If you want to get better results in your work and life, you can try to work harder or put in more hours. You can push yourself to do more, work overtime and skip some of the fun stuff in order to get more done.
In the long-term, however, that’s likely to do you more damage as your health, relationships and happiness suffer from it. Stress and overwhelm quickly kick in when you’re working 60 to 80-hour workweeks.
And, in fact, there’s a much more effective way to get more done and achieve better results while not having to work more hours. In my experience, it’s completely unnecessary to work harder and longer if you know how to work smarter.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
- Abraham Lincoln
Personally, I’ve seen the greatest improvements in my productivity (and ultimately, my income) by focusing on working much smarter instead of trying to work harder and harder.
That’s why, in this article, I’d like to share 7 of my most effective productivity hacks that will help you to get better results in less time by working smart. Productivity techniques that will help you ‘sharpen the axe’ as Abraham Lincoln said cleverly.
Productivity Hack #1: Reflect More Often
When was the last time you took a top-down view of your goals, business, projects or challenges?
When did you step back in order to look at your main thing from a different perspective?
Sometimes, stepping away from your main thing for a few hours (or days) might just be much more productive than just blindly hustling with your head stuck in the sand. You might just come up with new ideas, breakthroughs or perspectives that can save you days, weeks or even months of hard work.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how hard you work if you work on the wrong things. That’s why it’s better to take a break every now and then in order to step back, reflect and prioritize so that you can execute in a highly focused and productive way.
Productivity Hack #2: Eat Your ‘Veggies’ First
When I was a little kid (okay, I admit, I still do this sometimes) I used to always reluctantly eat my veggies first so that I could enjoy the more delicious foods such as meat, fish or potatoes more afterwards.
Nowadays, I use this same principle in my work. I start the day with my most challenging and most intensive task so that I can get it out of the way. Usually, this task is also the most important task for the day. It’s often the task that is the most valuable for my business or goals — and has the biggest potential upside if I do complete it, and the biggest potential downside if I don’t complete it.
Tackling this task first thing in the morning makes the rest of the day feel like a breeze. On top of that, I no longer procrastinate on my most valuable tasks anymore because I have to do them first thing in the morning.
Furthermore, by consistently ‘eating your veggies first’, you’ll prevent yourself from falling into the trap of productive procrastination (where you fill your entire day with lower value tasks and then procrastinate on your most valuable/important task).
Productivity Hack #3: Set Daily Goals & Intentions
One of the main reasons why so many people are unfocused and struggle with being productive is because they don’t know exactly what to do right now, today. They might know that they want to earn more money, lose weight or build a business, but those are all goals somewhere in the future. But what about right now? What about today? Despite your long-term goals, procrastination will kick in when you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re supposed to be doing today.
If you lack clarity about what it is that you should be doing today, your mind will start making other plans. Easier plans, lesser important plans, plans that might be pleasurable and rewarding in the short-term, but not in the long-term. In other words, you’ll procrastinate, lose focus on your main goals and take a hit in your productivity levels.
Therefore, always set 1–5 daily goals and write them down in a productivity planner or journal. Make sure you create the clarity of knowing exactly what it is that you should be doing today. Make your goals very precise and specific so that you know exactly what to do. Giving this structure to your day will help you work with a lot more focus and determination.
Productivity Hack #4: Avoid Multitasking
According to research, once we get distracted or try to shift from task to task, it takes on average 25(!) minutes to regain our full focus on our task at hand. This is a phenomenon called ‘attention residue’, which implies that some of your attention is ‘left behind’ at the previous task (or distraction) your brain was dealing with. Your brain can’t simply shift from task to task effectively, as its capability to focus has literally decreased.
Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time
— Steve Uzzell
Furthermore, shifting your attention back and forth between tasks and distractions drains energy from the brain — as it uses glucose — making us feel tired, less motivated and less productive. This is why so many people are completely worn out by a day of work, even though it’s physically not that demanding.
Therefore, avoid multitasking and instead focus on one task with your full attention. This way you have more energy and focus left to really crush it.
