Optimizing Your Routine


We build momentum through small, daily decisions.

Make your work a stream of triggers that flow from one to the next.

  • If you’re stuck starting, create incentive triggers that provoke you to get going.

Avoid procrastinating as much as possible.

  • Use “forcing functions” to break your procrastination.

Stay perpetually focused on improving the present moment.

Pace yourself according to your body’s natural rhythm.

Take meaningful breaks.

Eat and drink the right things to keep your system running optimally.

Manage your stress so it doesn’t interfere with your tasks.

Distractions utterly destroy productivity, so learn to avoid them:

  • The worst distractions are meetings and emails.
  • Delegate tasks you dislike to others whenever you can.
  • Make your workspace distraction-free.
  • Working from home is a double-edged sword for distractions.

Optimize everything possible to cut down on time or reduce distractions:

  • Use technology carefully to only improve your work.
  • Stay productive while traveling.
  • Streamline everything, especially anything that involves computers.
  • Never stop trying to find “life hacks” to make life even more productive.

Don’t overdo it: “productivity porn” gets more obsessed with optimizing time than the time it saves.

Why optimize?

How you spend every day is how you spend your life.

We only take a few seconds to make our most important daily decisions, but they build momentum:
  • Minutes build into hours, days, and years.
  • A few minutes a day across years can really add up.
  • Mind your minutes to take care of your years.
  • If you already have small, attainable goals, you only need a trigger to start your habits.

Over time, we learn to “budget” our time, a bit like money, and fill extra time with what we want to do.

After you’ve defined meaningful goals, magnify your work by simplifying your routine.

The fewer things you’re focused on, the more precisely you can dedicate your efforts:
  • When you’ve removed almost anything else, the entire experience might look a bit like an obsession to others.

Productive momentum is a flow of triggers

Triggers are subconscious connections that recall flashbacks or memories from prior experience:
  • Those recollections bring rewards and punishments that set our methods in motion.
  • 90% of our decisions are subconscious, but humans are unique because they can stop mid-response to examine their actions.
  • Most people don’t observe their triggers until they see adverse consequences, but self-aware people can observe triggers as they engage.
  • Every trigger’s reaction moves us through a ritual or habit.
    • Good rituals and habits free us up to make meaningful decisions and thoughts.
    • Dysfunctional rituals and habits waste precious resources.
    • We tend to make our next decision based on what our previous one was.

Daily self-discipline is the skill of adapting triggers to make life a seamless in-and-out flow of tasks:
  1. Observe anything you want to change.
  2. Visualize the actions you want to do or avoid.
  3. Set rational goals you believe you can attain.
  4. Notice triggers that don’t flow toward those goals.
  5. Make a conscious effort to redirect your energy on the next trigger to more meaningful ends.

Slice each task into as small an action as possible:
  • The smaller the task, the simpler it is, and the easier it is to optimize.
  • It’s much easier to detect whether smaller tasks are moving toward goals you want.
  • Accomplishing many small tasks is guaranteed to give you more of a sense of meaning than accomplishing one large task.

Slowly adapt your habits and rituals:
  • Too much harshness will push your mind to rebel elsewhere with destructive behaviors.
  • A small 5-minute routine can alter a lifestyle within a month.
  • Only shift routines for up to 15 minutes at a time.

Making incentive triggers

Avoid making triggers that create unhappy thoughts or impulsive behaviors:
  • Positive reinforcement usually gets you much farther than negative reinforcement.

To make it easy, try to attach the triggers to the thing itself:
  • Leave a book where you will use it.
  • Tell someone to remind you if you’re doing something for them.

Only use external rewards you will crave and know you can get:
  • Give rewards for completing the challenge, even if you do it badly.
  • Eat a piece of candy or raisin when you make a small victory.
  • Place money in a jar when you do a task, then treat yourself after you have enough money.

Start decreasing your external reward as you begin feeling accomplished:
  • We usually feel the full extent of accomplishment after about a month of dedication.

Reprogram indecision for unimportant choices to avoid wasting energy:
  • Make yourself impulsive about anything that won’t matter in 24 hours.
  • Flip a coin.
  • Before looking at a clock, decide whether the minute is even or odd.
  • Select the choice you haven’t tried before.
  • If you don’t like the decision, simply choose the opposite of whatever the dictating decision was.

Stop procrastinating

Procrastination is fulfilling a short-term desire to ignore a long-term one:
  • Procrastination usually forms from arbitrary perfectionism or inflated fears about the worst parts of a project.
  • In fact, it’s normal to procrastinate starting!

We procrastinate by filling time with small, mindless, simple tasks:
  • Take advantage of procrastination by doing important, small tasks for your project.
  • Keep subdividing tasks until planning for them is more work than doing them.
  • If it suits you, separate the tasks by how much energy or time you’ll need.

We may also procrastinate because we don’t know what to do next:
  • If you have many things to do, just grab something.
  • Make sure you know what you want to do before you start your day.

One of the best ways to keep us accountable is to track our habits and decisions:
  • By tracking the dates and times we perform habits, we become aware of our behaviors.
  • Tracking decisions can often give us insight on when we fail to make a healthy routine and how.

