7 Tested Productivity Hacks That Let You Do More With Less

Don’t you wish you have more than 24 hours a day?

Despite the technological advancements, few of us manage to reduce the 40-hours work weeks that was invented during the industrial age.

Instead technologies made information communication so easy that we became obliged to do more there and then. It led many of us to spend double the time at work yet when we look back, we all seemed so busy but not really productive.

It led me to learn more about optimizing my time so it lead to the same (if not better) level of performance. Through many trial and errors, I distilled it down to the following 7 productivity hacks which have worked for me:

1. Disable push mail

Hundreds of emails flying out from a monitor into the user's face

Emails have become so pervasive that we live and breathe by it. We wake up in the morning and before we brush our teeth, we are checking out emails. We do that again before we go to bed. And probably about 100 times in between each day.

According to this chart from Statista, based on stats from email marketing company BlueHornet, almost 34% of American consumers say they check their email “throughout the day.” Mobile is a huge reason for this: The same survey found that consumers look at their phone more than 150 times a day, on average.

Chart - How Often Americans Check Their Emails
Chart – How Often Americans Check Their Emails

In 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute issued a report which showed that each worker spends approximately 28% of their workday reading and answering email.

According to technology market research firm The Radicati Group, Inc., business email users received and sent an average of 110 emails per day that year – an average that increased to 121 emails each day in 2014 and is projected to continue growing by a rate of 4% every year until 2017.

It might seemed just one more email but given the number of emails we are getting today, simply reading each and everyone of them would take an hour away from you (110 emails x 30 seconds = 55 minutes)

Push notifications make it worse as it grab your immediate attention from whatever you are doing just to read about the latest Groupon deal that is totally irrelevant.

Emails may be important but they are mostly not urgent. If they are, you should expect a call from the sender and not an email.

In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was quoting Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important.

The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This “Eisenhower Principle” is said to be how he organized his workload and priorities.

My push mail notifications are turned off completely and my Outlook isn’t even opened as I draft this article. This allow me to focus and get the job done in the most effective and efficient way.

2. Take cold shower

Man sitting at the bottom of waterfall

Every morning, Tony Robbins starts his day off by plunging into a 57-degree Fahrenheit pool of water. Study has shown the benefits of taking a rudely introducing cold temperature to your body.

Cold water immersion helps to activate the body’s natural healing powers that can relieve the symptoms of many medical conditions and promote a sense of health and well-being.

For me it helps me to get out of the half-awake half-asleep mode every single morning since I’m not a type A person. The increased alertness that was brought about help me to focus on my tasks ahead easier and better.

This comes about as the deep breathing, in response to our body’s shock helps us keep warm, increases our overall oxygen intake. Thus, our heart rate will also increase, releasing a rush of blood through our entire body. This gives us a natural dose of energy for the day.

Katherine Hepburn, a Hollywood actress, was a fan of cold showers. She began taking them daily after being pushed by Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist and pioneer in social hygiene, The New York Times reported.

Katherine would take ice-cold baths or showers during childhood and for the rest of her life — she would advise others to do so as well. The actress swore by cold showers, and had a high energy level to support her claims.

3. Stop notifications

Smartphone icons showing too many badge counts altogether

A chirp here and a ding there.

Distractions are everywhere with the devices we have in our pockets.

It seems like every day, an app finds a new reason it needs to disturb the few moments of quiet you’ve got left. But you can be saved, and save those time for more useful stuffs.

For years my life was literally ran by app notifications. Every single message I got from anyone popped up on my phone and I will instinctively react to it. Kelvin replied to my Facebook status, I must respond by liking his reply.

I couldn’t stand not being up to date about the breaking news about the latest talented cats or another case of bad Singapore drivers who got captured on video.

Because legend has it that you may disappear from the face of the earth if you are not current on the internet. But I learned that isn’t true.

After yet another unproductive day, I had it and decided to turn notifications. Almost all of them – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIN, News app, Weather app.

The only notifications I still have are for my chat apps but I still have group chats muted since those are a huge time drainer.

And to my surprise, I am still alive and the world continue to spin.

I will still use those apps otherwise I would have deleted them but I use them on a pull basis. And If i’m in the middle of something, I would tell myself to only check that once I’m done with the tasks.

It reduces my presences online but it helped me to achieve so much more during the day.

Remember if you don’t take control of your notifications, they will take control of you.

4. Schedule everything

A calendar which shows busy for every day

And that includes reflection time

As someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I always try to keep things as minimalist as possible. That unfortunately included my calendar.

So when I work, it became an entirely reactive affair. I would either be fire fighting something or do nothing at all. It was very tactical and not helping me to achieve the bigger picture.