Productivity Hack #5: Use Parkinson’s Law
Essentially, Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’ which means that if you give yourself a day to complete a two-hour task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting. We will, in fact, take the entire day to accomplish this relatively minor task.
The extra time might not even be filled with more work to actually improve the quality of the output. Often, the extra time is just filled with more stress, tension and worrying about how to get it done. Often, we fill a lot of the time procrastinating and wasting hours away.
By assigning the right amount of time to a task, we gain back more time and the task will reduce in complexity. In other words, we need to make our deadlines shorter. Almost always do we find ways to get the task done within the deadline we set for ourselves. When under (the right kind of) pressure, we’re capable of amazing things. All of a sudden we turn into a creative, problem-solving, productivity machine.
Because of this pressure, you force yourself to focus on those elements of the task that are actually most important, instead of nit-picking about the details and thereby wasting valuable time.
For example, I aim to write my Medium blogposts within two hours. Whenever I don’t set this time limit, I waste much more time on non-important details and re-write most sentences much more than is necessary. In fact, those articles that I write under time pressure often get more views and claps than those articles that took me an entire day to write.
Productivity Hack #6: Continuously Do A 80/20 Analysis Of Your Work and Life
According to the 80/20 rule, only about 20% of your activities should be your priority. These activities will account for the majority of results (about 80%) in your life or business. They are essential to achieving your desired outcome. You should spend more time, effort and energy on those mission-critical activities.
This also means that about 80% of your activities account for only 20% of your results. In other words, they are non-essential. Yet, they take up the biggest portion of your time, effort and energy. You should resolve to spend less time, effort and energy on these activities.
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” — Peter Drucker
Essentially, the 80/20 rule is all about identifying the things that are truly important to your life or business. Usually, there are only a few things that are essential to your happiness, business success, health or wealth. Only a few things contribute significantly to your desired outcome. Write these tasks down on a list and refer to this list every single day.
Although the rest can definitely be nice and still add some value to your life or business, it’s non-essential. It won’t move the needle that much — unlike those few things that are essential. Be ruthless about delegating or eliminating the lesser important tasks so that you have more resources available for those things that truly matter.
For example, by doing an 80/20 analysis myself, I came to the conclusion that I should focus primarily on 3 key tasks:
- Creating high-quality, valuable content that impacts people’s lives (aka, writing on Medium)
- Create strong, highly valuable, email marketing sequences through which people can see more of my content and products
- Create products (courses and e-books) that blow people away in terms of value
Doing this analysis has had a powerful impact on my productivity levels and has helped me to quickly increase my monthly profit by about 50%. I look at these 3 tasks every single day and I make sure that at least one of them is placed on my daily to-do list (and of course, I tackle them first thing in the morning, you have to eat your veggies first!).
No longer do I waste time and effort spend on ‘busywork’. Rather, I’m able to make consistent progress on those tasks and projects that are truly important for me and my business.
Productivity Hack #7: Batch Produce
Imagine how crazy it would be if you’d do your laundry every single time you’d have dirty socks or a dirty t-shirt instead of doing it once every few days when you’ve got a full laundry basket..
It makes more sense to collect dirty laundry over a few days and then ‘batch produce’ your laundry all in one go right?
Yet, when it comes to our work, we often (metaphorically) do our laundry multiple times per day without batch producing it. Instead, aim to batch produce certain routine or lower value tasks as much as possible so that it won’t disrupt your flow multiple times per day (or week). You can now do all of these tasks in one efficient session instead of 15 times throughout the day, which would take away time and focus for your most important tasks.
For example, instead of checking your email inbox every few minutes, schedule one (or more) fixed moments of an x amount of minutes each day in which you’ll answer a lot of emails in one sitting. This way, you protect your focus for the more important tasks.
Other common tasks that can be batch produced in one sitting are phone calls, responding to comments on your blog, other communications, checking business statistics, social media posts and website maintenance.
Now Do It
Change only happens when you take action. Therefore, I highly encourage you to pick out at least 3 of these productivity techniques so that you can get better results in less time by working smarter instead of working harder.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab
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