You will only thoroughly beat procrastination by starting:
  • Use your time the way you’d like others to use theirs.
  • Really successful people feel the same motivation issues as anyone else, but they still show up and perform.

Use “forcing functions” to stop postponing

A forcing function inspires more action by limiting or committing resources to make a lazy action worse:
  • Perfectionism tries to fix worthless errors and sabotages productivity.
  • Forcing functions make your task easier than the alternatives.
  • The most intense forcing functions have no backup plans!

Invest into something non-revocable:
  • Join and pay for a club, class, or gym.
  • RSVP a meeting.

Foster a sense of urgency with short-term deadlines:
  • Set an alarm within the next hour for your task.
  • Make an end-of-week deadline.

Make your alternatives less appealing:
  • Make every other task than the one you want to do more tedious.
  • Snap a rubber band on your hand every time you get distracted.

Hold yourself “hostage” until you finish:
  • Take away privileges like coffee, recreation, or leisure activities.
  • Don’t take your laptop power cord while working away from home.
  • Use a public computer or library computer.
  • Use a second work account on your computer.

Inspire the fear of shame:
  • Tell others about your commitments to hold yourself accountable.
  • Visualize the pain you’ll feel from procrastination.
  • Commit to doing it with a friend.

Make your routine a string of triggers

Each day with a state of “flow” reinforces the next as a feedback loop:
  • Clear, specified goals you believe you can accomplish
  • Easier to concentrate and focus
  • No sense of self-consciousness
  • A distorted sense of time, where the activities feel effortless
  • You get instant feedback that makes you feel like nothing is too easy or too hard

Work to maximize your energy, not your time.

Connect things with anything that could speed up your workflow:
  • Group tasks by location, what tool you’ll need, or who needs it.
  • As you do routine things, think 1–2 steps ahead of where you’re at, then optimize each task to naturally flow from one to the next.
  • Try to minimize “travel time”, which can include going from one place to another, arm or hand movements, and moving in between rooms.

Even if you have necessary distractions, you can still usually find creative ways to work around those things.

Set your phone or watch alarm for times you must remember.

Set things you need to take near your keys, in your shoes, or on top of your phone.

When you leave anywhere, do a once-over to ensure you won’t have to return there.

When you have to search for something, put it back where you first looked for it instead of where you found it.

Whenever possible, never touch anything more than you have to.

The night before

Journal everything you’ve done that day:
  • Writing journals forces you to soberly consider your actions and their consequences.
  • Forgive yourself by capturing the lesson and releasing the feeling.

Limit your alcohol intake to avoid interfering with your sleep cycles.

Set an alarm an hour before bedtime to start a wind-down routine:
  • Set out your pajamas.
  • Set out all your clothes for the next day.
  • Read a paper novel.
  • Drink a glass of herbal tea or cold water.
  • Take a bath or shower.
  • Floss and brush your teeth.

Write down your next day’s tasks:
  • Tomorrow, I’m going to (tomorrow’s 3 most important goals)
  • To be ready, I need to ___
  • I will remember my ___
  • Random thoughts that just came to mind are ___
  • I also must remember to ___

Place your alarm clock across the room so you must wake up to turn it off:
  • Never hit the snooze button.
  • Never wake up to your favorite song.
  • If you keep sleeping through the alarm, set a calmer one 15 minutes earlier.

If you share showers with someone, try to stagger your alarm to avoid interfering with their schedule.

Sleep 7–9 hours every night.

Start your morning correctly

Wake up early at the same time every morning:
  • Get out of bed immediately.
  • Play a video game on your phone if you’re groggy.
  • Consider a full-spectrum LED light to wake up more quickly.
  • Show up a little early to avoid feeling rushed

Make a wake-up trigger:
  • Exercise or stretch.
  • Splash cold water on your face or take a cold shower.
  • Drink a glass of cold water with mint or mint leaves.

Make a personal routine that gets you off to work:
  1. Craft a playlist that grows more energetic or inspirational and ends when you start your day.
  2. Meditate, self-reflect, or pray.
  3. Make your bed.
  4. Take a shower, shave, and brush your teeth.
  5. Prepare a protein-rich breakfast.
  6. Listen to binaural beats on your headphones (chords of sounds that play different tones on the left and right ear)

Avoid anything that might discourage you:
  • Sleeping or lying in bed while wishing you could sleep longer
  • Reading or listening to the news
  • Not showering
  • A gigantic breakfast
  • Coffee or other stimulants when you don’t need it
  • Keep all your items near you when you leave to avoid forgetting anything

Begin your workday routine

Use a specific song or consistent location to start work.

Make a short list of what you plan to finish that day.

Start performing the tasks slowly, to ensure you get them right:
  • Speed will come later once you have the muscle memory situated.
  • Slow is smooth, smooth is steady, steady is fast.

Have a plan for when you want to do the task you hate the most:
  • Work on your heaviest or hardest task first, when your mind is fresh.
  • Alternately, get warmed up with some easy tasks before tackling the worst task of the day.

Permit extra time in your schedule to expect the unexpected.

