There's no shortage of so-called "productivity hacks" on the internet – one Google search will give you no fewer than 2 million results.
Though pointers abound, many of these tips just fall flat when applied IRL, though they sound smart and snappy in theory. They may be unrealistic, out of touch, too complicated or end up causing you to create more work for yourself instead of less.
To help you save time and work smarter, not harder, we've taken it upon ourselves to dig through the buzzwords and pie-in-the-sky ideas to give you a list of four productivity hacks that actually work:
1. Tune in to your energy levels
Everyone has an individual energy rhythm. While not everyone can switch up working hours to suit personal preferences, you can make some tweaks to the ways you tackle your to-do list to be more in line with the natural ebbs and flows of your energy levels throughout the day. If you're highly alert in the morning, that may be a great time to work on projects that require lots of critical thinking, while the slower afternoon period may be a good time for more routine tasks.
2. Capture that flow state
Much has been written about the flow state – that golden period when you get so absorbed in your work that you don't even realize that time is passing. As Zen Habits noted, key to getting into this magic state is eliminating distractions – and anticipating those that will arrive unexpectedly. Clear your schedule, and make sure others know you're not available for meetings for a certain period during the day. Then, put some ambient music on and get going. And don't, we repeat don't, succumb to the temptation to check your email!
3. Plan for tomorrow
Ernest Hemingway used to stop writing in the middle of a sentence each day so he would know what to get started with when he sat down at his desk the next day. Apply the same concept to your work to improve your productivity and reduce the time you spend each morning getting up to speed on what you need to accomplish. At the end of each work day, make a list of everything you need to tackle tomorrow.
4. Rely on robots
There are some apps and technologies out there that claim to make your life simpler but become only another unnecessary distraction. However, there are tech tools out there that can help you work faster and smarter. Personal web conferencing, for example, can help you easily share presentations and images with co-workers to help meetings run more smoothly, and messaging apps can help you coordinate projects among teams, even if members are remote.
Hacks can be trendy, but the four tips above are proven ways that you can improve your productivity and work smarter.