Productivity tips: How to get things done when productivity hacks fail


“I can’t get anything done.”
Despite all the great advice out there, being productive can feel like fighting a losing battle.

As someone who blogs about how to be productive, I’m also aware that productivity tips just don’t work for everybody.

It’s not because the productivity articles and lists out there are wrong. It’s rather that every one of us works and thinks differently.

Does it mean that you should give up reading productivity advice? Should I find another topic to blog about?

No. You could turn the hacks around and see if you can still benefit from it.

Here’s why some of the most common productivity tips don’t work – and what you could do instead.

Have a to-do list

What’s better than a to-do list? It’s clear, organized, easy to use. Science tells us that crossing tasks off a list actually has a positive effect on our brain. Easy, right?

Not so much.

tree item to do list
Ok, that’s just cheating
(Photo via

To-do lists don’t work for everybody. Some people like creatives resist the idea of overly planning the day. Also the flip side of a to-do list can be to create more stress and make us feel overwhelmed.

Try this instead:

You could try the “done list”: simply writing down what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day. This way you’ll have an idea of your progress – and rejoice at the sight of what you’ve accomplished!

The worst is first

Productivity expert Brian Tracy wrote a famous book called “Eat the frog”. In short: get rid of the worst tasks immediately and you’ll be then free to get on to the better stuff.

keep calm and at the frog
Imace source:

Taking the worst task head-on could indeed make the rest of the day easier. But it could also drain your focus and energies completely.

Start your day with creative work

In an essay for Science magazine, Professor Jeffrey McDonnell from the University of Saskatchewan argued that the most creative work should be done first in the morning.

It will create a positive momentum to be carried out in the rest of the day.

Stop checking your email

We’re drowning in email. No surprise one of the most common productivity tips is to avoid constantly checking your email. But that’s easier said than done.

In my early career, I dealt with clients who flooded my inbox and got upset because I didn’t answer right away.

It didn’t matter that I tried to establish boundaries and explained when I was available via email. My silence made them immediately anxious. Not to mention I sometimes missed *that* truly important email.

Try this instead:

If you can’t turn away from your email inbox, at least learn how to control it so that it doesn’t control you. Tools like Boomerang, for example, help you schedule or delay emails and responses so that you can catch your breath.

Avoid procrastination

Bad news: we’re naturally predisposed to procrastination.  The human brain has a complex decision-making system. Pushing off tasks comes easily to us.

Try this instead

Instead of fighting it, you can be productive while procrastinating.
There’s a thing called “active procrastination”: when you push off something to accomplish something else. Things still get done and your productivity won’t suffer.

Work in different environments

This is the age of remote working and co-working spaces.  Thanks to the accessibility of new technologies and Internet connection it’s possible to work practically everywhere!

Yes, there is evidence that coffee shops make the best work environment. And without question, many teams swear by the benefits of the digital nomad life.

working remotely in coffee shop
Photo via

Still, it may not always be possible to work from wherever you want. Not all workers are cut for the remote life and some companies have arguments against it, just think about the recent U-turn by IBM on remote working.

Try this instead

If you’re stuck in the office, do whatever you can to create a bubble to get in your productivity flow. Put noise-canceling headphones on and schedule blocks of uninterrupted time. Hopefully, your co-workers will respect that.

Most importantly, find what works for your productivity and your work, and put it into practice.

If it doesn’t fit into the “Top 10 ultimate productivity tips for professionals”, it doesn’t matter: you do you.

What are your personal productivity routines? Does tracking time work for your productivity?

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