If you need to, block off a few hours for deep work.

Make your most important decisions in the morning while your mind is clearest.

To keep your thoughts from scattering, don’t check emails in the first few hours of your day.

If your work doesn’t involve people (e.g., creative work), work during hours when nobody is up (e.g., 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.).

Renew your mind throughout the day

Improve your focus by taking a deep breath, holding for as long as you can, and slowly exhaling.

Take breaks when you feel like it.

If the work gets boring, do the work differently, or do work that’s related but different.

Reassess your list several times.

Make a list of things you won’t be able to finish that day.

Wrap up your workday

Devote the end of your day to busywork that requires less energy.

Set a hard “done time” that forces you to leave at a reasonable hour.

Have a 2–5 minute wrap-up routine:
  1. Write plenty of notes to simplify restarting the next day.
  2. Tidy up your work space and close down everything.
  3. Review what you did, what you could have done better, and what you shouldn’t have been doing.
  4. Plan the next day’s list.
  5. Set out the most important thing for the next day.

Have an end-of-day wrap-up:
  1. Consider how your day went well or poorly.
  2. Prepare for the next day by setting things out.
  3. Log, journal, or write.
  4. Calm yourself before bed.

Use a longer wrap-up routine for the weekend:
  1. Finish every possible project.
  2. Clean and organize more in-depth.
  3. Reflect on how your week went and what you could have done better.
  4. Plan for the next week by looking a month ahead on your calendar.
  5. Plan for downtime when your energy will likely dip.
  6. Communicate to everyone concerned if you’ll be inaccessible and what they should do.
  7. If you’re in the middle of a project, never allow yourself to miss more than two days in a row.

Observe weekly patterns

Plan your best work at your energy’s peaks, and mind-numbing work or relaxation in your valleys.

Observe slower portions of the day or week and use them to get ahead of schedule.

Off-duty rituals

Have something specific to look forward to.

Use post-work routines to transition to relaxation.

You can only focus at work by relaxing away from it:
  • Eat healthy and routinely exercise.
  • Consume movies, books, and television that add legitimate value to you.
  • Practice mind puzzles and play games that challenge you.
  • Instead of social media, work through a list of books you’ve wanted to read.

Don’t break your rituals on the weekend.

Stay in the moment

Your ability to focus on one task at a time determines your productivity.

Multitasking, contrary to what it feels like, is one of the most inefficient ways to work:
  • Multitasking performs two tasks inadequately.
  • Beyond mindless tasks, multitasking always underperforms compared to mono-tasking.
  • Females can usually handle the stress of multitasking better, but they’re still more inefficient than one task at a time.

Staying focused on one task is difficult because we tend to drift between tasks:
  • Modern society makes mono-tasking even harder.
  • If you must, mono-task for a few seconds or minutes at a time and cycle between tasks.

If you think about anything you’re unable to do at that precise moment, write a note to deal with it later:
  • We tend to forget things we don’t write notes for.
  • Consider a “Think About List” that captures all the thoughts you want to entertain later.

Set alarms so you don’t have to worry about time:
  • We aren’t any good at measuring time, especially when we’re working.
  • Any time spent thinking of a deadline is distracting from the task you’re currently trying to perform.

Your physical state affects your focus:
  • Whether you’ve taken a shower that day
  • Your position and posture sitting at your desk
  • The speed at which you walk and talk
  • The number of things on your desk or work space

Stay on-task with a parallel activity:
  • Chew gum, especially peppermint or cinnamon flavor.
  • Listen to music, comedy, or background noise.
  • White noise, brown noise, or pink noise can drown out ambient noises.

If you run out of things to do, ask, “What should I become?”

Use music appropriately

Any music you are familiar with, no matter the genre, will improve your mood:
  • People in a good mood perform more repetitive tasks with less energy.

Music enhances creativity, with the notable exception when a task is language-related and the music has lyrics.

Music with a dominant beat can improve concentration even after turning the music off:
  • Instrumental music, especially video game music, is excellent repetitive “background” music.

Distracting music, no matter its genre, will always interfere with learning.

Pace yourself

We can only focus on one task for 52 minutes before needing a 17-minute break:
  • Anything longer makes us bored, inattentive, unfocused, unhealthy, and unmotivated.

We usually work longer because the stress feels productive.

To stay productive long-term, do not fight what your body and brain are telling you.

Even if you don’t honor the 52/17 schedule, try to honor your ultradian rhythm by working 90 minutes and resting for 20:
Ultradian Rhythm

Take meaningful breaks

Your break doesn’t have to be sedentary, but it’s not a break if you’re still thinking about work.

Do a Mindful Minute:
  1. Focus on your thoughts for 20 seconds.
  2. Acknowledge your environment for 20 seconds.
  3. Try to think of nothing for the last 20 seconds.

  • Take a 10-20 minute power nap.
  • Go for a 5-minute walk.
  • Look up photos of cute animals.
  • Read a book.

Use the 20-20-20 Rule to reduce computer eye strain and myopia:
  • Every 20 minutes of screen time, focus on an object at least 20 feet (~6m) away for at least 20 seconds.

