Productivity is something very few people have mastered. Everyone is searching for the “limitless pill” that will solve all of their problems with lack of productivity. But there isn’t one. It takes some work. And the reason there aren’t many highly successful people in the world (relatively speaking) is because most people don’t want to put in the work.
Before diving in, I’d like to clarify what it means to be productive, because I think many people still have a skewed idea of the definition. Productivity is one of two things:
-Getting more done in the same amount of time.
-Or taking less time to get the same amount of things done (so you have more time to dedicate to whatever you want-family, fitness, or even more work!)
Productivity is not “just getting more stuff done”, despite what many people think.
I don’t claim to be the most productive person on the planet, nor am I an expert in productivity. I procrastinate, I get distracted, I don’t get everything done I need to get done sometimes. I’m human.
However, in order to get through day to day life as an Active Duty Special Operations soldier while simultaneously running this fitness business on the side, I need to implement some of the strategies highlighted in this post.
These are strategies I use so that I’m able to stay sane, be where I need to be/when I need to be there, make progress in my career and in my business, exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep. I also need to ensure that these aren’t the only things I’m doing, because I also need to prioritize time with my wife, friends and family.
If you’re single and focused solely on you, awesome (but hopefully it won’t be that way forever). If you’re married and/or have kids, and you have big goals (in any area of life) the way you spend your time away from them plays a crucial role in how much time you’ll be able to spend with them.
It’s important to remember that no one will remember you for your productivity, work output, how much you bench, how fast you can run, or how much money you make. You’ll be remembered by who you are as a person, how you treated others, how you made people feel, and your loyalty and integrity.
Before diving into these productivity hacks, just remember that there’s more to life than work and success. My goal with these tips is to allow you to have more time to spend doing things that matter most with the people that matter most.
Let’s get into it.
Accept Delayed Gratification
This is the first one because it’s the most important. The most successful and productive people on the planet are highly skilled at this. We live in a world full of immediate gratification. Bored? Scroll Instagram or turn on Netflix. Hungry? Order Doordash. Don’t feel like working? Organize your closet.
It’s so easy to put things off and find something else that will temporarily satisfy you. Sadly, whatever you select to scratch your instant gratification itch, it’s probably not going to get you any closer to your goals. Highly successful entrepreneurs spend days, weeks, months, years grinding out work before they ever see a dime in return.
Doing things with the end goal in mind, no matter how boring and monotonous it may be, is the biggest “hack” for being more productive. You will have to do things that you don’t feel like doing. You will have to start things over. You’ll probably fail a lot. But you need to keep pushing. Eventually, it will pay off.
How you structure your day(s) is one of the most important productivity increasers. Very few people get anywhere in life (business, fitness, profession, marriage, school) without planning things out and having certain habits that they do at the same or similar times daily. Simple tips to make your days more structured include
-Structure tomorrow starts today: The day before, make an outline for tomorrow. FIRST: write in time you’ll spend with your family (if applicable). Then, write out 1-5 tasks (in order of importance/urgency) that need to be done, and when you’ll do them (doesn’t need to be exact)
* if you have more than 5 tasks to complete, still just write the 5 most important ones. Once those are done (they’ll be done sooner than usual after having read this post!), you can complete your other tasks (you can write those elsewhere in you notes or calendar if you prefer)
-Begin task #1 within 45 minutes of opening your eyes in the morning (see more on why morning routines are garbage below) *If task #1 is something you enjoy/want to do, find the task that you least want to do, and do that first (eat the damn frog).
-Have a time of day that you can consistently exercise. If your schedule is sporadic, include it in your end of day outline for the following day
-If possible, have at least 2-4 hours every day where your phone is on airplane mode, and all notifications are turned off (this is why I love early mornings, no one up to distract me)
-As part of your outline, include the times of day you’ll ALLOW yourself to get distracted. Yes, this is real. If you have hard times in place where you allow distractions, you’re less likely to get distracted at other times of the day and you’ll be more productive
-Take breaks. And on these breaks, move. Studies show time an time again, taking 5-10 min breaks every 60-90 minutes will increase productivity. Movement increases creativity and cognition (and is physically healthy). Walk, stretch, do air squats or pushups, it’s up to you.
