Life hacking is the art of finding easier and faster ways to do things in different areas of your life while achieving the same or even better results. Some popular areas that life hacking focuses on are metabolism, sleep cycles, confidence, and even relationships. The fact is, there are simple, effective ways to do more in less time, and finding those tricks can help you achieve more of your potential, accelerate your learning, and get rid of obstacles that you may not have realized were holding you back.
The area we want to focus on today is work productivity. If you take an honest look at your workday performance, are there areas where you’re losing focus or not managing your time well? The key to boosting your productivity is by learning how to work smarter, not harder. Here are four strategies to help you make more of your time to get more done in less time.
1. CREATE THE IDEAL WORK ENVIRONMENT
The environment you’re in is directly related to how productive and focused you are. Take a moment and look at your workspace right now. Is it cluttered? Poorly lit? Too cold or too hot?
A study out of Princeton University’s Neuroscience Institute found that clutter limits your capacity to take in information visually, and elevates cortisol levels in your brain, leading to higher stress levels. This means it’s harder for you to focus on your tasks and take in less information in a cluttered environment.
The best hack is to find the ideal workspace for you. Whenever possible, make sure it’s designated for work only. From there, the key is to be honest with yourself. Clean is different for everyone, and so is organization. Having a spotless desk might make your workday harder. Or you might actually feel stressed trying to find the ideal organization tricks. But those might also be stories you tell yourself so that you don’t have to put in the time cleaning and organizing. It’s up to you to know the difference.
There’s nothing wrong with having a pristine space. But if having everything in a specific spot makes your work inefficient, then that isn’t ideal. Pictures of your family might help you stay focused and motivated, or maybe a full bookshelf keeps reference materials within arms reach. Find the organization method that works for you, and create your space around that.
Remember: organized does not equal perfect. The important thing is that it feels clean and organized to you. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your workspace through a lens of tough love. And schedule time at the end of your day to tidy your office, making it easy to start your workday in the morning.
Once you find the best way to store your items and organize your space, look at lighting and temperature. If you can’t move your desk next to a window, consider buying a sun lamp. Florescent lights have been shown to cause eye strain and induce migraines at much higher frequency than other types of lighting. Proper lighting has been shown to boost productivity levels in workers across multiple industries. Natural light, or bulbs that mimic natural light, improve mood and can even increase immunity.
Finally, take a look at the temperature. Whether your environment is too hot or too cold will impact your ability to perform at your best. A study found the ideal temperature for productive work is around 69.8–71.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Another study out of Cornell found that errors decreased by as much as 44% and output increased by 150% when the temperature was kept within that ideal range.
If you can’t control the thermostat, try to find solutions that you can control. Maybe having a space heater or small fan can help raise or lower the temperature directly in your space. Keep layers in a drawer so you can adjust what you’re wearing accordingly.
These small changes in your environment can reap enormous rewards in terms of how much you get done during your workday.
2. MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR EVENINGS
We talk a lot about the importance of a morning routine. Starting your day right is instrumental in unlocking your productivity. But often, that routine needs to start the night before so you don’t waste time, energy, and focus trying to figure out where to start every day.
One way to do this is never leave a small task for the next day. If it takes five minutes or less, do it that night. This might mean you need to evaluate where your time in the evening goes. It might take only a few minutes to take the trash out in the morning, but that gives you five more minutes to get focused on your day rather than worrying about remembering the trash.
Relaxation is important, but it’s equally important to notice how much time is going to television or social media. Make sure to schedule time in the evening to look at your task list and get as much done as you can without interfering with your sleep.
Do you have a bedtime routine? Studies show that having a routine helps your brain wind down after a busy day. You don’t want to have exposure to screens with blue light (television, phones, and computers) for two hours before you go to sleep.
Part of this routine can be tasks to help your morning go smoothly. Things like putting out clothes to wear the next day, having your breakfast, lunch, and even dinner figured out and accessible, and creating your to-do list for the next day. Sleep studies have shown that writing your tasks out the night before can alleviate worry and stress, helping you fall asleep faster and staying in deep sleep longer. This also helps you start the morning focused and ready to tackle your key priorities.
Be disciplined about taking your work home. It can be tempting to add emails or take a quick look at a project in the evening, but that changes your brain into higher level executive function, keeping you alert and focused when you should be trying to shift into a restful state. Never take work to bed, but try to put a hard stop on what time you end your workday. Break the habit of checking your email constantly, adding it to your task list for the following day.
After you’ve prepared for tomorrow, take some to reflect on today. Writing in a gratitude journal has been shown to reduce stress, increase your overall sense of wellbeing, and lead to more restful sleep. Look at your task list and note how much you achieved. That helps you feel a sense of momentum and satisfaction that will carry throughout the next day. Meditation can help calm your body and mind, which can then help you fall asleep faster.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, the end result is procrastination. Indecision and doubts make that lack of productivity even worse. An evening routine helps with this in two ways. First, it helps you prepare for the following day, erasing both indecision and doubt. You wake up knowing exactly what needs to get done. But relaxing and getting a good night’s sleep also helps recharge your energy stores, giving you the focus, concentration, and ability to execute higher level executive functioning throughout the day.
