Sometimes, when work takes too long, a little productivity or life hack can help. After years of reading some of the best books about productivity, here are ten of my favourite little hacks that can help any executive or entrepreneur become more effective at work or in your business.
1. Hire a Virtual Assistant
A good assistant can help you become more productive than any piece of software. Decide on your rate per hour and outsource or delegate everything below that rate. Your assistant should take tasks off your to-do list and free you up to focus on higher value ones. They can also help with calendar management. Find one on a site like UpWork or using a service like Great Assistant.
2. Work With Your Phone in Another Room
A University of Texas study found a phone’s presence is a distraction and reduces a person’s ability to concentrate. So when you’re focusing on a work project, leave it in your bag or another room. If you really must use it, consider an app like Forest or set a timer on your phone for 30-minutes and work until it sounds.
3. Set Two Deadlines
I learned this tip from studying how Elon Musk operates. He came up with it after missing some important public deadlines at Tesla. Setting two deadlines serves as a buffer if something goes wrong. One deadline is for you; the other is for clients, customers or your boss.
4. Schedule 30 Minutes of Deep Learning Time Each Day
Read a difficult nonfiction book or take a few lessons from an online course related to a work or professional project. If you don’t feel this is a good use of your day, take note of Bill Gates. Every year, he devotes an entire week to thinking time.
5. Listen Actively
When someone senior is articulating a point, repeat a word or two out loud from what they said several sentences ago. Or at the end of the conversation, briefly summarise the next actions. The speaker will know you paid attention, and active listening will help you and others remember agreements.
6. Break Complex Ideas, Strategies and Hacks Down
Numbered or bullet point lists work great, as do mind maps. This approach encourages remembering an idea. Use a list if you have to send an update to your team over email and want them to read it. Your time-strapped team members can review a list but might miss an important point in a long email.
7. Begin Your Day with the Hardest Task
A difficult call. A troublesome report. Some strategic planning. Even if you don’t finish the task, everything else that happens will feel easier by comparison. Often a little momentum is all you need. It’s enough to prevent feeling guilty about procrastinating or a lack of progress later on.
8. Become Friends with HR Personnel, Executive Assistants and IT Staff
More than any vice president or operating officer, befriend HR and other staff. They understand how a company works. They also have relationships with key decision-makers. They can help you get things done if you’re stuck, need help or your laptop says enough.
9. Prepare Breakfast (or Lunch) the Night Before
A little meal prep will save five or ten minutes of stress in the morning. That’s a boon if you’ve kids to drop off at childcare, a train to catch or a long commute. You can also follow a similar approach and prepare your gym gear the night before if you want to hit the gym after work. Healthy eating plus exercise equals a more productive you.
10. Follow the Two-Minute Rule
Proposed by Getting Things Done author David Allen, it’s far more efficient to attend to any task that takes less than 120 seconds to complete. This frees up mental space and reduces overload. If the task takes longer, document it on a to-do list, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting. This hack is possibly my favourite because anyone can apply it immediately and get results.