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Last Updated on August 24, 2018

15 Productivity Hacks That Speed Up Your Efficiency

15 Productivity Hacks That Speed Up Your Efficiency

Need to get more efficient at work? Do you ever have enough time to get it all done?

If you are struggling to find the time to fit it all in, here are 15 productivity hacks that will help speed up your efficiency:

Email management

Let’s start with the chief productivity killer in most offices — emails.

1. Stop checking email first thing

If you want to drown in inefficiency, check your email first thing in the morning.

If you want to become more productive and efficient, eliminate this habit from your day.

Checking your email first thing in the morning puts you at the mercy of others. Take back the control and start your day with the tasks you have planned to do, not the ones someone else thinks you should do.

2. Turn off notifications

When you have your work planned out, you don’t want to be disturbed by an email notification in the bottom right of your screen.

Switch off all notifications. When you receive an email notification or any other type of notification, it disturbs your focus.

If you turn them off, you can have calm, undisturbed focus for as long as your brain will allow.

3. Batch process email

With the notifications turned off, go to your email a couple of times during the day when you have decided it’s time.

Let your emails build up so that you can process them.

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Processing allows you to think clearly about which ones are top priority and which can be left until later. The way they arrive into your inbox is not the order of merit.

4. Unsubscribe to newsletters

Unsubscribe to as many newsletters as possible. Let them clog up some other email inbox.

If you really need to stay subscribed, subscribe under a different email address. This way, you reduce the number of emails coming into your work email address.

Software and apps organization

Now let’s get to the digital organization.

4. Use Sanebox for organized emails

Continuing on the subject of email, try out Sanebox to reduce the amount of emails that get into your inbox in the first place.

Sanebox uses algorithms to determine the importance of each email, and it moves unimportant messages out of the Inbox into a separate folder, and summarizes them for you.

The added bonus is that it works on any platform and has all the same functionality in the phone app too.

5. Use Activewords for faster output

Use a text replacement software such as Activewords to reduce time spent writing repetitive sentences.

Activewords can be used to launch programs, websites, Evernote notes and more. Saving minutes daily can add up to days saved at the end of the year.

6. Try CloudOn to store documents

CloudOn allows you to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint to create documents on the go using your iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Users can sync with Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive accounts. You can also email files directly from mobile devices

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7. Use Evernote to organize notes

Evernote has changed my life.

I have a bad memory, but I no longer have to waste time trying to remember where I have stored something because it’s all in Evernote, from my kids artwork to my families identification numbers, from my shopping list to my next book project.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Productivity in the office

At work, there’re also a couple of hacks you should try to speed up productivity.

8. Delegate

Only do what only you can do. Your philosophy should be to do as little as possible.

Focus on your core strengths and leave the rest of the work to others.

If you are unfortunate to be the person who receives all the delegated work and you don’t have anyone to help you, make sure you are clear about priorities, clarify priorities and goals with your superiors so you can make better decisions when people send work your way.

Here’s a guide that will help you learn how to delegate effectively:

How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

9. Make meetings productive

Make meetings more productive or don’t have them.

Meetings waste an enormous amount of money each year for organizations. Too many people are in attendance that don’t have to be there, and most of them are replying to emails and focusing on something other than the meeting.

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Think of more creative ways to have meetings, but start by avoiding the meetings where you are not really required.

10. Say no

We must learn to say no to others to be able to say yes to ourselves.

Helping others is great but not when it causes us stress trying to complete our own tasks.

Learn to be more assertive and not take on too much work if possible.

Leo Babauta has some good advice on how to say no:

The Gentle Art of Saying No

11. Two minute rule

Another tip from David Allen is that if something takes less than two minutes, do it now.

By adopting this rule, you will clear a lot of things from your To Do list very quickly. It also gives you a sense of satisfaction and achievement which only fuels your productivity.

Brain and body performance

The condition of your health has a lot to do with your productivity, so don’t ever underestimate it.

12. Work with your body

Figure out your natural body rhythms and work with them.

Some of us are more productive at night, others in the morning.

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Don’t fight your natural cycles and try and maximize these times to do your most important tasks

13. Hydrate

When the body is dehydrated we lose energy; when the brain is dehydrated we lose focus.

Ensure you drink water right throughout the day in order to get the most from both your body and mind.

14. Fuel the body

Along with drinking plenty of water, there are many foods that help to keep us energized and focused throughout the day.

Omega oils, known as “brain foods,” help us focus and concentrate.

Proteins and carbohydrates maintain our energy, and a little caffeine can give us a perk when we need it.

Stay aware of your body’s needs and feed it accordingly

15. Exercise

Richard Branson reckons he gets an extra 8 hours of productive time each day from working out in the morning.

Exercise gives us energy, reduces stress and increases focus.

Most productive and successful people have a regular habit of working out. So if you are to only follow one of these hacks, make it this one.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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