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Productivity

10 Productivity Hacks Successful Entrepreneurs Use to Outwork Everyone Else

WesleyAugust 9, 2017

A lot of these are good old classic tried and true ways to be more productive. That doesn’t make them any less valuable because they aren’t the latest, freshest fad in productivity hacking. It actually means they are Golden. Productivity as defined for the purposes of this article is getting to your goal faster without sacrificing quality. Another way to look at it would be shipping more of what ever it is you or your business produces in a shorter amount of time.

In some cases, people applying these principles have reported results that are far more inspiring than merely tightening up the bolts, saving a little lost production here and there at the margins, or plugging a couple time leaks. Instead, making some small changes to your inputs, what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, can very possibly have a dramatic, seemingly out-sized impact on your outputs.

At a bare minimum, the productivity hacks on this list are just very sensible and obviously good advice: Things you should be doing if you’re not. At most they might free up a lot of your time throughout the day, time that you can devote to something that isn’t getting done, but really needs to be taken care of, or time that can be spent planning, strategizing, and thinking ahead in big picture terms.

It’s during those all too rare, quiet moments of reflection with the big picture in mind that millionaires are able to wrestle absolutely game changing insights out of the void and increase their entire field of work’s productivity in ways that massively overshadow the gains that are initially made by implementing the productivity methods on this list. That’s where all the big money value lives.

Try implementing just three of these and you’ll be amazed how possible it suddenly seems for you to create a net worth for yourself in excess of a million dollars. If you want to go full hero mode over night, implement all ten…

10. Priming

Let me share a few random words with you that seemingly have nothing to do with this article:

car
gasoline
petroleum
mileage
distance
efficiency

Now let me ask you to fill in the blank letters to complete the following word:

F _ _ L

Chances are good that your brain picked a word related to the list above, even though there are many possible solutions.

Now stretch your mind by going through the alphabet, and consider other choices you could have selected. There are lots of possibilities, but the priming effect likely got your brain fixated on one that matched the previous words.

This priming effect works on a much grander scale than word games, and its influence is usually subtle and unconscious. I guarantee that it’s operating in your life right now.

Suppose you read the daily news from a typical news source (i.e. overwhelmingly pessimistic). So your mind gets primed with words like these (which were taken from actual Yahoo News’ headlines):

denounce
fight
die
soak
death
somber
slain
fears
concerns
dismissed
defiant
avoids
risk
pandemic
handouts

So you read the news in the morning and prime your brain with words like the above. What’s the priming effect? What other thoughts, feelings, or ideas are being pre-loaded because they’re related to the above? Danger. I’m scared. I need to play it safe and protect what I have. I can’t afford to take risks. Stress response.

Now for the exciting part: The priming effect presents us with some enormous opportunities for personal growth. By exerting some control over our priming influences — which may involve just a few small changes that can be made within a minute or two — we can create a permanent and lasting improvement in different facets of our lives.

By giving your brain slightly different input on a subconscious level, you can enjoy some truly significant benefits on the results side. This is easy. It works. And there are many ways you can apply this for free.

(Read the rest of this excellent article on StevePavlina.com. This excerpt is published here under license by Steve’s uncopyright notice.)

9. Pomodoro

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity process developed by entrepreneur and writer Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The Pomodoro Technique in a nutshell is using a timer to break work tasks down into 25 minute long intervals, separated by 5-minute breaks. The intervals are named pomodoros, the plural form (in English) of the Italian word for tomato (because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer for this technique as a student in college).

There are six steps in the technique:

1)Decide on the task to be done.

2) Set the pomodoro timer
(Cirillo suggests 25 minutes)

3) Work on the task until the timer rings.

4) After the timer rings put a checkmark on a piece of paper.

5) If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.

6) After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

This technique combines several important aspects of productivity maximization. At its essence, the technique is a form of “time boxing.” This works well to increase your productivity because of a principle called Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Or stated differently: “The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.” A corollary that supports the truth of this principle is: “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”

So by artificially limiting the amount of time you have to a bounded interval, you end up working faster than if you feel like you “have all day” to get something done. Another very humorously formulated corollary to Parkinson’s Law is Asimov’s corollary (by Isaac Asimov, the most prolific writer in the history of the English language): “In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.”

