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3 Simple Hacks to Unlock 5 Hidden Hours Each Week

3 Simple Hacks to Unlock 5 Hidden Hours Each Week

“I just didn’t have the time.”

People say it without even thinking. It’s by far the number one muttered excuse for not getting things done. What people should really be saying is… “I didn’t make it a priority.”

There are hours and hours of hidden productivity in all of our lives, no matter who you are. And I’m not talking about doing things like working 80 hours a week, sleeping less, or anything else that is going to take away from your health and slowly kill you over time.

I’m talking about a few simple hacks you can use to free up extra time in your life by getting more stuff done that matters. Because at the end of the day, those things that you say “I just didn’t have enough time” to, are things that are supposed to be priorities for you.

This is a simple explanation of what I call, The Productivity Blueprint.

First, Eliminate

What activities in your life have absolutely no value, or an incredibly low amount of value? Think about it. There are a lot of low value things that we do, such as watching TV, but for some people that brings them joy and helps them relax, so I consider that valuable. My advice for recreation is to focus on the stuff that brings you the highest amount of joy, and maybe let the rest slide a bit.

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Past a certain point, some types of recreation might not provide value at all. They might just be “something to do.”

What I want you to do is completely eliminate the things that you do in your life that have no value towards your priorities (that are hopefully time-based). These may be things like:

  • Reading trash magazines
  • Watching excessive amounts of television (Especially the news. It’s called The Internet.)
  • Spending an excessive amount of time browsing the web and social media (except this article)
  • Talking on the phone (some people are literally addicted to this)
  • Deleting 50 emails a day (just unsubscribe)
  • Excessive driving (commuting outside of rush hour can easily save you an hour a week or more)
  • Looking for stuff (just get organized!)
  • Figuring out what to do next (you should always work from a list)
  • And more…

My advice is to be aggressive with yourself. Really question your daily routine. Even the most productive of us, myself included, have our time wasters.

By practicing just a tiny bit of elimination, you can often grab 2-3 hours a week, by doing this alone.

Then, Automate

After you’ve gone through the elimination step, you’ve inherently told yourself that everything else that you do is somehow important.

In the automation step, you’re going to take advantage of technology to streamline your daily life.

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The absolute best thing you can automate is your personal finances. The world of paperless billing and automated transactions can save literally 5-10 hours a month.

If you’re still in the paper world even with a single bill, think about how much time you spend walking that paper trail, for ONE thing:

  • Walking to the mailbox
  • Opening the envelope while trying not to cut yourself
  • Fumbling through the pages of a bill you don’t want to see anyway
  • Finding your checkbook and dusting it off
  • Traveling back to 1998
  • Moving the cat from your desk
  • Writing a check
  • Finding an envelope to mail it in
  • Searching for your stamps in a drawer of other useless junk
  • Figuring out how to fit your bill and check securely in the return envelope
  • Moving the cat again
  • Sealing your envelope
  • Writing the return address on the envelope
  • Mailing the envelope

And I probably left out some steps… not to mention the distractions you will no doubt encounter along the way.

I don’t know about you, but that would take me like 45 minutes at least. Most of it would be remember how to write a check.

But consider the paperless route, and paying that bill automatically from your account. Here’s the process.

  • Do nothing

Yep, that’s it. Doing nothing in this case produces the exact same result in infinity less time, and you only have to set it up once.

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If you’re a real technophobe, set up an alert for when your bill is paid. That’ll take you 30 seconds max to read in your email.

The real beauty here is that this time saving strategy works to your advantage every time you pay that bill. So you’re not just saving time once. You’re benefiting every time you would have to pay that bill.

There are other ways you can automate your life as well, including:

  • Having non-perishables delivered on a schedule through Amazon Subscribe, eliminating trips to the store
  • Configuring automatic updates and virus scans on your computer
  • Setting up automated filters in your email to keep it organized it for you
  • Using a call screener on your phone to eliminate unwanted phone calls
  • Get automated appliances to manage your home for you

Using technology to automate your life can easily save you 2-3 hours a week, even on a small scale.

