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8 Hacks I Avoid to Become Highly Effective

Not doing these things allows me to be more productive.

I once had someone pay me to organize their life. That’s not the way they phrased it. That’s what it was though. Their life was scattered. Chaos and disorder surrounded them. They wanted me to pull them out of it. I said that’s not something I normally do. They said they didn’t care. Take my money was the essence of their plea. I took it. I showed them what to do. They didn’t like it. They wanted something “else.” I shrugged. We went our separate ways.

My system isn’t fancy, but damn is it effective.

I do everything in Google Drive. Either Docs or Sheets. Anything not in a Doc or Sheet promptly gets added to one at the end of each day. It’s efficient. It’s organized. If you’ve read Getting Things Done by David Allen, it’s similar. If you haven’t read it, go do so. That book took my old system to a new level. The level that I speak from at present. The person who hired me didn’t want that though. I’m not sure why. My hunch is that they didn’t know what they wanted. If you don’t know what you want, no system will help.

I tried to explain that. I didn’t do a great job. Our time together ended. Yet my system lives on.


Why I avoid certain hacks

I write about ways to be intentional with your time. Particularly about things like productivity, time management, and goal setting. I’ve written about productivity hacks as well as productivity tips and habits. I’ve also read a great deal of them prescribed by others. Many of which are conflicting. Yet we all speak the truth. We all write from our own perspective. From what works (or doesn’t) work for us. So just because I avoid certain productivity cliches doesn’t mean you need to as well. Do what is best for you. I prefer a system that is:

  • Minimalistic: it’s simple
  • Organized: I know where everything is
  • Accessible: I use it anywhere, anytime
  • Fast: I make changes swiftly

If you identify with that list or aspire to something like it, you identify with me. And if you identify with me, I encourage you to avoid the following eight productivity hacks. Each is promising under the right circumstances. None of those circumstances are right for me though. They may not be right for you either.

Avoid them if you want to be effective.


Use the Pomodoro Technique to focus

The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to help you focus. Work for 25 minutes. An alarm goes off. Take a break for five minutes. An alarm goes off. Work again for 25 minutes. An alarm goes off again. Over and over. The short sprints are supposed to help you concentrate. To provide intense focus followed by a mental cooldown. I’m not into it.

I avoid the Pomodoro Technique. Instead, I practice being aware. If I feel cloudy, no timer is going to help. A nap will. If I’m in the zone, the only thing a timer will do is distract me. If I feel good, I work in long stints. And if I don’t, I take more breaks. I adjust my workflow based on my energy in that moment. I am a naturally rigid person. This practice keeps me flexible, yet focused.


Have an accountability partner

If you want to get things done, you must have someone checking in on you. No I don’t. Neither do you. Hold yourself accountable. Don’t rely on others to get you to do the work. Learn to do it yourself. I use a goal tracker: a place where I keep track of my various goals, why I want to achieve them, and the progress I’m making towards them.

That said, I do belong to some business groups. We usually meet once a month. During those meetings, we share our wins and struggles. There is a level of accountability, but it’s more so one of support. I encourage you to form groups like this. But you don’t need someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you ate your broccoli for the day. You can do that by yourself. Use something like a goal tracker to monitor your effort.


Say no as much as possible

I took this advice to heart. I said no and I said it a lot. And it worked. I stopped getting asked to do things. The result was that my calendar was empty and I had no friends. I had nothing but time for productivity. It felt empty.

I still say no, but I’m more strategic about it now. If something is likely to add fulfillment to my life, I say yes. If it likely won’t, I decline. I avoid the hack of saying no as much as possible. Instead, I recognize the value of no and weigh that against potential fulfillment.


Cancel all meetings

I hated meetings. I used to say no to those a lot too. It’s a classic hack that everyone recommends. That’s because the average meeting is filled with fluff. Conversational fluff that could be done over email. And in attendance are people that don’t need to be there and don’t want to be there. But that’s not how all meetings are.

Today I love meetings. Because I only take meetings with people that I want to meet with. I have things I want to discuss and I am discussing them with the right person. I don’t decline all meetings as a rule. Instead, if they’re the right fit, I embrace them. And I’m the better for it.


Never check email in the morning

I wake up, grab my phone, and immediately check my texts, WhatsApp, Slack, and email. Immediately. This goes against every single productivity piece of advice out there. I don’t care. I do it because I like it. I’ve worked hard to limit my communications to people I want to communicate with. Therefore, the messages I receive are pleasant ones.

Instead of pretending that email doesn’t exist, I’ve embraced it on my terms. Instead of hiding from Slack, I welcome it. Again, on my terms. Never check your email first thing in the morning? I say go for it. Just so long as you get fulfillment out of it.


Use a dedicated project management tool

I use Google Drive for everything. You can consider it a project management tool if you want. But it’s not. It’s just a piece of digital paper. If the internet goes away I can recreate it with a notebook. I simply prefer the Drive because I can access it from any connected device.

I’ve learned my lesson with shiny apps and flashy tech. Those companies get bought out, change their features, have bugs, or go out of business. Then you’re stuck trying to recall what reminders you had set for when. Or worse, you feel the need to migrate from one app to the next every six months. After several days you’re set up, but you now have files everywhere.

That all goes against my preference for simplicity. So instead I stick with the Drive.


Do simple, quick actions right now

If a task appears that will take less than two minutes to do, do it right away. No, I’m not going to do that. Substitute two minutes for 30 seconds and my answer remains the same. No. The action itself may take 30 seconds, but the residue it leaves in my mind will last longer. For instance, if I text my wife that I’m thinking of her, it would take 15 seconds to do. But then I’d feel the need to check my phone for her reply, to think of what she may say, to wonder what’s taking so long to hear back. I’d become distracted for no reason.

Instead of doing that, I simply write down what I’d like to do on one of my Google Docs that I have open. When I have a moment of downtime, I send the text then. That way I send the message without risking my concentration. If you’re focused, don’t let the appeal of 30 seconds pull you away.


Avoid multitasking at all costs

I get this one. I really do. But avoid it at all costs? Unnecessary. I multitask all the time to my benefit. When I fold laundry I listen to an audiobook. I do the same thing when unloading the dishwasher, driving the car, or running. That’s multitasking though and therefore should be shunned, right? It doesn’t need to be that extreme.

Instead, I multitask based on the level of focus required. If I’m writing an article, I shouldn’t bake a pizza at the same time. But listening to wordless music is fine. If I’m running, I shouldn’t knit a sweater. But listening to a podcast is no problem.


Move forward with fewer hacks

A hack may work for one person, but it may not work for you. If my productivity preferences appeal to your standards, consider avoiding the ones mentioned in this article. For your reference, they once again are:

  1. Use the Pomodoro Technique to focus
  2. Have an accountability partner
  3. Say no as much as possible
  4. Cancel all meetings
  5. Never check email in the morning
  6. Use a dedicated project management tool
  7. Do simple, quick actions right now
  8. Avoid multitasking at all costs

If in doubt, try not avoiding them. For your next run, do it in silence. At your next passing thought, act on it immediately. When you want to get work done, ensure that timers go off as soon as you get settled in. Try them all out for yourself. Then when you realize their flaws first-hand, go ahead and start avoiding them. I’ll be right there with you.

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