Tired of the same old tips for how to manage time? We asked productivity experts to weigh in with what they consider their ‘weirdest’ tips.
Want to be more productive? Get up earlier, work in small bursts, exercise, and drink water. If I had a dollar for every article on the internet telling me to do these, I’d be richer than a Kardashian.
What about the things that you don’t hear constantly: the experiments, and the personal discoveries? The Eureka moments when those of us desperate to eke more time out of our day realize if I do this small thing I work so much better!
Employing some lesser-known hacks might be what you need to transition from stress-preneur to entrepreneur. Don’t worry, though, we’re only advocating legal techniques, unlike micro-dosing LSD which is currently the trending productivity hack in Silicon Valley.
To find some brand new productivity hacks, we asked some experts what they do to get the most from their day. Think you know it all already? You’re about to find out.
1. Work Against a Ticking Clock
Some of us work much better with deadlines. A study done by MIT professors to try to stop their students from procrastinating shows that deadlines help us work faster and smarter.
When we’re in school, we have the daily deadline of homework. In college, we have essays, and many jobs come with a boss who’s all-too-willing to breathe down our neck if something isn’t done within a certain timeframe.
When we become self-employed or freelance, how do we handle a freewheeling, deadline-less schedule? The answer, of course, is to set our own.
David Niu, the founder and CEO of TINYpulse, does this by setting up imminent death… of his laptop:
When I really need to buckle down, I grab my laptop, head to a coffee shop – and leave my laptop cord at home. When I’m at the mercy of my battery, I get focused faster and stay in flow state longer. I’m less likely to get distracted because I know I’d rather make the trip back with an achievement than a dead laptop.
Still not enough motivation when you really need to get something done? You can go out with a half empty, or even quarter empty battery. There’s nothing like buying a coffee, sitting down, and committing to a working in a cafe… only to find you’re at 20%. Why not artificially replicate this scenario?
2. Turn Your Mouse Into Speedy Gonzales
Productivity apps for your Mac can only take you so far if you don’t know your way round your Mac. And let’s face it, most of us don’t. These ridiculously powerful tools probably have a fraction of their potential used, so when it comes to hacking productivity, why not start by hacking your Mac’s?
Paul Minors, a virtual consultant helping businesses set up their productivity software, has his Mac working as fast as it possibly can:
It sounds silly, but turn your mouse speed up as fast as it’ll go (or do what I do and hack your MacBook to go even faster). When you get used to the faster speed you’ll be amazed at how much quicker you can navigate and get things done. And while you’re at it, learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can or use tools like TextExpander to speed up your typing!
If you’re planning to spend a lot of time using your Mac, then take some time to familiarize yourself with the shortcuts, and then practice using them until they’re second nature. Just as being able to touch type will free up time, not having to think about shortcuts will mean running many programs and systems at once will shave seconds off that add up to hours and days.
3. Don’t Just Hack Your Mac, Train Your Brain
Now we have our Macs working as fast as possible, so why don’t we train our brains to do the same?
Divya Parekh, a motivational speaker working with entrepreneurs, teaches them to make decisions faster. By automating the decision making process, she says, you can save time, energy, money, and be more productive.
To do this, she advocates a 3×24 rule.
Making a simple decision, like what to wear in the morning, or where to go for lunch? Take a pause of 24 seconds and evaluate your choice, before telling other people.
If you’re making a more complex decision, take 24 minutes to reflect and think it over. You can set a timer, get coffee, and make space to breathe.
For life-changing or critical decisions, sleep on it and take 24 hours.
This ties in well with our first tip: setting deadlines. Rather than agonizing and feeling pressure, having an automatic process in place of taking set amounts of time to think can help you make clearer decisions, as well as speed them up. Knowing you have 24 seconds, minutes, or hours helps with time and stress management by simultaneously giving you space to think, and setting a deadline.
4. Use Productivity Apps for Your Mac to Set Repeating Tasks
When we asked Frank Buck, author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders and member of Global Gurus “World’s Top 30 Time Management Professionals for 2018 for a tip, shine the spotlight is exactly what he did:
I am a fanatic about repeating tasks. Any responsibility that is going to come around annually, monthly, or weekly goes on my digital task list (I use Toodledo) with the proper repeat applied.
