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10 Easy Productivity Hacks to Help You Crush Your Workday
This article originally appeared on the storEDGE blog.
When I was 24 I found out I had been wrapping my headphone wires wrong my whole life.
Okay, maybe you think there really isn’t a “wrong” way to wrap headphone wires. But there is a way that can save you time. And once you discover that, perhaps you find the real trick to folding a fitted bed sheet. Welcome to the wonderful world of life hacks. The Internet is amazing.
These lightbulb moments are more than just fun: they can improve your daily life in a variety of ways. Life hacks got me through college and my first job. (Did you know you can make oatmeal using a Keurig?!) If you want to get more done in your day and start working smarter, not harder, you can - and it’s easier than you think. Start with these pro tips.
1. Use micro-habit tracking to challenge yourself to be more productive.
Micro-habits are small, simple actions that require very little effort or motivation. A common example would be flossing. Say you make a goal that you want to start flossing more. You could make a micro-habit to floss just one tooth every night. The commitment isn’t stressful, since the action is so small. Somedays you will just do the one tooth, but very often you’ll end up flossing all of your teeth instead. This is the basis of the idea of behavioral momentum. Once you have already taken the first step, the next steps feel much easier.
There are a lot of great ways to track your new micro-habit. You can write it on your to-do list and cross it off every day. Or maybe you’re more motivated by marking a big red ‘X’ on your kitchen calendar. I prefer apps. Here’s why: apps can track my progress long-term, and they display my stats in pretty smart charts. Here are some of my favorite micro-goal tracking apps:
Productive: Made by the same developer as iOS app Balanced, Productive offers beautiful UX with more details. It includes a calendar and stats, habit-grouping by time of day, and lets you add notes and reminders for each micro-habit. It has a free version or you can get the upgraded version for $3.99.
Habit List: Includes completion stats, flexible scheduling (such as “4 days per week” or “weekends”), streak tracking, and a daily task list. Habit List is totally free. It uses both positive and negative reinforcement to keep you on track with your micro-habit, and it has a “skip” option for sick days or holidays.
Strides: You can use this app to track larger goals as well as micro-goals, because it allows you to break down goals into steps. It’s more in-depth than it’s peers, featuring templates for common goals with the SMART goal setting method. It also has the same completion stats and tracking that you expect from a goal setting app. Strides does require a monthly fee ($4.99/month or $39.99/year) to track more than a handful of habits.
Habitica: A productivity app for gamers, Habitica is an RPG for habit building. Get a character when you start, complete a task to earn gold, and unlock new content by completing your real-life tasks. If you don’t complete your habit for the day, your character loses health. Habitica is also social, you can join guilds and complete challenges with friends. Habitica is also free unless you buy gem packs, which can give your character armor, special quests, and other virtual goodies.
Coach.me: Formerly known as Lift, Coach.me uses a social chain-building method of tracking habits. It offers options that allow you to change the frequency of habits and set custom alerts. Track your progress on your habit with simple stats, streak tracking, and calendars. Get “props” and comments from friends on the app, or upgrade to pay for a personal coach.
2. Delegate everything you can.
If you’re managing people, you should know how to effectively avoid work. No, this doesn’t mean managers sit around all day eating potato chips. They still work, just differently. Here’s how you can do it:
When you get a new task, you should immediately assess whether the task is worth your time or if it could be given to someone else. Maybe someone who you know is looking to develop a set of related skills or is an expert in a related area. Once the task is passed off, set up designated check-in times where you can ask questions or offer help. This way you won’t end up micro-managing the project you just passed off. After all, you hired this person to make your job easier. Now you’re free to work on a more complex or important task without sweating the small stuff.
3. Log in on Sunday evening & come in early on Monday.
Or whatever day your “weekend” is. I used to work weekends, but I had Wednesday and Thursdays off during the week. Thursday night, I would log in and check my email for just ten minutes. Usually I had around 50 emails, and I had a really organized sorting process (kind of like this one!) in my Inbox. It only took me a few minutes to sort everything, then I could spend the rest of the time reading updates and just-released information.
The point of this is not to ruin your weekend, but to make Mondays suck less. If your work mornings are hectic, logging in the night before gives you more control of your morning. It also helps you frame how your Monday is going to go, so you can decide to go in early if you want to.
Still not sold on going to work early on Monday? Think about these advantages:
You’ll resist the urge to stay up late on Sunday.
There’s less traffic on your commute.
You’ll have time to really enjoy breakfast.
The lines at the coffee shop will be shorter.
You’ll be free to do something fun or spend time with family in the evening.
4. Email a high five to your future self.
Writing your future self a congrats letter helps you picture yourself completing the task. And it motivates you to complete it because you don’t want to let yourself down. Then in the future, you’ll forget that you sent it and get a surprise letter from yourself. It’s like a little email time capsule!
It may be a little silly, but it is a fun idea to get a little motivation or love from your past self. You can send emails to your future self with any email app or through websites like Letter to My Future Self or FutureMe.
5. Use free productivity tools and apps.
Now that you know my love for apps, this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Pen and paper to-do lists are archaic in comparison. Productivity apps can manage everything from big projects to small day-to-day tasks. With social sharing, they also help you delegate and work on tasks as a team. Can your pen and paper list do that?
