Life

25 Productivity Hacks, According To Highly Productive People

Say goodbye to your to-do list.

A woman sitting among checked sheets crosses items off a to-do list. Highly productive people share ...
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When it comes to being your most productive self, distractions are hard to avoid. Notifications find their way through silent mode, co-workers can be chatty, and your personal life doesn’t disappear during the work day. No matter how many productivity hacks you think you’ve mastered, from disabling your WiFi to taking social media breaks every hour, you might feel like you’re not getting as much done as you used to.

According to executive life coach Kaylin Aarts, employing a holistic productivity practice lets you improve your workflow while moving towards a larger goal that makes the “hacks” actually stick.

“While adopting good productivity hygiene can be helpful in an immediate sense — a to-list will likely get checked off and it will feel good — it’s better to approach productivity with the bigger picture in mind,” Aarts says. To do this, she suggests breaking down your goals and taking the time to ask yourself what success looks like to you. From there, you can make a list of what you want to accomplish and then break that down into smaller tasks. If your goal is to improve your relationship with clients or co-workers, think about tangible, everyday habits you can adopt that will lead you there — like setting aside time to respond to emails every morning, or setting up coffee catch ups. That way, as you hack your way though it, you won’t have to worry about going off course.

“You have to find a cadence that works for you, because checking things off a to-do list will give you endorphins, but if the to-do list isn’t part of a bigger, intentional professional plan, you’re not getting any closer to a finish line,” Aarts says. She adds that once you know what you want, productivity hacks become much easier to implement as “long-term healthy habits” that don’t just get work off your plate, but “steer you towards your own version of success.”

While you’re working towards that long-term goal, it helps to have productivity hacks that lead to obvious and immediate progress. We asked highly productive people — career experts, a neuropsychologist, and a PR and marketing maven — about the productivity hacks that keep them focused, motivated, and on-track.

1

Focus On Single-Tasking Versus Multi-Tasking

While you may be great at multi-tasking, you might want to try single-tasking instead. “To enhance your productivity and revolutionize your life, do one thing at one time,” Shefali Raina, a New York City-based high performance coach, tells Bustle. “Single-tasking means completely focusing on one complex thing at a time — for example, be fully present in your conversations and meetings and stop checking new incoming email while drafting another email.”

Research shows that your brain can only handle one complex task at a time. “If we force our brains to multi-task, we force it to switch rapidly between the two tasks, leaving us mentally exhausted and depleting our attention and productivity,” Raina says.

2

Turn Off Push Notifications

Perhaps you like getting push notifications on your phone or computer so you can keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the world through pop-ups, such as news alerts. However, they can negatively affect your productivity.

Turning off push notifications, especially on all social media apps, is essential to being productive,” Nicole Durosko, a broker at Warburg Realty, tells Bustle. “This will minimize your distractions while checking your emails or getting done with those cold calls you’ve been putting on the back burner.”

3

Put Your Phone Out Of Sight

Even if you have disabled push notifications, your phone can still cause you to be unproductive thanks your unrelenting curiosity regarding what’s going on in the world or what your friends are up to. “Get your phone out of sight,” Jeremy Redleaf, co-founder of Caveday, a company that helps people shut out distractions, tells Bustle. According to a 2017 study published by the University of Chicago, just being visually aware of your phone can impact your ability to focus on other things, citing “brain drain” as cause of reduced cognitive function. Putting your phone in another room can free up some of that brain space.

4

Set Phone Alarms

If you do have enough discipline to keep your phone nearby while you work, you may want to utilize its alarm function. “Let’s say there are multiple things you need to get done yesterday — set an alarm for each,” Daniella Flores, creator and author of iliketodabble.com, a blog about creative money tips and side hustles, tells Bustle. “Guesstimate how long each task might take you, so if it is a 30-minute task, set an alarm for each task 30 minutes apart from each other.” She says that, this way, you can work on each task — one at a time — without self-sabotaging by multitasking.

Neuropsychologist and sports and performance expert Haley Perlus, Ph.D, suggests playing with deadlines to change the way you approach projects farther down on the urgency list. “According to Parkinson’s Law, you will take whatever the allotted time is to finish a task to do it — if you have a week to do something, you will take a week to finish it, so if you can tell yourself it’s actually due in four days you will get it done before the original deadline.”

