My best productivity hack

fuel for nerds not pancakes

Is anyone’s life slowing down? Work isn’t slowing down. Life isn’t slowing down. How do you handle it all? I’ll share a few things I do, including the simple, most useful, best productivity hack I’ve discovered recently.

Get Control of Your Task List

The first thing is to get control over your task list. This isn’t always possible. Life has a way of intruding. But some things are under our control. So focus on the things you can control. We often spend too much time and energy on the things we can’t control and neglect what we can control. Don’t work out of your inbox– that’s what other people want you to do. You can spend your whole day on your inbox and not achieve anything meaningful. Whatever system you use for task management, you can get your emails into it, if you need it.

Figure out how to say “no”, nicely. You don’t need to treat people badly, but you also don’t have to automatically say “yes” to everything, either.

Turn Things Off

The currency of the new economy isn’t money, or even time, it’s attention. Your phone can bug you every 2 seconds with some notification or other, almost all of which are not only useless, they stand in the way of doing what we want. Do you need to have that app on your phone? Do you need to let it notify you? Purging your phone can be a cathartic experience.

Unsubscribe from mailing lists that don’t add value. (Sales guru Jill Konrath went through this exercise and unsubscribed from over 900 mailing lists.)

I remember back in the day, leaving the office to go to a coffee shop when I had to put my head down and not have anyone interrupt me for a few hours… You can still do that, if you turn off your phone and your internet. Of course, with so many of the things we need to do our job online, that may not be possible. But you can use tools like SelfControl to block websites that aren’t useful.

Settle Your Own Mind

There’s a saying that if you don’t have half an hour to meditate, you need an hour. We spend a lot of time trying to train our brains and our bodies, but there’s no common, formal, structured way to train our minds. How important is this? Our minds evolved to keep us alive (and help us reproduce) in a very different environment. Not to make us happy, productive, or serene. The modern world, and all our technology, takes advantage of these “flaws” in our mind, to commandeer our attention and focus. Meditation helps you turn off a lot of the internal distractions and achieve better mental flow.

I put off mediating for a long time, and, ironically enough, it was an app that got me hooked. Headspace makes it easy to spend as little as 10 minutes at a time meditating. I was surprised at how useful even time could be. If you haven’t given it a try, spend a few minutes each day for a week and see if it doesn’t help.

But that’s still not it…

The Best Productivity Hack

Of course, get enough sleep. Try to have a routine. Before kids, I tried to sleep with out an alarm clock unless I had a flight to catch. It was glorious. Now, that’s no longer an option, but good sleep sets up everything else. No one really knows what sleep is for (strange, right?), but one thing that happens is that the brain seems to clear toxins that build up during wakeful operation. If you want your brain to function well, get good sleep.

Exercise is also important, especially for us sedentary folks who spend most of our days in front of a computer. This could be the subject of a whole set of books, let alone a paragraph in a blog post. You all know that exercise is good…

But here’s the simple productivity hack that’s builds on all of the above, but you can implement all by itself: don’t eat high carb foods before dinner.

That’s it.

I was trying to figure out why I was so damn tired in the middle of the afternoon. When the second cup of coffee wasn’t working, I knew I had a problem. I’d always had this problem. Except for some days when I didn’t. I realized that many of the foods that I ate were high in carbs– bread, rice, noodles, pasta (along with pancakes and cereal for breakfast). When I somehow missed eating them, I was OK. So I tried an experiment of avoiding them. I noticed a few important benefits:

  • No mid-afternoon crash. I could actually get way more done in the afternoon (and the late morning). My brain felt more alert. It’s like a 25% productivity boost for my day, getting back 2 hours of lethargy.
  • No h-anger. With lots of carbs, I would get hangry when I got hungry. Without the carbs, I just got a gentle reminder from my body that it was time to eat. But if I missed by an hour, which would have been catastrophic before, I just got a little more hungry. I could still function more or less normally.
  • If you want to lose weight, this cuts out a lot of empty calories that don’t fill you up anyway.

Practically speaking, what does this mean?

Before dinner, no:

  • bread
  • rice
  • pasta
  • chips
  • pancakes
  • crepes
  • waffles
  • cereal

Lots of:

  • black coffee (Ok, not a lot, hopefully)
  • eggs
  • salad (I have created kale salad recipes that I actually crave. That prior sentence is probably the most unlikely sentence I have ever written.)
  • lean protein (sometimes on the salad)

This is pretty easy when you eat at home, but it’s harder if you’re eating out, especially if you’re on the road. But it’s still possible. I started getting burgers in lettuce wraps. (Yes, I miss the buns, but I enjoy having my afternoons.) It’s not an ironclad rule, but it helps a lot. And if I do have carbs for lunch (I can’t say no to tacos 100% of the time), I notice the difference in afternoon. It’s like a sleeping pill.

Then, for dinner, I try to be healthy, but I don’t worry about it too much. I’m going to sleep, anyway.

Nutritional science is always changing, but this has worked well for me. What about you?





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