Rearrange or optimize your work environment:
  • Purge or rename your contacts list.
  • Get rid of clutter.
  • Organize emails and computer/paper files.
  • Take things off your desk you no longer need.
  • Read through your reference or reading materials.
  • Take stock of your supplies and tools.

Plan for the future:
  • Daydream about future tasks.
  • Plan for the weekend or a vacation.
  • Think about how much better things will be once you’ve finished your project.

Do short spurts of exercise throughout the day:
  • Stand up and walk around
  • Do push-ups or sit-ups
  • Go for a walk
  • Do HIIT (High Intensity Impact Aerobics)

Eat and drink well

Drink plenty of water to stay alert and healthy.

Avoid high-sugar drinks like juice and soda.

Strategically drink caffeine:
  • Your cortisol level naturally drops between 9:30AM-11:30AM and 1:30PM-5:00PM.
  • Any caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime will interfere with your sleep cycle.
  • Drink caffeine half an hour before you expect you’ll need it to time the caffeine high.
  • Decrease the jolt by slowly drinking your coffee or switching to tea.
  • To stay alert, green tea, chai, and apples are more effective than coffee.
  • Shock your body awake by alternating between a hot and cold drink.

Keep your blood sugar consistent:
  • Snack on healthy high-protein, low-sugar food.
  • Try to eat complex carbohydrates over simple ones.

While walking, keep drinks from spilling by stirring them or breaking your cadence.

Manage stress

Our capacity to perform comes through how much distress we feel:
  • We feel eustress through necessary deadlines that inspire us to wake up, go to sleep, eat, and brush our teeth.
  • Distress is extra emotional energy devoted to uncontrollable risks.

Our eustress is a response to how we perceive expectations:
  1. Skill level — technical ability, familiarity, and education
  2. Personality — extroverted personalities usually endure higher-pressure work
  3. Confidence level — influenced by experience and circumstances
  4. The work’s complexity — more complicated work is higher-pressure

An ideal work environment balances challenge and skill:
Challenge + Skill = Flow
  • Our best results come through a state of flow.
  • Sometimes, depending on our mood and personality, we want flow, control, arousal, or relaxation.

On a task-by-task basis, adjust your challenge or skill:
  • Expect that you’ll improve through research and practice.
  • Small changes affect our state of mind significantly.
  • Change an overwhelming challenge by subdividing tasks or lowering your standards.
  • Make boring tasks more interesting by setting time limits or grouping them together with other tasks.

Distractions destroy productivity

Your mind is the only real place where you have distractions:
  • Both the work and distractions are endless, but your time isn’t, so self-discipline is the only way to fight distractions.
  • Removing distractions makes self-discipline easier, but distractions are there because we want an excuse to stop what we’re doing.
  • Learn to focus on the present moment: eating, exercise, chores, etc.

Calls, emails, text messages, and unexpected visitors will pull your focus from an important task:
  • Learn to stop yourself from chasing after unimportant distractions.
  • Further, cell phones compound the issue by incorporating most of them into one unified distraction device.
  • If it’s a problem, uninstall things from your phone or schedule times to turn off your phone throughout the day.
  • Avoid acting on any email where you’re CC’d, since the message was only intended as an FYI.
    • Preferably, group the CC emails into a separate folder or archive them.

Most distractions are either unnecessary or will require non-urgent action:
  • We often find ourselves performing distractions when we don’t want to do the most important tasks, and instead try to do everything but that thing.
  • Instead of acting on a distraction, simply slow down to note when a distraction is taking you from what you’re trying to accomplish.

Measure your interruption to avoid reacting to it:
  1. How much time will the interruption take?
  2. How much extra time will you need to stop and continue where you left off?
  3. Until when can you postpone the interruption before it creates adverse consequences?

Decisively do it, defer it, or delegate it:
  • Quick decision-making is critical to avoid wasting time.
  • Do it if it’s a legitimate emergency or will take less than 2 minutes.
  • If it’s a significant decision, defer it for at least 24 hours.
  • If you’re deep in the middle of a task, specify a time to defer it to or make a note.
  • If it’s not your expertise or is unimportant, delegate it to someone else.

Manage non-urgent interruptions:
  • Schedule a follow-up time and date with them.
  • Ask the interrupter where you should place their task on your list of priorities.
  • Ask what you should give up to accommodate their task.
  • Offer to move the task up on your priority list if it’s a repeat request.

Say “no” to all unnecessary distractions

Our days are filled to the brim with unnecessary agreements we’ve made:
  • We’ve told our past selves that we’d accomplish certain things or not do other things.
  • While it may feel productive to honor everything we want to do, it’s only partly completing many projects.
  • Further, we tend to obsess our minds with things that aren’t getting done.
  • Instead, we must focus on more effort toward fewer accomplishments to actually “finish” anything.

Irrelevant, unimportant, and non-urgent tasks will destroy your day if you don’t fight them:
  • Give suggestions or alternatives, like procrastinating the task or a creative workaround.
  • Give a pointed question to let them understand you’re working on something important.
  • Ask them how it adds current value to large-scale goals.

