
- 22. Avoid Multitasking
- 23. Give Your Deadlines a Makeover
- 24. Schedule in Time for Self-Care
- 25. Let Go of Perfectionism
- 26. Discover the “Why” Behind Your Job
- Final Thoughts on These Productivity Tips
1. Use the Pomodoro Technique
I’m sure many of you have heard of this productivity hack, but how exactly does it supercharge your productivity?
The magic happens after repeated usage. Once this hack becomes a habit, your ability to focus during the duration of the timer is 10x better. That’s why this tactic is so powerful, it uses conditioning to put you in the zone instantly.
And since concentration is half of the productivity battle (the other half is actually starting to work), this tool is an incredibly powerful hack to add to your arsenal.
2. Write Down Your Three Most Important Tasks (MITs)
You don’t want any ambiguity in your work days, it’s a productivity killer.
Each morning you should take the time to prioritize the top three tasks for the day. Be clear with what you write and use more than a three-word description.
For instance, “research hotels” is bad. Instead, use “review and compare prices of hotels x, y, & z.” This will prevent you from drifting to semi-related tasks that don’t actually accomplish anything.
The key thing about this habit is to start the day by focusing on tasks that are important (instead of urgent). To learn more about the difference, be sure to check out this article on the Eisenhower decision-making matrix.
3. Set Specific Times to Check Email
It’s easy to waste time shuffling through dozens of emails.
All it takes is one email notification and, before you know it, you’ve wasted 20-30 minutes organizing and responding to multiple emails.
What you should do is choose two times a day to do emails. I recommend once before lunch and once more before finishing up your workday, that way it doesn’t accidentally seep into your work time.
4. Learn to Say “NO”
For some people saying no is hard, but if you really want to elevate your productivity levels then you can’t let people order you around all the time.
(Of course, the exception would be your boss, but I’ll show you how to handle them in a bit).
For most people, a firm “no, I’m busy right now. I’ll let you know if I’m available later” should suffice.
But if it’s your boss who’s taking up your time, here’s what you should do:
- Let them ask you to do a new task
- Say “I’d love to handle that, but could you please look at this?”
- Show them your task list
- Say “which of these tasks would you like to delay to make time for this one?”
- Wait for their response
This is about as close to “no” as you’re going to get with your boss, but what’s great is that it keeps a professional air about you as you do it, and it shows your boss that they can’t just drop new tasks on you without hurting another.
James Altucher explains this concept in detail in his wonderful book, “The Power of NO“
5. Implement the Two-Minute Rule for Quick Tasks
It’s inevitable that small tasks will pop-up throughout your day, but you don’t want to waste time contemplating whether or not you should do them.
Instead, just ask yourself if you can complete the task in less than two minutes.
If the answer is yes, do it. You’ve only lost two minutes of your day.
If the answer is no, add the task to your to-do list (below your top three tasks for the day) and take care of it later.
To learn more about this simple (but powerful) concept, check out this video (and ironically, it'll take you less than two minutes to watch.):
6. Use Website Blockers for Distracting Content
There’s a lot of distracting websites out there that – while entertaining – ruin productivity for each of us.
Start using site blockers so that you can work without the constant threat of distracting websites. Just go to Google and type “your browser” and “site blocker,” you’ll easily find a great one to use.
To get started, here are three of the more popular site blockers:
7. Listen to Productive Music (or Sounds)
Music is a great way to maintain focus and stay productive.
However, everybody is different so it may take some experimentation to find music that helps you focus. A good tool for this is Focus At Will, it uses music scientifically driven to improve your concentration.
8. Use Templates for Routine Tasks
A template is a “fill-in-the-blank” type document, and they’re great for assignments that are created the same way every time.
Do you send email updates regularly? Create a template to save some time. The same thing applies if you give presentations or make spreadsheets a lot, find or create a template to work with and it’ll save you a ton in prep time.
