Many people struggle to focus, be productive, and finish everything they want to do, whether they’re working from home or in an office.
Well, seven years ago, I became self-employed with no idea how to manage my time; but after a lot of trial and error, I was able to build a successful business, launch numerous side hustles, and complete countless projects for many clients at once—while working far less than 40 hours a week and traveling the world full-time.
No, I don’t use any productivity apps and, no, I don’t wake up at 5 AM.
I just follow a few simple, highly potent strategies that helped me skyrocket my productivity and get great results without relying on willpower, productivity tools, or a gallon of coffee—and they’ll help you too.
1. Eliminate the most common productivity killers.
Making an unproductive routine more “efficient” doesn’t lead to more productivity. So before you get a new productivity app, website blocker, calendar app, or time tracking tool, start by cutting out the common things that sabotage your productivity in the first place.
Avoid email, social media, or the news first thing in the morning.
76% of people check their phones within the first 30 minutes of their day. 55% of Americans check their email before they even get to work. (In fact, 1 in 3 Millennials check their email as soon as they wake up.)
But when you check your emails and messages so early in the day, your mind gets bombarded with all kinds of stresses and tasks before you even have a chance to work on your goals. (And since you’re not at work, you can’t even do anything about it yet so it says in the back of your mind all morning.) Worse, things like the news make people feel more negative, stressed, and pessimistic, further affecting productivity.
Ultimately, productivity is about accomplishing your highest priorities, effectively and efficiently. But when you start the day by, say, checking Instagram, you haven’t taken one step toward your goals and you’re already filling your mind with distracting stuff, none of which will help you accomplish your biggest tasks.
Instead, set a strong precedent for your day and protect your mental and emotional energy so you can do your best work later on.
No matter how hard you try, if you get a notification every few minutes on your phone or computer, you cannot focus on what you’re doing. (Fact: Humans are bad at multitasking.) Then, once you return to whatever you were doing, you’ll waste a lot of time as your mind refocuses and returns to the same level of productivity before you were distracted.
A simple solution is to build better boundaries when you’re working. Turn off email notifications from your computer, close useless tabs or apps, put your phone on airplane mode, and dive right in.
2. Dominate the most important time of day.
My trick to skyrocketing productivity is simple: Conquer the first three hours after you wake up. Generally, this is when you’re most creative, focused, and energized:
“Research confirms the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is most active and readily creative immediately following sleep. Your subconscious mind has been loosely mind-wandering while you slept, making contextual and temporal connections. So, immediately following sleep, your mind is most readily active to do thoughtful work.”
— Dr. Benjamin Hardy
That’s why it’s so important to protect your mornings and make sure to capitalize on those hours. Even if you’re not a “morning person” or an “early riser,” having a focused morning will still set a powerful precedent for the rest of day.
First, take a few minutes at the very start of your day to do a powerful morning routine. It doesn’t have to be complicated or lengthy, but just do something to help you feel focused, inspired, and driven—meditate, take a walk, read something inspiring, write your goals, etc.
It might seem counterintuitive to spend time in the morning just to get yourself ready to work, but those few minutes will transform your productivity. Once you start working, you’ll have a ton of momentum to knock out all your projects.
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
—John C. Maxwell
Second, avoid too many unimportant decisions and do the same simple things daily. That’s actually the secret of elite athletes: They do the same boring routines every day. They eat the same foods, do the same exercises, and have the same warm-ups.
Again, mornings are when you are most productive and focused. Don’t waste your mental energy on trivial decisions. We only have a limited amount of high-level mental performance each day so use it on things that matter and put the minor details of life on auto-pilot.
3. Prioritize better with the 80/20 Rule.
People who struggle with productivity usually struggle with prioritization. To them, everything is urgent so they’ll just work on their tasks in any order. By the end of their day, they might finish a lot of stuff, but they’ll get few results (if any).
“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
— Stephen R. Covey
Instead, to help you prioritize, use the 80/20 Rule, which explains that 80% of your output comes from about 20% of your input. And for productivity, it simply means that only 20% of your work will create 80% of your results.
Of all your tasks, there are only a few things that have the “biggest bang for your buck.” Pick the 3 most important things and put those at the top. (Don’t pick more than 3.) Then, don’t touch anything else on your list until you finish those 3.
To find your top 3 tasks, try asking: “What are the three things that, if I completed but did nothing else, I would be able to survive with? What are the three things that will make the biggest impact on my life?”
You only have about three hours of high-quality mental energy per day so, by doing your highest-priority tasks first, you’ll do your best work possible on them and get the best results from each day.
