The 14 Best Productivity Hacks of All Time
Hey, friends, welcome back to the Blogs. Today we're doing something really exciting, and we're ranking all of the world's most popular productivity techniques in order of how effective, how useful or how life changing they are. I've been reading all of the productivity books under the Sun for the last decade or so, and some of these techniques are useful and some of them are a bit crap. And so we're going to be using the standard tier list ranking system that bloggers and YouTubers have been using for all sorts of other things. We're going to be using that tier system for this productivity list. So the tiers that we're going to play with are as follows. We start with the S tier. These are the absolutely life changing productivity methods that you literally cannot live without. Then we have a for essential. These are really, really, really useful that we're really impacting your life, but they're not actually going to make a life or death difference. Then we have B, which is like useful and nice to know but not massively going to move the needle. We've got C which has nice to have techniques that might be useful in specific situations. And then we've got D, which are techniques that might work for other people, but that don't really work for me. And then we have E and F which are totally useless and utter junk respectively.
1. The Pomodoro technique
Let's start with technique number one, which is the Pomodoro technique. Now, the vibe here is that you want to work for 25 minutes and then have a five-minute break, work for 25, five-minute break and repeat this four times and after four repetitions, then you get to have a half an hour-long break. Now, the Pomodoro technique is an absolute classic that's been used mostly by students as a way of motivating themselves to work. And I certainly used to use it back when I was at university. But the problem with the Pomodoro technique is that for me, I often felt like I was just getting into the swing of things at around the 25-minute mark. And so when I would have to stop working to have a break, I would find that that would interrupt my flow state. And so for me, I actually tend to work for about 40 or 45 minutes. If it's something that I'm enjoying working on, I find that is the ideal amount of time to get me into the flow state. And so it's a bit controversial, but I'm going to rank the Pomodoro technique a C on our tier list.
Next we have got the concept of Delegation. Now, Tim Ferriss talks about this a lot in the four-hour workweek, which is one of the books that most changed my life. And recently I've heard entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant talk about the idea of setting an aspirational hourly rate. And the idea here is that we should figure out what is our time worth to us personally in like dollar amounts. And then if there is stuff that we're doing that we don't enjoy, then we can think about delegating it to someone else if it is cheaper than the amount that we set as our aspirational hourly rate. So I'm going to give delegation a tier ranking because it's genuinely an essential tip. And if you haven't started valuing your time at a certain dollar amount, I'd recommend you at least give it a go because it's a useful thought exercise.
3. The two-minute rule
Next on the list, we have the two-minute rule. Now, this was popularized by David Allen in the book Getting Things Done. And the idea behind the two-minute rule is that if there is something that you need to do and that something is going to take less than 2 minutes, then you should do it right now rather than add it to your to-do list. Now, the two-minute rule is actually like really, really, really, really useful. I just don't do it very much because I'm a bit of a waste man. And so I've got to give it a rating of a day because normally if I have something like replying to an email or replying to a WhatsApp message that actually would take less than 2 minutes, I would love to actually do it there and then. But generally I just think, Oh, I'll get to this some other time. And then it just ends up, you know, people following up, following up, following up hundreds of unread messages on WhatsApp. Apologies to anyone who's tried to email a message to me in the last like two years, but I really do suck it replying to messages because I don't apply the two-minute rule.
4. The two-day rule
Next on the list we have the two-day rule. Now this is something from my friend and fellow productivity Blogger Matthew Vella.
‘’After eight years of attempting to put weight on ever since high school and failing miserably, I implemented the two-day rule. It's very simple. I would not allow myself to take off more than one day in a row for some kind of workout, be it the gym, a jog or a hike. I had to do some kind of physical activity at least every other day. This allowed me the time to take days off as I needed it, often multiple days a week. But it also kept me committed to my goal. And most importantly, it prevented me from falling into a slump and neglecting my health for weeks or even months at a time.’’
And I really like the two-day rule because it's an alternative approach to sticking to a schedule that offers a little bit more leeway. I tried using the two-day rule at one point back when I was working out at the gym fairly regularly, and I found it didn't quite work for me because I'm not as on the workout hype as Matt is. And so instead what I found was useful for me was having an accountability body in a personal trainer, and so I'd end up working to working out two or three times a week. And so the two-day rule is awesome, and I know a lot of people who use it, but because I don't personally use it at all, it's going to have to go on the D ranking on our tier list.