As an example, I frequently use canned responses in Gmail whenever I get a question/request that I've answered before. This saves me loads of time on a task that can often be a major distraction. To learn more, check out this step-by-step tutorial on setting up canned responses in Gmail.
You can find some online by simply typing “template” and “whatever you’re working on” into Google. You’ll get a ton of options to work with, just pick your favorite and get to work.
9. Batch Similar Tasks
Batching tasks works because you’re maintaining the same frame of mind for all the tasks involved.
An example is cooking, where you can batch other tasks like scheduling your meals for the week, prepping the ingredients for your meals, and cleaning the dishes. Another example is by batching your “social tasks” together, like emails, text messages, and voice-mails together.
Always batch similar tasks together when planning your day, it’ll definitely make your work process flow more smoothly.
10. Use the Important / Urgent Matrix for Your Decisions
Do you often find yourself working tons only to find you didn’t get any “real” work done?
Then you should give this tip a try.
Separate your tasks into one of four categories:
Important tasks are ones that contribute to your immediate livelihood & long-term goals, while urgent tasks are ones that require immediate action or have incoming deadlines.
The idea is to focus on tasks in category #2 (important & not urgent), because by doing so you:
Doing this will keep you focused on only the most important tasks. It also minimizes the chances of your tasks going “critical,” preventing burnout by trying to catch up on an important task.
11. Start Your with a Tough Task (or an Easy One)
What you do at the beginning of the day will dictate the flow for the rest of the day.
The way I see it, you have two options:
The first option will immediately pay off as your remaining tasks will feel easy by comparison. But the second option will help ease you into the work process, lowering the chances of procrastination.
Which option sounds better to you? Give both methods a shot and see which works best. Everybody is different, so experimentation is key.
On a personal note, I prefer to start each day by working on the hardest task. That way, I will have accomplished a big win, usually before most people have even begun their workday. To learn more about this, I recommend checking a book called Eat That Frog.
12. Use the “One and Done” Rule
Have you ever said “I’ll take care of it later” before? Probably, right?
…But do you actually do it later? I’m guessing no, and it’s not because you’re lazy either.
These situations happen time and time again because we don’t bother adding them to our to-do lists, we assume that we’ll remember to it later.
This most often occurs with low-level tasks (e.g. get milk, take out the garbage), but if it happens enough then you’ve got a big problem on your hands.
Avoid this by simply adding each new task to a to-do list. You don’t even need to think about it, just quickly jot it down and you won’t run the risk of forgetting to “take care of it later.” The next tip will help you with this.
13. Keep a Pen and Pad Nearby
Memories are notoriously unreliable.
If you try and remember everything you need to do, you’re going to end up with a lot of unfinished tasks. Don’t take the risk, write down everything you need to remember.
Keeping a pen and pad works just fine, but feel free to use an app on your smartphone to do this. It’s really your preference.
Now, another personal preference of mine is to use the Todoist app to keep track of EVERY habit, task, and errand that I have to run. By doing using just one app, I am 100% confident that I will never forget something important. To learn more, I recommend checking out this massive step-by-step free tutorial on the Todoist app.
14. Use a Password Manager
If you use the internet, then you have passwords to memorize.
But if you actually memorize your passwords, then you’re wasting your mental energy on something that can be handled by an internet tool.
Download a password manager so that you don’t waste all your time and energy remembering or searching for login passwords. A great one is Lastpass, and it works with both Firefox and Google Chrome.
15. Work Near Natural Light
A neat productivity hack is simply working near natural light more often (i.e. sunlight). Studies show that exposure to sunlight improves sleep, thereby improving your well-being and in turn your productivity levels. So if you can, try and sit near a window (an open one would be most ideal). You’ll get the benefit of improved productivity and better sleep as a result.
16. Plan Your Day Ahead of Time
If you don’t have a schedule, you’re likely to finish your day only to realize that you made little to no progress on the work that you should have been focusing on.
