🚀 Productivity Hacks to Optimize Work and Life (+ Latest Deals)
All the Hacks 9/1/22: Upgrade Your Life, Money & Travel
Hi all, Chris here! I love finding ways to become more productive. There is so much to cover on the topic, but today I want to focus on providing you the strategies and tactics to combat procrastination, fight distractions, and engage in deep work. Then next week, I’ll also share all my favorite apps, tools and products I use to stay productive and optimized. I think you are really going to enjoy this email. And if you have your own productivity hacks to share, please reply to this email.
Also, if you like this post, please consider sharing it with a friend, colleague or family member that might enjoy it. Or maybe post it on Twitter or Facebook. 🙏🏼 🙏🏼 🙏🏼 Thanks!
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⏲️ Procrastination is a problem with starting work
If you haven't watched Tim Urban's Ted Talk on procrastination, you're missing out. It does a great job of highlighting the chaos inside your brain insightfully and hilariously. Procrastination is not a problem with doing the work; it's a problem starting the work. I spoke with Ali Abdaal (🎧 Ep72) about how he combats productivity (as an entrepreneur, writer, YouTuber, podcaster, and former doctor). He sees it as a three-stage challenge:
🌫️ Fog of Obscurity. Procrastination begins at the intersection of two emotions: the thrill of starting something new and the overwhelm of not knowing what to do first. It's the crucial mental barrier that you need to overcome. Ali says the solution is to (1) separate the doing from the planning and (2) schedule time on the calendar to do it. Put the steps on paper, sort it out, and develop a path. The process will provide clarity and enable you to figure out the one action you can take right now that will guarantee you'll actually do this thing. That one action can be as simple as writing the caption for the video you want to post or drafting the email if it's finding a guest for a podcast. Do that now.
🌉 Bridge of Anxiety. Once things become clearer, you are likely to run into a rush of anxiety. Ali says the solution is asking yourself targeted questions to understand the emotion better. He proposes using the RAIN method (from meditation practice). Recognize that a feeling of anxiety is getting in the way. Allow it to happen and acknowledge that it's okay because you are human. Investigate and explore why this emotion may exist. Nurture the mind and let it know that just because you feel anxiety does not need to hold you back from starting. Embrace the idea that just because you feel anxious does not mean you can't still act (just act while having the anxiety).
🐪 Hump of Inertia. Finally, with your emotions understood, it’s time for an initial energy boost to get some momentum. Ali's way of doing this is to make a pact with himself to try the first step in the plan for two minutes. And after two minutes, you can stop doing it and try again later. He finds that most of the time he builds the motivation and confidence to keep going. Two minutes, that's it.
You can find more of Ali's lessons on productivity in his Ultimate Guide to Productivity.
⌛ Distraction is a problem with continuing work
Where procrastination is a lack of clarity to start, distraction is the desire to escape discomfort in the moment. While it's logical to believe that it's the desire to seek pleasure (think dopamine spike of checking Instagram), we rarely realize discomfort is the driving factor. I spoke with Nir Eyal (🎧 Ep25) about becoming Indistractible. Nir says to look ahead, schedule your time, and then do what you plan to do in the allotted time. Time management is pain management.
The concept is more formally known as timeboxing. It is a technique of assigning a fixed period to a task, scheduling it in a calendar, and sticking to it. In a study of 100 productivity hacks, timeboxing is the most effective. This means you should ditch your checklist for a calendar. It's not that checklists are bad; it's that they are never-ending. The feeling of checking off one task may be a short-term win; but tomorrow's checklist seems to always have just as many things on it, if not more. And that can leave you defeated. With a calendar, you are constrained by a limited supply.
Some people take timeboxing to the extreme, scheduling everything literally. I suggest starting with your working hours and then building up if you feel the need. Use a planner. And don't forget to schedule your "thinking time" and "free time." While timeboxing is designed to keep you productive, you still need time to be creative and spontaneous (just schedule it in).