I have repeating tasks that remind me to give the dogs their heartworm pills, change the air filter, write the monthly pledge check to the church, and renew my driver’s license every four years. That’s just for starters. My list includes 211 repeating tasks. If you could trap all of yours in one place, you would likely have that many as well.
Sure, I would probably remember to do lots of them. But why chance it? And why endure waking up in the middle of the night racking my brain about what’s been forgotten? When you throw all the little things into your system on the front end and let your system toss them back when it’s time to act, you start to realize the total control and peace of mind that lets you graduate to the bigger things.
Repeating tasks are great for freeing up your mind, and the great thing is, you don’t have to do them all at once. After a dentist trip, schedule the next in for every 6 months, on repeat. Know how often you go through staples like milk and bread? Set up repeating tasks when you run out.
Amazon Subscribe and Save stops you running out of toilet paper and toothpaste, but repeating tasks automate your whole life.
5. Stop Being Busy and Start Being Productive
Want to be busy? Then… stop being busy. At least that’s what Aytekin Tank, CEO & Founder of JotForm advises:
One thing I strong believe in, even though it’s counterintuitive, is NOT being busy.
As an entrepreneur, I certainly can’t get caught up bragging about being busy. I need to produce. It took me a long time to learn this. When I was starting my company, I felt like I always had to be busy or I wasn’t doing it right. I would work 16 hour days, even though it wasn’t productive to do so.
But these days, I get more done by doing less. I take weekends off. I take week-long vacations with my family. I recharge. And I also focus on what’s actually important to get accomplished instead of burying myself in the weeds trying to always be working. It quickly turns into a race to the bottom.
We’ve grown to subconsciously measure a person’s worth based off how many hours they work, how much is on their plate and put simply — whether or not they are running around like a chicken with their head cut off.
6. Gamify Your Goals to Form Habits You Keep
You might have heard of gamification. It’s described by Bunchball as “the process of taking something that already exists – a website, an enterprise application, an online community – and integrating game mechanics into it to motivate participation, engagement, and loyalty.”
Gamification is how Mica Gonzalez, who blogs about entrepreneurship and productivity at MindofMica, sticks to what she starts on:
I like to stay productive by gamifying my goals and habits. Apps like Habitica work great for that, since you have a character whose progress depends on your ability to stay committed to your habits — but if I’m not using an app, I like to think of myself as my arch nemesis and I have to get better, get more work done every day, week, or month. I make myself my biggest rival basically, and that’s always a great motivator for anyone as Type A as myself.
If you’re Gamifying your productivity, why stop there? You can apply it to your fitness goals, healthy eating goals, or quitting a habit. After all, life’s too short to stop playing.
7. Get Some Downtime, From Vacations to Morning Meditation
As an entrepreneur, founder, or freelancer, taking time off can range from complicated to downright impossible. For most new freelancers, convincing them that they can ever go on vacation is about as easy as convincing a pig to ballet dance.
Maura Thomas, though, author of Personal Productivity Secrets and Work Without Walls, says her biggest tip is to take time off:
Many people think you can’t be productive unless you are working and constantly on task. However, recent studies make a convincing argument that not taking vacations is detrimental to your health. A vacation provides a crucial opportunity to recharge, refresh, refocus, and rejuvenate. Studies show that vacations are good for your weight and cardiovascular health, they lower your cortisol levels and your blood pressure, and may aid in recovery from diseases such as cancer.
You can actually be putting your physical, mental, and thereby fiscal health at risk when you skip vacation. The lives of Millenials and Gen-Xers include multiple devices that you are connected to all day, a constant deluge of hundreds of emails and other communications, and a “spinning” brain that keeps you awake at night trying to get everything done. A vacation gives you the opportunity to temporarily escape these demands.
Because we acclimate to increased stress levels, most people don’t recognize the toll this environment is taking on them, until that environment changes. But you only get the full benefits if you actually do disconnect from work. A change in environment not only provides a mental and physical break, but it allows us distance from our work and our lives that provides a new perspective, a creativity boost, and a clarity of thought. As an entrepreneur or freelancer, your success depends at least in part on the wisdom, experience, and unique perspective that you bring to your work. Your supply of unique creativity is not endless and, therefore, taking the time to recharge it means increased productivity and better results when you return.
