It’s kind of hilarious that I’m writing about productivity hacks. You see, I’m quite the expert at finding things to do instead of the tasks I should be doing. If I’ve got a big presentation to write, or a report to prepare, you’ll probably find me emptying the dishwasher or scrolling social media instead. There’s something about having things to do that makes me not do the things. Not until the last minute anyway.

So, I don’t do the things when I need to do them, yet I constantly volunteer myself to do more things. I want to do all these things, and somehow having more to do, and deadlines is the only thing that makes me do all the things. It’s a curious thing. I have all these things to do, so I find other things to do, and then volunteer myself to do more things. Where am I going with this?

Well, what I have discovered is that I can be really productive and get lots of things done. What I have to do is find ways to make myself do the things. Kind of like tricking myself into doing them in a way. Except it’s me I’m tricking into doing these things.

And what I have discovered is that I am not alone in this. Left to our own devices many of us find other things to do. It’s a form of bias in our minds. We choose the instant gratification of the immediate things like scrolling social media, instead of the longer-term gain of doing the tougher, important thing we have to do. And this will be true of people who work for you, people you work with, people you work for and people you want to work with.

This then leads to people feeling pressured, and stressed and that can lead to thoughts of not feeling like you are worthy of the tasks you have to do. So I decided to do something about it. I have spent some time working out how to make myself do the things. Here are my 5 productivity hacks.

1. Phone off, stop the doom scroll

My first hack, is to help your mind to concentrate by setting aside focused amounts of time.  Try it to see how long works for you. For me, I find 30 to 40 minutes is about right. For that amount of time, switch off your phone, and switch off social media and news and concentrate only the work you have to do. Then when you’re done, have a break, and allow yourself time to do thing like look at social media, or anything else that you gravitate to doing usually. Set a time limit for that too. Then you can go back to your focused amount of time to work again. It’s similar to the Pomodoro technique which is also worth looking at as a way to make yourself concentrate on tasks.  

2. Schedule email time and read them once

The next thing I discovered I do all the time, is waste time on emails. If I don’t think about it, I read emails as soon as they arrive, and then leave them in my in-box without dealing with them. My next productivity hack is to introduce efficiency into dealing with emails. Set aside specific times in your day for reading emails. And make a decision about whether you really need them on your phone to read at all hours. I have turned off notifications on my phone for emails, so I can read them when I choose to. Then when you read the emails, read them once and decide what to do with them. If it’s an email subscription you never read, stop filing it in a folder, never to be read again. Unsubscribe instead. Then decide if emails need to be deleted, sent to someone or if there is an action for you. Either reply then and there in the time you have set aside for emails, or schedule a task to deal with it. Aim to clear your email in-box each day. This hack has lightened the load in my mind of things I have to do.

Man at desk with laptop

3. Use Trello for creating tasks and projects

Yes this is a plug for Trello, there are other tools which help in a similar way. Before using Trello, I would have lists. Lots of lists. Lists in notebooks, lists in my calendar, lists in spreadsheets and so on. But none of those things allowed me to see everything that needs to be done, and to move them along as I progress with them. Since using Trello boards, it has stopped me from having to go to several places to find the lists of things to do. And it has made me much more focused on the tasks that need doing. The basic version is free, so try it and see what you think.

4. Stop saying yes, practice saying no

This one is a tough one for me, as I am used to saying yes to everything! It’s partly FoMo (fear of missing out), and partly because I think I can do everything, so I say yes to everything. Then that leads to an unrealistic workload which feels stressful. So having the Trello board (see hack 3 above) has helped with this. I know I need to get everything on the Trello board done, before saying yes to anything else. Sounds simple? Well, if you’re anything like me, it’s actually pretty tough to say no to things, but I’ve discovered the only way to be productive is to focus on what I need to do, before saying yes to anything else.

5. Done is better than perfect

Another tough one for any perfectionists. Setting yourself unrealistic expectations of the quality of every output of work, is setting yourself up to taking longer to do everything. For some tasks, getting it done, is better that getting it perfectly done. For example, we have been creating lots of video content recently. And yes, there are lots of ways to make videos spectacular, and perfect. But for a lot of the things we’re posting, like our weekly Conversation Starters, just getting them recorded and out there every week is the important thing. It’s about the message, more than the perfectly edited video. If you can allow yourself to just get some tasks done, then that will give you more time to focus on perfection for the things that matter.

So that’s my 5 productivity hacks. These changes in how I work have all helped me to get more things done. What are your productivity hacks? We would love to hear from you.

And if you want to work on ideas for you or your team, email for advice, ideas, and our coaching and mentoring programs.