30 Lightning-Fast Productivity Hacks To Help You Work Better

They say Leonardo da Vinci was a lot of things – a painter, sculptor, mathematician, inventor, cartographer, and writer, to name a few. Without a doubt, he was a great man – but I’m certain even he had unproductive days.

We’re all human, which means we all suck at getting things done at times – especially when we’ve got freedom to work how we want. Productivity-killing demons constantly lurk on our shoulders: distractions, boredom, decision fatigue, etc.

Luckily, there are ways we can improve our productivity and banish those demons. Today I’m dropping a pile of 30 productivity hacks on your lap, and I’m going through them at lightning speed.

Try to implement just one of these today, and see how your work sessions improve. Let’s go!

1. Have a reason for working faster. 

Whether it’s wanting more time with friends, a hobby you’re passionate about, or anything else, find something that you’re passionate about that gives you a reason to work harder. Don’t work harder just so you can work more.

2. Use the Pomodoro Technique.

If you’re stuck in a rut and can’t decide what to work on, use the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on one thing as hard as you can, with no distractions. You’ll likely trick yourself into working for even longer.

3. Try out the 30-30 Method.

This is all about working in chunks. Work for 30 minutes, then take a break and do something fun for 30 minutes. I’ll often read a book or just play a video game during these breaks. Going outside is good as well. Of course, you can experiment with the time blocks to find what works best for you.

4. Don’t multi-task.

Your brain isn’t a computer – the switching costs associated with changing tasks are high. Focus on one thing at a time, and try not to work in environments that have other stimulants pulling at your attention, like the TV.

5. Eliminate bad habits from your daily routine.

If you’re following tip #1 and have a passion that you’re working to gain more time for, then you should be fine with giving up time-wasting habits lik watching TV shows you don’t really care about, browsing Facebook for more than a few minutes, etc.

6. Ride the “accomplishment high”.

Whenever I accomplish something big – be it making an awesome connection with someone, nailing an interview, or hitting Publish on a 14,000-word article, I get what I like to call an accomplishment high. I’m energized, focused, and ready for more. I’m sure you get this feeling as well – so take advantage of it! When you feel it, ride it and get another awesome thing done.

7. Create an accomplishment journal.

Want to keep some of the residual effects of your last accomplishment high? Keep an journal of the things you get done each day. When you look at it, you’ll see your past achievements and you won’t want to “break the streak” by doing nothing today.

8. Establish an end time to your work day.

Set an arbitrary daily deadline for all your work each day. Sean Ogle over at Location180 only lets himself work until noon each day. This helps to put some time pressure on you, which can motivate you to work faster.

9. Listen to good study/work music.

Try focus@will if you like listening to music while you work. I’ve been using it for a few weeks, and I think their productivity-minded music selections are amazing.

10. Use a proxy task manager.

Don’t use your main task manager as a daily to-do list – it can be overwhelming. Use a scrap of paper – or a throwaway system like Strike – to create a more manageable list of what you have to do today.

11. Go for two or three to-do’s per day at maximum.

Only put 2-3 things on your daily to-do list. Any more will make you susceptible to decision fatigue and Hick’s Law, and you’ll be likely to get nothing done at all. (Trust me, I’ve been there time and time again)

12. Get a buddy.

Work with a friend who is also working. You’ll motivate each other to keep going. This can work with more than two people as well, though you risk the work session devolving into an afternoon of dumb jokes and Duke Nukem soundboards.

13. Switch up your environment.

Experiment with working in new locations. I’ve found that a change of scenery can really help me get into the flow state and be more creative. You can also change your current environment; one easy thing to do is to just tidy up. Remember: messy room, messy mind.

14. Fight the system, man!

Do things when other people don’t do them. This is something I’ve been doing since I got out of my parents’ house, and it saves boatloads of time. Some examples: doing laundry on Saturday nights (only needed in dorms with shared laundry rooms), going grocery shopping at 10 P.M. or during the Super Bowl, etc.

15. Don’t let email run your life.

Create specific blocks of time for email – one or two a day. Don’t check your email at any other time. Resist the temptation to do so by closing your email’s browser tab if you usually keep it open.

16. Disable notifications on your phone.

Being constantly inundated with notifications of emails, Facebook updates, and tweets does you no favors. Turn off push notifications for your apps, and only check them when you’re taking a break from work.

17. Your email is not a task manager.

If you’re like me, having a bunch of to-do’s bound up in unanswered emails is really frustrating. Get tasks out of your email and into a task manager. Wunderlist is a great option.

18. Break down big projects into organized, manageable chunks.

Huge projects can seem impossible when you’re looking at them from a bird’s-eye view. Break projects down into specific, actionable chunks that you can get done in short amounts of time. Keep everything organized so you know what’s done and what’s still left to do. Web apps like Trello are really helpful for this.

19. Stop browsing distracting websites.

If you have problems with distracting websites, use a Chrome extension like StayFocusd to block them. (Check out my other favorite Chrome extensions for students as well!)

