There's a tonne of advice out there around how to be more productive and get more done. Below are my top tips to help you to stay organised, plan better and be more productive!
Check out my Periscope live stream where I talk about 8 of my favourite hacks!
Like this advice? Read in more detail about these ideas in my new post: How to be Productive: An In-Depth Guide.
1. Automate your calendar appointments (20 minutes to set up)
Your calendar is one of the most important tools in your productivity arsenal. Get more out of your calendar by automating regular appointments to recur on a weekly basis. Going to the gym, your work day, meditating, reading, planning and weekly reviews. These can all be scheduled and set to repeat every week.
I find this especially useful if you're trying to develop a particular habit like reading more or meditating in the morning. When you schedule it in your calendar, it's much easy to ingrain these habits into your routine.
You should aim to have the bulk of your weekly appointments set to repeat. So it's easy to plan the following week and sustain a consistent routine.
2. Meditate for 10 minutes a day
Meditation can help to reduce stress and anxiety while supporting creativity and focus. Better yet, benefits can be felt after just 10 minutes of meditation a day.
A 2012 US study found that those trained in meditation stay focussed for longer, make fewer task switches and perform at a higher level.
I recommend you get started with meditation by downloading the Headspace app which introduces you to mindfulness with just 10 minutes of practice per day. It's super easy, takes no time at all and is incredibly rewarding.
3. Read at least one book a fortnight (30 minutes a day)
This is one of my goals for 2016. The way I see it, if I can read one b0ok a fortnight, I can tap into some of the brightest minds of our time (and before) to improve myself and my routine. By learning from others, I can develop the habits that I need to perform at the highest level and get more done.
I also advocate reading compared to listening to an audio book. I believe that reading helps you to become a better writer (and writing is a skill everyone should cultivate). Reading also requires more focus and attention. Whereas you can multi-task and drift off while listening to an audio book in the car or at the gym. Therefore not only are you learning a valuable lesson, but you're also developing your ability to focus. Focus, as we all know, is vital for increased productivity.
4. Plan your day the afternoon before (10 minutes)
Schedule a 10-minute block in your calendar at 5 or 6 pm each work day. Use this time to plan the next day's tasks. By taking time the day before you can hit the ground running when you start your work day. You won't waste valuable mental energy deciding what to do.
Doing this will also help you to unwind and go to sleep at night as you're not worrying about what you need to do the following day. You've already decided how you're going to spend your time and don't need to worry about remembering all the important stuff you've got on.
When you plan your day, make sure you don't try and do too much. Pick 3 to 5 major tasks that will have a big impact on the project or goal you're working on. It's far better to focus more energy on a few high-impact tasks.'It's far better to focus more energy on a few high-impact tasks.'Click To Tweet
5. Take a 10-15 minute walking break during work hours
Don't fall slave to your desk and feel like you have to pump out a solid 8 hours or work each day. Take the time to stretch your legs, get some fresh air and collect your thoughts during a 10-15 minute walk each day.
We do this at work and go for a team walk at about 10 am each day. It's a great way to step back and assess what we're working on. We talk through ideas and always return to work refreshed and focused.
Make sure you schedule this on your calendar and make the commitment to yourself.
6. Save receipts to Evernote
I hate hanging on to scrap bits of paper and find a great way of storing valuable documents and information is inside Evernote. I use the Workflow app to quickly name and tag my receipts. They all follow the same naming structure and are organised into the right notebook with the right tags.
Check out Brett Kelly's workflow and add this to your iPhone for quick expense tracking (you can even access it from the notification centre).
7. Go to sleep 30 minutes earlier than normal
Getting enough sleep is vital for sustaining your focus and energy throughout the day. It’s been proven that sleep deprivation makes you slower, less creative, more stressed and under-perform. I aim for at least 7 hours a night. This is still a little less than I'd like, but it's enough to keep me focused and energetic throughout the day. Instead of watching that extra episode on Netflix in the evening, get an extra 30 minutes of sleep and set yourself up for a healthy and productive day.
