Fact — I hate life hacks.
Case in point, I published an Amazon bestselling book on what true productivity is, and it includes essentially zero life-hacks.
But there are specific things you can do to assist your productivity. Whereas the “system of productivity” covered in my book is a strategy for consistently crushing your goals, consider these 10 tips tactics for tuning your productivity engine.
If you don’t have a productivity system yet, go read this article first. When you’re done, come back here for a 10 synthetic productivity oil tips, starting with our first:
1. Stop treating caffeine like it’ll wake you up (that’s not how it works)
We believe caffeine wakes us up. If that were the case, then keeping our cups full all day as if drip feeding it through an IV into our bloodstream would be a good idea. But, while caffeine does give you a momentary (albeit short lived) boost of energy, its main effect isn’t that it wakes you up. It’s that it prevents you from feeling tired in the first place.
If you have caffeine left in your system, it prevents your brain’s sleep drug, adenosine, from attaching to the very receptors in your brain that make you feel tired. This will either keep you awake or reduce the quality of your sleep, either of which hold drastic consequences for your ability to get things done.
Since caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours, drinking it too late leaves too much in your system when it’s time for bed.
So, stop drinking caffeine 10 to 12 hours before bed. Easy.
And, speaking of bed…
2. Treat your bedtime like a free-throw
Like a basketball player who performs the same routine before every free-throw, a bedtime ritual helps gear you up for sleep.
Create a bedtime ritual, and stick to it nightly.
Reading fiction is a great place to start, and a great way to end the day. Non-fiction can work but can wake your brain by giving you more to think about.
3. Stop tinkering with your circadian rhythm
Irregular sleep tinkers with your circadian rhythm, making it difficult to focus and leaving you feel groggy. You’ll have to make sacrifices some weekends to maintain the same sleep schedule.
Keep the same sleep schedule every day. Yes, even on weekends.
If you must get to bed late after a night of debauchery, keep your same wake up time. Your body will thank you when it’s tired and ready to go to bed at your normal sleeping time the day after. Your mind will thank you when it doesn’t feel the terrible effects of screwing up your circadian rhythm.
4. Be a witness to your inner self
There are thousands upon thousands of articles claiming multiple benefits of meditation including stress reduction, controlled anxiety, improved emotional health, increased attention span, and improved sleep.
Meditation has become the favorite stepchild of all the life-hacks, often cited by highly followed podcasters and Instagram celebrities as something we all should do to immediately improve our quality of life.
As such, it’s worth spending 10 to 20 minutes every day in quiet meditation. Or, if you don’t like meditation, mindfulness or journaling.
The very act of focusing inward, quieting your mind through meditation or emptying your mind through journaling can increase focus, improve working memory, and help you get in touch with your inner self.
Be a witness to how this quiet meditation affects your ability to focus, concentrate, and get your most important work done.
5. Use movement as a pick-me-up
In a study of 200 workers presented at the American College of Sports Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, researchers found that on-the-job performance increased by up to 15 percent with 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day. Sixty percent of those workers said they experienced increases in mental performance, time management, and meeting deadlines on these exercise days.
That’s not the only evidence showing how exercise increases productivity.
A Briston University study of 200 employees showed that people rated their concentration 22% higher, were 22% more likely to finish their work on time, were 25% more productive without breaks, and were 41% more motivated to work on days when they exercised vs. days they did not.
Twenty to thirty minutes of light exercise it in the morning will give you an energy boost throughout the day. Do it again in the afternoon if you feel groggy and need a pick-me-up.
6. Avoid the craving crashes
Avoid the crashes and cravings that come from unhealthy, high glucose foods such as candy. Eat healthy, nutritious food that will give you sustained energy throughout the day.
7. Balance performance and stress
Stress sits on a continuum starting with too little (where you are an inactive couch-sloth) and ending with too much (where you burnout). The right balance is managing your stress level to an optimum amount, right up to when you feel fatigue but before exhaustion sets in. This is best illustrated in the Yerkes-Dodson law chart below:
Manage your physical and mental stress to the right level. Not so little that you feel inactive or laid back, but not so much that you feel fatigued or overwhelmed.
This is the only way to stay consistently productive over time.
8. Keep live plants in your workspace within view
Your surroundings play a critical role in how you perform. Simple indoor plants are known to have multiple positive effects on air quality, stress, mental fatigue, illness, and productivity.
Take, for example, the 2010 study by the University of Technology in Sydney. It showed that the presence of indoor plants resulted in large, statistically significant reductions in anxiety, depressive mood, feelings of anger, levels of fatigue, confusion, and vigor by up to 60%.
A small, inexpensive investment in a hard-to-kill plant has been shown in multiple studies to increase productivity, in some cases by double-digit percentages.
How much is a plant. Like, seven bucks? IMO, it’s worth buying immediately.
9. Give your brain a dopamine hit
When you’re concentrating on, say, writing a book, having kids scream around the house on hoverboards while shooting you with Nerf darts isn’t the best way to get things done. Believe me.
But a coffee shop, with muted colors, stimulating smells, and a cacophony of unobtrusive background noises helps mask distractions and keep you focus on the task at hand. More so, humanities’ desire to seek out new and exciting sights, sounds, and experiences is all wrapped up in one location.
As Dr Marvin Zuckerman points out in his paper entitled Desperately Seeking Sensation: Fear, Reward, and the Human Need for Novelty, we’re the only species that has, at great risk to our very existence, migrated over the entire planet. Every new place we visit is interesting in all the ways the places we’ve already visited aren’t.
We seek new experiences. We’re simply wired for it. And, a coffee shop is the perfect new experience.
If you’re feeling particularly distracted, give your brain a dopamine hit with a work session at a coffee shop to help increase focus and energy for a few hours. Sometimes that change of scenery can do wonders to refocus your effort on things that matter.
Pro Tip: While you’re here, be mindful of the time so you don’t violate the first principle of drinking caffeine too close to bed.
10. And finally…
Finally, depending on the type of work that you are doing, set your environment for maximum productivity.
It’s best to work in daylight, in an environment which isn’t too warm (causing drowsiness) or too cold (causing you to focus on retaining heat). Find a space with the right colors and smells a space with the right colors for the type of job you’re performing and follow these guidelines to hone in your productivity with the right sights, smells, and sounds:
Working on Detailed, Menial, Rote, or Physical Tasks?
- Listen to upbeat music in the c-major scale.
- Dab some peppermint essential oil in your wrists or neck, like cologne or perfume.
- Work in a room with warm, invigorating colors.
Working on tasks that require concentration, focus, deep-thinking?
- Listen to mellow and unobtrusive music without lyrics like Baroque Classical or Ambient Electronic.
- Sip coffee before you get tired, allowing you to extend your working hours.
- Diffuse rosemary or peppermint essential oil extract in your room.
- Work in a room with dull, cool colors and lighting.
Does this #@$& really work?
Yes, but again, only if you have a productivity system already in place.
Getting good sleep will help you be more productive. But if you don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to be working on, it won’t matter if you’re tired and cranky or wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.
If you meditate, it might help you clear your mind and focus, but not if you have no plan for your day.
Exercise and good nutrition may give you the energy to crush your day, but if you don’t schedule time to work on what matters, you’re still screwed.
Read my latest article on How to Be Productive in Life Everyday (Without Another Stupid Life-Hack), then implement these 10 tactics to not only start every day off strong, but finish it there as well.
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