This post was originally published on June 20, 2019, and updated most recently on April 7, 2021.
Your ability to be effectively productive is one of the key determining factors of your professional success. Those who are able to consistently produce high-quality results at a sustainable rate get ahead in business and life. I’d like to share five simple productivity hacks that you can apply right now to get more done in less time.
Productivity Hack #1: Use Parkinson’s Law to complete tasks faster
Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion,’ which means that if you give yourself an entire day to complete a two-hour task, then your mind will see the task as more complicated and daunting. Consequently, it will, in fact, take the entire day to accomplish the relatively minor task.
Unfortunately, the extra time spent on the task does not even improve the quality of the work. Instead, most of that extra time will be wasted on procrastination, pondering irrelevant details, and distractions like email and social media.
To use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage, you have to set deadlines that are much shorter than you’ve ever set them before. This forces you to focus on the essentials, avoid distractions, and stop procrastinating — after all, you have to make the most of your limited time.
If you’ve ever procrastinated on a project until the last minute, you’ve already experienced Parkinson’s Law first hand. Did you suddenly turn into a productivity machine? That’s the power of Parkinson’s Law.
When you have too much time available to complete a task, you won’t feel the necessity, motivation, or pressure to work with focus and intensity. There’s space available to waste time, so you will unconsciously make use of this space. The solution is to make your deadlines shorter. Much shorter.
To start, try cutting your deadlines in half. If you’d normally take four hours to finish a specific task, see if you can finish it in two. This may feel unrealistic at first, but you will surprise yourself how much more productive you become when your time is limited. You’ll likely find ways to finish within the limited time — and at a high quality!
If you don’t make the new deadline, you should first truthfully analyze if you’re still pondering over irrelevant details or wasting time on meaningless distractions. If not, loosen the deadline a bit until you find your deadline sweet spot.
Productivity Hack #2: Batch produce less important tasks
As much as we want to, we simply can’t always escape less important tasks, whether they’re answering emails, responding to comments, making phone calls, or managing other administrative tasks.
One way to finish these tasks faster is by batch producing them. With batch production, you essentially lump a few tasks together and finish them all in one go rather than doing them throughout the day.
You can compare this to doing laundry. You wouldn’t do laundry each time you have a new pair of dirty socks. Instead, you collect your dirty laundry and then ‘batch produce’ it all in one go. This way, you don’t have to do laundry multiple times per day, which would be crazy.
Yet, this is what most of us do with routine and low-value tasks such as emails and phone calls. We scatter them throughout our day, thereby distracting ourselves from important tasks and disrupting our focus and workflow. We, metaphorically, do our laundry multiple times per day instead of all together in one efficient go.
In fact, RescueTime has found that the average knowledge worker checks their email 55 times per day and their instant messaging apps about 77 times per day. This severely disrupts our focus and workflow. Instead, we should apply the batch producing principle to these types of tasks to handle them efficiently.
Personally, I find it highly effective to pick one (or two) hours at the end of my workday to lump similar tasks together and get through them at once. That way, they don’t get in the way of higher priorities or disrupt my focus. I often apply Parkinson’s Law to these batch production sessions as well.
Productivity Hack #3: Schedule your days & weeks to create clarity
You’ll become a lot more effective if you start scheduling your days and weeks. I clearly notice how my most unproductive days are the ones that I didn’t plan ahead for or didn’t plan well enough. When you don’t schedule your days and weeks, you just wander around. You kind of know what to do, so you kind of have a work ethic.
Create a solid plan for every day and week, so you can simply follow and execute each plan without hesitation. This will help you save valuable decision-making energy (which is proven to be a limited resource) during the day and work with more determination and focus.
Furthermore, unscheduled time makes us more prone to procrastination. Our brain doesn’t like ambiguity — and not scheduling your days creates a lot of ambiguity. When faced with uncertainty, the more attractive alternative is to waste time on YouTube or Instagram, not finish a tedious task you’ve been putting off.
Productivity Hack #4: Put away your smartphone
For most of us, our smartphone is productivity killer numero uno. So, especially when you’re working on your most important tasks, put it away. Put it out of sight, on flight mode, or whatever else you need to do to make sure it can no longer distract you. The notifications from messages, email, and social media destroy your ability to focus. The psychological urge to quickly check your phone whenever it rings or bings is too strong to ignore.
Keep in mind that your smartphone — and the apps on it — were built to get you to use them as often as possible. You need to put your smartphone away to protect your focus for at least those hours in which you’re doing your most meaningful work.
Productivity Hack #5: Strive for simplicity and minimalism in your work
One of the best ways to boost your focus and productivity is to seek more simplicity and minimalism in your work. Today, we live in a society of more. Do more. Work more. Take on more responsibilities. Start more projects. Build more side-hustles.
But more isn’t always better…
In the past, I worked on a hundred different things at the same time. I was feeling productive, but in reality, I wasn’t. I was merely busy.
Despite working hard, doing a lot, and working many hours, I wasn’t achieving the results that I wanted. The problem was that I was doing too much. I was spreading my time, attention, and energy too thin among too many different things. So, none of the projects or tasks I worked on received the full attention they required to succeed.
And this is something that the majority of us do nowadays.
Our belief that doing more leads to better results is actually destroying our focus. We are spread too thin among too many different tasks and projects — and that’s why so many of us feel stressed, overwhelmed, and stuck, despite working hard.
“If you seek tranquility, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential. Do less, better. Because most of what we do or say is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more tranquility.” — Marcus Aurelius
Rather than engaging in constant multitasking, seek simplicity in your work by getting crystal-clear on what tasks, projects, and goals truly matter. What tasks or projects significantly move the needle? Focus on those things as much as possible and eliminate or delegate the rest.
This way, you can direct your resources to the things that matter most. And that will lead to much more meaningful results.
Now do it
Improvement can only come from taking action, so I encourage you to try out at least three of these productivity hacks for yourself!
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Backlog for productivity
Now that you have a new set of productivity hacks in your metaphorical tool belt, you can add some actual tools to solidify them. We recommend our own project management tool, Backlog, to make sure you’re on top of all of your tasks. Easily view all your deadlines in Kanban Boards, a Gantt chart, or burndown chart and stay up to date as your teammates complete tasks in real-time. And when you’re done? Simply close the task and move on to the next! We promise it’s almost as satisfying as crossing an item off a to-do list.