8. Get up an hour earlier – getting more done
Instead of just banking the Zs, you can use this extra time to get up 30-60 minutes earlier. Use this time to read, meditate, journal or do some important work. I get up at 4:45 am and spend 30 minutes working on my side-business before meditating for 10 minutes and then heading off to work.
It's a great way to start the day as I can get some important work done. It's nice and quiet and there's little chance of being distracted.
9. Drink a big glass of lemon water first thing when you wake up
Studies have shown that drinking water with lemon is a great way to fire up your metabolism, rehydrate and energise your brain as soon as you wake up. The lemon supports digestion as it preps your stomach before it starts to digest food.
10. Keep a journal of your daily achievements and challenges (5 minutes)
The 5-Minute Journal is an excellent tool for recording your daily accomplishments and challenges.
Documenting your achievements helps you to develop a positive attitude as you celebrate the small wins in your life.
Identifying the challenges in your life helps you to identify the next steps you need to take to overcome your current obstacles.'Documenting achievements helps develop a positive attitude as you celebrate small wins in life.'Click To Tweet
11. Cut refined sugar out of your diet
Sugar is the enemy of productivity. Sugar creates spikes and troughs in energy as it quickly metabolises and passes through your system. This is why you can feel sluggish and tired in the afternoon. It's like fueling your fire with paper and sticks which are quick and easy to burn but don't last very long. It's far more sustainable to fuel yourself with healthy fats like avocado and nuts which burn for a lot longer.
12. Stop being impulsive online
It's very easy to be impulsive throughout the day as an article or video catches your attention. Instead of letting these distractions hijack your time, save any articles you come across for later reading using Pocket. You can then come back to them later when you've finished any necessary work or are relaxing in the evening.
13. Say “NO” to everything that's non-essential
When deciding whether to commit to something, you should only ever do it if your response is a “Hell YES!”. Otherwise, it's a “No”. As Derek Sivers writes, when you say “No” to most things, you leave more time and energy in your life to throw yourself into the “Hell YES!”
This is also a tactic taught in Essentialism by Greg McKeown (read my Essentialism book summary and download the PDF). In life, you should say “no” to the “trivial many” (all of the opportunities that come your way that don't matter). So you can say “yes to the essential few” (i.e. the few tasks that matter which will advance your project forward).
14. Listen to podcasts while you're driving, walking or running
Tim Ferriss, the host of the Tim Ferriss Show podcast, interviews the world's top performers to deconstruct the common traits among these world-class individuals. I've learned that one of the common characteristics among these top performers is the desire to be constantly learning.
With this in mind, I listen to about 7-10 hours of podcast content a week as they're an excellent source of information and learning.
To support your learning, next time you're in the car, walking or at the gym, turn on a podcast and use the time to learn something new.
Here are some recommended shows:
- The Fizzle Show – perfect for independent entrepreneurs.
- The Smart Passive Income Podcast – Hosted by Pay Flynn, who teaches you how to build an online business.
- The Tim Ferriss Show – as mentioned above.
15. Be positive
Being negative, complaining and doing nothing about your problems is easy. It's far harder to be positive and move past your problems and overcome challenges.
Being negative and allowing obstacles to trip you up will destroy your motivation and leads to procrastination. On the flip side, being positive and being able to enable progress by overcoming these obstacles is incredibly conducive of increased productivity.
16. Make time to relax and unwind (min. 1 hour a day)
Taking time out to relax and unwind is essential for creating balance in your life. Make sure you have a curfew in the evening for ending all “work.” This way you can relax with your friends or family, unwind with a book or watch some TV without feeling guilty.
It's impossible to always be operating at 100mph and taking the time out to recharge will help set you up to get more done the following day.'Taking time out to relax and unwind is essential for creating balance in your life. 'Click To Tweet
17. Surround yourself with productive, motivated and inspiring people
They say you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with the most. With that in mind, make sure you surround yourself with people you admire and who have traits you'd like to adopt. If there are any dead weights in your life who are dragging you down, work out how you can support them and lift them back up.
Of the people you admire, learn what you can about their habits and routines. Use this to determine what it is that they do that supports the traits and habits you'd like to adopt.
