Work Productivity Hacks You Can Quickly Master in 5 Minutes

There are a million productivity tricks and systems that can change your life.

That is, if you have time to read about a dozen dense books and attend weeklong seminars.

Sadly, not all of us can devote that much time and money to become more productive.

Small changes are often underrated, so here are 9 simple work productivity hacks and tips that you can learn in about 5 minutes each:

  1. Plan all your daily tasks the night before

  2. Use NowDoThis as your to-do list

  3. Partition both email and social media to set times throughout the day

  4. Play non-distracting background music while you work

  5. Automatically set reminders for emails

  6. Reach out and help one person per day (without being prompted to do so)

  7. Meditate daily

  8. Take a brief mid-afternoon nap

  9. Use Friday afternoons for process brainstorming

1: Plan all your daily tasks the night before

A great habit to get into, which only takes 10-15 minutes, is to plan out all the daily tasks you want to accomplish.

The best time to do this is the day prior, right before heading to bed.

You’ll be able to assess how you did that day, what still needs to be done, and if there are any new tasks to complete.

All tasks should be doable in a day; break down large tasks into smaller ones until you can put them within a daily list.

What to do first: tasks that sit at the intersection of the hardest to do and the most constructive for you.

Order your tasks in these terms, and save it for the next day, which brings a fresh perspective.

You can review the list and make changes as you see fit.

2: Use NowDoThis as your to-do list

There are a million different task management and to-do list apps/products, all claiming to be simple and easy to use.

Focusing on one thing at a time is a silver bullet for productivity, so anything that helps you maintain focus will give you an incredible boost.

NowDoThis is probably the simplest out there; providing you with the most focused approach.

Just enter your list of tasks into NowDoThis, a new line per task, and then click Ready.

NowDoThis Screenshot 1

NowDoThis will display the first task - nothing else. When you finish that task, click Done to move onto the next one.

If you need to, you can edit the list and then start it again. You can even add timers to it (just add the time amount, written out in plain English, at the end of a task).

NowDoThis Screenshot 2

NowDoThis helps you do what other task managers or to-do lists don’t: focus on one thing at a time.

If you get interrupted or distracted by something sudden, NowDoThis will help you recover your focus.

And it’s free!

3: Partition both email and social media to set times throughout the day

It’s easy to spend immense amounts of time just checking email and social media accounts.


Set specific times for checking email and social media, either by the clock or within NowDoThis, so you don’t accidentally wander.

Instead of getting through all emails in the morning, treat it like the task listing of daily tasks: something you barrel through at the end of the day.

You should end your work day right after taking care of all emails.

So, end of the day should be your “big” email time, but you can also check it, along with social media, at two other points: after figuring out your daily schedule (and entering it into NowDoThis), and after lunch.

Use a tool like Buffer to schedule social media posts throughout the day.

If, during your designated time on social media or email, you stumble onto what looks like a good article, save it for later with Pocket.

4: Play non-distracting background music while you work

It’s easier to concentrate on tasks when you have a steady stream of music playing in the background.

I do my best work when I have my headphones on. It not only keeps out distracting and sudden background noise, but also signals to others that I’m deep into the work zone.

Pick music that is calm and doesn’t overwhelm your focus; music without lyrics is ideal.

Set up endless playlists, such as playlists/stations with Pandora or Spotify.

You want to hit play once, not to be setting up the next song to play every 5 minutes.

If you found an album or mix you like on YouTube and want to have it on repeat, use Listen on Repeat to loop the YouTube clip.

My favorite bands for this purpose are El Ten Eleven, My Dad Vs Yours, or Brian Eno (such as Music for Airports).

If you want something more uptempo, check out Funky Bijou or Budos Band.

5: Automatically set reminders for emails

While email isn’t the best communication tool within an organization (use something like Slack for that), it is still one of the best ways to communicate with those outside your org.

But remembering to follow up with busy decision makers can be hard, especially if they forget to get back to you.

For a long time, I used notes in my calendar to remind myself when to follow up with someone who hasn’t gotten back to me.

But, as there were too many notes to keep track of and update as responses changed, this system quickly fell apart.

Use Yesware to automatically set reminders when an email isn’t responded to.

Yesware Screenshot

You’ll receive a follow up reminder in your email, which can be set to a specific time frame, if the other person hasn’t emailed you back.

