50 Productivity Hacks to Help You Get More Done
In college, you’re going to be forced to be more productive than you’ve probably ever had to be in your life. You’re going to have to study for tests, write papers, complete projects, make presentations, maybe go to work, and try to maintain some type of social life.
All of this can be extremely overwhelming for unorganized people. And if you’re a naturally lazy person, you’ll be struggling to make it through the semester. Being unproductive leads to missed assignments, forgetting about papers, and not having enough time to get everything done.
These 50 productivity hacks will help you get more done and waste less time.
1. Use a daily planner: Whether you want to use an app or go old school with a paper planner, it will help you organize all the activities you have going on during the day and let you know when tasks need to be completed.
2. Make a to-do list: Trying to remember everything you have to do is nearly impossible. Make life easier by writing out a to-do list. Have a daily list and a monthly list. The daily list is for small things like going to a school club meeting. The monthly list is for big picture things like completing a term paper.
3. Prep food ahead of time: If you’re living in a dorm this might be a little difficult, but getting all your food for the week prepped on Sundays will help you spend less time every day worrying about what you’re going to eat. Check out Rachel Ray’s “Week in a Day“ show for ideas.
4. Prioritize: Do you just randomly do tasks throughout the day, or do you complete them in order of importance? When you prioritize tasks in order of importance (i.e. need to be completed by a certain deadline), you decrease the risk of leaving important things until the last minute. Do what needs to be done first, first.
5. 80/20 Rule: You could write an entire book on the 80/20 rule. In fact, Richard Koch did. This principle basically says that 20 percent of your actions generate 80 percent of your outcome. To apply this to being more productive, you need to focus on the 20 percent of tasks that produce the most outcome, and spend less time focusing on the less important things.
6. OHIO: When it comes to checking your emails, think of OHIO, which is an acronym for “Only Handle It Once.” What this means is that when you get an important email, take care of it right away to prevent small tasks from adding up.
7. Restrict social media usage: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ can be extreme time wasters. The fear of being out of the loop has created a social networking addiction among students. Cut back on both the number of social network accounts you have and the amount of time you spend on each.
8. Only check your email 2-3 times a day: Since most of us get our emails sent right to our phone, it’s tempting to check it every two seconds. Most of the emails you receive throughout the day will just be offers from Amazon or things that don’t require immediate attention. Use hack #46 if you have an email addiction. (See also: Hack Tricks — Gmail)
9. Create deadlines: School assignments will have deadlines, but what about things like getting your oil changed or cleaning up your dorm room? Making self-imposed deadlines for these tasks will make sure you don’t put them off and take care of them in a timely fashion.
10. Start papers right away: Procrastination is rampant amongst college students. When the professor assigns a paper, we forget about it until the week it’s due. This causes you to stress about getting it done, causing you to rush through it. Get started early by at least coming up with ideas and making an outline the same week it’s assigned.
11. Set checkpoints for assignments: This is similar to creating deadlines, but on a smaller scale. When you get an assignment that’s not due for a few weeks or until the end of the semester, set up checkpoints in the weeks that follow that you want to meet. For example, a checkpoint might be to have half of your PowerPoint presentation done by a certain date.
12. Delegate when you can: Don’t be afraid to delegate small tasks to others when you have the chance. But understand the difference between delegating and abandoning your responsibilities.
13. Disconnect once a week: Set a day or chunk of a day each week where you completely disconnect from social media, e-mails, and web surfing to complete everything you need to get done. The fewer distractions in front of you, the more you can get done.
14. Do the tasks you dread: When you have to do something that you don’t want to do, you tend to put it off for as long as possible. You’re dreading doing these tasks for days, which tends to make you drag when getting other things done to procrastinate.
15. Check emails before class: This might seem like a contradiction to the earlier hack. But the reality is that some people DO get a lot of important emails throughout the day. If this is the case, check your email before classes instead of wasting that time twiddling your thumbs.
16. Don’t commit to several TV shows: If you’re following Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and five other shows, you’re going to be wasting a lot of time. Netflix and other on-demand services have made it easier than ever to watch marathons of tons of shows. Choose a couple of shows and stick with them.
17. Keep notes: Your phone more than likely has a pre-installed notes app; use that or a pocket size notebook to jot things down really quickly that you don’t want to forget.
18. Set realistic long and short-term goals: A short-term goal is getting an A on your next Physics exam. A long term goal is getting a 4.0 GPA. The short term goals usually lead up to completing the long term ones.
19. De-clutter: Having a neat and organized room or workspace improves workflow, makes you spend less time searching for things, and helps you maintain a clear mind.
20. 90/10 Rule: Just because you studied 8 hours straight doesn’t mean you were productive. More than likely, your brain didn’t retain a majority of the information. Work in 90-minute blocks with 10-minute rests in between. You’ll notice that you’re more focused afterwards and are able to accomplish a lot more. Listen to your ultradian rhythms.
21. Stop downloading apps: You just can’t seem to stop playing the latest “it” game on your phone can you? Words with Friends, Simpsons Tapped Out, and Candy Crush can take up a lot of your time. Stop downloading new apps every day and focus on getting things done in real life.
22. Plan for Monday on Friday: Before you get ready for the weekend, think about some small things you can do now to prepare you for next week. Whether it’s sending out an email to a classmate or getting an assignment done early, if you do it now you don’t have to worry about it on Monday.
23. Wake up earlier: This, of course, would require you to go to sleep a little earlier as well. But when you wake up earlier, you can get a lot done with the extra time. Everyone talks about the negative effects of sleep deprivation, but oversleeping is also a big issue.
24. Sign up for early classes: To go with the above tip, signing up for morning classes means you’re able to finish for the day much earlier, leaving you more time during the rest of the day to do other things.
