It’s no secret that everyone is seeking secret ways to have more productive days, weeks, and even lives. But maximizing time and boosting your productivity is a constant struggle. Try as you might to organize your calendar, it’s difficult to avoid ad hoc meetings, urgent deadlines, and groggy mornings. How many times per week do you gulp a cup of cold brew in hopes of immediate focus?
The good news is that you don’t need to rely on a caffeine addiction to increase your productivity and organize your workday. From "frog eating" to the Pomodoro Technique, there are six commons productivity tricks that everyone from remote workers to Olympic athletes rely on for success.
Let’s take it one step further to explore how you can tweak these tricks in order to give your workday a tangible boost right now.
Eat The Right Frog
Mark Twain originated one of the most famous productivity tricks of all time when he said:
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Now Twain is not encouraging you to eat frog legs for breakfast. Instead, he is referring to the most important task on your to-do list. Brian Tracy fleshed out this concept in his book, Eat The Frog. The idea is that you should tackle your biggest task first thing every day. This is typically the task you will procrastinate unless you prioritize its completion. So by completing it first every morning, you will feel accomplished and productive before you finish your morning coffee. Win-win, right?
This is a great trick, but sometimes your most important task will take longer than an hour or two to complete. Have you ever started a big project before your first morning meeting—only to find yourself running out of time? And the moment you have to break away from your productive streak, it takes nearly 30 minutes to refocus after you get distracted.
The next time you “eat the frog,” consider eating the right frog. When you decide which “frog” you should eat first, take some cues from Goldilocks and “size” each frog. Once you’ve found the frog that is just the right size, slot the frog into the first time you have available in your day to eat it.
As you take a look at your to-do list everyday, identify (a) your most important tasks, and (b) how long it will take you to complete them. Next, look at your calendar and divvy up your tasks into available time blocks. For example, if you know customer research will take three hours to complete, schedule that task during a morning or afternoon when you don’t have back-to-back meetings.
By eating the right frogs based on the next best time you have available, you’ll actually have time to er, clean your plate. Bon appétit!
From Batching To Stacking Your Meetings
A popular productivity trick is batching like-minded tasks together in order to tackle more initiatives—and actually finish them. For example, many people, including productivity powerhouse Tim Ferriss, will batch their emails so they can respond to a bulk of them only in the morning and afternoon. This batching method helps prevent context switching—the habit of jumping between various, unrelated tasks—which is a known productivity killer.
This practice is also applied to meetings when you add them in a chunk of time on your schedule. However, with this system, it’s all-too-common to also schedule buffer time, or 15-to-30-minute gaps in between meetings to give you time for a break or a couple minutes to tackle menial tasks (like responding to more emails 🙄).
But are all of these meetings necessary? According to a study by Atlassian, employees reported spending 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. On top of these unproductive hours, you are also wasting up to 25% of your day by buffering in those 30-minute gaps.
Instead of batching your meetings and adding buffer time in between them all, consider tweaking this strategy by stacking your meetings. Stacking meetings means you schedule them back to back. This will also help you and your team to be more strategic in the meetings so you don’t go over the allotted time.
Another great tweak to this productivity trick is to identify your most productive hours, then schedule your meetings during the morning or day when you prefer to brainstorm, strategize, and socialize. The other hours of your day can then be dedicated to executing everything you discussed in the meetings!
Build Maker Vs. Manager Hours Into Schedule Instead Of Maker Vs. Manager Days
Once you identify the most productive hours of your day, you can start structuring them to be hyper-productive. A common productivity hack is to organize your week with maker days and manager days. The maker vs. manager method allows you to designate certain days of the week to focus on your manager tasks (i.e. coordinating projects, meeting with the team, or reporting on quarterly goals), and your maker tasks (i.e. write blog posts, design new product features, or code a landing page). An example of this schedule could be, for instance, Tuesday and Thursday as Maker Days and Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as Manager Days. This allows everyone to align their calendars with the type of work they need to focus on and complete. By setting clear boundaries, you know you have at least two work days each week dedicated to deep work.