Last, Outsource

Everything left over that you can’t either eliminate or automate, is a candidate for outsourcing, which means having someone else do lower value tasks for you. It’s a money for time trade in most cases.

The easiest way to figure out the things you can outsource is to ask yourself one simple question – “What can’t someone else do for me?”

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This literally means to put the things at the top of your list that only you can do, such as working on a project that only you have the knowledge to complete. For example, no one could write this article for me, at least not how I want to write it.

Other lower value items like housework, yard work, daily errands, and other tiny remedial tasks that can easily be routine-driven and systematized (yes, that’s a word), etc, can be completed by someone else.

If money is an issue, question what you’re spending your money on as well. It’s often a lot better to free up time for important tasks than it is to have a few more extra bucks here and there.

Outsourcing effectively can gain you a massive amount of time, several hours per week on a small scale, and even in the double digit realm on a larger scale.

Conclusion

By following the hierarchy of Eliminating, Automating, then Outsourcing, you can easily grab an extra 5 hours each week, if not much much more, to complete your high priority projects.

You’ll never be able to say “I just didn’t have enough time” again.

More by this author

Cody Wheeler

Cody is a self-improvement blogger at Academy Success, the place to learn life skills you don't learn in school.

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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

Where you work has an enormous impact on how you work – on your ability to focus (and stay focused) and your overall ability to be productive. That means the design of your office, whether you work at home or in a larger company environment, is of supreme importance. This isn’t just about Feng Shui, this is about producing results and getting things done.

According to studies done on workplace and productivity, the most significant factor in determining an employee’s ability to focus is their physical environment. In fact, it’s been said that a well-designed office can increase your productivity about 20%. However, despite the studies and statistics, nearly half of the employers interviewed don’t consider workplace design a good business investment.

So what is a productivity hack to do? What if you work in an environment that doesn’t promote focus?

Check these 15 factors and make changes where you can. A little adjustment can produce a lot of impact.

Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important factors in staying focused and feeling inspired to create, yet it’s one of the most overlooked and least invested in. Bad lighting can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches and overall irritability. Dark spaces can actually produce depression.

If you work in a company office:
You probably have no control over your general lighting so bring in your own, if need be. Consider using natural light bulbs or a light therapy device.

If you work from a home office:
Open the windows and doors and let natural light in. Using lamps in a variety of areas for cloudy days or when it’s dark.

Chair and Table

If you’ve ever sat at a desk to do work but found yourself adjusting, stretching and moving too often to actually stay focused, then you’re aware of the importance of having a correctly fitted table and chair. In today’s work environment where so many of us are sitting for most of our day, it is critical that your throne fits your body probably.

Consider these quick ergonomic checks:

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  • Eyes 24-36 inches from the computer screen. The top of the monitor should be below or at eye-level.
  • Feet should be on a foot rest or resting on the floor.
  • A slightly reclined chair posture is best to reduce pressure on your spine and minimize lower back pain.

If you work in a company office:
Ask for an adjustable chair. Add pillows for your lower back or bum, if you need it. Many companies will also provide risers for computers to adjust the height of your computer screen (and a separate keyboard to keep your hands and wrists in the ideal position)

If you work from a home office:
Invest in a decent chair or at least use a few pillows to make the chair more comfortable. If the table is too high, add pillows to your chair. If it is too low, consider buying leg risers from your local hardware store and using books beneath your computer to raise the screen. Use a separate keyboard.

Clutter

Your mama was right, it’s important to clean up your room. Clutter may help the creative mind create, but it isn’t necessarily helpful for focus and productivity.

If you work from a company office: While you can’t control the cleanliness of the office at large, do keep your own environment around you clean. Spend 10 minutes every morning or evening making sure things are put away, filed, organized and generally out of sight so you’re not distracted by it later.