8. Worst First

Whatever task you least want to do throughout your day just go ahead and plan to do that first before you do anything else. Worst first. This can be a massive boost to your morale and therefore your productivity throughout the rest of the day.

If you save your worst task for last, you’ll be spending your day in dread of it. Thinking about it as you go about your other work will distract you and demoralize you. Subconsciously you may even do your work slower throughout your day to somehow forestall the moment when you’ll have to do the item on your to do list that you like the least, even though that doesn’t make any sense (a lot of what we do doesn’t unfortunately).

But just getting the most tedious, annoying, difficult, painful, stressful, or worst-for-whatever-reason task out of your way first thing in the morning can give you an enormous blast of relief and satisfaction. It’ll all be downhill and smooth sailing from here. You are now free from the constant nagging in the back of your mind, the unyielding presence of that unenviable chore screaming at you through out your day, or quietly whispering to you and tempting you to despair.

For me it’s the administrative kind of stuff, “housekeeping tasks” that do need to get done, but they’re just chores, not “work,” not creating something. I really hate doing that kind of stuff, so I just do it first off in the day and get it over with. It’s a lot easier to face your least enjoyable task early in the day as well, when you are well rested and have a full reserve of attention span, patience, a sense of humor, and hopefully a full stomach (Don’t skip breakfast. That’s bad for you and your productivity.)

7. Task Batching

So there are a couple different phases in completing any task that take up your time as you work through the task. The first phase is stopping whatever you were doing before to do your next task, (checking Facebook and email real quick first- just real quick!), switching your mental gears for what the next task is, and getting whatever tools you need ready (opening up a word processor and starting a new document, getting into a spreadsheet and finding info you’ll need, opening up your email, or whatever).

Then of course the rest of the time the task takes up is from actually completing the task. But the gear-switching, starting up phase does take time, and the more you do it throughout your day, the more time you are eating up. In many cases this can be seriously unnecessary time leakage because you can batch several similar tasks with the same start up routine together and go through the start up phase just once, then complete all the tasks while in the same frame of mind, which might help you zip through the task completion phase itself as well.

One of the most important things of all for you to batch process is checking and responding to email. Time in the inbox takes up almost a quarter of the average information worker’s day and the average worker in the United States checks email 36 times an hour. This is not good. Going through your day like that is an incredible drag on productivity. Responding promptly to emails is important, but if you’re doing important work, responding to many emails you get after a few hours is perfectly acceptable and won’t be a problem for anyone.

Stopping to check and respond to emails interrupts you while you’re trying to concentrate and do the important work in your day. You have to switch gears as you respond to your email, then you have to switch gears back again and rebuild all your momentum to get back into the work you’re doing. Instead, batch process emails by checking it twice or three times a day at most, and mark off a limited amount of time to sit there and actually do something about all the emails you get instead of just checking and then letting them take up space in your brain all day while you wait to respond to them or sort them later.

6. Low Information Diet

In the 4-Hour-Work-Week Tim Ferriss recommends cultivating what he calls “selective ignorance” or a low information diet to save yourself from the information overload that has unfortunately become characteristic of modern life. An “information diet” high in low-quality, not important, not even necessary information is a common culprit in the theft of your time each day. Then after you’ve wasted time on information you don’t really need to know at all to be productive, the information sits in your brain whether you’re aware of that or not, and stirs up your mind making it harder for you to focus on what you’re doing or bring the most effective mindset to what you’re doing.

Part of this is that priming effect described in item one on this list. One of the most commonly consumed forms of information junk food is political news media, which unless you’re actually an elected official or work in political journalism churning out this stuff (which is mostly garbage and that’s hardly a controversial understanding of it), you really don’t need to know at all. It won’t make your life better. It won’t make you more productive. It won’t help you save the world. There’s nothing you personally can do about the next appropriations bill going through Congress, though there’s a lot you personally can do about the work that’s right in front of you.

So not only is it a waste of your time to consume information like that, but it then primes your mind with all the negative words and emotions that are mixed up in that swirling mess of media. You carry that stress and outrage with you throughout your day and it doesn’t make you a better person, easier to work with, or more productive. It’s better just to cut that stuff out. Also clicking around the Internet on websites that are specifically there for you to consume low quality information “junk food” and procrastinate when you should be working is a big waste of time and kind of degrading really.