But of course, batching entire days is most commonly accomplished in an ideal world, whereas in reality it’s common for days to get cluttered with high priority deadlines and ad hoc meetings. So as much as you try to be disciplined, you may find that meetings start to fill up your maker days and you’re breaking this rule more often than not.
One way to re-organize your workday is to build your schedule with maker vs. manager hours instead of days. With this trick, you no longer have specific days in which you focus on specific aspects of your role. Instead, you block off certain hours of each day to accommodate your maker tasks and your manager tasks.
For example, you can block off a few hours every morning or afternoon for open office hours. This will be a chunk of time in which anyone can schedule a meeting with you, stop by your desk, or ping you on Stride to chat, strategize, or ask questions. The other hours of your day, especially when you feel most focused for that deep work session, can be dedicated to your maker tasks. Scheduling maker time on your calendar every day will signify to your team that you are heads down and shouldn’t be distracted.
Building manager time into your workday is also valuable when you need unstructured social time, especially if you are a remote worker. If you know that you like to go for a walk, grab a coffee, or chat with a co-worker at 3 pm every afternoon, then block this time off on your calendar to maximize that much-needed break. Intentionally setting this time on your calendar will improve your productivity and will make you feel more connected to your team.
Pomodoro Your Way Through The Workday With Longer Sprints
Another adored productivity trick is the Pomodoro Technique. How it works is quite simple and highly effective: You choose one task and spend 25 minutes completely focused on that initiative, followed by a short break. This technique was pioneered by Francesco Cirillo and was inspired by his tomato shaped kitchen timer. Working with a clear time constraint has proven to boost productivity and actually free up more time in your day.
Just like the size of your frogs, some tasks on your to-do list may take longer than 25 minutes to complete. You can tweak the Pomodoro Technique to accommodate the time it will take to complete your projects. Instead of setting the timer to 25 minutes, give yourself an hour or even 90 minutes to dedicate to work. And remember: Your brain isn’t a fan of task-switching, so try to focus solely on the task at hand during your longer pomodoro sprint.
Remember: silence your phone notifications, set your status on Slack to “do not disturb,” and close all those tabs so you can pomodoro your way through a productive workday.
Being An Early Bird Or Night Owl Depends On The Day
You’ve heard it before–the early bird catches the worm and the night owl catches the mouse. Even though these winged animals are the same creatures, their habits and preferences are polar opposites. One flock loves to wake up in the morning, hit the gym, and even get to inbox zero before the workday starts. And the other gets a productive burst of energy at 10 pm and will happily work until the wee hours of the morning without a yawn.
But there’s no rule that you have to be either an early bird or a night owl. In reality, the flock you identify with can depend on the day. For example, some days you may wake up early, have super productive mornings, and be on-point while the sun is shining. But other days, you may really need to hit that snooze button, get a few extra hours of shut eye, and then cruise through your to-do list in the later afternoon and evening.
Bottom line — high performance and productivity is directly linked to a good night’s sleep. So it doesn’t matter when you rest and work, just as long as you get at least six hours of sleep per day. Prioritize a minimum six hours of shut-eye as part of your daily routine when you need it and you’ll see that you’re still the most productive bird in the house, morning or night.
Start Your Morning Routine The Night Before
Mastering productive morning routines has become an art over the years. Olympic Gold medalists, movie stars, and millionaires all share their strategies on how to maximize the early hours of their days in order to set themselves up for a productive workday. It’s true that people who wake up earlier are often more productive, but you can get an additional boost the night before.
Instead of waking up and rushing through your morning routine, you can draw up your day the night before by meal prepping, organizing your schedule and to-do list, and even selecting your outfit. This tweak will also help you cut down on the decisions you need to make throughout the day. The moment you are depleted by decisions, your brain creates shortcuts and will even prevent you from making more choices. Starting your morning routine the night before will help your brain cruise on auto-pilot at the start of every day, right into your first work meeting.
There will be plenty of times during your work week when these popular productivity tricks don’t fit the bill. Instead of throwing them out the window, practice these tweaks and adapt them to your style and flow. With a few adjustments, you’ll be on your way to achieving a more productive and organized workday.
Do you have tweaks to other common productivity tricks? Good or bad, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello) or write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.