18. Schedule time for checking email (30-90 minutes a day)
Email is often one of the biggest consumers of our time that doesn't contribute much (if anything) to helping us progress with our projects and goals. It's often one of the things we check first thing in the morning at a time when our brains are fresh with energy and willpower. Instead of using this power to check email, schedule time later in the day for checking and replying to emails.
By adding this time to your calendar and sticking to it, you can also make sure that you're not spending more time on email that you'd like to. For example, if you want to spend less than 60 minutes a day on email, you could schedule two 30 minute appointments. One in the morning and one in the afternoon, for checking email and making sure you stick to this.
19. Know what you want to achieve
As Mike Vardy of Productivityist.com always says:
“Intention without attention is powerless. Attention without intention is directionless. Mindful productivity requires intention + attention.” – Mike Vardy
If you don't know what you're trying to achieve or have a clear sense of your goals then how do you know if you're working on the right things? If you don't know if you're working on the right things, how do you know if you're spending your time well?
Spend some time clearly defining your goals and review these on a regular basis. Conduct a weekly review to plan your time to make sure you're spending your time in the most effective way. And make sure that your time contributes towards these goals.
20. Eat well, mostly plants, not too much
As mentioned above, cutting refined sugar out of your diet is a great way of supporting your personal well-being and boosting your energy. Follow the good old mantra of: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Here's how:
- Don't eat anything someone who lives in the jungle wouldn't recognize as food.
- Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
- Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store.
- Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot.
- Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline.
Read more about Michael Pollan's 7 rules of eating.
21. Document the habits you're trying to improve (5 minutes a day)
I recently created a Habit Journal in Workflow for iOS to help track how I'm progressing with developing certain habits like reading and meditating. The issue with doing these things, it's with making them a daily habit that I can sustain over time. I use the habit tracker to document how much time I spend doing each of these things during the day.
Spend a few minutes to record how long you've spent reading, meditating and thinking. You can also document your major achievements from the day and list anything you'd like to improve on next.
The tracker creates a daily appointment in your calendar with your results. You can go back and look at that days progress. It also adds the results to a note in Evernote where you can view all your daily entries in one place.
Download the workflow and feel free to customise it, however, you like to track different habits that are suitable for you.
22. Focus more on less. Ask yourself, “Can I realistically get all this done today?”
Don't try and do too much on a daily or weekly basis. It's far more beneficial to focus more energy on a few vital tasks compared to constantly switching between dozens of things.
Scheduling time in a calendar allows you to realistically see how you're time is being spent and whether you can fit everything in. When you add a task to your calendar, you have to allocate an amount of time to it. Therefore, you may find you've added a few tasks to your day, and there's no time left. You can't squeeze anything more in without sacrificing the time you've allocated to the initial tasks. So you have to re-arrange or defer it for later.
Of course, this depends on you being realistic with how much time you allocate to a task.
23. Make other people happy
When the people around you are on your side and supporting you and your goals, it's easier to stay composed and get more done.
To get people on your side, make your goal to make other people happy. When you support other people not only will they feel the desire to reciprocate and help you back, you'll feel happier as a result. As social beings, we have been programmed to feel good when we help others as it supports the survival of our race.
Every day aim to make someone happy. This can be done with as little as a warm greeting in the morning, listening to their ideas or showing them a smile.
24. Make small increments of progress every day instead productivity “spikes”
Productivity can occur in a few ways; 1) you can have moments where you get lots done in a short space of time followed by big lulls in progress. Or 2) you can make small and steady progress on a regular basis throughout the day.
While the first approach can be great for finishing last minute projects or meeting a tight deadline, it's not ideal, and when you find yourself in a lull of productivity, it can be hard to overcome procrastination and get yourself out.
If you're working on a project or goal, have an objective each day to make just a small amount of progress. If you have a deadline that's a few weeks away, make a little start in the beginning. This tiny win will create momentum and help you to take the next step and the next one. Before you know if, you're done and dusted.
25. Keep your calendar open and up to date
By now you'll have noticed that your calendar is an essential tool for organising your time and keeping you on track. With this in mind, keep it open and up to date throughout the day.