If you work from a home office: Because you work from home, the entire house or apartment is potential for distraction. If you can afford it, hire a professional cleaning service to keep your home clean. If not, schedule a specific day and time to clean your home. Commit to doing daily pickup at a specific time. And spend at least 10 minutes every day making sure your office  is organized and tidy.

Room Color

The colors around us all have an effect on our moods and brain function. It evokes both a physical and emotional response. So choosing the right colors for your work space has the ability to affect your productivity. For instance, blue has been said to illicit productivity. Mind you, too much of anything can be overwhelming, even color.

If you work from a company office: Bring in items from home that are a certain color that inspire you and keep you focused. Use postcards, magazine cutouts, even just blocks of color will do.

If you work from a home office: If you work from home, you have much more control over the colors around you. Consider repainting a wall, adding color to the table you work at, or hanging pictures that are dominated by a specific color.

Room Temperature

Most offices keep their temperatures around 65-68 Fahrenheit but it turns out that this might not be good for productivity. Warmer rooms actually make people more productive.

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If you work from a company office: Most offices are regulated by somebody else, so bring a space heater, sweaters and blankets to your work space.

If you work from a home office: Depending on the season, open the windows or adjust the heat or a/c so that you’re more comfortable and warm. Pile on the sweaters in the winter or add a space heater to your feet.

Room Scents

Like the color of the space you work in, our sense of smell can powerfully affect our mood, mindset and thus our productivity. Consider adding scents to your work space to jar your mind into focus when you start to notice yourself drifting off.

Try using these scents to stay focused:

  • Pine – Increases alertness
  • Cinnamon – Improves focus
  • Lavender – Helps to relax you during a stressful work day
  • Peppermint – Lifts your mood
  • Citrus (any) – Wakes you up  and lifts your spirits

If you work from a company office: Most people will not appreciate added scents to their work environment so you’ll need to keep it subtle. Keep essential oils in your bag or drawer and when you’re in need of a boost put a few drops on a handkerchief or cotton ball.

If you work from a home office: Use candles, incense or essential oils. You can also simmer herbs and spices in the kitchen to fill your home with a warm scent.

Noise Level

The noise level in a work environment can vary greatly depending on the size of the team you work with, the office design and company culture. But make no mistake, the noise around you affects your ability to stay on task. Not only can it be distracting, it can also raise stress levels making your ability to sustain productivity far more difficult.

If you work from a company office: Bring in noise cancellation headphones and use music services like Spotify or Songza and choose concentration boosting sounds, like white noise.  Find out if your office offers quiet work spaces for times when you need the utmost focus.

If you work from a home office: Sometimes the complete quiet can be as distracting as an office. Use a service like Coffivity to mimic the noise of a coffee shop, which has been said to help with concentration.

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Air Quality

Air quality can drastically affect our ability to focus and think clearly. Get this: OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of poor air quality in office environments costs employers $15 billion “due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.” Yeah, it’s serious business.

If you work from a company office: Talk to them about installing air filters. If there is a way to bring in fresh air through windows or doors, arrange to have them opened for at least a portion of the day. If nothing else, get a personal air filter to have on your desk or nearby.

Also, get a plant (or better yet, have the company buy and use more plants in the office!). Plants are great at filtering the air and providing clean, purified oxygen.

If you work from a home office: Open windows and doors and let in the fresh air. Install an air filter or get a portable air filter to keep near your desk. And, yes, you too should get a plant.

Different Spaces

If you can manage it, give yourself more than one space to work from. Putting yourself in a new space with different qualities and things to look at quite literally shifts your brain and helps you stay focused.

If you work from a company office: Many offices offer a variety of environments to work from: your personal space, lobbies, break out rooms, conference rooms, kitchens and eating areas and, if you’re lucky, they also provide lounge areas. Use all these spaces to vary your routine. Make sure your supervisor knows so they don’t think you’re slacking off and know tat you’re actually getting more done!

