If you’re looking for advice on how to get more work done and accomplish your goals, then you’ve probably stumbled across many articles on productivity. What you probably didn’t stumble upon was how to actually get more work done and accomplish your goals.
The reason behind this conundrum, I suspect, is because those productivity articles told you to drink a glass of water, rearrange your furniture, or change the color scheme surrounding your desk.
This approach is about as effective as hoping and praying that your goals appear out of a magic hat.
Is water and exercise important for a healthy lifestyle? Sure. Does a healthy lifestyle contribute to productivity? Yeah.
But you were asking for the recipe to chicken noodle soup, and all you found in those articles was some spices you could use to alter the flavor.
I’ve been studying productivity for quite a while and the biggest wins always come from focusing on one key area that really matters. Nobody has time to implement 20 productivity hacks and frankly no one will because it’s overwhelming.
If you want massive results, you’re not going to rearrange the icons on your desktop for some insignificant gain of 0.00000001% in productivity.
When I found myself failing at the productivity game, I changed my habits by focusing on one key tactic at a time, and only on the tactics that made sense and a lasting impact. That’s why I’m never going to tell you to drink a glass of water.
If I do please do me a favor and tell me never to write another article again.
I’ve taken a minimalist approach to hacking productivity because you get the best results with less distractions and no BS. This approach avoids pandering over which spices to use, and instead gives you the ingredients and the steps to make that chicken noodle soup you’ve been dreaming about.
My minimalist journey to improve productivity involved focusing on a few key areas that yielded very large results. Quality over quantity.
You won’t find 30 productivity hacks that make you feel better about yourself. You will find hacks that if you put in the work up front yield very large results over time.
The rest of the productivity game has become a lot like a case study of cutthroat competition.
In cutthroat competition 2 companies will keep undercutting each other on price, until not only are they not profitable, but they begin taking losses. This is what happens with productivity.
In the productivity game, people try to do every small productivity hack that is thrown at them, yielding little to no gains. In fact, some “productivity hacks” are so useless they’re just wasting your time implementing them.
One of the key productivity hacks is to focus on what matters. Would you rather focus on the one or two things that will make the most significant impact, or the 500 mini-hacks that yield little to no real results?
In productivity, like in life, it’s easier to focus on the easy busy work, but if you focus on the few things that are harder and have the potential to yield massive results, that’s where the real change happens.
Here are the five productivity hacks which made the greatest impact on how I do work.
1. Make Goals and Make Them Stick
Arguably the biggest change I saw in my productivity came from writing down my goals. It’s hard to stick to them when you don’t put them on paper, physically or digitally.
So if you haven’t already, take some time to write down your goals. This should take about 15 minutes.
Once you’ve got them down, look at them critically and pick the one you want to focus on right now. The next step is to take that goal and break it into smaller chunks.
What can you accomplish this month, and this week to move you towards completing it?
Write down your week by week plan. Your first week item is what you can focus on this week. Write that down on a sticky note or to-do list and keep it with you.
Make it your priority to accomplish your weekly goal. Rinse and repeat every week and before you know it you’ll have chiseled away at your goal until it’s a completed.
If you struggle with finding the motivation to stick to these weekly goals, there are two options which can help.
The first is to consider an accountability partner. This is a person that you check in with weekly on the progress of your weekly goals.
Ideally, the two of you do this process together so you’re both checking on each other’s progress and encouraging each other to keep moving forward.
Another tactic to boost your goal crushing it to add rewards to your goals. Plan out something nice you’ll do for yourself when you hit each weekly goal.
I’ve picked things like getting frozen yogurt, going out to eat at a nice restaurant, or going to a movie. Pick what works for you.
You can also get your accountability partner in on it and plan group rewards or help each other pick the rewards for each week.
2. Apply Your Limited Attention to Narrow Your Focus
In minimalism you get rid of all the noise and the “stuff” and just keep what adds value to your life. The same principal applies to your goals.
Multitasking, despite being touted as a skill, has been proven time and time again to produce mediocre results across a wide spectrum of activities. Being able to focus entirely on one project lets you perform at your highest level, and minimalism will help get your there.
This is why when writing down your goals, it is best to just pick one and focus on that one. So many people want to spread their focus because they’re afraid one idea will fail.
That might be true, but don’t let your fear of failure lead you to mediocre results by diverting your focus.