Feel free to move appointments around and change their duration as you need to. This is a flexible tool and should be continually updated to reflect how you're spending your time (in the past and the future) which can be looked back on later. As you update your calendar, you'll learn more about how you spend your time so you can make better decisions later.
For example, I find I often have to increase the length of time I allocate to a task as I've misjudged how long something would take. Now I try to overestimate the duration of tasks so I can avoid making this mistake again.
26. Don't try and remember everything
As productivity expert David Allen always says:
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”
When you try and remember everything you need to do and all of the details of your work you're inevitably going to forget about essential details and tasks. With this in mind, aim to get everything out of your head and into your productivity “system”. Your task list is where you should organise all of the things you need to DO. Tools like Evernote and Dropbox are great for storing reference material, ideas, documents and all of the information related to your work.
When you do this, not only will you be more organised, you'll find you stress less as you no longer worry about remembering everything.
27. Conduct a weekly review
The weekly review is used to reflect on what you’ve achieved over the previous week, take stock of your current situation and plan for the upcoming week. It doesn’t have to be a massive process and by investing just a small amount of time on a Sunday afternoon to plan your week, you’ll be amazed at well this sets you up for success.
Learn more about how to conduct a 30-minute weekly review.
28. Save great articles to Evernote
Whenever you come across a great article that contains valuable information that you can use later, save it to Evernote for future reference. Use the tag “Article” or “Blog Post” to group all of these articles together.
When you need something to read, you can then go back and reflect on your most valuable lessons by reviewing everything in your “Article” tag. Perhaps there's a lesson in there you forgot to implement. Or maybe you could benefit from revisiting a valuable lesson.
29. Group tasks into “Waiting” and “Next Actions”
A handy way of grouping your tasks is using the following tags or labels (depending on what task management app you're using):
“Waiting” – This is where all of the tasks where you're waiting on someone to get back to you before you can continue.
“Next Actions” – These are the quick and easy tasks you can knock off when you have a spare second. These are low-energy tasks that don't require too much thought or time to complete.
30. Automatically share Instagram pictures to Twitter (5 minutes to setup)
Not exactly a great work-hack, but for all you Instagram users (who also use Twitter), a handy way of sharing your pictures natively on Twitter (so that the image appears within the Tweet) is to use an IF recipe to automatically share all Instagram images on Twitter.
31. Create and organise unique passwords with 1Password
This is hands down one of the best apps I've purchased recently. 1Password allows you to create and store secure passwords in one place. With the Chrome/Safari extension, you can then quickly login to any of your online accounts without having to memorise long, cryptic passwords.
1Password is also great for storing recovery codes, passport information, credit card details, software licence keys and other sensitive information. And, as you would expect, the info syncs to all of your devices so you can access all your important login info wherever you are.
32. Share your goals
As written by FastCompany, sharing your goals with others can make it more likely that you'll achieve them. Sharing your goals with others creates a sense of accountability as you want to remain consistent with what you have told others you're going to do. You'll also benefit from the positive reinforcement and support from the friends and family members you share your goals with.
So go ahead, tell everyone your goals and achieve more!'Sharing your goals with others creates a sense of accountability as you aim to remain consistent.' Click To Tweet
33. Don't share your goals
Or, on second thoughts, keep your goals to yourself!
“Once you've told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”
You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”
So, what are you supposed to do? Share your goals or keep them to yourself?I recommend you
I recommend you try both. Take a goal and experiment with sharing it with others. Similarly, try keeping another goal or project to yourself and see how you get on. As with most productivity tactics, you have to do what works for you and your situation.
34. Don't leave files on your desktop. Use the downloads folder as a holding bay.
It's very easy to let files and documents stack up on your desktop. Instead of letting your desktop get overly cluttered and making it harder to find important files, be sure to triage your files and store them in the appropriate place. Use Dropbox and Evernote for storing valuable reference material and documents you're working on.
I like to use the Downloads folder as a temporary holding bay for any documents I don't need to keep e.g. attachments I'm about to email and delete afterwards.
Whatever works for you, get into the habit of clearing your Downloads folder and desktop by deleting the non-essentials and filing away anything you'd like to keep for later.
35. Learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can
One of the best ways to be more efficient on the computer is to learn as many shortcuts as you can. This makes it very quick to navigate between apps, tabs and files and make edits to documents and projects.
In order to learn as many shortcuts as you can, anytime you do something on your computer like close a window, select a document or open a new tab on your browser, see if there's a way to achieve the same result using your keyboard instead of the mouse.
36. Track and categorise your monthly income and expenses
To be more efficient with how you spend those valuable Dollars/Euros/Pounds (and so on), make sure you track how you're spending and saving your income:
“What gets measured gets managed”
I like to use an app called PocketSmith (you can also try Mint.com) to categorise our expenses so I can see where our money goes. It's only when you understand where it's going that you can make changes to your spending habits and improve your personal finances. With this improved understanding, you can make informed decisions around where to make cutbacks so you can increase your savings and reallocate where your money goes.
37. Automate your bill payments and monthly expenses (30-60 minutes to setup)
Life is too short for paying bills. Where possible, set up as many of your monthly expenses to be paid automatically via a credit card as you. Things like your power, internet expense, phone bills and other utilities can all be set up as automatic payments.
If you're good with money, it can be beneficial to put everything on your credit card so you can collect more rewards points.
Disclaimer: I am not a financial adviser and please don't take this as legal, financial advice.
38. Do something that excites you
As I've talked about before on the blog, doing something you care about is one of the best things you can do to improve your productivity.
Loving what you do will contribute more to your productivity than any app or system can ever hope of doing. When you work on something you care about you’ll find ways of being more productive because you’re constantly pursuing a goal you care about.
I highly recommend the Find Your Why course. It had a huge impact on me and gave me a lot of clarity around what I should be focusing on.
If you need to find more meaning in your work, try talking to your boss and asking them questions like:
- Why does this company exist?
- What does this company believe in?
- How is this company trying to make the world a better place?
By answering these questions, you can bring more meaning to your work. It’s a bit like the case of the two builders laying bricks. One said they were building a wall, where the other said they were building a cathedral.
Focus on the big picture.
39. Always be testing
There's a lot of productivity advice out there and I'm constantly coming across new ideas, productivity systems and methods to test.
Your productivity system and routine will never be finished (sorry to all you perfectionists). Don't get too carried away with testing every new idea, but feel free to experiment with new methods for being productive. Every now and then you'll come across a tactic that takes you to that next level or a new way of organising your life.
So go ahead, have fun testing and refining your productive routine.
40. If you want to do it, schedule it
Have you ever said something like: “I need to read more” or “I know meditation is good for you, I just can't find the time”? I know I have.
I've come to learn that if you want to get something done, you need to schedule it. For me, meditating was one of those things. I really enjoy it, and I know how beneficial it can be for my personal well-being and productivity, it's just tricky to make it a consistent habit. Which is why I've now scheduled it in my calendar for every weekday at 5:30 am.
The same goes for tasks you want to complete and projects you'd like to work on. If you wish to get stuff done, schedule the time to do the job.'If you wish to get stuff done, schedule the time to do the job.'Click To Tweet
41. Nap during the day (20 minutes)
Napping during the day can be incredibly beneficial for your productivity. As discussed by the virtual mentor, Michael Hyatt, napping can restore your alertness, helps to prevent burnout and boosts performance.
Napping is a habit practiced by many of the world's historical top performers like Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Elenor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
HealthyAmbition.com recommends napping for 10-15-minutes and notes “Some experts recommend naps as short as 6 minutes, while others recommend 20-minute naps. They all work, more or less, as long as you’re not napping for more than 30 minutes, which is when your brain starts to slip into la-la land.”
If you struggle to make napping a consistent part of your routine (like me), then follow the previous step and schedule time for it in your calendar.
42. Use a “Someday” tag in Evernote to document ideas for later
I have lots of ideas. So do most people. That's not to say we should always pursue these ideas right here and now. In fact, dropping what you're doing and taking on a new project or pursuing a new idea can be detrimental to your productivity as you divert your energy onto tasks that don't matter as much as you think.
That's why I like to document my ideas and future projects with a “Someday” tag in Evernote because I don't want to forget about it, but I also don't want to do it right now.