Until I applied this trick to schedule everything into my calendar.

I read about this from a Jeff Weiner’s blog post about why he schedules 30 to 90 minutes of “nothing” into his schedule for personal time, coaching and reflection.

That led me to schedule almost everything into my calendar and it allow me to keep to a strict schedule which means consistent outcome.

My typical week without any assignments would look like this:

My calendar over a typical week

It would fill up closer to the week but I always work around the recurring events. You would notice my Think Time. That is the time something like my break time but I spend it doing self-reflection and take notes of my thoughts.

This process gives me a lot of structure and instill a discipline in me to quickly get the task competed within the defined period of time.

The time sensitivity also mean no Facebook, no checking of phones (I usually put it face down and turned to vibration mode only) and just 100% focus.

I’m able to churn out good quality long form articles regularly and gain time to upgrade myself through books and udemy courses.

5. Use a list

Wunderlist app showing on a Mac and Android

I don’t schedule every single minute tasks into my calendar. For any that would take less than 3-minutes I simply rely on my list app. (I uses Wunderlist)

Many of these tasks are highly recurring in nature and it make sure they won’t be overlooked.

It also allowed me to hold back from doing important tasks which are not urgent at all since I have a schedule I could adhere to. There is no upside to bringing them forward anyway.

I rather use the time to take a nap and recharge or upgrade my brain with a book or podcasts.

6. Listen to podcasts / books

podcasts on my itune

How many books have you read this year?

I remember there was one particular year that I read zero books.

It happen to be the year that my first kid arrived. It seemed impossible to find any quiet time to sit down and enjoy a long-form book.

And we all know the benefits of reading – it is the equivalent of updating the OS in our brain.

Now I have 3 kids and a new training business I started recently. I need more hours to simply keep up. Reading is becoming a long gone luxury.

That is when I chance upon another medium I could use to upgrade myself. And I found it in podcasts and audio books

The best part is there are so many different choices for you to choose from. If you check out the podcast section under iTune store, there are hundreds and thousands of podcasts to choose from.

Accessibility is another thing. When I’m driving or walking to the supermarket, I could just put on a headphones and start listening. It gives me full control of how much I wish to listen, where to pause and when to continue.

It is a huge time saver and because I read slow, the content absorption via audio is much quicker for me.

The self-developmental tips and advises taught me to do things more efficiently and see things from a different perspective. Like what Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”

And recently I discovered audio books that I could borrow from the library so it costs nothing.

Here’s how it works (for Singapore users):

  1. You download Overdrive into your mobile devices.
  2. Sign up for a NLB myLibrary ID.
  3. Add National Library Board Singapore to your library

From there you could access NLB website with myLibrary ID and borrow any ebooks or audio books. Once it is borrowed, you could add it to your bookshelf.

That is equivalent to downloading the material so it can be accessed even if you are not connected to the Internet.

I still enjoy music a lot and often have Spotify up when I’m writing or working on projects that require my full attention. But when doing monotonous or mind numbing activities I usually have a podcast or audio book going.

Here are the podcasts that I’m subscribing to:

  1. This is your Life with Michael Hyatt
  2. The EntreLeadership Podcast
  3. Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips To Work Less and Do More
  4. The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes
  5. The Tim Ferriss Show

7. Say no

A guy holding up a placard that says No

This is one of the biggest time saver for me recently.

When I started my soloprenuer journey, I had to raise the awareness level of the business. It led me to taking up many assignments and attend numerous events which I honestly didn’t think was useful.

But I thought it was a necessarily evil.

The mindset changing event came about when I had a partnership with a reputation education provider to bid for a government project. We won it and they would front the project while I deliver.

Unfortunately it became a case of over-promising and under-delivering. I told them I can’t do curriculum design and yet it was thrown to me. Even when we had to resubmit a programme revision, I was asked to adjust the font size and table layout.

The best part is they took almost 70% of the profit.

The unreasonable client didn’t help. I was so miserable doing and revising the content day-after-day free of charge.

After a long struggle I decided enough is enough and walked away from the deal despite the money and burning the bridge.

But I never regretted that decision as it gave me time to pursue other things which I enjoy and that led to two corporate projects which I’m compensated way more.

I realized saying no isn’t such a bad thing and started saying no to more things such as free speaking engagements and networking events that I can’t see any tangible outcome in.


Time is the one thing that you can never earn back once it is gone. Guarding it as you would your money is how you can make sure you spend your finite time just on the right things that matter.

[reminder]Do you have any productivity hacks that worked well for you? Share it here.[/reminder]

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