Focus on the idea that is most important to you. To mitigate failure you can set a goal with a timeline. For example, if you can’t get 100 customers by X date, you will move on.
This type of goal will boost your motivation and if you fail, you can simply move on to the next idea.
The advantage to this approach is that if you do 5 things at a mediocre level, you might be mitigating your risk but you’re also mitigating your success.
If you instead focus on doing that one goal to your highest capability, you will have much higher chance of success with that goal, and in a much shorter amount of time.
3. Get Organized
Sometimes when people meet a minimalist they just think, wow, that person is really tidy. Cool, but what does tidy have to do with productive?
Just like how minimalists get really tidy and this streamlines virtually everything they do, getting organized has the same effect on your work and your goals.
Getting organized promotes clearer thinking, better planning, and better tracking of your goals.
- Get everything out of your mind and onto lists.
You want to write down everything you need to do this week, this month, this year, and in the future. This includes any ideas you have and any “maybes” that you’ll want to reconsider at a later date.
Be sure to include things like bills, taxes, work related, school related, your goals, your dreams, personal life, and anything else you can think of.
Just write it all down.
- Categorize your lists to better prioritize these tasks.
You want to organize your tasks into categories such as things to do this week, to do this month, this year, future list, and thoughts for later consideration (maybes).
You’ll be referencing the weekly and monthly lists regularly and only reviewing the future and maybe lists routinely. Maybes will get deleted or converted to one of your more immediate lists at a later date.
After you’re done, be sure to set a date and time to review your lists weekly. This will allow you to add and delete items, keeping the lists current and relevant.
Remember, this doesn’t do any good unless you stick with it.
- Have a single system for organization.
You can use software (like Evernote), journals, sheets of paper, or any method you prefer. The key here is to make sure everything is synced and in one place.
I would highly recommend using just one system or as few as possible to keep your life simpler.
As an example one person might keep everything in Evernote, neatly categorized and manage their alerts in there as well.
Another person might keep their lists in journals while yet another might do everything in Google calendars. There are many choices, do what is best for you.
- Do this without distraction.
It’s important to engage in this process of getting organized with several hours of uninterrupted time. Otherwise it won’t get done or it will get done poorly.
It’s not valuable to you unless you get all of your ideas and to dos out of your head and into your system of organization.
Once you’re done you can get to work so don’t worry about doing any work right now. The work can wait– this should not.
Focus on the process and know that this will allow you to be much more efficient and less stressed once you are done.
Whatever system you chose, this is the time to implement it fully.
Make sure all of your ideas, tasks, etc. are in your journals, Evernote, sheets of paper, or whatever system you picked.
Make sure your calendar (physical, Google, IPhone) is populated with tasks for at least the next month.
Put weekly reviews on your calendar so you can review your lists and tasks weekly, updating as needed. Make them once a week at the same time.
4. 80/20 Life
80/20 thinking is all about noticing the minority of activities that produce the majority of results. Then you want to multiply those activities, while simultaneously reducing the 80% of activities that only yield 20% of your results.
In English, this means figuring out where the majority of your results come from and focusing your attention there.
For example, let’s say Bob is a writer and he spends 20% of his time writing and promoting articles, and 80% of his time checking email and sharing his articles on social media.
Bob decides to analyze his traffic and what he finds is that 80% of his traffic comes from guest posts and publishing new articles.
Bob is annoyed to realize that he’s only spending 20% of his time on the most important thing. He decides to cut the time on social media way down, while quadrupling the time he spends writing new articles and guest posting.
The result is that Bob quadruples his traffic. Bob did this without spending any more time, but only by shifting his time to what had the biggest impact.
This is what 80/20 thinking is all about, and if you apply the concept to your goals or your business, you’ll find it pays back with dividends.
5. Saying No
Saying no is a big productivity hack you’ve likely heard about from many entrepreneurs.
The biggest reasons to say no are that you don’t want to spend time on anything you don’t love, and you need to make time for the things that matter most.
Saying no might mean sacrificing some of your social life, lesser interests, and let’s be honest, lesser friends. But it’s about prioritizing what really matters to you and what you really hope to accomplish.
The idea of saying no more often ties perfectly with minimalism because less is more. You do less but the things you do are more meaningful.
You are only doing what adds value, and cutting out the rest.
- In the next week, take action on just 1 of the 5 key minimalist productivity hacks. Share what you loved and hated about it here.
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