5 Hidden Defaults to Avoid For a More Productive Day

Save time. Conserve energy. Get more done.

Todd Brison
Dec 2, 2020 · 6 min read
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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Productive days don’t start when you wake up. If that were true, everyone would have an equal shot at being productive. That isn’t the case.

Instead, productive days are a combination of:

  • Your existing habits
  • Your willpower
  • Your environment
  • The hidden defaults surrounding you.

Habits can be tamed. Willpower is under your command. Your environment partially bends to your desires. (You may have the perfect workspace set up, but if you live in a city where riots are a common response to the result of an election, it won’t do you much good.) Hidden defaults are a different beast. They swim like sharks in the background of your life, chomping away chunks of your attention.

One example of this is Amazon’s online tracking. When you click on an item but don’t buy the product, that product mysteriously follows you around the internet. It also shows up in your email inbox. You didn’t choose this. It happens by default. Some hidden defaults are out of your control. Others can be captured and turned around for your benefit.

The following list is just a starter kit of hidden defaults to avoid. Our goal is to ensure every tool you use during the day is serving you, as opposed to you serving the people who built it. Let’s get started.

Hidden Default #1: Reading Emails One By One

Nick Wolny taught me this, and it changed my email life forever. Think about your email management process. You start in your inbox. You click through to an email. Once there, you respond, delete, or forward. You go back to the inbox, click again to the next email, and repeat the process.

There is an endless melody of unnecessary clicks that you’ve grown to accept. Even with your machine gun-tapping on that mouse, you’re probably wasting hours over a week of answering emails.

Auto-advance helps with this. You click once to get into your stack of emails, and then you never return to the inbox. Instead, replying, forwarding, or deleting email takes you straight to the next one.

To set it up, click the gear in the top right corner of your Gmail, go to the “advanced” tab, and then “enable” auto-advance. You only have to do this one time to reap the benefits. (Go do it now).

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Screenshot by the author

The bottom line: Auto-advancing emails can save you hours of clicks.

Hidden default #2: Going from Start to Finish on Every Task

If you are productive at the wrong thing, can you really call it “being productive?” I didn’t think so either.

This is a hidden default of hardheaded productivity dogma— batching. Batching requires you to perform a task that requires the same thought patterns all at once. A batched schedule might have me only write for two hours, only edit for one hour, and then only answer emails for 20 minutes.

Batching is great in theory. Throw in a single new variable, though, and your workflow gets sticky, fast.

What if you are working on a tight deadline for a new client? What if your kid decided to use the bathroom wall as a coloring book and you’re hosting brunch first thing in the morning? To the person who has a life, and not just a career, batching must often be surrendered for other goals. Guess what? That’s okay. True productivity is doing the right thing at the right time.

When your workday gets sapped away by other commitments, ask the following question:

“If I only do one thing today, what would it be?”

Abandon all else and do that, even if you have to leave work for tomorrow.

The bottom line: Don’t drown in productivity dogma. Be brave enough to quit when needed.

Hidden default #3: iPhone Notifications

In American history, there have been three significant “rushes” to claim valuable assets. These were cutthroat, often deadly events. First, there was the Gold Rush. Then, the Land Rush.

Today, we’re living through the Mind Rush. Every company in Silicon Valley wants your mind. They want it all, night and day, awake or asleep. They pull out at every stop to hijack your attention. No, the word “hijack” is not an exaggeration. How many times have you opened your smartphone to take a note, only to find yourself scrolling through Instagram 10 minutes later? Hijack.

You’ve been told to turn notifications off before. This is not new advice. Have you actually done it?

The bottom line: Turn off every single notification (even messages). Control your phone. Don’t let it control you.

Hidden default #4: The Eight-Hour Workday

Before the industrial revolution, a “job” referred to a finite amount of work done over a pre-determined amount of time. You did what was needed when it was needed. Now, a job is an endless engagement that consists mostly of doing what you are told. Forever.

Let me be clear. Working 8 hours per day is not inherently bad. Especially when you are starting a new career or business, you will probably need at least that many hours to get off the ground. What is inherently bad is assuming all work magically fits in 8 hours.

Parkinson’s law states that all work will expand to the time given. Meaning, if you have 4 hours to write the perfect Instagram caption, you will take 4 hours. If you only have 20 minutes, you will magically get the work done within that time.

The solution? Set goals. Set tasks. Then, set timers. I use e.ggtimer.com. Maybe you’ll work 3 hours today. Maybe you will work 10. Either way, you’ll be doing it on your schedule, not some random number picked by men in suits.

The bottom line: 8-hour workdays are outdated. Command your work by dividing it into pieces and setting timers.

Hidden default #5: Unsubscribing to Marketing Messages

99.7% of email addresses never unsubscribe to marketing messages. That means in a world where 300 billion emails will be sent today, most people embrace the continuous assault of spam. This can only result in one of 3 ways.

  1. You spend time every day deleting 80–100 emails.
  2. You only read “important” messages, leading to a messy inbox.
  3. You abandon accounts entirely when they get unruly.

These are messages you receive by default whenever you sign up for a useful ebook, a free course, a Trello template, or a coupon alert site. That’s fine. Just make sure the follow-up emails are serving you. It’s your inbox. Use that unsubscribe button early and often. You can always re-subscribe if you change your mind later. (You won’t). Generally speaking, most people have so much red coming from their inbox notifications that it looks like a Tarantino movie. Don’t be one of those people.

The bottom line: If you delete an email from the same sender twice in a row, unsubscribe immediately. You clearly don’t need the messages.

Final Thoughts

Reviewing all of this, I can’t help but think of a Jim Rohn quote:

“How do you make any recipe? Put in the right ingredients. Keep out the wrong ingredients.”


Generally, productivity gurus focus on the “right” ingredients without spending time discussing how to remove the “wrong” ones. Many of these wrong ingredients are hiding in defaults placed by companies who know that your attention is their only hope of survival.

Hunt those defaults down. Choke them out. They have no place in your life. After all, it’s hard to run a race if you keep tripping over hurdles.

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