4. Make your tasks smaller overall.
Most people I talk to think they’re unproductive because they’re lazy, they lack willpower, or they can’t focus. But usually, I’ve noticed the reason is far more simple. For example, here’s what their to-do list might look like:
- Write an article
- Build a new website
The actual problem isn’t laziness; it’s that each task is overwhelming. Each item is so large and indefinite, it could take 5 to 20 hours to finish.
Instead, break your tasks into specific, actionable steps that ideally can be finished in under an hour. For example, instead of “write an article,” you could do “write an outline,” “write 200 words,” etc., which is specific, actionable, and measurable.
“Breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks, because we simply don’t know where to begin.”
— Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.
When you make your tasks smaller, you can finish more in less time and gain momentum and confidence. Also, with smaller tasks, you can actually see the finish line instead of feeling overwhelmed by a huge task.
5. Use time limits to boost your productivity.
Have you ever had a week to do one small thing and that “one small thing” ends up taking the entire week?
There’s a law for that. It’s called Parkinson’s Law: Basically, whatever time you give yourself to complete a task, it’ll take that amount of time — whether 20 minutes, two hours, or two weeks.
That’s why, to boost your productivity, you should actually give yourself less time to finish something. Set an aggressive deadline and push yourself in both speed and quality. You’ll get things done a lot faster, and you might even do a better job because you’ll be fully focused to beat a tight deadline.
6. Save more time by “batching” tasks.
Email is a huge part of our work nowadays. On average, people spend 28% of their workday reading and answering emails and, on average, check their email or messages every six minutes. (84% of workers, in fact, just leave their email open in the background.)
But again, every time you check your email, you lose time trying to refocus on what you were doing before. That’s why it’s far more productive to do this: Check all your email and messages only 1–3 times per day.
Tim Ferriss calls this “batching:” Rather than checking your emails countless times throughout the day—and destroying your productivity—“batch” it into a few scheduled times, which eliminates all the waste from going back and forth.
“…what tasks (whether laundry, groceries, mail, payments, or sales reporting, for example) can I allot to a specific time each day, week, month, quarter, or year so that I don’t squander time repeating them more often than is absolutely necessary?”
If your job requires you to constantly check your emails, try this workaround hack: On my iPhone’s Mail app, I set it so I can only see the sender and title, not the preview lines of the email.
That way, if you need to check your email often, at least you can see if it’s actually important — from clients or bosses or if it’s about an important subject — without getting distracted by any unimportant emails.
7. Use tomatoes to boost your productivity.
This one was a life-changer for me: It’s called the “Pomodoro Technique,” which gives you intervals to work while giving you breaks—just set a timer, work until the timer rings, take a short break, and then repeat.
For ultimate productivity, taking regular breaks is essential. It’s like working out in the gym: You need to rest between exercises so you can do it again and still have energy. (You’ll discover that those breaks actually enhance your productivity.)
As an added bonus, by setting a timer, you don’t have to constantly look at a clock to see how long you’ve been working—which can further distract you—because the timer will let you know when you’re done.
The original setup of the Pomodoro Technique (which is the Italian word for “tomato” after the originator’s tomato-shaped timer) was 25 minutes with a 5-minute break, but I usually do 50 minutes with a 10-minute break. I’ve seen working blocks as long as 2-hours, though, so see what works best for you.
How to Maximize These Tips
If you use these strategies, you'll get more done than ever before. While other people spend their days reacting to unimportant things, you're intentionally achieving your most-important, highest-priority tasks. And rather than being distracted or scatterbrained from the time you wake up, you're able to do highly focused work and be “in the zone” or “in flow.”
Now, some might have all kinds of reasons why they “can't” do these strategies—they can't do a morning routine, their job won’t allow that, they have 3 kids, etc. In that case, just follow a simple quote:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Simple, no? You don't have to follow everything to the letter, but if you can find ways to incorporate just a few, you'll see a big difference.
Finally, a word of warning. It doesn't matter how many productivity strategies you use: If you hate what you’re doing, you will not be productive. There is no way you can get motivated to do your best work if you loathe it. So if you continually struggle to get things done, ask yourself: Do you really want to do it in the first place? Could there be something you’re resisting?
Maybe it’s a sign of a deeper issue. If so, I recommend seeing where that resistance is coming from. (For example, the last time I resisted doing my work was because I hated my job and eventually quit.)
Because when you combine these strategies with work you actually enjoy, you’ll be unstoppable.
And you’ll start getting the most results out of every day.
Ready to upgrade your productivity and success? I’ve created 5 free life hacks that will boost your results. If you use them, your life could change very quickly.