You can also track email open rates, as well as take advantage of these features with bulk mailing options.

Works with both Gmail and Outlook; it’s saved me countless hours, as well as offloaded all of that remembering to its system.

6: Reach out and help one person per day (without being prompted to do so)

This is a good habit to get into, one that will pay off in the long run.

Reach out to someone you know who is having a problem, and try to help them.

The key here is to extend help that delivers a high level of value to them, without requiring a lot of effort on your part.

Know someone who is facing a stumbling block or is spending a lot of time on one pain point? Look for a helpful article or tool that might give them perspective.

Stumbled onto a really insightful article you know someone would enjoy or find interesting? Send them a quick email with the link.

Help a different person each day. If you want, make a spreadsheet to keep track of this, or even schedule these to go out later (using Yesware).

Not only will you feel better for having helped someone, chances are they will appreciate it too, and likely do you a favor later. It’ll help reinforce existing relationships, and also keep you at the top of mind of the folks you helped.

Not sure who to reach out to, or don’t feel comfortable with that direct approach?

Help a more general audience on the web, answer a reporter’s question on HARO, or answer a publicly asked question on Quora.

It will be a less focused approach than a personal email, but you’ll still be able to help someone else, and if the question you answered relates to your field of work, you may even gain exposure that could help you later on.

7: Meditate daily

No matter what field you work in, or what you do, stress is real, and it can really wear on you.

Not to mention the fact that our attention spans are shrinking, as both of these issues can affect our productivity.

Surprisingly, a simple way to decrease stress and increase focus is to meditate daily.

Doesn’t have to be in large amount, start with 2 minutes and work up from there.

To help you get started, use QuietKit: Guided meditation for beginners (for free)

QuietKit Screenshot

I built QuietKit out of my own frustration with existing resources for meditation, and I now use it daily.

It’s done a remarkable job at helping me cut back on my stress levels, and increase my focus.

Give QuietKit a try.

8: Take a brief mid-afternoon nap

This will depend on how flexible management at your workplace is, but there’s a lot to be said about taking a 15-minute nap mid afternoon, which is normally the point where we’re dragging.

A 15-minute nap will not only help us re-energize, but also make us much more productive.

I aim to take one from 3 to 3:15 in the afternoon, using my phone alarm to wake me (placing it out of easy reach, so I have to get up to turn it off).

15 minutes will give you enough rest to feel peppy, but not so long that you feel more tired. It’s the sweet spot of your sleep cycle.

Try it, if it’s cool with your boss, and notice a spike in productivity in your day.

9: Use Friday afternoons for process brainstorming

No matter what job you work on, or how long you work for, the Friday afternoon lull seems to hit everyone.

So instead of using that time for regular work, use it to brainstorm ways to either improve one routine task you have, or to find one thing you do that you can fully eliminate.

Maybe it’s implementing one of the hacks above, or getting rid of something you’ve always been doing that doesn’t really benefit you.

For anything to improve, change, or eliminate, look for a task or process that sits at the intersection of three things:

  1. It takes up a lot of your time.
  2. You’re not very good at it.
  3. You hate doing it.

For example, as I’m trying to write more for the UsersThink blog, I find writing takes up a lot of my time.

One Friday, I started looking at all the steps I take in writing a post (which I’ll go into more detail in another post), and the part that hit all three issues above was rewriting a post after I’ve written the first draft.

I found this step took up a majority of my blogging time, I wasn’t all that great at it, and I hated that part of blogging the most.

Others recommended “just hire a great copy editor”, but that seemed like a big task, and I wouldn’t know what makes a copy editor great.

I also thought there must be a simple service for this, sort of like how I built UsersThink as feedback on demand for your landing pages.

I discovered that Draft offers copy editing on demand. Just put your post into Draft, click Ask A Professional, and in about 24 hours get corrections and suggestions on how to improve your post.

Draft Copy Editing

It was exactly what I needed, and took about 2 hours of web hunting before I found it. But, using the service has saved me hours for every post I’ve written.

By spending less productive time on this type of brainstorming, you’ll find your more productive moments going even farther.

Use each hack to improve your work efficiency

All of these little tricks have had a massive impact on the amount of my daily accomplishments while running UsersThink, and I wanted to make sure you benefit from them as well.