25. Don’t overbook yourself: Taking on too many things at once is setting yourself up for failure. Leave some free time in your schedule for emergencies and for some relaxation. Overbooking yourself can lead to schedule conflicts, which are never good.
26. Meditate: Having a clear mind will allow you to focus on what you need to get done. We spend a lot of time during the day just thinking about all the stuff we have to get done. Give your mind a break and relax with some meditation.
27. Say NO: Don’t be afraid to turn down invitations to parties or other events when you have other obligations that need to get done. Just because someone invites you to do something doesn’t mean that have to say yes.
29. Systemize: By developing systems for completing reoccurring tasks, you’ll be able to optimize the process so that you’re spending less time doing basic tasks.
30. Two Minute Rule: Organizational and productivity expert David Allen created the “Two Minute Rule” to help with time management. The rule says that if you can do an action or task within two minutes, then do it right away.
31. Find your “productive time”: Most people have a certain window of time during the day when they’re more productive and able to get a lot done. Find out when your window of the day is and use that time to complete difficult or potentially time-consuming tasks. When you’re working at your peak level, you’ll be able to get it done quicker.
32. Take action: Planning things out and being prepared is smart. But at a certain point, you need to stop planning and start getting things done.
33. Drink water and green tea: Too many people (especially college students) think they need to rely on Starbucks in order to have enough energy to make it through the day. Those drinks provide a temporary boost of energy, but what you need is a way to boost your regular energy levels, which is what water and green tea do. Relying on caffeine can cause you to develop a dependency.
34. Stop trying to multitask: For years, you’ve probably heard that multitasking allows you to get more done in a shorter period of time. The problem is that a lot of people aren’t able to focus on two things at once and do much better handling one thing at a time. Research shows that multitasking can actually be counterproductive.
35. Make a not-to-do list: We’ve talked about the benefits of creating a to-do list, but you can take things further by making a not-to-do list. This consists of time-wasting activities you want to stop doing so that you can focus on more important activities.
36.Become a contrarian: Don’t be another sheep in the herd. By going against the grain, you’ll find that you’re much more productive. For instance, everyone goes to the gym between 6 and 8pm. Start going at 6 or 7am so that you don’t spend time waiting for your machine to be free which subsequently makes you waste time. The same applies to grocery shopping, going to the library, and a bunch of other tasks.
37. Don’t answer every call: Some people may think it’s rude to screen calls, but it sure does save you a lot of time. My rule of thumb for phone calls: If it’s important, they’ll leave a voicemail. Answering your phone every time it rings will have you wasting time dealing with telemarketers or starting small talk that turns into an hour-long conversation.
38. Read it later: If you come across an interesting article or video online while you’re researching or working on a project, don’t stop to read it. With tools like Evernote, you always have a way to come back to interesting things on the web later.
39. Use business-level tools: A lot of apps and software designed for businesses can actually help anyone be more productive. HootSuite, for instance, is primarily used by companies who want to manage all their social media accounts from a single dashboard. But you can use this to cut down on the time you spend on individual social networking sites as well. Just make sure you’re not spending all day on it.
40. Do it right the first time: One of the biggest wastes of time is redoing something you’ve already done because you didn’t do it right the first time. In the words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.”
41. Ignore distractions: You might be thinking this is easier said than done, but when you develop a habit of blocking interruptions and distractions, it becomes really easy. When you’re doing one task, focus on just that one thing. Unless it’s a life-threatening emergency, most interruptions can usually wait until you’re done with what you’re working on.
42. Use goal-based “dashes” to get started: If you’re having trouble getting your day started, set a small “dash” goal to complete tasks within a certain time frame.
43. Setup auto-responder emails: If there is a period of time where you know you need to buckle down and focus, setting up an auto-responder for incoming emails can help you stay focused without being rude. (Here’s how to set it up with Gmail.) Pretty much every major email client has a similar feature. Set your auto-responder to let email senders know what time you’ll be responding to emails and to call you if it’s an emergency.
44. Skip unnecessary meetings: Whether it’s a work or school-related meeting, there always seems to be some that are completely meaningless. Make sure that any meeting you go to has a purpose, set schedule, and concerns you. Attending a bunch of meetings that have nothing to do with you just wastes valuable time that could be spent doing something important.
45. Work offline when you can: The internet just has way too many distractions. You can spend hours on YouTube alone. If you have tasks that don’t require the internet, stay offline while you do them. You’ll be able to get through your work much quicker and more efficiently. Disable your internet connection if you need to.
46. Boomerang emails: If you use Gmail as your email client, this extension will help you be much more productive with your emails. Boomerang allows you to set a time to receive incoming emails as well as schedule a time for outgoing emails to be sent.
47. Choose a “free” day: Choose one weekday in which you don’t schedule anything to do. No classes, no parties, no meetings, and if possible, get the day off from work too. What this does is give you a day to take care of anything that just pops up during your busier days and also lets you focus on getting projects and other work done. So if your “free” day is Tuesday, when someone asks if you’re doing anything on Tuesday, you let them know that you’re booked.
48. Do something you thought was impossible: After you’ve done something that you never even thought you’d be able to do, everything else becomes easier. You’re then able to complete smaller, manageable tasks quicker and with ease.
49. Group tasks together: Combine similar tasks into one group and knock them out at the same time. For instance, if you have multiple phone calls to make, do them all in a set time block.
50. Reward yourself: Who do you think is more likely to clean their room first: a kid whose mom tells him to clean his room or a kid whose mom tells him she’ll buy him a new game after he cleans his room? Unless the first kid is a neat freak, the second kid will more than likely clean his room first because he knows there’s a reward waiting for him. The same concept applies to being more productive as an adult. Tell yourself that once you finish writing your paper, you’ll treat yourself to something nice.
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Image: William Warby