Imply to others when you want to work uninterrupted:
  • Close your office door.
  • Set aside time in a conference room for a project.
  • Wear headphones or a phone headset even if you’re not listening to anything.
  • Schedule a “Do Not Disturb” time on your calendar.
  • Have a “no meetings” day if you need a whole day of uninterrupted work.
  • If you can, work odd hours to prevent others from interrupting you.

Make long batches of similar work:
  • Group similar tasks together that you can do one after the other.
  • When the work is critical, carve out massive chunks of time when you can stay uninterrupted.

Avoid water-cooler gossip.

If you need more time to work, arrive late to casual social events or meetings.

Before accepting a future invitation, ask if you’d accept it if it was happening tomorrow.

Meetings and emails drain the most productivity

You can get most meeting summaries by email:
  • Only agree to meetings that have a stated purpose and a clear agenda.
  • If someone needs an impromptu meeting with you, avoid small talk and ask, “What’s up?”

If you can’t avoid a useless meeting, bring mindless work to it.

Email is only useful for 3 things:
  1. Coordinating meetings with multiple people.
  2. Sending short and concise notes, file attachments, and links to attachments.
  3. Sending newsletters.

Try to only keep action items in your inbox and archive or delete the rest.

Use a separate email address to sign up for marketing newsletters and promotions.

Send less and better email to receive less:
  • Avoid back-and-forth email conversations by talking on the phone or in person.
  • Never convey sensitive or complex things over email.
  • Select words that prevent vagueness and misinterpretation.
  • Spend extra time on critical emails.
  • Never, ever ask “why?” in an email.

Whenever possible, only touch each email once:
  • Flag or mark everything important or urgent as unread.
  • Archive non-action emails into folders or use filters.
  • Use labels to turn your email into a task manager.

Unsubscribe from any newsletters instead of simply deleting them:
  • Search for “unsubscribe”, “remove”, or “opt-out” in your inbox to find them, or use a software service to automatically delete them.

Aim for “Inbox Zero”, where you think of your emails zero times when you’re away from it.

Create automatic email replies for frequent responses.

If you know someone’s cell phone provider, you can email them at [number]@[provider’s website].

Delegate what you dislike

Hand off work to other people who would enjoy it more and do it faster.

Use the 70% Rule: give the work to someone else if they can do 70% of it.

Clarify your limits on their authority and what communications you expect.

If the work isn’t private or data-sensitive, send it to a freelancer.

Create a distraction-free work space

Put away all papers and items sitting on your desk except for what you’re working on:
  • Action items remind you to do tasks, but also distract from your current task.
  • If you feel you must remember them, write the items on a single to-do list and file them away.
  • Put away desk toys. They’re fun, but also distracting.
  • Hide any cords or wires coming out of the computer.
  • Put away clocks and only track time with alarms or a task light.

Set your indoor temperature around 70–85 °F (20–30 °C) with shade or air conditioning.

  • Mind mixed company: women prefer an average of 2.5 °F (~-16 °C) warmer than men.

Try to use natural sunlight from windows, blue-enriched light, or full-spectrum light.

Open a window to let air in.

Scent the air with lemon, jasmine, lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, or peppermint.

Set a motivational poster, artwork, inspirational collage, or photo of loved ones in your field of view.

Color coordinate:
  • Blue and green stimulate
  • Red increases energy
  • White simulates an “outdoor” feeling from reflecting light
  • Yellow inspires and increases concentration

Decorate with potted plants:
  • Areca palms are natural humidifiers
  • Snake plants are air purifiers
  • Rosemary increases memory retention
  • Lemon balm and citrus improve mood
  • Pine and lavender reduce stress
  • Cinnamon and peppermint increase alertness
  • Cedarwood and vetiver help with focus

Get a more comfortable, efficient, or elegant desk and chair:
  • Ergonomic or flexible desk chair
  • Medicine ball or yoga ball
  • Treadmill desk or standing desk

Working from home is a double-edged sword

Remote work has both benefits and risks:
  • You’re working in a familiar environment, so it might be less stressful, but only if you don’t have children or a partner interfering with your flow.
  • Your breaks are more enjoyable, but it’s difficult to focus when you don’t feel like working.
  • You have full control of your schedule, but you also have to viciously monitor the line between work and your personal life.

Separate your “home” and “work” activities:
  • Shower and get dressed in your work clothes every day you go to your office.
  • Your work area must be a “no personal effects” zone, and the rest of the house must be a “no work items” zone.
  • Don’t do chores when on “work time”.

Have a strategy to avoid the increased distractions:
  • Set boundaries with family and friends.
  • Plan what and when you’ll eat before starting work.
  • If you use a work computer for home activities, explicitly split the roles between the two with software constraints or a dual-boot operating system.

Make sure you’re done when you’re done:
  • Have a clear wind-down routine if you do personal activities on your work computer.

Use technology wisely

Every extra feature or system makes our lives slightly more complicated.

Kill technological distractions

Mobile device notifications sabotage focus.

  • Turn off notifications on a phone (or uninstall them) as soon as you see a useless one.

