7 Life Hacks to Be Productive Instead of Just Busy

Success is not having a lot to do, it's having a lot that you've got done.

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By Firas Kittaneh • Aug 8, 2015 Originally published Jul 7, 2015

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When your nose is constantly to the grindstone, sometimes it is hard to eat your meals on time, much less get perspective on anything else that is going on. As entrepreneurs, we often have periods when we are frenetically trying to balance a million work-related things at once, but it is neither effective nor sustainable to operate that way. At the end of the day, we feel burnt out, utterly exhausted and unfulfilled in other areas of our lives.

To help assuage the pains of being constantly busy, here are seven life hacks that will help reduce your stress-induced headaches, maximize time and improve your quality of life. From boosting your productivity to keeping your mind and body in optimal shape, these tips will help you live a more balanced, healthy lifestyle while still pumping out the work you need to stay at the top of your game.

1. Implement the two-minute rule.

Time management consultant and author David Allen coined the term "two-minute rule" to describe a simple but effective way to determine the order in which tasks should be accomplished. He defines the rule: "If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it'll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it."

By prioritizing responsibilities based on how much time they will take, you can make more informed decisions on how you would like to chunk out your work time and devote periods when you know you will be undisturbed to jobs that require more attention. Plus, by filtering tasks based on a two-minute cut-off, you can achieve more in short blocks of time when you are too tired to start on a large undertaking but are not yet ready to wind down your day.

To see measureable results, keep a diary or spreadsheet documenting how much free time you have accrued over the course of a week while using this life hack and use the extra time to relax and treat yourself.

Related: 13 Highly Useful Skills You Can Learn in a Minute

2. Create your daily schedule thoughtfully and intentionally.

Planning ahead is an invaluable skill for structuring your day and retaining your sanity. BJ Smith, founder of The Busy Marketer, created a morning routine that helped him prioritize goals and accomplish them based on the type and amount of value added.

Revenue mattered most to him, so after writing down his objectives for the day, he specifically noted the responsibilities that will lead to increasing revenue. Then he made sure he included a variety of tasks on his queue that will add value in different ways (i.e. brainstorming new ideas, testing out new strategies, taking care of administrative work, etc.).

Strategizing before tackling your assignments head on will ensure that you have a well-balanced day instead of a disorganized race to achieve random goals haphazardly.

3. Organize your projects and task list.

The KISS principle is a totally underrated concept that should be applied to your daily life. The acronym stands for, "Keep It Simple, Stupid," and it describes the idea that simplicity trumps unnecessary complexity.

To simplify your monstrous task list and make intimidating projects more manageable, invest in planning apps that will shrink everything down to bite-sized pieces. Asana is a great example of a program that does just that. Based on the premise that teams are more productive without email, the platform provides seamless project management capabilities so you can communicate with your team without cluttering your inbox, organize your laundry list of responsibilities and prioritize tasks in a manner that compliments your schedule.

By streamlining your process for determining your workload, you will find your days running much smoother.

4. Incentivize your actions.

Sometimes it is tough to do something you need to do, because the job is dull or you may prefer to entertain yourself with other distractions such as TV. Fortunately, you can trick your brain into delaying gratification by creating smaller rewards for yourself when you complete goals.

Dr. Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University, suggests, "Something you like to do becomes a reinforcer for something you don't like to do."

When you concentrate hard on doing what you need to do and then allow yourself to indulge for a short period of time -- say, by eating a small piece of chocolate or going on a brief walk -- you become accustomed to a healthy pattern of working hard and playing hard.

Related: 5 Things to Do Before Bed That Will Jump Start Tomorrow

5. Unplug and recover through mindfulness.

From messing up our minds by requiring us to multitask to giving us eye strain and Internet addiction, being plugged into technology at all times is ruining our lives. Schedule time every day to unplug from all of your devices and let your mind and body recover from all the stress you have accumulated.

Practicing short mindfulness meditation activities is a great way to unwind after a long day and prevent burnout.

6. Engage in self-care.

This may seem counterintuitive, but to make better use of your limited time, devote more time to yourself. It can be easy to get swept up in work and the taxing responsibilities of your daily life, but neglecting your basic needs is downright dangerous.

To reduce stress and improve your mood, Mayo Clinic recommends exercising gradually and regularly. Additionally, a study from Norway found that routinely being deprived of sleep is a risk factor for developing depression and anxiety, so developing sleep hygiene is imperative to staying cognitively sharp.

An easy acronym to remember the many different ways to take care of yourself comes from the world of psychology. In dialectical behavioral treatment, the acronym PLEASE MASTER stands for:

  • Treat PhysicaL illness

  • Balance Eating

  • Avoid mood-altering drugs

  • Balance Sleep

  • Get Exercise

  • Build MASTERy

While the "PLEASE" part of the acronym is pretty self-explanatory and vital to your overall health, the MASTER part is also extremely important. It refers to engaging in a hobby that you enjoy, like cooking, reading or playing a musical instrument. Remembering to practice self-care will refresh your body and mind, preparing them to tackle new challenges.

7. Systematize your space religiously.

Perhaps the most organized places in the world are culinary schools and kitchens. Chefs utilize a system called "mise en place," which is the process by which chefs arrange their ingredients and tools before cooking. In his report on the system, NPR's Dan Charnas writes, "It helps them coordinate vast amounts of labor and material, and transforms the lives of its practitioners through focus and self-discipline."

The efficiency of the mise en place philosophy can absolutely be translated to the business world. Check out these tips on how to apply mise en place to your routine. Setting aside time to organize your workspace and ensure everything is systematically where it makes sense to be saves time, reduces physical and mental clutter, and improves your workflow.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Design Their Lives and Businesses for Success

Firas Kittaneh

Serial Entrepreneur • CEO at Amerisleep • CEO at OCLU

Firas Kittaneh is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of amerisleep. Most recently, he launched OCLU to improve how we record our most memorable moments.

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