Before your day starts, whether it’s the first thing in the morning or the night before, create a plan of attack for the day. Start by writing down your tasks that are already scheduled for a specific time, such as your working hours, meetings, doctors’ appointments, etc.
Then see how you can effectively fill in the rest of the time. Write each task that you want to get completed into your schedule so there is no question what you’re doing next once something has been completed. This will take out any of the guesswork as you move through your day and prevent you from accidentally wasting time because it hadn’t been assigned to anything.
17. Get Rid of Any Possible Distractions
Whenever you get distracted from something that you’re doing, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus on the task. That is a lot of wasted time that could easily be prevented, especially if you have a lot of unwelcomed interruptions at work.
If you know that you are trying to concentrate, close the door to your office (if possible) or put up a note saying that you’re busy and will address anyone else’s needs later. Turn off your email notifications and avoid getting on social media or any other site that is irrelevant to the work that you’re doing. Put your phone on “do not disturb” so you won’t be sidetracked by a text or phone call.
Distraction can also include clutter that has accumulated on your desk or around your workspace. Take a few minutes every day to tidy up your office and file away stray papers or other items that you don’t need in front of you to work. Only keep the items on your desk that are critical to your task at hand. Excess clutter can lead to undue stress, which can also be a distraction.
Getting rid of distractions can help you get a lot of productive work done in a short period of time. Whatever it is that you find to often be distracting, get rid of it while you’re trying to work.
18. Break Down Your Goals
Often, goals seem so far fetched that we procrastinate on even starting them. Maybe you don’t know where to start or the project just feels so overwhelming that you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to put into it.
Break down these goals into smaller, more attainable goals that seem more approachable. These tasks should be easy to complete and simple to weave into your schedule. Make a step-by-step plan of simple actions that will chip away at your ultimate end goal.
We have a lot of content about achieving goals on this website. So if you'd like to learn more, here are a number of articles that can help:
19. Take Time to “Reattach” to Work Each Morning
You probably try to detach from work once you’re home at night to avoid burnout and either spend time with your family or doing things that you want to do. But do you take time the next morning to reattach yourself to work?
Studies have recently revealed that people typically just wander into the office in the morning and start working on auto-pilot–and this is a mistake. Researchers found that those who take a few minutes in the morning to reattach to their work by thinking about what they accomplished the day before and what they hope to accomplish during the current day experience a consistent flow of positive events throughout the day.
Taking these few minutes to think about your priorities and goals in the morning will jumpstart your focus and help you create a mental plan to achieve them. It will also make you aware of the resources that you will have throughout the day to support your success.
These factors lead to a deeper feeling of inspiration and engagement at work, which are critical components to being productive. To help yourself reattach to work every morning, you can ask yourself three questions:
Asking yourself these questions will help you re-engage with your work and pick up where you left off the day before.
20. Wake Up Early
Waking up early can give you a huge head start on your day. You are completely re-energized at the beginning of the day and haven’t yet started the slow decline to exhaustion that you hit by the time you get home.
You can also get a lot done in the morning because you will have fewer distractions than you would in the middle of the day. Because most people are probably still asleep, you can work in the peace and quiet of your home (or go into the office early) and knock out a few things that have been lingering on your to-do list.
Once you get into a routine of waking up early, your body will start to do this naturally. If you can make it a regular habit, think of all of the little things you could get out of the way before starting your normal day. If you get a positive and productive start to your day, you’re more likely to carry that momentum with you until it’s over.
21. Make Sure Everything You Do Relates to a Goal
Before starting a task, double-check to make sure it is related to a more long-term goal. If you can easily make a connection between the task and one of your SMART goals, then complete the task. However, if the task is unrelated to propelling yourself forward, either eliminate it or delegate it to someone else.
