We are all looking for that one golden nugget of wisdom that will make our days run effortlessly and smoothly. Between navigating through all of our various roles in life working and as daughters, mothers, friends, partners—and just our own individual contributions—there is always a long list of things to do. While the truth is that there is no one single path to being productive, there are a lot of productivity hacks we can build into our lives to advance our journey.
1. Use Your Commute Productively
Whether your commute consists of heading into the office or venturing to your favorite coffee shop for the day, there are ways to make the most of your time spent between home and work. How can this time work for you? Is it a quick call to check in on a parent? Or five minutes of listening to a new podcast and some deep breathing? Even if this time is short, using it intentionally is a satisfying way to start and end the day.
2. Clean Out Your Email
Yes, clean it out. All the way! Get rid of half-done replies, drafts that won’t go anywhere, and sale notifications you didn’t happen to shop your way through. Even just 30 dedicated minutes on a Friday morning of filing, unsubscribing, and getting responses off your plate in both your personal and work emails will send you into a weekend feeling refreshed.
3. Prioritize Your Tasks
Prioritization sounds easy, but it isn’t always simple. To really prioritize, don’t just make a list of tasks that need to be done and check off the “biggest,” “hardest,” or even “easiest.” Instead, think of your day as a set of building blocks that all need to fit together. Where’s the causality? What needs to be done first to make the rest of the day or week move better? Using this more connected method of prioritizing also helps us overcome some of the resistance we have around tough tasks.
4. Use the Pomodoro Method
This little tomato timer and its “work then break” method is a fan favorite for a reason! It’s proven that our brain feels more refreshed and focused when we can work in bursts. Set a timer, pick a mini project or task, and then shamelessly give yourself built-in breaks to recharge and come back strong.
5. Ignore Your Email in the Morning
If this one feels uncomfortable, try it boldly for just one week and see what it does for your productivity. It’s a natural inclination to want to respond and jump on tasks when we see an email. Starting your day diving right into the piles of emails you have means that your inbox becomes your prioritization list—in control of you instead of the other way around. Consider blocking an hour to check emails a little later in the morning, and instead, start your day with your priorities.
6. Understand Your Work Zones
Matching the type of work that needs to be done with where you do it is a huge productivity hack. Do you do your best number crunching at a structured desk or the kitchen table? Or maybe your best creative ideas come to you when you’re on a walk and can let your mind reset. Either way, knowing when and where you are at your best for all of your various tasks can be a real productivity boost and help with your work-life balance.
7. Strategically Leverage Your “OOO” Message
Who says your OOO autoresponder is just for vacation? Get creative with this autoresponder and use it for targeted projects. “I’m on a special project right now, and my mornings this week (9-12 a.m.) will be dedicated to that effort. Please contact me outside of those hours for the most timely response.” Push the boundaries by setting some of your own.
8. Scope Your Day the Night Before
Scoping your day is different from planning. When you’re scoping your day, you’re mentally preparing yourself for the various waves of energy and effort you’ll need throughout the day. Can you shift an important call to the morning when you’re feeling fresher? Should you see if a friend can help with after-school pick-up if your meeting runs over? Being able to do this assessment the night before a full schedule gives you more options to manage and rearrange the day.
9. Reduce Small Distractions
Every little ping, buzz, and blink takes us away from our full mental focus. Get in tune with what nudges kick you out of your zone each day. Is it a blinking instant message? Set a few hours of Do Not Disturb. Does the buzz of the office floor catch your ear? Headphones, please! You may even find that a dimmed-out room (and some blue light glasses!) help you zone in on a key project or task, without other visual distractions.
10. Set Up a Social Media Blocker
There are all kinds of useful apps and sites to help us control our social media consumption. Almost more important than helping corral its use is to figure out when and why you turn to it during the day. Do you find yourself reaching for a “scroll” when you’ve hit a tough part of a task? When you’re lacking some motivation? Or when you’re burned out and need a break? Understanding your “why” will do an even bigger job of helping you reorient to productive mode.
11. Book Time for Self-Care
While a daily massage would be just the self-care that a lot of us would love, there are many other mini ways to fit this into a day. This could look like treating yourself to a whole tea ritual in the break room, complete with a fancy teapot you keep at the office, or a full walk around the block doing a walking meditation. The point is to identify new hobbies or the thing for you that yields maximum good feelings for the highest value cost and effort to help ensure you keep it up.
12. Find Ways to Set Up “Habit Stacking”
Habit stacking was made popular by the book Atomic Habits, which helps you link new things you want to accomplish to existing habits in order to up the chances of getting them done. You’ll start to view your new habit goals in a whole new way when you think about the small ways you can link them together to be more productive.
13. Know Your Personal Bandwidth Triggers
We all know what our personal “running on empty” looks like. The hack is to know how to recognize it before it completely sneaks up on you. Do you start rubbing your eyes a little more? Do you get distracted and start poking through your old photo reel? Whatever your personal trigger is, that means you’ve hit top capacity on your bandwidth—become friends with her, and watch out for her more regularly.
14. Make “No” Your First Response
This may be another counterintuitive approach to productivity, but starting with “no” means that you get to say “yes” to a whole host of other things that are your personal priorities. When someone comes to you with a new project or need, start to think through the lens of putting the burden of effort on them to explain why it is worth your time and should be tackled before the long list of other priorities you have in train.
15. Trust Your Own Natural Rhythms
Some of us are morning people. Some of us are not. No matter how many TikTok morning routines we watch with a fresh-faced gal bouncing out of bed for her green juice and jaunting off to yoga, we may just never be the person who is their best self in the morning. Know your own rhythm for when your tasks best match your energy throughout the day and hack accordingly.
16. Find A Planning System That Works For You
Productivity never happened without a system. That doesn’t mean that you have to string together some ultra-high-tech collection of apps, trackers, and planners. It does mean that you need a consistent way to organize your life tasks so you can get to the goals that matter to you. Whether that’s through a gorgeous paper planner that feels more like a journal or a minimal but comprehensive app to tackle your to-do list, find your sport.
17. Tie Your Long-Term Goals to the Everyday
Goals aren’t happening unless they’re broken down into mini-objectives and addressed in small pieces. Think about the ways you can take your longer-term hopes and move toward them even in tiny ways every day. Running a marathon for your next birthday? Great. Even a quick 10-minute jog today puts you on the path to achieving that goal.
18. Communicate Your Productivity Objectives
We all do better in achieving our productivity goals when we’ve shared them with someone else. This can be formal, as in telling your boss or colleagues what you’re up to this week, or it can just be chatting with a loved one about what’s on your plate lately. Externalizing what we’re doing and what we need to get a job done is a huge part of productively working through our task list.
19. Slow Down
Quality almost always wins over quantity. Whenever you find yourself moving speedily through a task and buzzing on to the next thing, think of that as your trigger to slow down. Not only are we likely to make mistakes that will just take more time to correct in the long run, but we’re also training ourselves to overpack our days and often times not communicating that timelines may be unreasonable or that we need more resources. What do you need to get a great job done, not just a quick one?
20. Define Your Own Personal Productivity Metrics
On that note, productivity isn’t about doing more, faster. We could define productivity with a little more nuance and say that it’s about doing the best job, at the right time, with the right resources, and for the right objectives to get to the best outcome. When that’s the case, “how much” we checked off our list doesn’t matter as much as how productively we used our energy in a day, matching it with the things that matter the most.