-stick to your outline at least 80% of the time, and AS CLOSE TO 100% of the time as possible with family time
Wake Up Early
If you’re a morning person, you already know this one. If you’re not, you’re probably sick of hearing people preach it. Here’s the deal, there are plenty of successful people who wake up late and stay up late. But there are very few unsuccessful people who wake up early in the morning. Read that again.
If you’re waking up at 4AM, you probably have a good reason for it. Maybe you want to start a side hustle, maybe it’s the only time you can consistently train, or maybe, just maybe, you know it’s the only time of day you can get things done with ZERO distractions.
The early morning, for many people, is so sacred because it’s a time where they can dedicate solely to self improvement. If sleeping in works for you, keep at it. But there are very few people on the planet that couldn’t benefit from getting up a bit earlier.
Just remember two things. First, if you’re waking up earlier, you also need to go to bed earlier (more on sleep next). And second, don’t fall into the whole “millionaire morning routine” BS (more on that later). Get up, get your wits about you, and tackle the most important task of the day.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to be more productive is to sacrifice sleep. Missing sleep will allow you to get more things done, sure. But remember our definition of productivity from the first paragraph? Doing more activities is not being more productive.
If you skip out on sleep, you’ll be far less efficient, you’ll have less energy and motivation, you’ll often rely on stimulants (more on these below), and your cognitive ability will take a big hit. Not to mention all of the negative physical health effects related to poor sleep.
I understand that some people have life circumstances that aren’t conducive to getting adequate sleep. But if you’re skipping sleep solely to get more done, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Follow the rest of these productivity strategies, and you’ll have plenty of time to sleep.
Ditch the Elaborate Morning Routine
You don’t need to follow some crazy morning routine you saw on Instagram. Meditation is great. Grounding is great. Journaling is great. Cold therapy and sauna are great. But these are all less important than your most important task for the day.
Don’t skip all of these things if you love them, but they can be done later in the day once the important, needle moving tasks are complete. If your morning routine takes more than 15-20 minutes, do the rest of it later in the day.
Get to work on your most important task within 30-45 minutes of waking up. Do this for 10 days straight and watch what happens.
Strategic Caffeine Use
Caffeine is one of the most abused drugs on the planet (yes, it’s a drug). I’m not talking about your daily cup of joe or double espresso shot. I’m talking about using caffeine throughout the day, every day, just to get by. As with any other drug, you build up a tolerance to caffeine over time. You feel it less and less, so you consume more and more.
While moderate doses of caffeine are fine (and actually healthy), mega doses are not. When you’re caffeine intolerant and you use it, it works really really well. It improves mood, cognition, and physical performance! But if you’re downing pots of coffee all day, taking a pre workout, drinking a bang in the afternoon, you won’t be able to experience these amazing effects.
The solution? Only use caffeine when you really need to perform (physically or mentally). There are two ways to go about this that each work quite well.
One strategy is to only use it a few times per week. If you like it for its physical effects, maybe use it for your two hardest workouts each week, or as an emergency if you’ve gotten a bad night of sleep but still want to train. If you like it for cognitive effects, choose 2-3 days each week where you really want to buckle down power through some deep work.
The second strategy is to cycle it. Go 2-3 weeks where you use caffeine (in moderation), and 2-3 weeks where you don’t use it (or at least significantly decrease the dose/frequency). Either of these strategies will allow you to reap the real benefits of it without becoming reliant on it or overstimulated (we all know how that feels).
The same parameters can be used for nootropics (smart drugs). I’m not an expert in this field, and I’ve yet to find a nootropic that works for me (aside from mixing caffeine with L-tyrosine), but if you like them (and they’re safe), feel free to use them when you need them.
Distractions (phone, email, kids, etc.)