We all know the importance of setting SMART goals to help fight procrastination and stay on track with our work, but being able to identify the tasks on your list of things to do that need to be completed in order to help you work efficiently is imperative. This way, you won’t get stuck on a task that ends up being a waste of time, nor will you be tempted to procrastinate.
So to get started, make sure each one of your goals is in the SMART format, which is as follows:
|S||Specific making sure that the goal is clear as written.|
|M||Measurable Making sure that any metric requirement in the goal is clearly defined and has specific numbers attached to it.|
|A||Achievable. Meaning that the goal can be accomplished and is not some crazy “pie in the sky” dream-like tripping your salary in three months or losing 50 pounds in a month.|
|R||Relevant, and this just means that the goal really matters and is worth your time and effort.|
|T||Time-bound where the goal starts and stops (and any steps along the way) are all tied to specific dates.|
Once you have established SMART goals, take the time to make sure that your actions match these desired outcomes. In fact, make a daily out of reviewing your goals and asking yourself “Did all of my actions match what I need to do to achieve these goals.” If the answer is no, then keep trying each day until you're consistently acting in alignment with your goals.
22. Avoid Multitasking
While it might seem efficient to do multiple things at once, you are probably not making progress on any of the tasks you’re attempting to do. Research has shown that multitasking can actually decrease your productivity by up to 40% because you’re never giving your full attention to one thing. This means that while you may be able to check some boxes off of your to-do list, none of it was probably done well, and it may cost you time in the future if you have to go back and redo some work.
Furthermore, researchers at Stanford University found that even when “multitaskers” try to focus on just one thing, they work less efficiently than those who rarely attempt to multitask. This suggests that even developing a multitasking habit in one area of your life can damage your ability to completely focus on just one thing in other areas of your life.
23. Give Your Deadlines a Makeover
Take a look at Parkinson’s Law. This principle 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, you will take a year to complete the project. If you have two hours, you will find a way to do it in two hours. Your productivity will soar if you know a deadline is looming.
Bring any long-term deadlines that you have scheduled into the nearer future. Doing so will give you a healthy sense of urgency to get these tasks done, which will then give you more time to work on other things. Also, it will give you the chance to under-promise and over-deliver, which is one thing that every boss loves from an employee.
24. Schedule in Time for Self-Care
You need to give yourself enough time to recharge your batteries before you get burnt out. Schedule self-care activities just as you would any other mandatory meeting. Doing this will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by work (or life in general) and ensure that you continue to perform at your best.
You cannot take care of anyone else’s needs before you address your own, and you will never be productive if you are trying to work while you’re exhausted. Make it a point to go to work every day being fully recovered from the day before and ready to take on the new challenges that you will face.
25. Let Go of Perfectionism
Nothing you do will ever be perfect, so don’t waste time trying to make every last detail on a project flawless. Sometimes you have to have faith in your abilities and leave good enough alone in order to move on to the next thing. You have to be willing to give up the complete sense of control that you may feel regarding your work.
Having an attitude of perfectionism can also lead to procrastination, as you’re likely to not want to start a project for fear of it coming out flawed. The fear of failure can actually be paralyzing. Because of this, it is important to learn how to let go of unrealistic expectations and allow yourself to have a greater sense of self-compassion.
26. Discover the “Why” Behind Your Job
Why did you choose to go into the field that you did? Are you helping other people in a specific way that is meaningful to you or are you able to do something that you’re truly passionate about?
Make sure to keep the reasons that you chose your career in mind when you’re working every day in order to keep you motivated to continue to be productive and successful. If you don’t care about your job, chances are that you’re not going to put too much effort into getting things accomplished, no matter what type of hack you try to implement. There has to be some intrinsic motivation present in order for you to feel an incentive to get up and get going each morning.
Final Thoughts on These Productivity Tips
We've all heard the expression to work smart, not harder. The simple truth is that the most successful people in the world understand the importance of maximizing their efficiency without spending extra time on work.
Hopefully these 26 productivity hacks will help you work a little bit smarter.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.