3. USE TECHNOLOGY
There’s an app for just about everything these days. And while too much technology can be overwhelming, learning how to utilize it as a productivity boost can provide you with the tools to take your workday to the next level.
Using a digital calendar can make scheduling easy and effective. This isn’t just for your benefit. A family calendar helps everyone keep track of important events and lets everyone know exactly how to find each other in emergencies. With your co-workers, rather than a flurry of emails scheduling a meeting, it’s as easy as finding an open time that fits everyone’s current schedule. If one or two people are unavailable, it’s more streamlined to work directly with them rather than involving everyone.
A calendar can also be a good way to track your projects. If you own your own business, or have to bill clients, this can be an effective way to track your time while also helping you stay on task. And if you work form a company that requires reporting your work at the end of the month, this can save you time. By keeping your calendar organized, you can get these end of month details in minutes. This can also help you plan for future projects, as you’ll begin to see exactly how much time certain tasks take.
Finally, a calendar can help you designate uninterrupted work time within your workplace. One of the best productivity hacks is learning how to unlock the elusive flow state. We’ve talked a lot about how to find your flow, keys to unlocking your flow, and obstacles that can get in the way. Once you understand how to achieve flow state, having that uninterrupted time to work is vital to staying in that highly productive state. Blocking out time signals to your coworkers that this is your time to work free of interruption and distraction.
There any number of other shared tools you might use to help streamline communication with your team. Google docs and Microsoft Teams are two examples, where you can share documents, calendars, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. This offers fast collaboration across time zones, work schedules, and remote office work. You don’t have to wait for emails, you can simply update the documents and projects directly and in real time. There are apps that allow you to break down projects across an organization with check-ins, assignments, and updates conveniently located in one place. It might take some time up front to learn these tools, but once implemented, they can save you countless hours and increase the speed of not just your work, but the entire organization.
If you need help staying on task, you can download app blockers that prevent you from accessing certain websites or apps—like social media—during specific time frames or for a set period of time. Focus trackers help you implement the Pomodoro technique and remind you to take necessary brain breaks for healthy snacks, hydration, and physical movement.
While social media is often seen as a distraction, for many types of work it’s necessary. You can find an automation tool that helps you create content and post without having to actually get on the app, helping you minimize your time spent scrolling. These tools can also help you understand your analytics so that you’re targeting the right audience effectively. Many of these tools are free and easy to use, making them even easier to implement as part of your day.
Finally, being able to use workplace communication tools like Slack can help ensure fast communication across multiple team members. Video technology can make meetings easier to schedule and execute, allowing people to join from anywhere—including their desk. Why walk across a building, where you might detour afterwards or get caught up in a lengthy conversation when you can stay focused and in work mode.
Technology can be a very sharp, double-edged sword, so we do advocate using it deliberately and with purpose. The last thing you want to do is add more time to your already busy day. But by finding the right tools, technology can reduce time spent on certain activities, help broker effective methods of communication, and streamline your processes to maximize productivity.
4. BREAK UP YOUR DAY
It’s common to look at your day as one chunk of time. You go to work, come home, go to bed, wake up and repeat. But what if you could break your day up into separate blocks of time and treat them as individual days?
Last year, we had entrepreneur Ed Mylett on our show where he talked about his time-management hack to get more done. He explained that he breaks his day down into three distinct days. By doing this, he can separate his tasks into morning, afternoon, or evening, effectively maximizing his time in each time slot.
This practice helps you establish better habits and routines because you’re not wasting any time in your day. You have a certain amount of work to get done in your morning chunk, a break, and then shift to your afternoon tasks. You’ll start naturally discerning where certain activities belong, helping you get more done in less time.
You’re actually tricking your brain into being more productive. Doing that task “tomorrow” becomes doing it in the afternoon or evening. You’ll feel more pressure to stay focused because you have less time in your “day” when it’s shortened from twenty-four hours to six. You also give yourself a chance to bounce back from a bad “day” by regaining your momentum in the next chunk.
It can take some time and practice adjusting your mindset to seeing one day as several, but once you do, you’ll find yourself falling into a steady routine that gets more done every day. This will also help you fine-tune some basic habits like what time should you wake up and go to sleep to be at your best, when your best chunk for physical tasks and chores are versus higher cognitive work, and when to schedule your more social or people-friendly activities.
This schedule also helps you delineate between work and play times. You’ll be more present in social activities and family time because you’ll feel like you had two productive work “days” by the time you begin your evening “day”. And with breaks between each, you can ensure you’re getting plenty of time for nutritious meals throughout your day.
While life hacks are meant to make your life easier, they do require dedication, discipline, and effort to implement. But once you have your routines and habits in place, these strategies will help usher in a whole new level of productivity in your daily life. Soon, you’ll be getting more done in less time with more energy and momentum than ever before.