The term “hacking,” in the sense that we now commonly use it, first appeared in 1955, apparently. Over the last sixty years, it’s taken on a range of connotations, meaning everything from futzing to breaking and entering. In its current life as a marketing buzzword, hacking something basically entails paying any attention to it at all.
Articles like “How to Hack Your Brain” include tips like standing in front of the mirror or taking an acting class. You can see the clear line between those suggestions and the sort of stuff one finds on hacking at 2600 – that link probably won’t work if you’re at your work desk, by the way.
The tie between the two may be loose, but there is some common ground. Hackers of both varieties are interested in the inner workings of a system and in ways that you can tweak systems in order to achieve unexpected results.
Soaking oatmeal overnight to avoid the time normally spent cooking it in the morning may not seem a lot like Steve Jobs using a homemade blue box to call the Vatican, but they’ve got some common ancestors.
In the spirit of hacking – much more akin to the oatmeal thing – I collected some of Capterra’s favorite tricks to get more out of every day. Presented in no particular order, here are seven productivity hacks to get your job done with less time and less stress.
1. Use Getting Things Done or Pomodoro or [Your Favorite System Goes Here]
Time-management systems are a lot like diets. There are a ton of them out there, they all claim to be the best, and, for most people, it doesn’t really matter which one you pick. Whether you decide to get in shape by running a 5K or lifting a car over your head, the real point is that you’re no longer just sitting on the couch.
Time-management systems give you some structure to a day that otherwise had none. Maybe you want to use detailed lists or keep all your tasks under five minutes or generate rhyming calendar appointments – “The Tuesday meeting with Paul is fleeting, fifteen minutes at most. If he vies for more time, or starts to whine, I’m certain the deal will be toast.”
Pick one and stick with it, and you’ll be in a much better place than you are right now. GTD and Pomodoro are the favorites on our team, and they each incorporate some of the hacks below into their structure.
2. Skip Multitasking
Multitasking is great for computer operating systems – let’s go Windows 3.1! – and not so good for your brain. It’s like an assembly line, as long as you don’t take anything else from the metaphor other than the fact that you should focus on one thing at a time.
One of Capterra’s content editor J.P. Medved’s favorite tricks is to compose in Google Docs in full screen mode. Jam that F11 button to block out the rest of the world – those fifteen YouTube and Facebook tabs you’ve got open – and just focus on the task at hand.
You can also use one of those lovely time-management systems to block out time for a single task, letting you focus on getting all your emails done in one go, rather than jumping between email, writing, and talking on the phone.
3. Speed up your life
Learning is an important part of your job. You’ve got to stay on top of the most recent news and trends, or read those awesome books on hiring the best people ever. Skip the fluff. Most podcast players let you adjust the playback speed, so juice it and listen to your podcasts at 1.5x. It sounds like a bunch of chipmunks, but who cares?
For books, jump on a service like getAbstract to rip the value out of your business books without all the nonsensical rhyming cleverness and weird asides.
YouTube videos can also be sped up, but the quick movements can be disconcerting. If it’s a lecture, Dr. Talksalot can get his speed cranked up, but for how-to videos, I leave the speed alone.
4. 30-Minute Meetings Make the World Go Round
Hour-long meetings are for suckers – there, I said it. If you’re in a meeting room for an hour, you better be writing episodes of Stranger Things while you’re in there.
The 30-minute meeting is long enough to get everything done if you come into every meeting with an agenda. Every meeting should have an agenda, every meeting should have a concrete goal, and every member of the meeting should have the power to park discussion on non-agenda items. Empower yourself, empower your employees, and get things done in half the time.
5. Work on the Weekend
This one has a headline that makes you mad. I can see it. The weekend is for football and raking leaves and eating chicken out of a bucket! Those things are all true, but consider the time you can save during the week if you take just an hour on Sunday to get ready.
Capterra writer Geoff Hoppe plans out his week on Sunday so that, come Monday morning, he can hit the ground running. This is Planning 101, so you can take it as far out as you like it. Halden Ingwersen plans all her pieces out a quarter at a time, writing outlines for each before diving into the weeds. It’s more than I’m willing to do, but she’s also much more clever than I am.
The key to working on the weekend is to set strict time limits and to keep within those limits. The reason we abhor the idea of weekend work is that it has the chance to end up like weekday work – sprawling and frustrating.
On the weekend, you have more control over the time you spend. If it starts to be maddening, just stop. Nothing you do on the weekend should be due Monday. This is bonus time, not time to make up for your earlier procrastination.
6. Hack Your Health
Feel good time! Get out of the office, off the couch, and into the world. Get the sleep you need to function and the food you need to get through the day. No one is going to be productive on an empty stomach or three hours of power napping.
J.P. likes some sort of horrific protein shake in the morning, because he hates flavor. I like toast. Whatever it is, put some of it in your tummy before you run out the door. For bedtime, find a trick to get yourself sleeping better. Cathy Reisenwitz likes to rock some audio books as she dozes off, getting more learning and a nice lullaby at the same time.
I’m a big fan of running in the morning. You get a burst of energy, you’re set for the day, and nothing that comes up at the end of the day – like a happy hour or bonus meeting – is going to wreck your exercise schedule. Plus you get to feel kind of superior all day long. “Oh you’re running when you get home? I guess that’s one way to do it.”
7. Rock Some Productivity Apps
You can jumpstart your routine with some task management tools, a basic Pomodoro timer, or a new outlook on fitness. Tom’s Guide just dropped a new list of the best productivity apps, so head over there and find one that’s going to make your life easier.
The key to any change is plan the workflow and then find the app. If you get an app that requires a certain shift in production or planning, you’re going to fight it every step of the way. If you find a system that works well for you and then find the app that supports that workflow, you’re going to be much happier.
Hacking your productivity may not have the same street cred as pretending to be Henry Kissinger while calling the Pope, but it’s still a good idea. Note, this is not an endorsement of calling the Pope and pretending to be a US government agent.
One of the keys to a good work life balance is to make time for life. By cutting down the amount of effort and time you spend on the work half of the equation, you can free up time for life. The happier you are on that side, the more you’ll get done on the work side. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Please don’t call the Pope.