Upgrade Your Productivity: Top Productivity Hacks

By on March 2, 2020

This year, I’ve written a book, experienced my first full year as a parent, earned a diploma, and managed effectively three businesses. Those three businesses include running this site, and getting the YouTube channel up to 100,000+ subscribers, working as a tech journalist for Android Authority – including traveling to various events, and writing up to 10,000 words a day for writing clients on top of all that. Somehow, I still managed to maintain some semblance of a social life, stay in pretty good shape, and watch all of Parks and Recreation.

Productivity Hacks

But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t come close to burn out at times. There have been days where my work load has seemed overwhelming, and where I’ve been so in my own head that I made some pretty dumb mistakes.

But that’s improving. And I’ve only been able to manage this work/life balance at all because of some pretty useful productivity hacks, tools, and rules. For others that are struggling to keep multiple balls in the air, here are some of my favourite strategies.

Eat the Frog

Eating the frog essentially means doing the biggest and most important task of the day first. I completely agree with this philosophy: everything else is just a distraction.

If I’m starting my working day, and I need to write a 10,000 word ebook on top of other things, you can bet I’m going to sit down and write that thing before I do anything else. If you have two unpleasant and important tasks, then you’re going to do the biggest and worst one first.

Productivity hacks

That’s why I get so frustrated with clients who want to send lots of emails, or have lots of discussions. My philosophy is that if you want me to do something… just let me bloody do it!

That big important task is probably the one that will provide the most value to your clients

Why does this work? Because you need to have the maximum amount of energy to tackle the biggest and most difficult task. Because that big important task is probably the one that will provide the most value to your clients/customers/followers, and because you can’t “squeeze” this one in later, like you can with everything else.

Apart from anything else, eating the frog is great training that will help you to build better productivity habits.

Apparently this expression comes from a Mark Twain quote:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Also, you should get a new job.

Setting Rewards

In the book How to Save an Hour Every Day, author Michael Heppell recommends that the first thing you do when you start work not be to make coffee. Rather, you should use coffee as a reward for doing a big chunk of work on something that you need to do (that frog) and set that as a goal. For instance, you might make coffee only once you’ve written 2,500 words. The same goes for answering emails: perhaps you can look at emails once you’re at 4,000 words?

Reward for productivity

Now, instead of starting your REAL productivity at 9.30 after you’ve made coffee and answered your emails, you’re starting work immediately and jumping straight in. By the time you have that first coffee, you’ve polished off a ton of work and you feel far less overwhelmed. I highly recommend this one, especially because you’ll often find that you end up pushing yourself to do even more before you have that first reward!

Leave a Job Unfinished

Here’s a counter-intuitive way to gain more motivation to do work. If you know that you’re going to have to write 10,000 words tomorrow, then you should try writing 500 words of that at the end of the previous day before you sign off. This actually makes you more likely to jump back into work easily the next day, because we hate leaving work unfinished! Not only that, but starting work cold is the hardest part – if there are also some words on the page, or numbers in the spreadsheet, then it’s far less jarring to jump back in tomorrow.

Just Write (Or Code, Or Enter Data)

If you sit down to work and you find that you still can’t focus, then you should follow another rule: just start. Writers’ block doesn’t just affect writers, it affects people in all lines of work. It’s hard switching gears from “just woken up” to “highly productive.”

Productivity tricks

The only way to get into a productive flow is to start doing something. That means typing out your essay, even when you don’t feel like it’s your best work or you’re properly engaged with the task. You’ll then find that the work starts to come more easily the more you get into it, and you can always go back to fix the earlier stuff later.

This will not only make you more productive in the moment, but ultimately act like training for getting in the zone!

The One Minute Rule

Tim Ferriss says you should close “open loops” as fast as possible. That means things like answering emails and saying no to invitations. In other words, anything small that you really don’t want to do, that is causing you any amount of stress. So how do we justify this in light of eating the whole frog?

