Updated: Jun 23, 2019
You can’t just become highly successful through ‘life hacks’ and shortcuts, but there are some habits and tools that are too good not to use. That’s why I’ve assembled a list of the top 14 tools, tactics and routines that I’ve come across from my research. Integrating these won’t necessarily make you highly productive and successful but it will definitely help push you towards the right direction.
1. Make Lists
To-Do-Lists are everywhere and there is a reason why. They reduce anxiety about the chaos of life, providing a structure that we can follow. Lists break down your goals into manageable tasks and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month. Science also shows that to-do-lists also eliminate the negative cognitive effects of unfinished goals, freeing your mind up to actually focus on the task you need to do now. Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank fame is one of the biggest proponents of using To-Do-Lists to increase productivity.
2. The 80/20 Rule
If you haven’t heard of the Pareto Principle here it is: Roughly 80% of outputs are caused by 20% of the inputs. Essentially what this principle states is that for nearly everything you do, 80% of the results come from 20% of your actions. Tim Ferriss describes using this method in his book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’. 80% of your goals are achieved by 20% of the task you accomplish. By applying this principle, pretty much everything in life can be streamlined, making your life simpler.
3. Don’t Break the Chain
Also known as Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity chain, the concept behind this idea is simple: spend a certain amount of time doing a specific activity every day and, when you do, cross the day off on a calendar. This creates a chain of crossed out days showing your progress. If you don’t do the task on one specific day, you don’t get a cross and that chain is broken. It seems super basic, I know, but when you are looking up at a calendar showing a massive chain of days, the urge is almost irresistible. Apps like Snapchat and Mindset do this with streaks, helping you to turn the behavior into a habit.
4. Make Sleep a Priority
More than a third of Americans are sleep-deprived and this lack of sleep is costing the U.S. economy a massive $411 billion annually in lost productivity. It may feel like you can get more work done if you stay up those few extra hours but burning the candle at both ends will cause you to work slower, accomplish less and produce lower quality work. You may think you’re naturally a short sleeper, but you’re probably wrong, with scientists believing only 5% of people have the genetic mutation required to only need 6 hours of sleep. Jeff Bezos shares this view saying “Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority”.
5. Meditate Every day
Research has found that meditation has a number of mental and physical health benefits, from improving memory to increasing compassion to boosting the immune system. These benefits are probably why many successful people ranging from Tim Ferriss to Jack Dorsey swear by meditation as a key habit for success. Apps like Headspace and Calm make it easy for you to fit meditation into your daily routine, even if you’ve never done it before.
6. Exercise in the Morning
Morning workouts not only give you a boost of energy, they pump you up, waking you up faster than the strongest cup of coffee. You’ll feel ready to tackle any problem that comes your way. Additionally, research has shown that people are less likely to come up with excuses early in the morning. If Mark Zuckerberg isn’t too busy to exercise at least 3 times a week first thing in the morning, neither are you.
7. Read a Lot of Books
Before Elon Musk became the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, he read for 10 hours each day. Reading can make you smarter; it can improve your memory; it can also make you more empathetic as well as reduce your stress by up to 68%. It’s no surprise that most successful people credit reading, in some shape or form, as a factor in their success. You can read Fiction or Non-Fiction, but try to read as much as possible.
8. Change your Mental Habits
Your brain is a powerful influence on your ability to achieve goals, with one study, for example, showing weightlifters who visualized carrying heavier weights in their heads saw a 13.5% increase in their strength. One way to utilize these effects is through hypnosis, which is “a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.” according to David Spiegel, MD, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. Apps like Mindset or JC Hypnosis provide an easy way to try hypnosis, allowing you to retrain the thought patterns undermining your success.
9. Avoid Multitasking
If you think the secret to becoming ultra-successful is juggling thousands of things at once, think again. Studies have proven that in reality, multitasking involves rapidly shifting your attention between tasks, and it hurts the quality of them all. Writing a report, while on the phone, while exercising, may sound like a great idea in theory but in practice you will accomplish less and produce worse. Instead, focus on prioritizing your tasks and completing them in segmented, short bursts with intermittent breaks.
10. Wake Up Early
It’s probably not a revelation to hear that highly successful people wake up earlier than the rest of us. Not only have studies shown that 90% of executives wake up before 6am on weekdays, but also nearly 50% of self-made millionaires wake up at least three hours before their workday actually begins. There are many reasons why waking up earlier in the day is great for productivity, including less distractions, and having more time for healthy habits like breakfast, meditation or exercise. However, this doesn’t mean you should be getting less sleep, as we discussed above sleep is extremely important for a successful day.
11. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique can help you smash through distractions and get things done in frequent, short bursts. When faced with any large task or group of tasks, break what you need to do into short, timed chunks (called “Pomodoros”) that are split up by short breaks. This helps to train your brain to focus for short periods of time and increase your productivity while you work. The chunks are normally 25 minutes and taking 5 minute breaks in between. After 4 pomodoros you should take a longer 20 minute break. There are many apps available to help keep you in time so choose one that works for you.
12. Write a Daily Journal
Journaling is relaxing and helps you better understand your thoughts. Sometimes we have so many thoughts going through our head, we start to lose control of how we feel. Putting those thoughts and emotions down on paper makes them more manageable as well as decrease stress. However, it can be tough to get into the habit of writing in a journal every day and that’s where the The 5 Minute Journal comes in. Recommended by Tim Ferriss, the 5 Minute Journal helps you create a daily mindfulness practice that will help you be more intentional and thoughtful throughout the day.
13. Structured Procrastination
This idea may seem a little counter-intuitive but hear me out. The idea behind Structured Procrastination is simple: put off doing your most important work by doing tasks of lower importance. Marc Andreesson mentions how he hates doing phone calls and gets lots of work done when he puts off making phone calls. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of task structure, you can still get stuff done while indulging your hedonistic procrastinating habits.
14. Make your Bed
Many people cite making their bed as a fundamental way to start the day, from Tim Ferriss to Navy Seal Admiral William H. McRaven. The reason making your bed is such a great way to start your day is that it gives you a feeling of accomplishment first thing in the morning. Having already completed a task, you will have the momentum needed to accomplish the rest of your daily goals. Additionally, once you arrive home, no matter what happened during the day, you will always have a ready made bed to fall on to.