Turn off your nonwork phone, set it to “Do Not Disturb” mode, or leave it in another room.

Turn off social media, email, and text messages or set them to a flashing LED:
  • If possible, only check your phone every few hours
  • Instead of checking emails as they come, schedule up to 3 times a day to review and respond.
  • Change notifications’ vibration patterns to feel which app is notifying you.

Schedule emails to show up in your inbox when they become relevant, or use an automatic mail checker service.

Forward spam texts to 7726 (SPAM) and the carrier will stop that service from sending them.

Remove distractions with website blockers.

Never answer work phone calls unless you know who’s calling:
  • Set your ringtone for contacts you would rather not speak with as silent or your favorite song.
  • If you keep getting robocalls, add the numbers to a blocked contact called “SPAM” or “IGNORE”.

Make travel time productive

If you have more than two times to remember, track it with a travel itinerary or an app.

If you can, make a more productive commute that incorporates mass transit or bicycling instead of driving.

Plan for non-internet work on a bus or waiting in an airport:
  • Download and synchronize everything you’ll need or might need in advance.
  • Charge all electronics and keep extra cables.
  • Take a power strip with you if you have two or more electrical devices.
  • If you’re traveling overseas, keep appropriate power adapters.
  • Bring earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones.
  • If you need the internet, have a wireless solution or use your phone’s mobile hotspot.

Work travel already has many deadlines, so don’t schedule appointments while traveling.

Work away from distractions like crowded places, blinking or shining light.

Start leaving at least 15 minutes before you have to.

Drive better

Play meaningful audiobooks or trade-specific podcasts during your drive.

Keep a laundry basket and muffin tin in the back of your car to carry more.

Remember where you parked with a GPS tag, an app or with a photo.

Plan ahead to keep the car cool:
  • Turn your steering wheel 180° after parking to avoid burning your hands when you get back in.
  • If the car is too hot when you enter it, roll down a window on the opposite side and quickly open and close your door.
  • Place a can warmer over the gear stick if it’s too hot.

If you’re lost, ask for directions at somewhere that delivers (like a pizza place that delivers) instead of a gas station.

Watch your speed:
  • Speeding will save a few minutes, but getting pulled over can sometimes take hours.
  • Drive the speed limit in an area with many stoplights to hit more green lights.
  • Watch the crosswalk counter to see the timer until the red light.

Travel the highway faster:
  • Switching lanes frequently takes more time than committing to a lane.
  • High-profile trucks can see accidents and roadwork ahead, so follow them.
  • The exit number usually corresponds to the mile marker on the highway.
  • The Exit ## sign above the large highway sign shows what side of the road it exits on.
  • Interstate highways with odd numbers generally run north-south, and even numbers run east-west.

If you can see them, watch the lights to your left and right at a stoplight, since they’ll change a few seconds before yours.

Fly seamlessly

Unless you’re meeting someone at the airport, dress casually.

Never check a bag:
  • Most people overestimate how much they need for a trip.
  • Checking a bag is expensive, time-consuming, and has the risk of getting lost.
  • You’ll never need to check a bag if you wash laundry at your destination.

If you must check a bag:
  • Consider mailing it to your destination beforehand.
  • Never leave valuables like keys or money in it.
  • Keep ID tags on both the outside and inside.
  • Make the bag conspicuous from a distance.
  • Have a plan for what you’ll transfer to your carry-on if it’s too heavy.

Opt for large carry-on luggage like a backpack, messenger bag, or rolling suitcase.

Don’t bring any liquids with you, though you should bring empty drink containers.

Save a copy of your boarding pass to your phone.

Show up early to avoid missing your flight.

Take off everything before you get to airport security, and never make jokes with them.

Pay close attention to your gate number.

You’ll have a cramped flight sitting down, so avoid sitting in the terminal.

Use the bathroom right before the flight, whether you need to or not.

Stay sober to avoid nausea from altitude changes.

If the fight is too distracting or constricting, take a nap.

Streamline everything

Develop “soft skills” that apply to many tasks:

Write down everything, since you will not remember it.

If you ever find yourself wondering where your “good knife” or “good pen” are, then you have bad ones you must get rid of.

When buying a fixed-dimension object (e.g., extension cord, ladder, storage space), get one that’s substantially more than you think you need.

Since it secures anything when there’s tension on it, and it’s easy to untie, learn to tie a bowline knot.

When carrying a load you doubt you’ll make in one trip, make it two.

If you lose anything, it’s typically hiding within arm’s reach of where you last saw it, which often means you need to organize your space.

If you lose something, put it back where you first looked for it, not where you found it.

Let computers do the tedious work

Use to-do list software to check off and group your tasks.

Hold yourself accountable with time-tracking software.

Synchronize your information across your devices with web apps or cloud storage.

Take photos of all relevant information (e.g., schedules, numbers, trade-specific details).

Download any software you think could help you:
  • There are thousands of web browser plugins and extensions that can improve productivity.
  • While you can get open-source software for everything, paying for higher-end software can save time.

