Productivity Hacks for Gaining Back Hours in a Day

Implementing just a few of these every day can yield results in a week


Lauren Liebler

2 years ago | 8 min read

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” — Henry David Thoreau

This idea could not be truer. Busyness does not equal productiveness. “Doing things” all day long doesn’t mean you did the right things.

You may have finally gotten around to fixing your TV or installing the shelves you’ve wanted for months, but did you actually want to spend time on that? Wouldn’t you rather get started on the exciting project you’ve been thinking about that would bring joy to your life?

I’ve been struggling with productivity for much of my professional life, but now that I have a hold on my own schedule and work style, there a few things that have drastically changed the way I get things done.

Plan the night before

I don’t mean just having your to-do list ready. I mean planning your every task by the hour or even by the minute.

You should already know how long it takes to do things throughout your day like working out, making breakfast and lunch, and all your other non-negotiable daily tasks.

Plug those into the hours you want to do them (I do this in my Panda Planner (not an affiliate link)) as well as your ideal end time and work around that.

For example, since I’m fasting in the mornings, I get started on my biggest task at 9 a.m. (after waking up, reading news and having coffee) and keep going through 11 a.m. without stopping.

I know it takes me 30 minutes to make food and eat it and then I usually have a call or meeting scheduled for the afternoon and I keep going until my stop time.

That way, I can’t hit snooze in the morning because I know I need these exact hours to get these things done. Which leads me to my next point.

Photo by Myriams-Fotos — 1627417

Schedule the Most Important First

I usually task myself with writing first thing in the morning when my brain is at its most productive or I’d schedule a presentation or interview early on the days when they happen.

Otherwise, it’s the only thing on your mind all day and your other tasks become less important than this one thing happening later. If the timing of it is out of your hands, I recommend doing something like working out. You are less likely to do a workout after a 5 p.m. presentation.

All you’ll want is a drink in hand and a nice dinner to treat yourself. So, I recommend getting your workout out of the way first. (Side note: working out before a presentation is one of the best ways to relax since it releases your endorphins and makes you feel calmer).

Schedule breaks

How long you can do work and the amount of break time you need is different depending on your own working abilities. For example, I’ll write for two hours and take a 30-minute break or work on a certification for an hour and take a 5-minute break. It all depends on the brain power you use and the nature of the work you’re doing.

You also need to think about burn out and what your threshold is.

There are times when I can work from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. because I took lots of breaks or 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. because I only took one break to eat. Whether we’re in the office or not, the same thing applies. Breaks are the best way to get through the day with clarity and energy.

Have a goal-driven, task-focused approach

To do this, you set goals first and then think about how to tackle the tasks in a way that fits the goal’s SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) timeline. I

f your goal is to win an award for a campaign or sign on a certain number of clients by the end of the year, what do you have to do to get there? Get granular and figure out the daily tasks that will move you closer.

Divide out your tasks

If you have “write proposal” or “plan campaign” on one of your time blocks, it might be tough to get started on such a big task. If you know it takes 30 minutes to write an outline for a proposal, then start there and work your way through it. Get as much of it done as you can within the timeframe but understand that it might not get finished by then and that’s okay.

Larger tasks should get divided because doing them in one sitting might not be what works. These things take time to think through. If you need a brainstorming session, then include that part in the schedule. Be reasonable and create small wins to keep you motivated.

Batch your tasks

I learned about this recently from Early to Rise where you plan to do the same task in a three or four hour sitting. This increases productivity by making your brain do the same task and focusing in on it rather than jumping between tasks without focus.

The Trello Blog calls this jumping “context switching” which can ruin productivity and make it hard to get any one thing done. What I’ll do is make sure that my writing (even if its for different clients or projects) gets done within the first two hours of the day, then I’ll sit through three hours of class, webinars or certifications and let the last three hours consist of meetings, calls and checking email.

This is the ideal way to get things done because it gives you more structure and it’s less likely that you jump from task to task. It’s important to know when your brain works best. If it’s in the afternoon, then you can schedule your more mundane tasks for the morning and your creative tasks for the afternoon.