5

Be Intentional With Your Time

Even if your to-do list has dozens of items on it, it’s all about being intentional with your time, Lauren Berger, author of Get It Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work, and Design your Success and founder of CareerQueen.com, tells Bustle. “For instance, don’t just sit and answer emails — have an action plan such as, ‘I’m going to spend 30 minutes answering emails and then I’m going to switch tasks.’”

Berger also suggests creating a map or plan before you start working. “We all know that you can put 100 things on your to-do list, but have a clear list of five deliverables you need to accomplish by the end of the day,” she says. “You have to start somewhere.”

It’s also important to be intentional about your time off, Perlus tells Bustle. “If you’re riding the bus, sitting in a waiting room, or on the commute to work, you can squeeze in a chapter of a new book or a podcast episode.” If you get in the habit of using your time away from work to put intentional time into your personal interests you’ll get more out of your schedule, squeezing in pleasure you didn’t know you has time for. “You technically have more downtime than you’d think; you’d be surprised how much you could learn in a 30-minute bus ride,” she adds.

6

Move Around During The Day

Yes, you may need to sit at your desk all day during work, but Payal Kadakia, founder of ClassPass, tells Bustle to switch things up by taking time to move, too. “I like to be present all day long, and movement helps me to hone my focus so I can be at my best when it counts,” she says. “Even in the workplace, shake up your productivity routine by taking a call during a stroll around the block or hold a walk-and-talk meeting around the office.”

7

Reflect On Your Progress

Although you may be checking several things off your to-do list, do you regularly reflect on your accomplishments? If not, you should, Spencer Gerrol, neuroscience expert and CEO of the neuroanalytics startup, SPARK Neuro, tells Bustle. “Checking things off a list can feel great, but there is another way to feel a sense of success: Reflect on your progress by looking at and seeing how far you’ve come,” he says. “This will inspire you to continue being productive in the future.” He says he set up his task management view so that he can see his historical accomplishments, which provide another boost.

Perlus also suggests reflecting on repeat tasks to see how you can improve your ability to accomplish them effectively. “If you have a specific project you complete on a regular basis, create a template that you can use to cut down on time spent on said project — if you have to submit a weekly report to your boss every Friday, create a template of what that usually entails, leaving space to drop in any new or pertinent information.” Perlus says this can make the assignment easier to approach and check off.

8

Use A Productivity App To Help You Stay Focused

If you find yourself browsing websites too much when you should be working, a productivity extension or app like Opal may help. Productivity apps like Opal turn your phone offline so that you can’t just mindlessly scroll social media or cruise the web. In order to turn it back on before the set amount of time you program it for, you have to type out an intention. The mere process of doing this is likely to deter you from using apps or the internet altogether.

9

Eliminate As Many Unnecessary Distractions As You Can

You probably have certain things that slow down your productivity, like deleting all those subscription emails. Jacqueline Gilchrist, creator of Mom Money Map, tells Bustle to eliminate them. “Unsubscribe from emails that don’t add value to your long-term goals,” she says. “You’ll get all the future time you’ll spend deleting these emails (or reading them) back!”

She says the same is true of watching TV, especially if you work from home. “I love watching TV, but when I think back, I don’t remember most of the movies or shows I watched; most importantly, they didn’t add any value to my life!”

10

Take Minute-Long Breaks

You may be working on a project for your boss without stopping, but breaks, even short ones, can help you be more productive. “If you feel tired, take a short break — this is much more effective than overcoming your fatigue,” Marina Shumaieva, CTO and co-founder at CruiseBe, tells Bustle. “If you are tired, you work slowly, make more mistakes, and get distracted more often.” She says you can try taking one-minute breaks, whether that means standing up, walking around the room, swinging your arms or legs, or inhaling deeply and exhaling.

11

Break Down Large Tasks Into Smaller Ones

When you get a big project to do, it may feel overwhelming — but to make the most of your productivity, it’s best to break it into more doable pieces. “Jot down all the tasks you need to accomplish for the week,” Jonas Sickler, marketing director at ReputationManagement.com, tells Bustle. “Don’t list major projects that will take a month to complete; instead, break larger jobs down into manageable parcels that you can complete in less than one day.” He says to then prioritize your week’s list by importance or job size and to limit phone and computer notifications to once per hour, max. “Don’t stop working to address minor concerns: Micro-interruptions happen about four times per hour, and it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on track after you’ve been sidetracked,” he says.