Learn computer shortcuts for common software:

Make your own shortcuts:
  • Set a keyboard shortcut for your email address as “@@”.
  • Build templates for frequent arrangements.
  • Make macros for frequent keyboard and mouse movements, or find software to automate frequent tasks.
  • Automate information transfer with services like IFTTT or Zapier.
  • Get a gaming keyboard, gaming mouse or a separate gaming keypad to make macros easier to build.

Buy a second or third computer monitor to cut down on switching between tasks.

Optimize your technology:
  • Prop up your phone to save your wrists, or find software on your main computer to manage notifications.
  • You can fix 95% of computer issues by either cycling Airplane Mode or restarting it.
  • Let your computer update overnight to prevent interrupting your workday.
  • If your phone’s storage is almost full, you can usually get rid of many, many junk files.
  • Diving into computer settings gives exponential ways to improve productivity.
  • As long as you’ve backed everything up, you can experiment as much as you want, especially if you have a second device to web-search as you go.
  • If your mobile device is unresponsive, clean the screen and plug into its charger.

Use “life hacks”

Work with your phone faster:
  • Press the “call” button twice to redial your most recent number.
  • Double-tap the Space bar to insert a period.
  • Add a shortened word or phrase as a shortcut in Apple’s Keyboard settings to fill in a full version when you type it.
  • Turn on Apple’s Speak Selection feature under Accessibility to hear texts read aloud.

Navigate automated phone systems faster:
  • Press a relevant key to skip instructions in automated message systems and voicemail.
  • Pressing the numbers 0, #, or *, pressing many buttons, or not pressing anything will usually route an automated phone system to a human.
  • In a voice command system, swear, speak gibberish, mumble, or repeat relevant words like “agent”, “representative”, and “operator”.
  • If you choose a foreign language representative, they’ll almost always speak English and have a shorter queue.

Maximize mobile device battery life:
  • Try to avoid using your phone while it’s charging.
  • Switch the phone to airplane mode whenever possible.
  • Turn off your GPS and downgrade location data collection.
  • The camera’s flash still drains battery even when it’s not active.
  • Turn off vibration and Bluetooth.
  • Dim your screen settings and turn off background apps.
  • Charge it faster by setting it to airplane mode.

Phone charger and power cables:
  • When unraveling a new cable, unroll it instead of pulling the ends apart.
  • Wind up the cable in a figure-8 pattern on the ground or reverse your hand every rotation to prevent it from kinking after you’ve wound it.
  • Put glow-in-the-dark paint or glue a bright dot to the plug.
  • Run the cord through a binder clip or use Velcro to secure it to a desk, a table, or your laptop.
  • Make plugging devices easier by attaching binder clips to the ends of plugs.
  • Cross and tuck under power cords before plugging them to keep them plugged.

Headphones and earbuds:
  • Use a large binder clip to hang your headphones on the side of your desk.
  • Wind rubber bands around the clip to secure the headphones.
  • Tie a small knot or paint your left earbud or headphones cord to distinguish them at a glance.

Opening jars:
  • Wear latex gloves.
  • Put rubber bands around the top and middle of the jar.
  • Apply duct tape to the top of the jar.
  • Pry under the jar with a spoon or butter knife to widen it.

Running errands:
  • Take a picture of your pantry or fridge to remember what to buy.
  • Amplify the radio signal on your car’s wireless remote by pressing the key fob against your head.
  • Position heavy or bulky items with the barcodes facing up to get through checkout faster.
  • Hang your grocery bags on your cart over the loops at the top of the cart.
  • Closely examine the price tags for the most expensive TVs to get help for anything in an electronics store.
  • Carry plastic bags together with a carabiner.

Untying knots:
  • Keep pulling the loops apart wider and wider.
  • Rub cornstarch onto knots.
  • To untie plastic bags, twist the large open end into a spiral and push it through the knot.
  • Untangle headphones by shaking a point about halfway along the wire.

Detecting leaks:
  • Find a bicycle tire leak by pushing on the tire while submerged in water.
  • Find a gas leak by painting a strong soap solution over the pipe and looking for bubbles.
  • Find a plumbing leak by draining the water, blasting air through the system, and listening for noise throughout the system.

Drink containers:
  • Fill your water bottle 1/4 full and set it sideways in the freezer the night before you want to use it.
  • You can turn some drinking fountain spouts around to fill water bottles.
  • Carry water pitchers by holding the inside of the pitcher with your thumb.

Sealing envelopes:
  • Secure a small dampened sponge to a pencil top with a rubber band to make an envelope sealer.
  • Plan an envelope in the freezer for 1–2 hours to re-open it without breaking its seal.
  • Microwave a postage stamp with a few drops of water on it for 20 seconds to remove it without damaging it.
  • You don’t need an envelope or box to mail anything under 13 oz (like a box of candy).

Using books:
  • Hold your place while reading by taping a small flat object to your thumb (e.g., a tongue depressor) or clipping it to a pants’ hanger.
  • Clip a pants’ hanger to the top of a laptop to easily transcribe a book.
  • When putting paper in a binder, tape over the holes to prevent them from breaking.

