Productivity Hacks: How to Get More Done With Less Stress

Jan Tissler Updated on 22.10.2020
7 Min.
be more productive
Last updated on 22.10.2020

There are people who tirelessly and unstoppably get one task done after another. Their days seem to have 24+ hours. Or did they even sell their souls and got a deal with the devil? Or do they simply know something I don't? My best tips to help you be more productive.

This reaches my mind when I see highly productive people. And the things they can do. In the meantime I have learned a lot more about what makes me more productive - and what doesn't. Some of it I want to pass on to you in this article. You know any more hacks? Then I look forward to discussing them with you in the comments down below.

Productivity vs Activity

This will look familiar to you: You have been "busy" all day, but in the end you don't feel like you have accomplished anything. You barely remember what you were working on. Some jobs are just like that. Then you have many tasks that are never really completed. Therefore, you do not get the satisfying feeling that you have ticked off something.

Or maybe you've been busy, just not with the important things. And that is the difference between productivity and hustle and bustle: in one case we get things done and complete projects. In the other, we mainly watch that we have something to do - to feel better or to be able to show something.

Therefore ask yourself consciously during the course of the day whether you have used the last half hour productively, i.e. whether you have worked on important projects and tasks. Or did you really just make sure that your brain had something to do? One key to increased productivity is the recognition that some tasks are important, but not urgent. Others are both important and urgent. And yet others are neither.

Prioritization Projects
You can also do the prioritization quickly and easily in a calendar.

You should plan your time accordingly. And if you are easily distracted, you should consciously eliminate common distractions. For example by setting your smartphone to "Do not disturb". See also our Tips for working remotely.

Prioritize: The biggest toad comes first

Sometimes there are tasks that are important and urgent, but which you don't really want to do. The tax return belongs to this category for one or the other.

I have found a simple trick for me: The greater my resistance to a task, the earlier in the day I have to complete it. This is because we only have a limited supply of resistance and "bite" per day. In the morning we are still fresh and full of energy. In the afternoon it can look quite different.

There are two advantages to doing unpleasant tasks immediately:

  • Because I am still mentally fresh, I approach these to-dos with a maximum of energy. This way they are finished much faster than in the afternoon. Because then my brain is constantly looking for excuses to be able to deal with something else.
  • I have a feeling of success immediately during the day because I have successfully overcome my inner bastard. Ideally, this momentum helps me with the other to-dos of the day.

Long projects, short sprints

Many of my tasks are manageable in scope. They measure themselves in hours or days, but rarely in weeks or even months. Once I have a long-term project, I schedule a clearly defined period of time for it on each working day.

When it needs all my attention and creativity, that's in the morning. If it's more of a diligent job that doesn't require creative mastery, I do it in the afternoon. But important in both cases: I try to keep the time and length constant. It is always amazing how much I can achieve if I consistently work on it for an hour every day.

Work takes as long as you make available for it

Anyway, it's a good idea to think about how much time you want to spend on it before starting a to-do. I'm sure you've experienced it: A task usually takes you an hour, but if you only have half an hour to complete it, you'll do it.

Tip: You work as a freelancer? Then there are a number of stress factors that need not be. I'll tell you how to avoid typical freelancer mistakes this article.

Here, of course, it is important to set the right priorities: It is a matter of clearly limiting precisely those tasks that stop our productivity. Or those that aren't really important.

The wonderful world of time & attendance

This also includes learning more about what you actually spend your time with. The topic of time recording is also something that some people fight tooth and nail. For this purpose there are Toolsbut sometimes a simple tally sheet is enough.

With time tracking, you can quickly and clearly learn which black holes your productivity is disappearing into. We are surrounded by distractions. And many digital devices and services deliberately use the same tricks as casinos. Already we look into our e-mail inbox or "just quickly" on Twitter. We are often not aware of this.

No tension without relaxation

At the same time, you will not become more productive by concentrating solely on work without rest or distraction. Your brain also needs moments of relaxation. Sometimes we need to recharge our batteries. Boredom is valuable!

The important thing is that everything has its time. Get your task done and then reward yourself consciously with a break.

