Like many of you, I’m somewhat obsessed with productivity hacks — small steps I can take to work smarter, faster, and better. Alas, most hacks (like most houseguests) are appealing only for a few days. But some tricks manage to endure.
Here are 6 that I use all the time.
1. Honor the 2-Minute rule.
This one comes from the great David Allen, whose Getting Things Done methodology I’ve used for 15 years. In short, if you’ve got something to do that takes less than two minutes, do it right now.
2. Don’t waste your most productive hours.
A growing stack of research shows that each day, we reach our peak productivity a few hours after waking. Don’t devote that window of time to checking email or playing around on social media. Use it to do your most important work.
3. When in doubt, resort to the Pomodoro Technique.
I’m never proud when I pull out this trick, but I’m always glad I did. Pomodoro is a method for breaking large tasks into small chunks. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work nonstop without doing anything else. Then take 5 minutes to do whatever you want. Then do another 25-5 cycle. Lather, rinse, repeat.
4. Take a systems approach to email.
We could spend all day answering email — but we shouldn’t. So instead of being drip-tortured by your inbox, find a way to deal with all at once — in large batches during non-productive hours. I also use AwayFind.
5. Mark your progress.
Teresa Amabile’s research has shown that the single largest day-to-day motivator is making progress in meaningful work. But sometimes it’s tough to see the progress we’re making. That’s why I use the brilliant tool, IDoneThis. (Disclosure: This tool was so valuable to me that I invested in the company).
6. To make a good decision, ask the right question.
The Heath Brothers taught me this technique. If I’m faced with a decision, and I’m not sure what to do, I ask myself, “What would you tell your best friend to do in this situation?” Usually, the answer is clear.
10 ARTICLES WORTH READING
Our most popular feature. From my Instapaper account to your inbox, below are 10 articles that caught my attention and made me think:
This 15-Minute Activity Will Make You More Successful at Work
Business Insider reports on Harvard research showing that taking time at the end of the work day to write about what went well can make you better at your job.
The Habits of Highly Productive Writers
From The Chronicle of Higher Education, a few good tips that can be summarized thusly: Stop talking and finish your first draft.
Better All The Time
In The New Yorker, James Surowiecki ranges from the playing field to the orchestra hall to conclude that the essence of high performance is the capacity for “getting better at getting better.”
Why Cliques Form at Some High Schools and Not at Others
In bigger schools, students often splinter into factions. In smaller ones, everyone must deal with each other, says The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson.
Great Vacation? Don’t Brag to Your Friends
People are more likely to enjoy talking about an ordinary experience they’ve all had than hearing about the fabulous one they didn’t, says The New York Times.
Can Money Buy Happiness?
Yep. But it's how you spend the money that matters the most. People derive more satisfaction from giving money away and from purchasing experiences like travel rather than goods like cars. (Just don’t brag about your trip to your friends.)
How to identify a narcissist with one simple question
Spoiler alert: Just ask, “Are you a narcissist?”
What makes most restaurant reviews worthless
Weather turns out to have a profound effect on what reviewers think of a restaurant. “A nice day can lead to a nice review. A rainy day can mean a miserable one,” according to Georgia Tech researchers.
The Most Undervalued Employee in Your Organization
Look for "disagreeable givers” — people who play devil’s advocate but do so to help rather than hinder.
The Serial Podcast
Okay, it’s not an article. And you’ve probably already discovered it. But if not, this podcast from the creators of This American Life tells one story, week-by-week, and it’s utterly gripping. Begin with Episode 1 and you’ll be hooked.
3 MORE CLIPS FROM CROWD CONTROL
Reminder: My new National Geographic Television series, Crowd Control, debuts in the US and again at . In the show, we take on public problems — from reckless driving to peeing in swimming pools. Then, using a few behavioral tricks along with some design and technology, we put in place a solution and watch what happens:
Here are 3 more short clips to give you a taste:
1. This is how we stopped the scourge of "double-dipping."
2. Which do you prefer? Using a recyclable bag or killing a baby seal?
3. Think it doesn’t matter if you pay attention to in-flight safety announcements? Think again. (And wait til you see the show for our solution.)
Don’t want to miss premier? Add it to your calendar right now (which takes way less than 2 minutes):