New productivity tools and apps are created every year. Developers pour money into technology that helps people and businesses work smarter. You can use this technology to get more work done, to collaborate with others, and much more.
Here's my essential list:
Slack: Hands down the best communication app for large teams. Send messages, docs, links and pictures, all with Giphy and Trello plug-ins. Plus, you get your own digital assistant, Slackbot.
Trello: A Kanban project organization board that can handle everything from large group collaborations to your daily to-do list. Trello uses “cards” as digital Post-It Notes so you can visualize your projects and archive or delete them.
Basecamp: A simple, safe group project management space where everything is neatly organized. Collaborate, store files, share to-do lists, and chat while keeping project files secure. NASA uses it, too, so you know it’s really good.
Pocket: If you have a problem organizing your bookmarks, Pocket is the solution. Like a smarter Pinterest, Pocket uses a browser extension to help you save articles for later reading. Create custom tags so that you can easily find stuff later.
Clear: The sleek UI of this to-do app makes it worth the $4.99 price tag. It is simple, motivating and syncs across devices on iCloud.
Scanner Pro: Turns your iPhone or iPad into a portable scanner, letting you turn paper receipts or documents into digital PDFs instantly. Hook it up with Dropbox or Google Drive, and you’ve got a fully functioning office in your smartphone.
Genius Fax: Send and receive faxes from your smartphone for $0.99/fax or buy 50 faxes for $20. You can even get your own fax number. Import documents from Dropbox, Google Drive or Box, or use your smartphone camera to “scan” documents.
Toggl: If you use timesheets, you need Toggl. It’s the easiest way to log work hours, track teams, and get time expense reports. Bonus: it works even if you’re offline.
6. Utilize freelancers to save time and money.
Think of working with freelancers as advanced delegating. Decide if a project is worth your time or if it could be delegated to a freelancer. While this requires a hard look at your own areas of expertise, you will often find that a freelancer can do it faster, better and for less.
Startups and small businesses have the most to gain from utilizing freelancers. Freelancers are highly trained in their area of expertise and they work on demand. When your business demands suddenly increase or decrease, freelancers are available online to help you quickly adjust. And because freelancers run their own businesses, they typically share the same entrepreneurial values as startups.
Finding reputable freelancers is easy using sites like Upwork, and they can help you with almost anything. Before you outsource your next project, check out these tips for making your partnership a successful one.
7. Procrastinate better with structured procrastination.
If you are a chronic procrastinator, try using this method to get more done and waste less time. Essentially, it requires you make a weekly to-do list and a daily to-do list. It lets you gently ease into the big tasks that you hate doing. When you “warm up” with small, easy tasks for a short time, you trick your procrastinator’s brain into being productive.
Why you procrastinate may be due to many factors. If you’re tired of the constant stress of procrastinating and need a little laugh (or if you’re actually procrastinating on something by reading this) check this out.
8. Use the ABCDE method and the 80/20 rule.
Prioritize and de-stress your day using the ABCDE method:
“A” tasks - these are tasks you must do today because there are serious negative consequences if you don’t
“B” tasks - these are tasks you should do today because there are mild negative consequences if you don’t
“C” tasks - these are tasks you could do today, but there are no negative consequences if you don’t
“D” tasks - these are tasks you can delegate to someone else to do for you
“E” tasks - these are tasks you can eliminate entirely and never do
After you make your ABCDE list, you immediately start working on the A tasks. You should never do a B task before you’ve completed all the A tasks, or C task before you’ve completed all the B tasks, and so on.
Pareto’s 80/20 principle, when applied to prioritizing, says that around 80% of your production value comes from 20% of your tasks. This helps you prioritize which tasks are going to produce the biggest results (“A” tasks) so you can complete the most important tasks first. If you only complete two important tasks in your day, make sure they are the two that produce the biggest results.
9. Make your long commute productive without even trying.
The average worker commutes 26 minutes one-way every day. This adds up to an insane nine days per year spent commuting. If you’re listening to the radio every day, that’s nine days worth of annoying ads and overplayed songs.
You can take back this dead time and make it productive by listening to audiobooks or podcasts. If your goal is to master your cold call skills, check out these helpful podcasts. If you want to read more self-development books, listen to one of these on your drive. If you want to be a better manager, listen to these smart lessons. Even learn to speak a new language. Whatever your goal is, you can do something productive towards it on your drive.
10. Only check your email at designated times & use the 2-minute rule.
Hitting refresh on your email inbox all day can be a huge distraction. You can avoid this by setting up designated times during the day when you check emails. Make sure to let your co-workers know you check your email at these designated times, and to contact you in a more direct way if it’s urgent.
If self-control isn’t your thing, check out inboxpause.com. It puts a hold on your email, preventing new emails from arriving in your inbox. Your inbox will show a banner at the top that allows you to schedule pauses or un-pause right away.
Consider the 2-minute rule when sorting through emails: if the task takes less than two minutes to complete, finish it immediately. Don’t let small important tasks like responding to a lead or confirming an appointment fall to the wayside. Even if you hate doing it, but it takes less than two minutes, just get it over with.