Hire tasks Out

For optimal productivity, you want to make sure you’re focusing on the tasks you want to do that make you the most money and make you the happiest. If the idea of writing a book gets you excited but you don’t want to write it, hire a ghostwriter.

If you want to keep your website and social media up to date but don’t want to think about what to post every day, hire a content marketer.

Trying to spread yourself too thin is never a good idea and teaching yourself to do new things to save a few bucks may end up costing you more than you think.

Time is money which should always be spent wisely. Don’t lose out on a big client or deal calling your phone while you were trying to figure out the topic of your website’s next blog post.

Say “No” More

It’s easy to think we have time to take on a variety of tasks and have the “can do” attitude for everything. It’s one of the best traits to have early on in your career because there’s more opportunity to learn and take on more responsibility, but when you’re years out and you’ve put in your time, it’s important to give those tasks to someone else or simply say “no”.

When it comes to clients, some may understand your scope of work and never ask you for anything additional, but it’s more often that they ask for more. A simple “can you look this over really quickly?” can turn into an hour of free work you’re giving that could be used more productively.

I learned this the hard way by looking back at a week’s work one time and found how much time I spent on things that didn’t serve my wallet, growth or health.

At the end of the day, saying no is more about respecting yourself than being a bad person to work with. You’ll thank yourself for being stricter with your time.

Block Out Distractions

It’s so easy to get distracted with constant notifications coming from our phones, email reminders, our pets, family members and if you work from home, the neighbor’s leaf blower, car alarm, dog barking and everything in between.

You can put your phone away, but you can’t exactly tell your neighbor, coworker or family member to pipe it down without coming off rude.

That’s why I recommend a few different things to mitigate these distractions.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Get Noise Cancelling Headphones

If you don’t have them already, it will be one of the best investments you have. Not only should you use them when you want to stay focused, but you can also use them on airplanes when people are talking too loud or the engine is roaring right next to you.

I’ve used both Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones (not an affiliate link) and Beats Studio Wireless (not an affiliate link) and each have worked really well. They cover the entire ear to make sure nothing comes through.

Once you have them, you need to figure out what music to listen to that isn’t too distracting. I use Spotify to listen to playlists like “Peaceful Guitar”, “Brain Food” and “Deep House” since they don’t have words and they have a relaxing tempo to them.

Use an app that blocks distractions

If it’s hard to stay focused because you have 20 tabs open on your browser and you want to jump between your Word document, Excel sheet and bookmarked pages, you should look into a distraction blocking app.

There are lots of them out there that help with different needs like graying out everything on the screen and leaving just a sliver of a page you’re working on. Some apps block specific websites that you know make you fall down the rabbit hole (Pinterest, I see you!) and there are others where you can set time limits on specific apps or the entire Internet.

Since I don’t get distracted easily, I use RescueTime to tell me what I’ve been spending my time on. It gets really specific with everything from the apps you use to the websites you spend time on and it categorizes everything like Word and Google Docs as “Design and Composition” or Gmail and Outlook as “Communication”.

Create your ideal workspace

I struggled with this for a while. I loved being on my couch, in my pajamas and writing while being comfortable. This wasn’t ideal. Sometimes, I’d fall asleep midway through a sentence.

No workspace should ever be this comfortable. I’m not saying sit in a hard chair that hurts your back, but laying down on the couch should not be considered a workspace. It’s about finding the right place without distractions and fosters a sense of creativity and professionalism.

Stephen King writes in his basement with Metallica blaring, so your idea of an ideal workspace may be completely different than mine or Stephen King’s, but it’s important to find out where that place is and how it serves you best.

Lately, I’ve been looking through Pinterest for office ideas and find new ways to create my ideal space.

To sum up, there are lots of ways to gain back time in your day and be productive. Remember these key ideas:

  • Plan your hour-by-hour day the night before with the most important tasks first and similar tasks batched together
  • Set larger goals and divide them into smaller ones or hire them out
  • Say “no” to things that don’t serve you and your priorities
  • Block out distractions with the right technology and workspace
This article was originally published on medium


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Lauren Liebler







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