5. Time Blocking
Next, we have the concept of time blocking. Now this is basically where you block out a certain amount of time for a particular task or project, and ideally you stick it in the calendar. And so when that time comes around, you actually end up doing the thing. Now, this is going to get an A rating from me. I think this is an absolutely essential tip. The day I started using a calendar was the day that my productivity basically two X overnight because I was now using a calendar because normally like I find for me, I don't know about you, but like for me when I have an empty gap on my calendar, at that point I think, Oh, I could do all these different things and I end up kind of paralyzed by the amount of different things that could be doing. Whereas when I have a slot in my calendar where an in which there is a defined task at that point, I know what I should be doing in that time, and if I want to do something else, I can choose to do it. But at least I've got my default option, and this has been an absolute game changer for my productivity. It's not just me that swears by time looking. People like Elon Musk and Bill Gates and author Cal Newport also use time blocking quite a lot. And they've written and talked extensively about how it's the best thing ever.
6. the five-minute rule
Next on the list. We have the five-minute rule. And the five-minute rule is that if we are struggling with procrastinating on a big task or a project, we just tell ourselves we're just going to do it for 5 minutes. Actually, I have a five-minute hourglass on my desk back in Cambridge that if I'm struggling with doing something, I'll just turn the hourglass over, and I will genuinely convince myself that I'm only going to do it for 5 minutes. And this works really well. We've got to give this probably a B. It's not like absolutely essential, but it works really, really nicely because the way procrastination works is that procrastination is generally a failure in getting started with the thing. And once we've gotten started with the thing, you know, Newton's first law, the law of inertia, then our momentum will generally carry us on through it, and we can start having fun with doing the task, but we have to get started. And so I think about it as either just doing it for 2 minutes or just doing it for 5 minutes. And I think that's a tip that's really helped me combat my own tendencies towards procrastination.
Next on the List, we've got systems. Now, this is something that James Klare, the author of Atomic Habits, talks about quite a lot. And the distinction here is between goals and systems. So goals are that the goal that we want to achieve. But systems are the process. And the thing that we do to get to the goal. And focusing on systems is actually an amazingly useful productivity tip. And in fact, this is going to get the s life changing ranking for me because I often find that if I'm trying to get anything done, if I focus on the goal and I fixate on the goal, generally the thing won't get done. But if I think about what system can I build, what can I do right now? What's the process, I can follow to do the thing? Then the thing will get done. And if you hear interviews with anyone who's like super productive, like, you know, world-class athletes and authors and stuff, the thing they always swear by is the system of training or the system of practice that they follow rather than having a goal like everyone who does any kind of sport wants to do really well on it, and everyone who is in the Olympics wants to win gold. But so just having the goal is not enough. It's actually more about what is the system that gets you there.
8. Daily Highlights
Next up, we have the daily highlight. Now, this is another thing that's going to get the S life changing ranking, and this is probably the single most useful single productivity tip I've ever come across in my life. And the idea behind the daily highlight is just every single day we decide what is the one thing I want to get done today, and then we just make sure we do that thing. Now this can be something productive, like complete chapter of my book proposal, or it can be something completely unproductive. I'm not work like hang out with friends or like to call my grandma. It could be anything like that. But the idea here is that if every single day of the year we could actually just do the single most important thing that we want to get done that day, that genuinely would change the needle for our productivity and also for our life. And so we're going to give the daily highlight an S ranking on the list.
9. The technique of batching
Next up, we've got the technique of batching again, something that Tim Ferriss talks a lot about in the four-hour workweek, the idea being that if you have tons and tons of emails instead of checking email throughout the day at different times, you check email all at once, all at the same time. Or, for example, like I'm doing today, instead of writing a blog every day, I write four blogs in a single day, and then I have the other three days off. This is batching. It's pretty good. It works in a lot of things. It's not like massively life changing. And therefore I'm going to give it a C ranking on our list. All right. Let's speed up through these a little bit more.
10. Color Coding
Next on the list, we have color coding, which my friend Noah Kagan uses quite a lot. The idea here is that you color code your calendar depending on what category the task is in. So self-care stuff gets a different color and work stuff gets a different color and life stuff gets a different color. I don't personally use it myself, so this is going to get a D ranking.