12

Respond To Emails When People Aren’t Online

Chances are, emails are a big distraction in your work day, even if they’re relevant to the work you’re doing. But Elizabeth Douglas, CEO of wikiHow, has a solution. “Spend some time working when no one else is online,” she tells Bustle. “Whether it’s early in the morning or later in the evening, this allows you to spend a few uninterrupted hours sending replies to teammates without getting distracted by instant back-and-forth conversations.”

Aarts recommends writing the email when you have the brain space, then scheduling it to be sent during business hours. “Sometimes the best time to most effectively articulate something is early in the morning or late at night — instead of hoping to remember what you were going to say when you get to the office, write the email when it’s fresh and schedule it for a better time,” she says. (This is probably more respectful of your coworkers’ work-life balance, too.)

13

At The End Of The Day, Write Down What You Need To Do Tomorrow

Get in the habit of leaving a pad of paper or a notebook beside your bed. According to Aarts, keeping a mental note of things takes up space that could be used for better things, like chilling out. “Put down on paper everything you need to do the next day frees up mental space for sleeping and relaxing and being present,” she says. Aarts adds that you burn more energy holding on to tasks mentally than you do taking the time to actually write them down. What’s more, if it’s additions to your to-do list you can’t stop ruminating over, having them written down to take care of the next day means you won’t forget them.

14

Take Self-Care Breaks During The Day

You may reserve self-care for after work, but it’s important to practice it during work, too. Dr. Russell Johnson, a professor of management at Michigan State University, agrees.

“Like physical energy, mental energy waxes and wanes during the day,” he tells Bustle. “Taking short non-work respites — a short walk, conversing with a coworker, or a meditation or mindfulness exercise — are critical for replenishing mental energy.” He says this enables employees to be more engaged and innovative in their work.

15

Organize & Score Your Tasks Based On Your Goals

You may know that completing your tasks is all about prioritizing them, but you can also go a few steps further. “First, decide what tasks are essential to accomplish your overall goals for the day/week/month,” Lisa Fox, a business productivity expert for Lead Gen Hype, tells Bustle. “Then, organize and score these tasks by prioritizing them based on urgency, their importance, and the amount of time needed to complete them.” She says that if a task does not contribute to your goals, put that in the lowest priority, even if it seems urgent or takes little time to do. “To organize your tasks, you could also create a visual system of listing them and color coordinating your calendar,” Fox says.

16

Schedule Distraction Time

If you limit your distraction time — TikTok or Instagram, anyone? — you can greatly improve your work performance. Jordan Wan, founder and CEO of CloserIQ, a recruitment firm that helps companies build high-performing sales organizations, says “if you don’t give yourself time to relax or unwind, you can burn out, so try adding ‘distraction time’ to your schedule — this can be anything from checking your phone, social media, or going for a walk.” He suggests doing this every few hours. “By scheduling these ‘distractions,’ it helps keep them out of your work time,” he says.

Wan says the same goes for checking emails. “An easy fix is to manage your email in chunks,” he says. “Block off some time every few hours to go through and respond to emails versus constantly checking them while you’re in the middle of other tasks.” He says that, this way, you’ll be able to move on to your other responsibilities, knowing your inbox is taken care of until the next block.

17

Don’t Look At Work-Related Computers Or Phones After Work

You cannot truly leave the office if you are still connected to your work emails and phone 24/7. “Put work-related computers and smartphones away at the end of the day,” Dr. Johnson says. “The practice of psychologically disengaging from work when outside the office is related to higher engagement and performance the following work day.”

18

Don’t Put Off Tasks You Can Do Today

Of course, you need to prioritize your work tasks appropriately but that sometimes may cause you to put off too many other responsibilities. “Don’t wait until tomorrow for what you can do today,” Leslie H. Tayne, Esq., and founder of Tayne Law Group, P.C., tells Bustle. “When it comes to meeting deadlines or finishing projects, the first step to avoid procrastination is to address any tasks that come your way as soon as they are met.” She says waiting can put unnecessary stress and pressure on yourself — and also hinder your ability to accomplish other tasks that may be pending.