20. Build good habits.

Focus on building good habits around the things you have to do regularly; by doing this you’ll eventually be able to do regular tasks without suffering ego depletion. Using an app like Lift can help you to stay motivated while you’re building them.

21. Experiment with the times during which you get work done.

Try working at a different time of day. The early morning can be a great time to get work done, as everyone who could distract you will be asleep. You can also work late at night if it suits you – but remember to get enough sleep.

22. Limit decision fatigue.

Barack Obama has his assistants choose his outfits and meals so he doesn’t have to make those decisions. While you probably don’t have assistants, you could batch these types of decisions. Plan out your meals for the week on Sunday, for example. (Batching is also a useful technique in general – example: saving all your errands for one day of the week)

23. Do a brain dump when writing.

If you’re writing a paper and can’t think of what to say, first try doing a brain dump. Simply start writing whatever comes to mind, no matter how good it is. Pay no mind to structure or editing at this point. This will help you get all your ideas out before your brain can stifle them with doubts.

24. Find out what your best 20% is.

Remember the 80/20 Rule (aka the Pareto Principle) – usually 80% of your results stem from 20% of your efforts. Look at the things you do and try to identify the other 80% of those efforts. Can any of those things be eliminated?

25. Learn to say NO.

The more you do and the more you accomplish, the more opportunities that come your way – it’s as simple as that. People will want to work with you, get to know you, and get help from you. Unfortunately, you can’t do it all. Learn to say no to the things that don’t fit into your plan, so you’ll have time for the things that do.

26. Do the dishes.

Before you start your main work for the day, do the dishes. This is an easy, low-level task that doesn’t take much mental effort, so it can really help you to ease yourself into the working mindset before you dive into higher-level stuff. This video from Yaro Starak explains the idea:

27. Make time to exercise each day. 

You might think working out eats into your productive time, but you’ll gain that time back (and more) through the benefits exercising will bring you. Better mental clarity, focus, and creativity are just a few. Also, you’re more likely to not die so soon, so I guess that’s an added bonus.

28. Go outside if you feel like you can’t get anything done.

There are days when I feel stir-crazy and just can’t get anything done. My head feels like it’s full of static, and trying to do anything makes me feel stressed. However, I can usually overcome this feeling by going for a short walk and getting some sun. If you’re feeling the static, you should do this as well!

29. Use technology to become more efficient.

If there’s a task you do regularly, there’s probably some tech out there you could learn to use in order to do it better. Example: I taught myself how to use some advanced features of the Sublime Text editor, including multi-select. As a result, I was able to add the bold formatting for all 30 items in this post in about a minute.

30. Be MINDFUL.

This idea is simple but powerful: just be mindful of the things going on in your life. Regularly run checks in your brain on the things that affect you. When can you sign up for classes? When should you start looking for an apartment for next year? Asking these questions regularly can save you a ton of time and stress, and will generally help you get things done before other people do them – also known as “winning”.

Ska-doosh.

If you apply just one of these productivity hacks to your life now, I guarantee you’ll find yourself working better. Don’t stress yourself trying to implement them all today – just focus on one at a time, and soon you’ll become a productivity ninja!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my work is done for the day. Back to fine-tuning my incredibly annoying Magic: The Gathering deck.

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Photos: pikachu

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek and a wannabe pinball wizard (← as well as). After paying off $14K in student loans, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Facebook

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10 Comments:
  1. This is an awesome list, but I would add one more thing to it: Don’t be afraid to completely eliminate distractions. I blocked all of my “entertainment” websites from my work computer about a month ago, because whenever I was feeling lazy (which was pretty often) I would wander to one of those and lose up to two hours of work time. I use the Chrome app WebsiteBlocker, and it works great! I cannot believe how much more focused I am. 

  2. Hey Thomas,

    thanks for this great list!
    I’m already utilizing some of your tips but there’s always room for improvements.

    For example, I have no notifications on my phone, define the three most important tasks per day, check mail only twice per day and use a concentrating app when I’m blogging, writing or coding.

    The next thing to try will be the Pomodoro technique, I can’t wait to see the results!

    Best regards from Germany,
    Jan

    • Glad you found it useful, Jan! The Pomodoro technique is really helpful for the times when you’re feeling overwhelmed or just not able to get into your work.

    • Yep, it’s all about those habits! Once you’ve programmed yourself to do something regularly, willpower is no longer needed to do it.

  3. I feel the need to point out that rules 3 and 4 conflict with each other… The cost of switching tasks is high, yet you recommend we do so every 30 mins?

    • When I talk about multi-tasking, I’m referring to trying to do multiple things at the same time – writing a paper while actively texting someone, trying to study while watching a movie, etc. The 30-30 method does have you switch tasks every 30 minutes, but during each 30 minute session, you should be focused and on-task. You can get a heck of a lot done in 30 minutes if you’re focused.

      Also, you can definitely choose to alter the time intervals, and if you’re particularly inspired, not stop working at all.

    • Yep! I actually heard about this tip when Pat Flynn mentioned it in a podcast episode. I’ve been following Yaro’s blog ever since :)

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