8 Counterintuitive Productivity Hacks Improving Time at Work

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Here are a couple of productivity hacks I picked up over time from different sources (books, articles, videos). All vetted with my personal experience :). I’m practicing most of them daily and some I had to learn painfully until I discovered them. Some might feel counter-intuitive, but these are the points I would share with my younger self, if I could:

1. Reduce Noise

Don’t watch or read unrelated news, except for entertainment. Better get a quick update every once in a while. Really important news will reach you anyhow. In general consume as little irrelevant, negative and random information as possible (if it’s not for the task you are working on just now). Avoid television. There are anyways much better alternatives out there. No unnecessary reading of content you don’t need right now. Like non-fiction books or articles about topics, which are interesting to you, but useless in your current situation. Except for entertainment this extra information is not going to help you (in most cases). It creates noise in your head and everyday news is full of negative reports (giving you a negative view of the world).

2. Prepare Just-In-Time

Don’t prepare for something, when you need it weeks or months in the future. Prepare when you need it = consume information just-in-time. Otherwise you will need to prepare it again. Most information will be forgotten, if there is a big gap between consumption and execution. We can also remember things much better, when its coupled with execution. There are exceptions. For example it’s a very important and complex topic with a hard deadline and consequences. Then you surely should gather information in advance to be prepared. But many smaller tasks don’t require that. Like you don’t have to read books and articles about how to present yourself well or get through a job interview, if it’s still some time down the line. Or you don’t have to learn a new programming language, when you are not going to use it anytime soon. This kind of knowledge if not applied in near-term, will vanish from your mind.

3. Turn Bad Habits into Good ones

Whenever you find yourself procrastinating, do 5 (or any small number) push-ups or squats. You link a bad habit with a good habit and you do a little exercise, when you are not able to concentrate. This gets your blood flowing and pumps in oxygen, which gives your brain more energy and reduces time wasting.

4. Set Tight Deadlines

If you are the type, who can’t get started without deadlines, you should set hard-to-achieve or even unrealistic deadlines. This will force you to focus and prioritise. Otherwise you tend to procrastinate and do small, useless and unimportant tasks, which you don’t need to do to achieve the same goals. See Parkinson’s Law or the Law of triviality.

5. No Meetings

Avoid meetings and calls. Mostly they are not necessary, have no agenda, no goals and include lots of socializing. If you make calls or meetings, then with a clear purpose and end them early. Keep things to structured emails or asynchronous chats whenever possible. Writing emails requires to think about the problem and doesn’t encourage chit-chat or other social time wasters.

6. Avoid Discussions

Don’t get into unnecessary discussions with your co-workers or boss. If it’s not really important to you and not critical for your goals, just leave it. They are often long, emotional and totally unproductive. Quit the discussion as soon as you can and get back working on your goals instead. This saves you tons of time and nerves.

7. It’s All Your Fault

If something failed and it was because of you, your team-mates or whoever, assume it was your responsibility and admit it was your fault. Then think about the failure and what could have been done to avoid it. Sounds counterintuitive? Here are the benefits:

  1. Your brain will start working on solutions to avoid it next time and take away some learning from the failure, instead of coming up with excuses why you couldn’t avoid it or reasons why it wasn’t you. This doesn’t really help you, except getting you out of a situation (maybe) in short term.
  2. Any forth and back blaming each other and heated discussions will evaporate before they even start. Everybody saves time. Especially your’s is saved for the important things.

8. Don’t Finish It

Don’t finish something, if it’s not contributing to your goals. Stop reading a boring book, article, blog post, etc., if it doesn’t provide useful or entertaining information. Don’t finish something just because you have started it. This applies to projects too. If you don’t believe in a project you are working on and you don’t enjoy it, kill it (if you can). Realize your losses and move on to more promising projects.