You can then make it a habit to review all the notes with the “Someday” tag once a month or when you come to the end of a big project.
43. Track your activity and sleep with a FitBit
Living an active lifestyle is a great way of boosting your energy and sustaining your mental efficiency throughout the day.
I've always been active and make it a habit to exercise regularly. But since getting the FitBit Charge HR I've been given a level of awareness I just never had before.
The FitBit Charge HR shows you key health and exercise metrics like steps walked, flights climbed, heart rate, calories burned and even hours slept, motivating you to stay active and look after your health.
I believe that since wearing the FitBit and getting this new awareness of how active I am I've taken steps to up my game. Some days when I've been stuck in front of the computer too long, I see this on my step count, and so I'll go out for a walk or run to get the blood flowing.It's
It's these kinds of small changes that add up to make a big difference.
44. Sort and clear old files from your computer
Make it a habit to remove any unnecessary or old files from your computer as you no longer need them. Schedule this in your calendar to repeat once every three months and use the time to free up some hard drive space and declutter your computer.
45. Keep on top of Evernote tags and notebooks
If you're a heavy Evernote user like me, you'll have a tonne of notebooks and tags where you organise your work. It's very easy to let your notebooks and the number of tags you have get out of control.
Spend a few minutes now and then going through your notebooks and review how you structure and organise your notes. Is there a better way to organise everything? I'll try and use as few notebooks as possibly, while still keeping everything organised separated into relevant areas.
Likewise with tags, make it a habit of going through and deleting any old or unused tags. We've all done it – created a tag and only ever used it for one note. If this is the case, either use the tag more (if it's relevant and useful) or delete it.
46. Digitise all important documents and throw away the paper
I don't know about you, but when I have to organise paper documents, it feels like a real drag. I dislike hanging on to arbitrary paper documents which is why I'll digitise and store everything either in Evernote or Dropbox.
Use a “Document” tag to group all physical documents together. You can then throw away the original – just be sure to shred it if the info is sensitive.
47. Share videos and screenshots with tech support staff
If you work online and find yourself dealing with tech staff on a regular basis, you can save everyone a lot of time by sending through screenshots or videos of any technical issues you're having.
For example, when I have issues with my website (it happens), I can take a screenshot and attach this with my support request when contacting my host.
This can be a massive time saver and helps technical staff to diagnose and solve your problem.
48. Use a “chat transcripts” tag in Evernote
Following on from this last point, if you ever talk to support staff via an online chat service, be sure to have the chat transcript emailed to yourself afterwards. Usually, you can do this from the chat window yourself, or you can ask the staff member to email it to you.
I don't know how many times I've had to ask myself: “what did they say about that issue again?” but didn't have a transcript to refer to.
Save these to Evernote with the “Chat Transcripts” tag and if you have a repeat of the same technical problem, you can revisit your old support request.
49. Archive your email
This is pretty straight forward, but so many people don't do it – archive (don't delete) your mail.
Just looking at that long list of messages can be daunting and you'll free up so much mental energy and lower your stress levels if you reduce the amount of email you have to deal with.
Only keep messages in your inbox if the email:
- Requires an action.
- Requires a response.
- You're waiting for a reply.
Everything else can be archived and kept out of sight.
50. Triage email
We'll end with a final email hack which is to triage your email. By that I mean sort through and decide what needs to be done with a message to make your next actions clearer. I like to apply one of the 4 D's:
- Do it – If the message requires a response or quick action, do it if it'll take less than 2 minutes.
- Defer it – If the message requires more thought or a bigger action, defer it for later. You could even send the message to your task list and then archive it from your inbox to be even tidier.
- Delegate it – In a work environment, if you can give the email to someone else to deal with and it doesn't require your time, then delegate it to someone else.
- Drop it – This can be a massive time saver. Don't be afraid to archive messages that don't deserve your time. If you get a lot of cold emails from people, then feel free to archive or delete these if they're not important and don't deserve your time.
Of course with email, only triage these messages during your scheduled email time and avoid the need to triage these messages as they come in. Batching your email and triaging a bunch of messages at once is much more time efficient.