  • Secure a magnet to the bottom of a hammer.
  • Hold nails while hammering with a clothes pin or comb
  • Pull out long nails by setting a block under your tool.

Needle and thread:
  • Spray the end of your thread with hairspray when threading.
  • Run threaded needles through a dryer sheet to prevent tangling.

Always cut away from yourself.

Tool alternatives:
  • Measuring tape
    • Memorize body part distances like your hand and elbow, finger length, and arm span.
    • The distance between your outstretched arms’ fingertips is approximately your height.
    • Memorize the weights and lengths of coins.
    • Measure jeans’ waistline around your neck.
  • Screwdriver
    • Use a power plug for medium-sized to large screws.
    • If a screw hole is too large, break off a matchstick or toothpick in the hole.
  • Funnel
    • Cut off the top of a plastic bottle.
    • Pour liquid down a screwdriver to direct it.
  • Campfire lighter
    • Light a stick of spaghetti.
  • Compass
    • Twist a wire around a pencil and sharpen the end of the wire.
    • Hold a pen while pressing your pinky and pen on the paper, then spin the paper around.
    • Draw a perfect ellipse by tying a string into a ring, then drawing the borders of the string around two stationary pins.

Remote control hacks:
  • Use Velcro to secure your remote control to the side of a coffee table.
  • Check if a remote control works by looking at non-visible light through any camera lens.
  • Point your remote control at a transparent glass or bowl of water to increase its range.
  • Put masking tape over a remote control’s unused buttons to get rid of distractions.

Learn simple math tricks to speed up calculations in your head.

Unconventional tool tricks:
  • Open blister packs with a can opener instead of scissors.
  • Prevent glasses from fogging by rubbing them with soap.
  • Hold your place on a tape roll with a bread clip or paper clip.
  • Make glue harden faster with baking soda.
  • Use a broad brush as a small toolholder.
  • Change out keys with a staple remover.
  • Dry dye quickly by microwaving it.
  • After showering, use a blow-dryer on the mirror to get rid of steam.

Other miscellaneous hacks:
  • Keep track of your medications by flipping them upside down every time you take them.
  • Test a printer’s colors with Google’s main page to save ink.
  • A calculator’s CE (clear entry) button clears the most recent entry, while C (clear) clears all entries.
  • If you’re using your mobile device frequently in cold weather, attach a stylus to your jacket zipper.
  • Use a set of binoculars as a camera zoom lens.
  • Put your finger over your microphone when recording in a crowd to get better sound quality.
  • Keep your towel from falling with a hair clip.
  • Place your phone in a glass cup or bowl to amplify it.
  • Break change by putting cash in a vending machine and hitting the coin return button before making a selection.
  • Train to use chopsticks with the metal spring from a clothespin.
  • Use shoes or boots to hold your cup.
  • When you’re getting keys cut, get a circular notch cut in the top to double them as bottle openers.
  • If you need an indoor light in the daytime, fill a soda bottle with a water-bleach mix and place it halfway outside.
  • To see the bathroom at night, put LED lights on slippers.
  • Sign up for free trials with a depleted cash gift card to not need to unsubscribe.
  • Instead of hiring a cab, order a pizza for delivery to your house and give the delivery driver a generous tip.
  • When parking in your garage, hang a tennis ball where the windshield should touch.
  • When adjusting to bright light or a dark room, close one eye to adapt quickly to it.
  • Observe the hinges on a door to know whether to push or pull.
  • Show handwritten notes over a webcam by taping a pen upwards on the back of a computer monitor, lowering a CD over the pen, then taping a quarter onto the front of the CD for weight.

Watch for “productivity porn”

Many people (especially in analytical fields like IT and engineering) spend more time optimizing than working:
  • We receive a sense of accomplishment simply by writing to-do lists down, and that can mislead from how much we actually get done.
  • Get a system, any system, and simply work with it.
  • If that system doesn’t work well, adapt it as you see a need, but only after you’ve worked with it for at least a few weeks.

Draw the line between a fun hobby and a meaningful improvement.

If you want to buy something that makes your life easier, it’s only worth it if it actually helps you be more productive.

Calculate how much time you’ll spend improving the task versus how much time you’re saving:
  • A task that takes 10 minutes once a month needs a whole year to “save time” if it takes 60 minutes to make it a 5-minute task.
  • On the other hand, a 60-second task fifty times a week shaved down to 15 seconds gives 37.5 minutes a week!

Often, by not slowing down and having fun after working hard, people fall into a perpetual state of near-burnout or creative bankruptcy.

Be careful about tips that sound sensible but violate reality (e.g., make each day 6 hours, then you get 3 days of work out of each day).

You must persevere

Once you’ve established a reliable and consistent workflow, you’ve done the hard part of becoming successful.

Bear in mind that the more you do something, the more confident you get:
  • You will become faster as you gain confidence in a task, but you’ll often become sloppy over time.
  • To compensate, consistently question yourself if you start getting sloppy.

Now, keep at it across days, weeks, and months.

This page is Part 4 of my How to Succeed Series. Part 1 was Defining Success. Part 2 was Attitude Adjustment. Part 3 was Making Realistic Goals.