You’ll be amazed how pristine your consciousness becomes and how clean and simple and manageable your day feels when you turn off cable news media, talk news, political websites, waste-time clickbait black holes, and any other worthless information that isn’t mission critical for your work week.

5. 80/20 Analysis

The Pareto Principle is that in many different systems, 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. It’s named for an Italian economist who noticed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas, and extrapolated to discover this distribution in all kinds of different systems, such as land ownership in Italy at the time, about which through further research, Pareto was able to remarkably determine that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of Italians.

The Pareto distribution can be found in nature and biology, as in Pareto’s garden. It can be found in economic systems. It can be found in classical music, in which a majority of classical music compositions that are the most well known were written by an extreme minority of composers: Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Mozart, and Chaikovsky. It can be found in computer software in which 20 percent of a given software program’s code contains 80 percent of the errors that cause bugs. It can be found in companies where 20 percent of the workers produce much greater than 20 percent of the work of the company. And it can probably be found in your work day.

So take apart your typical day / week and sort it out: What 20 percent of your work day / work week is giving you 80 percent of the results? What 20 percent of your day and week (20 percent of the tasks you do, of the people you interact with, of your customers even) is causing 80 percent of your stress and consuming 80 percent of your time, even if it doesn’t overlap with the 20 percent that’s producing 80 percent of your work? You’ve got to pull these two different 20 percents apart and throw away the one that’s dragging you down 80 percent of the time and focus on doubling your 20 percent of most productive activities. If it’s producing 80 percent of your results and you double it, you’ll be 180% more productive than you are now! And in less time and with less stress.

4. Planning

Taking ten minutes before you go to bed each night to plan your day out the next day is a commonly cited habit of high-performers. It just programs into your mind what you’re going to do the net day right before sleep, and then going to sleep immediately after planning your next day lets the program you’ve set for yourself really sink in. If you start doing this every night, you will find that you are more focused each day, and that your mind is naturally drawn to the goals and mission critical tasks you’ve defined and outlined for yourself each night before.

Whatever you think about, it becomes easier for you to think about it again, and then again, and then again. Your brain forms circuits and connections when you think, and strengthens circuits that you reuse by thinking about the same thing again. Thinking about your goals and the exact actions you’re going to take tomorrow to move a little closer to them, especially right before the highly suggestible state of sleep, activates those goal circuits, reinforces them, and makes it easier for your brain to find that groove again in the morning when you start your day.

Here’s the way to really get the most out of this habit: First think about what’s the most important goal you have mid term to long term, but not absolutely urgent to move closer to tomorrow. Then consider what’s important and urgent. Then consider what’s urgent, but not as important. Plan to do your least enjoyable task first in the day, whatever it is. Then block off a precise amount of time (say 25 mins) to make measured progress toward a very important, but not urgent goal. Then do the important and urgent stuff. Then the urgent, but not important tasks.

Obviously if certain things need to get done by certain times throughout your day for whatever reason, adjust this as necessary, but stick to it as much as possible. Write a manageable list following this prioritization schema in a notepad, on your phone or tablet, or on your computer with start and end times next to each. Once you have this list in mind, put it aside and when your head hits the pillow, close your eyes and start realistically visualizing yourself going through your day and doing your work in your imagination. Imagine being decisive, efficient, effective, and competent as you go.

You will already have won the day in your mind by the time you start it the next morning and you will automatically know what to do and how to do it when your day begins. Top performers visualize like this all the time. Michael Jordan says he would see every move his opponents might make in a big game in crystal clarity during these visualization sessions, and when it came time to actually play, it felt to him like the game was happening in slow motion.

3. Apples

If you want to improve your productivity this week, another important factor is what you eat. If you already have a lot of discipline in your diet and eat good foods that power and heal you and avoid junk foods that dull your mind and attack your body’s cells, then you can ignore this advice because you’re already doing it. But if you don’t eat as well as you could be, stop by the grocery and take a couple small steps in the right direction.

Get some apples, some carrots, and some lemons or limes. Just eat one apple and one carrot a day. Every day. And when you wake up in the morning, cut a citrus fruit in half across the width of the fruit (not lengthwise), and squeeze each half between your thumb and fingers over a glass of ice water or a mug of hot water to get out all that vitamin rich citrus juice. Drink the lemon or lime juice on an empty stomach for best effect or just have it with your breakfast.