Simple: you do those tasks as soon as they come in, such that you never have a long list of small, menial jobs! Abide by what is known as the “one-minute rule”: if something will take less than a minute to complete… do it right now.

Todoist

That means answering that What’s App message from an old friend, it means booking your MOT online, it means putting the plates into the washing machine…

The only exception is when you’re deep in work. When you are focussed purely on your work, you should turn off all distractions (meaning you turn off notifications), in order to focus 100% on what you’re doing. Once you take that break though, polish off anything that will take under a minute.

Deep work

Suddenly the house is tidy, and you’re not stressed because you have 1,000 things playing on your mind! It’s game changing. These kinds of tasks shouldn’t even make it onto your to-do list.

Things that will take more than a minute meanwhile should be added to a to-do list to be done at a specific point in time later on. Set aside some time during your day for ticking off menial tasks, so that you don’t let them build up. Writing them down will help to get them off your mind in the meantime.

I really like the app Todoist for this, and I’ve just bought myself an Apple Watch so I can see my list of to-dos right there on my wrist!

The Time In-Between

Another tip is to make use of the time in-between work to prep for the work you’re going to have to do. It’s really important that you switch off from work at some point, but if you’re bored in the car, or if you’re standing in a queue, then you can use this time in order to think about article structures, or how you’re going to overcome a particularly tricky coding challenge.

Also this is awesome. Sometimes my friends or family catch me staring into space and then ask what I’m doing.

“Programming.”

And if you really love what you do, then this changes everything. I LOVE writing for the Bioneer, so to me researching topics about training, productivity, and neuroscience IS downtime. I’m more than happy to think about article structures while I’m cooking, to listen to audio books while I’m going around Tesco, or to sit and flick through articles on the iPad. Like many people, I’ve recently been using an app called “Notion” to keep track of all my different articles and ideas. I can create lists of topics, and then turn the items on that list into full-blown articles that

If you’re standing in a queue, then you can use this time in order to think about article structures

The right tech makes a big difference here. I love my GPD Pocket for writing when I’m relaxing, because it’s small size and screen mean that I never feel like I’m absorbed in work when it’s meant to be down time. Likewise, I enjoy listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I cook and drive using a pair of headphones. This way I can learn what I need to know for my next article while doing something else productive.

Learning with headphones

Do all this, and when you sit down to start work on Monday, you’ll have the article structure and research, or the solutions to all your coding problems ready to go. That massively reduces friction and means you’ll be able to get started in minutes!

Temptation Bundling

Alexander Smith Jr., author of Atomic Habits provides another useful strategy that can help you to get motivated when you’re not feeling like doing the thing you’re meant to be doing. This is to “bundle” that thing you need to do with an activity that you really enjoy.

For example, if you love cappuccino but hate logging your expenses, you simply combine these two activities so that you drink cappuccino while logging them. Ideally, this will be something that you especially enjoy and that you wouldn’t usually indulge in. The reason for this is that you’re only going to allow yourself that indulgence when you carry out that unwanted task. The only way you get the fancy cappuccino is if you report your expenses!

Gaining Inspiration

All this becomes much easier if you’re inspired: if you’re excited for the project you’re about to work on. That’s why I’m happy to spend my free time researching Bioneer articles. And it’s why I can bash out 10,000 words on fitness FAR more easily than 10,000 words on Corona Virus (which is something I’ve been asked to do).

Notion app

While you can’t always pick and choose your projects, if you’re consistently being required to do work you find dull, then something is wrong and you should consider a change (though I acknowledge that not everyone can simply switch jobs on a whim!). If you must do work you don’t find inspiring, then try to find something to take pride in in that job. Try to complete it as quickly and as well as possible. Be the best damn letter-stuffer ever! You’ll instantly engage with the task more.

Better yet, look to inspiring examples of the very best work of this type. Use those pinnacles as a way to see the potential craft on display, and to motivate you to create something you can actually get excited about.

Ultimately, if you find what you’re doing inherently rewarding and inspiring, then you’ll never struggle with productivity again!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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