It’s also important not to put off tasks you’re not looking forward to. Perlus says that you should experiment with prioritizing the things you dread the most, to get them out of the way and motivate you. “Within one to two hours of waking up, try completing a task that you have been avoiding or will continue to put off — like making a doctor's appointment, or cleaning your room. This way, you feel more productive and boost your self-confidence after getting it done while avoiding procrastinating this task throughout the day,” she suggests.

19

Prep The Night Before

At the end of a hectic work day, people have different ways to prepare for the next day. “As a practicing nurse, my days are often extremely busy and long,” Jocelyn Nadua, care coordinator at C-Care Health Services, tells Bustle. “One productivity hack that I have found to be useful is making sure I’ve done anything I can the night before to make the following day smoother: I will prepare any meals, lay out my clothes/scrubs, and make my to-do list for the next day.”

20

Take A Quick Nap

While you may think you don’t have time for an afternoon nap, you probably do, whether it’s in a private break room or even your car. Jay, 31, a freelance editor, tells Bustle that clocking out for a 20-minute nap is the difference between having a completely unproductive afternoon and smashing deadlines with refreshed energy throughout the day. “Sometimes I don’t even fall asleep, but I always take 20 minutes to lie down on my yoga mat and close my eyes,” Jay says. He adds that just taking a break from interacting with people or looking at a screen allows his mind to pay attention to things that he will otherwise overlook. “I always think of something I forgot to put on my to-do list — an email forgot to respond to, an idea I want to share with a client — and then when my timer goes off, I have a game plan for the rest of the day — or I just enjoy not feeling like crap after lunch.”

21

Listen To Workflow-Enhancing Tunes

While jamming out to the new Taylor Swift recordings might not boost your productivity as much as it will boost (or challenge) your mood, instrumental music without vocals could have an opposite effect. Ali Sourbis, 33, senior PR and communications manager at Elvie, and owner and florist at Stemme Fatale, tells Bustle that a good workflow hinges on a good playlist. “Music with no words really helps me to focus on work, like soundtracks — the Yann Tierson Amelie soundtrack is a favorite. I also have a French chill playlist I made and since my French has deteriorated over the years I can’t really understand it, thus it isn’t distracting,” she says.

Studies show that listening to music while you work doesn’t just help you stay focused, but also increases the efficiency of your output, and makes you less likely to make mistakes.

22

Block Off Your Calendar

If you have a calendar that other people can access to make appointments with you, block out time each day so that you can have uninterrupted work, while you’re at the office or on call. “I set NO CALLS blocks in my work calendar so I can get actually work done because if I didn’t do that people would be adding in calls all day and night,” Sourbis tells Bustle. Consolidating the time you spent taking meetings or calls will free up more time you have to just put your head down and blast through tasks.

23

Make Templates For Recurring Messages

If there are messages that you send out regularly — check-ins, progress reports, reminders — create a template for the format so that you don’t have to re-write it every time you send it out. For example, if recap emails are a part of your job responsibilities, format them ahead of the call or meeting so that you can more easily plug in the details and send it out ASAP. “Queue up an email with all the recipients ahead of time with a greeting, and as many details as you can fill in, so that during the call you can fill in the holes and send it off immediately,” Aarts says.

24

Anticipate Problems Before They Happen

Instead of leaving room in your schedule for mishaps, take preemptive time to plan for disaster so that you’re not caught off guard. For example, if you work in social media, Aarts says to take a little extra time before scheduling a tweet to think about how it could be perceived. “Think through all the ways that your tweets might be misunderstood — what’s the worse case scenario? — plan on how you would defend it, or adjust it ahead of time to be safe,” Aarts says. Make a list of the issues that could arise in your line of work — if your client’s flight gets cancelled, if your partner gets sick, if a product is late, if a co-worker is hurt by a decision you made — and think about how you could address the issue to minimize the fallout. “If you’re considerate of potential outcomes, you can weather a problem and stay on track,” Aarts says.

25

Carpool Your Responsibilities

Perlus says lumping like-tasks together can help streamline your productivity. “Try to batch tasks together instead of spreading yourself thin and completing certain duties only during specific times.” Perlus suggests meal prepping for the week instead of cooking dinner for one night, or combining email time with online ordering time to make the most out of each endeavor.