If you skip breakfast in the morning quit that! At the very least if you’re on the go and need something quick, have oatmeal and freshly squeezed lemon / lime / orange juice. (I like to squeeze lemon or lime with an orange into some ice water and have a really juicy drink in the morning and a powerful shot of vitamin c to the system.) Oatmeal is so definitively heart healthy that the FDA allows them to advertise right on the box that it’s good for your heart. It’s good for your blood pressure. It’s good for your blood sugar regulation. You can microwave it in a minute and have some breakfast ready.

If you don’t eat very well I recommend starting small and feeling the reward of taking a couple easy steps like oatmeal and citrus juice for breakfast, and one apple and one carrot a day. If you want to get really healthy with your diet, the nutritionist recommended diet is called a G-BOMB: Greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds. I used to make a salad with all five in a bowl and eat them together with some vinaigrette and a big spoonful of cottage cheese. Very healthy lunch that is.

2. Pushups

Your week will be significantly more productive if you combine a couple suggestions from this list with pushups every day. If you’re not doing pushups every the very valid question for you is: why the hell not? Pushups are good for your body and brain. That open body posture of a pushup puts you in a power position.

Arms folded in front of your chest is a defensive, closed body position, that people take when they feel withdrawn or disconnected from the situation they’re in, or when they feel vulnerable or threatened. An open chest and uncovered heart is a position you take when you feel calm, assured, confident, and connected. These are all characteristics you want to have throughout your day, and yes, actually just doing pushups every day primes the mind to feel this way.

Push ups open up the chest and heart as you exercise so you will feel more powerful throughout your day after you start doing push ups. It also primes the mind that you are strong, that you are improving yourself, that you are disciplined, that you are fit, that you are a soldier, that you are a warrior, that you train for the future, that you are prepared, that you push through difficulties and resistance.

There are few experiences so spiritual and uplifting as literally pushing on the entire world and pushing so hard you push yourself up. When you do your pushups, hands closer together on the ground will work your arms harder, hands further apart will work your chest harder. I recommend doing both. Do your pushups slowly, so slowly, up and down in slow motion, feeling the burn as your muscles squeeze. Do them fast, so explosively, with a lot of power, feeling the heat as your arms and chest launch your body up from the ground and catch you again as the earth pulls you back.

1. The 2 Minute Jumpstart

Last, but oh so certainly not least, is the 2 minute jump start. This is my G-rated, and slightly more helpful version of a method a former Marine Corp Sergeant who was a mentor of mine taught me. His was called JFDIN. “Just Freaking Do It Now.” (And the Sarge definitely did not ever use the word “freaking” by the way. That’s me keeping it PG.)

When faced with some monumental task that you can’t seem to get started on because it just feels too overwhelming, you’ve got to find a way to get started! If you don’t, you have instantly lost some of your power and discipline over yourself and it can easily ruin your productivity for the rest of the day or even your whole week. Because now you’re retreating from your day. Because now you’re not advancing on your work. Because now you’re acting scared. Because now you’re procrastinating. Because now you feel bad about yourself and about your work.

It’s terrible for your mindset and morale and it will screw up the whole rest of your day too. When this starts to happen, it is seriously bad news if you don’t recognize what’s up and deal with it as quickly and decisively as possible, so you can keep gaining ground and making progress. The Sarge would say in moments like these: JFDIN! That was alright, and sometimes it worked for me, but sometimes it didn’t. He had the advantage of actually going through boot camp so he could powerfully and convincingly visualize a drill sergeant yelling that at him, and it made sense to him and was motivating for him.

For me what really works just about any time I try it is: I negotiate with myself to get started. I say, “Okay this task seems monumental and overwhelming and I don’t feel like I am up to lifting up this entire task on shouldering this burden. Okay that’s actually pretty reasonable. So what is one part of this task that I can easily pick up and carry for two minutes? What one task will move me closer that I am willing to do and that I can get done in just two minutes?” That two minute, measured progress on the monumental project is a jump start. Once you get started, the momentum picks up. You see that it’s not a monumental task really, just a connected series of small two minute tasks.

You’ll get it done.

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