Here are few quick fixes to help you take small breaks and be more productive, although they may seem contradictory.
- Make mental shifts. Can’t focus? Do a brain dump. Try a few minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing to clear your head. Then decide on the specific action items from the thoughts, and transfers those to your task list.
- Zone out. The next time you have a spare moment, instead of reaching for your phone or tablet, just let your mind wander. Your brain needs quiet time to make connections and generate insights.
- Think small. You don’t have to persuade yourself to do everything on your list; you only have to persuade yourself to do the NEXT thing. Sort by due date with only a few things due every day.
8. Plan Every Moment of Your Day
Do you find that the hours and minutes slip away without you knowing where they’ve gone? Mike Schmitz, who produces the Productivity Show Podcast, and writes about cool new apps and tricks at Asian Efficiency, recommends a planning everything from dawn to dusk.
If you really want to get the most out of your day, make sure you plan every waking hour with what you want to do. You are far more likely to get your important tasks done if you schedule the time on your calendar for it to be completed. You see, everything you need to do must get done within the context of time. That doesn’t mean that you have to put every task currently on your to-do list on your calendar, but you do need to make the time for the things that you’ve decided are important to happen. You MUST put the things you want to do on your calendar before that time gets assigned to something else by someone else.
Some people think I’m crazy for scheduling every hour of my day, but I always ask them, “how much of your time is important to you?” For me, it’s all important. I want to be intentional about how I am spending every hour of every day. And the way that I’m intentional about how I spend my time is I put it on my calendar. If you really want to make the most of your time, you have to tell it where to go.
If that sounds intimidating to you, don’t worry. Just because you’ve planned your day down to the second, doesn’t mean the world will end if it doesn’t go that way.
My second tip is to roll with the punches. One mistake I see people make all the time is trying to stick perfectly to this idealistic schedule that they’ve created. But life happens. Just because you’ve planned your entire day doesn’t mean that your day is entirely rigid. In fact, you may never have a day go exactly as you’ve planned it! But that’s ok. Former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower once said, ‘plans are useless, but planning is everything.’ It’s the not the plan for your perfect day that helps you be more productive, it’s the thought you’ve given to directing your attention in the direction you want it to go.
9. Stop comparing yourself to ‘productive’ people
Writing about productivity for Timing, I’ve become a bit of an expert myself. The tip that’s helped me the most, that you won’t hear other people say, is, simply — don’t compare yourself to others.
If you ask the average person to name a super productive entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss will be one of the first names they say. After all, he’s built himself an empire from doing things in only 4 hours a week: earning 6 figures, getting ripped, cooking a week’s worth of food… how can anyone who writes these books not be productive.
But my favorite post by him isn’t one about how productive he is, though. It’s an old one about how he isn’t productive. About how some days he snoozes the alarm for several hours, how he doesn’t like being alone, and how he fights the urge to escape the world.
More than anything, it’s about how he’s… wait for it… normal. Which means that the rest of us must be, too.
I love to read productivity blogs, but often they can leave me feeling less motivated at the end than at the beginning. These Titans of productivity fit so much into each day, what happens when they’re having an off day? Do they ever want to not deal with things, hit snooze, or grab a coffee with a friend?
When reading productivity blogs, it’s far too easy to compare. I find myself mentally going round in circles and beating myself up for not having as consistent a routine.
Which is why the biggest productivity hack that I never hear is: stop comparing yourself. What have you done that you’re proud of? What have you achieved? What’s your version of winning, rather than the version of your productivity idol?
There are literally thousands of ways to be productive, many specific to the individual. As shown by our experts, the possibilities for hacking your time are endless. You can train your Mac, your brain, and your body to work efficiently. You can turn your goals into a game, or take time out completely. If you’re looking to manage time effectively, start with a basic routine and some of the best productivity apps for Mac, like Timing. One day you, too, will be getting amounts done in a month that present day you can only dream of.
Want to know where you’re losing time, and what you’re really accomplishing in a day? Download a free trial of Timing, and find out.