If you work from a home office: If you work at a desk, add a comfortable couch or chair to the room. If your space is less flexible or ultra tiny, think about more creative ways to change your work space. Rotate the pictures on your walls every couple of days. Sit on the other side of your desk. Get a lamp and multiple colored bulbs. Or go work at a café, the library or in a park.

Organization of People

Most employers organize employees around job function or in specific divisions. Instead, studies show that people are more creative and productive when they are sitting with colleagues that share the same goal or client. Not only are you able to get answers and generate solutions quicker, but because you’re directly accountable to the people around you, you’re more likely to stay on task and productive.

If you work from a company office: Ask your employer if you can experiment by clustering your group together in a conference room for a day or a week. Get feedback from everybody involved. Show the results. If your company won’t make permanent adjustments, perhaps they’ll allow you to work together a couple times a week when the conference room or lounge area is free.

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If you work from a home office: This is a little bit more difficult because when you work at home you’re not with colleagues. You can recreate a similar space digitally, however. Create a Skype group and have everyone logged in during working hours. You can do morning accountability and check-ins while remaining available for questions, solution-finding and general banter that promotes creativity.

Idea Storage

Ever been working hard when you’re suddenly distracted by a great idea? At first you try to push it away, but then the next thing you know you’re 20 pages deep into an online search on the topic. Ideas should be encouraged and cultivated, but when they come right in the middle of another task it can be incredibly distracting. Instead, create a place to store your ideas that’s easily accessed from your work space.

For both a company and home office: Keep pads of paper around, have a chalk wall, get a white board – when you have a spark of inspiration write it down right away to get it out of your head then return to the task at hand. Then, at the end of the day or when you have free time, collect all the ideas and review them. With a little time and space you can better decide if it’s worth pursuing or better to leave it on the back-burner.

Refreshment

Our brain needs nourishment to keep going, especially when we’re driving hard and staying focused. You can let a rumbling stomach go on for only so long before the brain shuts down. Assuming your different is like wanting your car to keep driving without having to stop and fill it with gas. A novel idea, but not realistic.

If you work from a company office: Pre-make snacks for the day and/or week. Or, bring in prepackaged snacks. Keep in mind that junk food has properties of diminishing returns so if you’re buying your food prepackaged think nuts, fruit, unsweetened yogurts, and hummus and crackers. Likely, your company provides coffee, tea and water so you don’t have to worry about supplying that for yourself.

If you work from a home office: If you work from home, this can be a key distraction. Try to reduce the number of times you walk into the kitchen each day. To do this, keep quick and   easy snacks pre-made or prepackaged ready and near your desk. Keep a water bottle nearby. And consider bringing a kettle into your office and stocking tea and coffee so you’re   not tempted to wander around the house and lose time poking through the pantry.

Bring in Nature

We are biological creatures, first and foremost. So we are deeply affected by our access to (or lack of) the natural world. It’s important for our psychological and physiological functioning, which directly affects our ability to be productive.

If you work from a company office: If you don’t have windows in or near your work space, bring in pictures of the outdoor world. Keep a picture of something natural as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks outdoors at lunch or in between major tasks. Just a few minutes outside in the fresh air and sunshine can boost our mood and shake out the doldrums. Be sure to add a plant to your desk, too!

If you work from a home office: Keep the shades open and, if you can, let in fresh air. If you can’t see anything natural out of your window, keep pictures of the natural world as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks. Or, just step outside and put your feet on the ground. Put plants in your office – research shows that having live plants in your office makes you more productive, happier and less stressed.

Digital Space

For most people, our primary work is housed within our laptops and our physical environment simply the backdrop to our digital lives. Make sure your computer has software that helps you sculpt the digital environment that best elicits productivity. Use focus apps like this one or this to decrease distractions. Or design your day using intervals with an app like this one to keep you at your peak focus throughout the day.

Featured photo credit: Phil Desforges via unsplash.com

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