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Aug 06 2016
by Nicole Sun

8 Productivity Life Hacks

By Nicole Sun - Aug 06 2016

Whether you are fresh out of high school or fresh into the workplace, productivity is one of your most valuable assets, often even trumping traits such as raw intelligence or talent. Being born a genius, after all, means very little in the long run if you can’t bring yourself to work.

But achieving the discipline to use your time effectively while not burning yourself out is a skill everyone can learn. Apply these eight productivity life hacks to your study or work habits, and watch them work their magic.

1. Understand that productivity is less about doing more, and more about doing less.

If you have an assignment you don’t want to start and you spend your night reorganizing your closet, penning a three-act play and backpacking through the Rockies just to avoid doing your work, you are not productive. Sure, you could give the excuse that you’d planned to do those activities at some point so you hadn’t been wasting your time, but they were not your priorities. Productivity is about doing the right things as scheduled; accomplishing a greater number of things that have nothing to do with your goal won’t help you in the slightest.

2. Set a tone.

If you can set a “tone” of productivity, you will be able to reenter a productive frame of mind simply by replicating your environment.

Clear out a workspace. It could be in a study, in a corner of your room — the key is to use a place you can instantly recognize somewhere solely designated for work. (Thus, I wouldn’t recommend your bed.) If you want to sit at a desk and need your laptop for your work but fear the distractions of the Internet, you can try my method: sit in one place when you’re just surfing the web and another when you need to work. I have a long desk, so I just move to the right when I need to work and only move my laptop to the right the moments I need it.

You can go even further by playing the same non-intrusive music (or same type, like classical or indie), eating the same light snack or chewing the same type of gum. Trick yourself into making productivity part of your routine!

3. Execute a simple starting motion.

You might have heard before that the hardest element of a task is starting it. To ease yourself past this daunting stage, you can create your own easy starting motion to preface your work, fooling yourself into thinking you’ve already begun. And once you’ve begun, you are more likely to finish what you have started to release mental tension, in a phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect, as detailed in ASAPScience’s video, “The Science of Productivity.” 

This “starting motion” can manifest itself in various forms. I’ve been told waking up early and making your bed first is a starting motion that leads into a productive day. Lilly Singh, YouTube personality, swears by saying aloud “I’m going take a deep breath and ____,” before doing exactly that.

4. Be more deliberate.

Working in intense one or two-hour spurts and taking occasional twenty-minute breaks is a much better use of your time than gluing yourself to your chair the entire night. Spending more time doesn’t guarantee better results.

My violin teacher always used to say that the best players didn’t practice harder, just more intelligently. In orchestras, violinists loved to compare how many hours they practiced. But it wasn’t about how many hours you spent practicing; it was about you spent them. Better violinists pinpointed specific areas that needed work and drilled those parts over and over again, rather than spend their time replaying entire pieces over and over. Despite having spent less than half the time their peers had, some violinists would still end up with better results. (If that’s not life in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.)

5. Split your steps.

Breaking down an overwhelming task into smaller, easily digestible steps is a well-known productivity tip, but you’d be surprised at how often people overlook it. While “write essay on a potential third party” sounds like a lot less than “research current party platforms,” “find five key issues each,” “compile sources,” and so on, each task will provide a sense of accomplishment and a burst of motivation that will get you through the whole process more quickly.

6. Motivate yourself!

Have you tried the gummy bear method? If you’re struggling to get through a particularly tough reading, reward yourself with a gummy bear or another snack you’d prefer each time you finish (and actually make sense of) a section.

7. Understand that productivity ultimately boils down to focus.

Don’t multitask — remember that less is more. Do one thing at a time and stick to it. Spreading yourself too thin often results in overall mediocrity.

Do your best to eliminate distractions, especially the technological ones. Close all the tabs unrelated to your task at hand, mute your phone so that you can stop compulsively checking your email, and hide the bookmarks bar if need be. Keep in mind the information you need before searching online, and you’ll find that you don’t need the Internet as much as you would think. (Fun fact: George R.R. Martin writes Game of Thrones using a DOS machine not connected to the Internet.)

8. Think of what to do tomorrow.

Finally, before you go to sleep, take a few minutes to plan out what you want to accomplish by tomorrow night. Instead of having to figure everything out as you go the next day, you will start off with direction so that you can again find yourself satisfied at the end of the day, knowing there’s no better feeling than finishing everything you set out to do.

The beauty of productivity being such a highly regarded and desirable trait is that it must be learned. Everyone has a need to be productive, and everyone has the potential to be so. Try out the tips and tricks in this article (and its prequel), and you can start cultivating a comparative advantage that will yield sweeter fruits of labor in the future.

Lead Image Credit: Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

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Nicole Sun - The University of Texas at Austin

Nicole has a humor blog,, which her friends repeatedly assure her is funny. She spends her free time writing, avoiding responsibility, and wondering if her cat actually loves her. Her twitter: @nicolesundays

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