5-Minute Productivity Hacks From Tim Ferriss, Elon Musk, and Kevin Systrom
How the world’s most productive people get more done (in 5 minutes or less)
I can’t help but cringe a little whenever I see the words ‘productivity’ and ‘hacks’ in the same sentence. Most productivity hacks are in the same category as ‘crash diets’ or those recipes that promise a lasagna in 8 minutes.
The ‘hack’ is just a single part of a bigger process. And one that takes time to do.
In that spirit, we’ve put together a few ‘hacks’ you can use to start on the path to being more productive, organized, energized, and happier at work.
How to beat procrastination with the 5-minute rule
We’d all love to have more control over our actions, especially when it comes to starting a task. There are few things that kill our productivity more like procrastination. In fact, 95% of the American population admit to falling prey to procrastination. (And I’d bet the remaining 5% aren’t being completely honest).
So, how can we ‘hack’ our way out of procrastination? According to Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, beating procrastination comes down to bargaining:
“If you don’t want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you’ll end up doing the whole thing.”
Why it works:
Procrastination is built on fear and conflict. If we’re motivated to finish a task, our fear of failure, criticism, or stress, pits our mind against itself. We fear that the negative outcomes of our work will come true and don’t end up even doing it.
Systrom’s 5-minute rule works because it lowers our inhibitions. We’re not doing the task (and facing the consequences). We’re simply doing 5 minutes of it. And once we’ve started? As writer and theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:
“On a moment-to-moment basis, being in the middle of doing the work is usually less painful than being in the middle of procrastinating.”
We often can’t imagine feeling good about a task we were stressing over earlier. But once engaged, that stress goes away and we’re more likely to feel positive feelings about the work we’re doing.
How to boost your energy with a 5-minute workout routine
Our energy builds and dips throughout the day. Yet, it rarely does so in sync with how we work. Just as a deadline looms or an important meeting is about to start, we feel our energy levels drop and reach for caffeine or some other stimulant to keep us productive.
But these are just band-aid solutions. In fact, most studies agree that caffeine’s effects are best suited for completing repetitive tasks and not work that takes higher levels of insight and creativity.
Instead, a quick 5-minute routine can bring you a longer lasting boost of energy. Here’s what you need to do:
- Minute 1: Stand up and stretch. Just 60 seconds of exercise — whether that’s standing up, walking around the office, or doing some stretching — helps get you out of your slump.
- Minutes 2–3: Complete a quick online errand like buying something online, paying a bill, or sending an article to a friend like you promised. Crossing something simple off your to-do list is a big motivator.
- Minute 4: Write down your plans for the night or weekend. Again, this comes down to motivation. Having something to look forward to and imagining yourself there can help push you through the day.
- Minute 5: Check in with someone you care about. Text an old friend or get back to someone you’ve been meaning to.
Why it works:
Our energy levels depend not only on our physical state, but our emotional state as well.
Studies have shown that even a short bit of exercise makes us happier, more alert, and more emotionally intelligent. Pair this with the other practices that boost our motivation and help us connect with people outside our work and you’ve got a winning hack.
How to regain focus with the 5-minute journal
Four Hour Work Week author Tim Ferriss has spent his life trying to optimize every aspect of his existence. And morning routines — including making the bed and preparing his ‘titanium tea’ — have become an integral part of his daily productivity regiment.
However, there’s one simple hack he uses every day that he attributes the majority of his productivity to: the 5-minute journal.
A 5-minute journal is a simple book that asks 3 questions every day:
- What are you grateful for today?
- What would make today great?
- What are your daily affirmations?
Why it works:
The power of journaling has been well-documented. But where Ferriss sees the most benefit with the 5-minute journal is in placing our intention on today.
In many cases, journaling becomes an opportunity to get lost in the uncertainty of the future or to dwell on past mistakes. And while both of these practices can help us to relieve stress and let go of resentments, they do so at the cost of living in the now.
Focusing on the present by asking what would make today great? allows Ferriss, “to not only get more done during the day but to also feel better throughout the entire day, to be a happier person, to be a more content person — which is not something that comes naturally to me.”
Start by asking yourself that simple question: What would make today great? And check out our guide to starting your own journal today.
How to use Elon Musk’s 5-minute time-management technique
While that might seem unbelievable (and more than a little excessive), Musk has a simple time-management hack that lets him get more done each day. Each workday is split up into 5-minute ‘chunks’ — even lunch — meaning more tasks are scheduled and gotten to in a single day.
Why it works:
According to Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones that Really Work, the most productive people work from their calendar, not a to-do list.
“The reason we’re always left with unfinished items on our to-do lists is because those lists are the wrong tool to drive our accomplishments,” he wrote.
Instead, breaking up your day into chunks lets you prioritize and be realistic about what can actually fit in a day.
“A calendar is finite; there are only a certain number of hours in a day. That fact becomes clear the instant we try to cram an unrealistic number of things into a finite space.”
How to bring more happiness into your life with the 5-minute gratitude practice
It’s strange to think of happiness as a productivity ‘hack’, but raising our spirits can benefit all aspects of our life. And while happiness and doing meaningful work are long-term goals, there are basic things you can do today to hack them in just 5 minutes.
The first idea comes from author Jocelyn K. Glei: Write a basic thank-you note to someone who helped you recently.
If you want to go even further, skip the digital route and follow Stripe CEO Patrick Collison’s example and keep a stack of blank thank-you notes on your desk for whenever you need them.
Why it works:
As Sebastian Junger writes in Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, doing something for another person, also known as prosocial behavior, rewards us with “an increase in dopamine and other pleasurable hormones (such as oxytocin) in the blood.”
We all love to be recognized for the work we do. But when was the last time you received a thank-you note from a colleague or friend?
Taking 5 minutes out to write a note not only increases your happiness, but pays that happiness forward.