The sheer magical flow

Sometimes you will have experienced that you work productively and time flies. You're headed straight for your destination in the warp tunnel. In other words, you're "in flow." This feeling arises when we can dedicate ourselves undisturbed to a task that interests and challenges us.

Now and then this flow needs a little push. A tip that works well for me: Give this to-do only a limited period of time first, for example 30 minutes. With a little luck I'll be in the flow before then. And then maybe in an hour I'll have done what I've been putting off for days. And if not, I have worked on it for at least 30 minutes - that is better than nothing!

Well planned is half done

It is often recommended to plan the next working day in advance - either at the end of the current working day or in the evening. The argument is that you know what to do in the morning. And you immediately use your fresh energy for productive work.

kanban board
Planning on the project board

Another point: Never schedule your entire workday. There's always something coming up. Or your tasks may take longer than initially expected. If you manage to do much less than you set out to do every day, then you are frustrating yourself. The rule of thumb is: You can plan two thirds of your time firmly, but no more.

Bonus tip: the "Pomodoro technique"

As you have noticed, I am not mentioning a single productivity system like Getting Things Done (GTD) on. Some are really into it. For me, it doesn't work that well: I feel like I'm managing and sorting my to-dos more than I actually do. Of course, it could be very different for you.

Either way, it makes sense not to adopt every system out there but to identify those elements that work for you. One of GTD's fundamental ideas, for example, is to create a fixed place for tasks and ideas instead of wanting to keep everything in mind. The advantage: the brain spends less power on not forgetting to-dos. Instead, it can concentrate on important tasks or even recover. For me, this storage space is Todoist. There are dozens of alternatives.

One productivity hack I personally have gained a lot of insights, is the "Pomodoro technique". It goes back to Francesco Cirillo, who divided his work into clear time periods with the help of a kitchen alarm clock. The basic idea: You work in 25-minute sections, followed by a 5-minute break. If you have completed four such sections, you take a longer break, for example 20 minutes. You can adjust these values. However, there should be manageable sections with regular interruptions - because that is where the real power lies.

Also important: Each section is dedicated to exactly one single pre-defined task. Note down internal or external distractions and postpone them to the break or include them in future tasks.

At the beginning of the day (or even the day before) you plan your to-dos. At the same time you define how much time (how many sections) you plan to spend on each. After each section you put a checkmark at your to-do and see how long you have been working on it.

More structure for your tasks

This approach summarises many of the tips I have written about here:

  • Large tasks are divided into feasible smaller sections to be more digestible.
  • It is easier to concentrate on a single task for 25 minutes, even if you are quickly distracted.
  • You can learn at the same time how long certain activities take. Then you can either optimize them or at least estimate them more realistically. Such a Time calculation is especially important for self-employed people - their time is literally money.
  • By planning ahead, including time management, you make sure that you don't take on more than you can actually manage.
  • Last but not least, the system makes sure that you take a break. To be honest: I ignore them sometimes when I'm in the flow.

In general, I don't use this technique to the letter either because it doesn't suit me personally. At the same time, however, many elements have become  routine over time. For example, I automatically decide how long I want to work on a single task.

Conclusion

One thing I hardly mentioned in this article Tools. Of course there are dozens, hundreds of apps and services around productivity. See our article Tools for WordPress pros.

Tools can be very helpful. But at the same time, they are an excellent opportunity to distract oneself from the important and urgent things. Yes, I use Todoist as mentioned above. Others make use of a random text editor for the same purpose. Some use calendar entries. Others rely on paper and pencil. Or on a whiteboard.

All this is secondary. It is important that you first become clear about what helps and what lessens your productivity. Once this is done, you will find suitable and helpful tools all by yourself.

What productivity hacks do you know? What questions do you have? Feel free to leave a comment below. Do you want to get more tips for freelancers and agencies? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Pictures: Carl Heyerdahl, Javier Quesada, Kaleidico

Jan is an online journalist and digital publishing specialist with over 20 years of professional experience. Companies book him as an author, consultant or editor-in-chief. He is also the founder and one of the editors of UPLOAD magazine. Photographer Author's picture: Patrick Lux.

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