Distractions are, for many, the biggest productivity killers. Some are unavoidable, but many of them are in your control. A lot of people (including me) have difficulty setting up their environment in a way that will limit distractions. Emails, texts, phone calls, adds…you name it, it can put a major damper on your productivity.
I personally like to put my phone on airplane mode for certain blocks of the day. You may even need to put it in another room or even get it out of the house (I’ve had my wife hide my phone before-it can be that bad).
The best way to limit distractions is what I spoke of earlier in the “wake up earlier” paragraph. If you’re up before anyone else, you’ll be less likely to be distracted. But if you love your nightly Netflix marathons and sleeping in, or if you want to avoid distractions in other parts of the day, put barriers between you and the distraction. They may even need to be extreme measures!
Turn off notifications, use airplane mode, enable do not disturb, work in a room with no windows…whatever you need to do. And as I mentioned earlier, schedule times during the day where you ALLOW for distractions. Scroll instagram, read random articles, watch youtube, text people, check your fantasy football rankings, turn on email notifications etc. But when you need to be dialed in, set up a distraction-free environment, and watch what happens.
Hacks for Common Distractions
I previously mentioned the extreme measures I sometimes go to with my phone, but let’s take a look at some other common distractors and how to mitigate them.
-Email: Block off a time each day dedicated solely to reading and responding to emails. You can even put in your email signature block that you only read/respond to emails at a certain time of day! Other successful, high performing people will understand. Responding to emails sporadically throughout the day will make productivity very difficult.
Instagram/social media: They have apps that lock you out of your account after a certain amount of time spent using it. If the thought of using these apps makes you anxious, that may be a problem (I’m guilty too), but you can simply have times of the day you allow yourself to be on instagram/social media.
I’ll use myself as an example: I only allow myself to use my personal (non-fitness) instagram for 15 minutes per day. It’s usually early evening, once I’m done working for the day. I use my business page for scrolling/learning but I only follow accounts that I find value in (business, fitness, nutrition, health/lifestyle pages). I work on/post once per day (which takes anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour depending on the post) and I allow myself to scroll for 20 minutes in the morning, and up to an hour in the evening. I hold myself accountable to it nearly every day, but I’m still not perfect.
Kids/family: This one is tough. Waking up early is probably the best way to deal with this, but there are probably other times of the day you need to be productive where your kids/family may become distractions (especially if you work from home). If you don’t have kids, ensure you establish some ground rules with your spouse about what times throughout the day you’re available and/or ok with being distracted. If you have kids at home, it may be a bit more difficult.
Do your best to spend quality time with them when you’re not working so you can break away and be focused when you need to work. This is another situation where having a set structured daily schedule comes in handy. If your kids are older, have a talk with them about what you do daily and explain to them why it’s important that they respect your time spent working. Sometimes things won’t be ideal, and that’s the life of a parent.
Finally, having daily non-negotiables can be a game changer for many areas in life, including your productivity. Non-negotiables can also be thought of as hard rules for yourself that you need to follow no matter what. Some of them may require some discipline and effort to adhere to, but once you get accustomed to them, they become habitual and automatic.
Your non-negotiables will be unique to you and your goals. They could be fitness related, nutrition related, mental health related, work related, religious, or anything that applies to you. I challenge you to do some brainstorming and really think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Then think of things that will bring you closer to that goal if they’re executed daily.
My productivity non-negotiables include spending at least 8 hours in bed each night (I usually sleep ~7.5), waking up at 0415 every morning, starting my most important task by 0500 (usually earlier, but I give myself some flexibility because it NEEDS to happen daily), and dedicating at least one hour to it no matter what. If I’m working that day or have a hectic schedule, I at least spent one interrupted hour on it . If not, obviously I’ll spend a lot more time on it.
These are just examples, you can set your own non-negotiables depending on your goals.
Being more productive takes a bit of work. It takes a bit of effort. But there are many things in your control when it comes to improving it. Life is full of distractions and instant gratification, but setting your environment up for success can help you stay focused on your path.
Thank you for reading. What is your preferred productivity hack? What do you still need to work on? Let me know in the comments below!