11. To-do Lists
Next on the list. We have to-do lists. Nothing much needs to be said there. I don't really like the idea of to-do lists. Instead, I call like my to-do list eight might do list. And so when I figure out what I'm doing for the day, yes, I do the daily highlight. That's the one thing that I swear by because that's the one thing I absolutely have to get done. But then everything else falls under the might do list. This is stuff that if I feel like it, if I want to be bothered to do the thing, then I will just check things off the list. And often I have just so much stuff on there that I'm never going to get around to doing. But that's fine because as long as the most important things are being done each day, thanks to the daily highlight, I don't really need to overly worry about these little things on my to-do list. Therefore, I reckon we're going to give this a ranking of C, which is pretty good in some contexts, but not in all contexts. It's all right. They're pretty good. Next up, we have the idea of listening to things or watching things at speed. Multiple. This is absolutely S. This is 100% life changing, one of the most life changing things you can do, which is like when I'm listening to audiobooks on Audible, generally I'm listening to them at double speed. Sometimes even when I'm watching TV shows, if I'm watching them on my own, I will just watch them at double speed or triple speed and slow down for the more interesting bits. I know people like people lose their minds over this stuff, but genuinely I enjoy TV shows and books more when they're faster paced at two x speed than I do at one x speed. Like, I'm sorry, it's just the way I am, which is the way I'm wired. It's just more fun when something is just a little bit quicker.
Right. A few more things to talk about. Let's talk about deadlines next. Now, I'm not really a huge fan of deadlines. Deadlines work for a lot of people because that's the only thing that it takes to get ourselves into gear, because now we have a deadline and there are consequences. But I really like the way Seth Godin approaches this, he says in one of his blog posts. Deadlines work. They work because they focus the mind, and they create urgency. They work to get us to file our taxes or finish an assignment. They're an external lever of the work that we have to do. On the other hand, dessert works too. You don't need an external force to encourage you to eat dessert after you finish all your vegetables and something you get to do, not something you have to do. And so I much prefer to think about stuff as get to rather than have to. And that's why I don't really like using deadlines. Yes, they're effective, and we've got to give them a C on the list because they're useful in some circumstances. But I think we do want to build a life in which we don't have to rely on deadlines, and instead we just do the stuff that we enjoy doing that we feel like we get to do that. We feel like we are blessed to do.
13. The Eisenhower Matrix
Next on the list, we have the Eisenhower Matrix. Now, the idea here is that we split up everything we have to do into one of four quadrants based on whether it's important or not important and based on whether it's urgent or not urgent. Now, I think the Eisenhower Matrix is absolutely fantastic. I don't really use it consciously. I kind of use it subconsciously, but I don't really use it as the Eisenhower matrix. I just decide for everything I need to do. Is this actually important and do I actually need to do it? And generally, if it's important, I'll find time to do it. So we're going to give this a ranking of D on the list. Like it's useful for some people, but I don't personally use it a lot myself. Next, we have the technique of setting goals. Now, this one is a little bit controversial because a lot of people swear by the idea of setting goals that your goals should be smart and specific and measurable, achievable. And if you set your goals, then you'll manifest your future and you'll know what you want to get to. I'm not really a huge fan of goals. I think they are useful in some areas of life, but generally I'm much more about the systems and about the journey rather than about the destination. And so, to me, goals. I keep changing my mind about goals these days. I'm writing goals as a C on the list, either kind of useful in some circumstances, and I certainly do have some goals, but I generally prefer to have input goals rather than output goals. So I prefer to have goals that are entirely within my control.
14. Enjoying the journey
And finally, we get to the ultimate point of all this productivity stuff, which is enjoying the journey. And this is going to go right at the very top of our ranking. This is an absolutely life changing thing because to be honest, enjoying the journey is the ultimate productivity hack. Because when we're having fun, when we're having fun doing the stuff that we need to do or that we want to do, then productivity just magically takes care of itself. And you don't need to motivate yourself to like to sit down and watch Netflix or hang out with your friends because the thing is fun, and you don't need to worry about distraction and procrastination from doing something, you genuinely enjoy it. And so if we can find ways to make sure we're enjoying the journey of all the things we have to do, like writing a book or filming this video or going to work or studying for our exams. If we can find ways to make it more fun, then our productivity just gets automatically taken care of. And all of these techniques, all of these other techniques we've talked about that kind of go out the window because you don't need to bother with them because you're having fun doing the thing. And so overall, here we have the final productivity tier list.
You don't have to follow all of these, but I'd recommend you check out the ones in the S class and the A class and maybe try and incorporate them into your life if you're not doing them already. And I promise you'll end up being more productive, but more importantly, you'll also end up having a happier and more fulfilled life because you'll be doing stuff, enjoying the journey and working towards your goals and working towards stuff that you hopefully find meaningful.