We all try to squeeze as many hours in one work day, to be “productive”, but in the end everything depends less on time, and more on your focus, motivation and overall well-being. These are some of the best time-saving hacks for a productive day.

1. Decide what’s important because in 5 years, 80% of what you do today will not turn into anything. It’s just busy work, no useful outcome.

2. The 2-minute rule: if you can do something (like replying to an email, or a house chore) in 2 minutes, do it now. Planning it for later, remembering it, doing it in the future will take 5 minutes or more.

3. The 5-minute rule: the biggest cure against procrastination is to set your goal not to finish a scary big hairy task, but to just work 5 minutes on it. You’ll find out that most times it continues well beyond the 5 minutes, as you enter a flow state.

4. Seinfeld’s productivity chain: If you want to be good at something as fast as possible and make the most of that skill as quickly as possible, do it every day including most holidays. No exceptions.

5. Your memory sucks. Get everything out of your head, even if you’re a genius. Write it down in a notebook, put it in your to-do list app, on your phone, talk to Siri, I don’t care.

6. Routine beats tools. You need discipline, and this means for me two things: I plan my day first thing in the morning, and I write a short daily log every day. This helps me stay sane, prioritize well, scrap useless tasks, and do what matters. This can save you hours. As few tools as possible. It doesn’t matter what you use (pen & paper are fine).

7. Time boxing still works. For 30 minutes do only the task at hand. Nothing else: no phones, email, talking to people, Facebook, running out of the building in case of fire. Nothing else.

8. Email scheduling and inbox zero. Don’t read your email first thing in the day, don’t read it in the evening (it ruined many evenings for me), and try to do it only 3 times a day: at 11am, 2pm and 5pm. And your email inbox is not a to-do list. Clear it: every message should be an actionable task (link it from the to-do app), a reference document (send to Evernote or archive), or should be deleted now.

9. MI3. Most important three tasks (or the alternative 1 must – 3 should – 5 could). Start with the most important first thing in the morning.

10. The most powerful thing. Always ask yourself what is the most powerful thing you can do right now. Then apply rule #3.

11. Automate. Set up rules to automatically send less important content such as newsletters, blog updates etc to read later folders, so you aren’t tempted to read them when you are busy. You can also use rules to automatically delete, forward or send an automated response.

12. Prioritise. Every task is not the same. A task at work could be more important than, say, shopping. So prioritize tasks – Category 1 (High alert), 2 (Medium) and 3 (Low). Strive to get at least 1 & 2 completed by the end of the day.

13. Avoid going into diminishing returns.  When you stop being productive, stop working.  Unless it’s crunch time, long hours for extended periods of days just ends up crippling your productivity and you can get into a cycle of slower/poor decision making and detrimental ineffectiveness.

14. Don’t over-optimise. Just do. The more time you spend hacking your life the less time you spend living it.  That said, write things down.

15. Have a good filing system (+ inbox zero of course). This reduces time looking for documents in different places. A good filing systems has an active and an archive part, so that you can move all closed task to archive.

16. Turn Off Message Updates. Receiving constant alerts for when new emails or instant messages come in can be a huge distraction in any office setting. While it’s important to respond to important matters, most issues can wait until after you’ve finished the project you’re currently working on.

17.  Set clear objectives. Have a clear objective that you need to achieve (example, I need a report done in word, about 3 pages long, describing the overall market situation (about a page), or write a 700 words post on productivity today in an hour).

18.  Set time limits. This time-saving technique is pretty straightforward. For those tasks that chronically take up more time than you anticipate, set a reasonable time limit and stick to it. At first, you’ll likely exceed your limit and have to stop for the day, but over time  you will get more efficient.

Founding Editor @Alltopstartups, Contributor @Entrepreneur, Columnist @Inc. Magazine and Curator at Postanly (his free weekly digest of the best life and career improvement posts on the web. Subscribe for free.


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