👀 Watch out for false productivity
Conventional wisdom suggests that the opposite of distraction is focus. Nir’s research indicates that the opposite is action, precisely an action that moves you closer to your goals or values. A distraction, by definition, is an action or nonaction that pulls you farther away. Technology and social media are the distractions that quickly come to mind, but less obvious ones can all trick you into thinking you're being productive.
Take reading a productivity newsletter (😁) or re-organizing your inbox folders. Both activities are beneficial, but if they infringe on the critical action you planned to work on now, then they are a distraction. Schedule time later to do them.
🤺 Your nemesis is context-shifting
Your best results will come from focus without distraction (deep work). Multitasking has historically been a badge of honor, but you can't actually be productive by shifting back and forth. People highly underestimate this cost of “context-shifting.” Cal Newport (🎧 Ep63) is the author of Deep Work and many books on productivity. Every time you switch your focus, it negatively impacts your brain. Even a quick email check or notification ping will put you at a disadvantage (especially knowledge workers). Context shifts worsen your output, extend the time to complete, and tire your brain more easily, which means it will likely fall for even the most minor distractions. Cal also strongly advises timeboxing and training your brain as productivity techniques.
Try interval brain training. If you haven't run in years, don't expect to run 15 miles in one day. The same is true for your brain. If you need to focus intently but routinely leave notifications on, don’t expect to stay focused for 90 minutes. Set up a time to train. Use a timer and try not to break concentration. Keep doing it and gradually extend the time. After a few months, you can routinely get 90 minutes to 120 minutes (which in Cal's research puts you in the top 25th percentile of all people).
Practice boredom therapy. Give yourself intentional doses of boredom. When we constantly check our phones during downtime, our brain creates a pavlovian response to boredom. So, when we experience boredom, it triggers us to pick up our phones. Why does this matter? Deep work can feel boring to our brains since it's a single task for an extended time. And without training, you will prevent yourself from doing the work. Try this next time you stand in line.
Be productive in smaller periods. Pull apart the work you are mixing together. When working on one thing, work on only that one thing. It may mean that you have small chunks of time on your calendar, but you can calm the hyperactive mind from having to switch.
📩 Email can really do cognitive damage
Let me be clear, email is an essential tool and required for almost any job, but it's also one of the biggest hijackers of our productivity. It's not replying; it's checking and rechecking. It can take 15 minutes to refocus on your essential task. When you get a notification or just go for a quick inbox check, your attention immediately diverges from your work. 80% of the time, the email can wait. 60 minutes of productivity is gone with just 4 non-essential emails.
Here are ways that you can make email more productive:
Set up a time for email. Schedule a block of time in your day that is dedicated to email only. Remove notifications and don't check your inbox throughout the day. Communicate to your closest colleagues that you have these rules in place. You can even include an away message that informs the sender not to expect an immediate reply.
Use the two-touch rule. Interact with emails twice. The first is to label it, and the second is to respond. To do this, use time-based labels instead of categories (e.g., respond today and respond this week). If it doesn't fit either label, archive or delete it. Then use your email time block (mentioned above) to reply to emails labeled respond today, then to the rest. It’s likely that many emails that once needed a response don’t need your attention because the sender did the work or the email is no longer a priority. I use this method with Superhuman. It helps me achieve inbox zero without spending countless hours.
🕓 Implement office hours to help optimize back-and-forth conversations.
Collaboration has evolved to require this persistent unstructured, back-and-forth messaging. At first, it was email, but now we have instant messaging tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. These asynchronous conversations demand a lot of attention. Since it has become the common form of communication, decisions can stall if there is too much time between messages. Even setting up a meeting could take 3-4 messages.
According to Cal, these asynchronous conversations are the biggest enemy of your deep work. To fix this, you really need to pull your work apart. Separate the communication from the focused work. Implement office hours on your calendar to open all your communication channels dedicated to conversations requiring more than one message. Make the office hours public to let everyone know that this is the dedicated time for these types of conversations. You will protect your attention.
🪝 Create an end-of-the-day routine with an unusual hook.
"Schedule shutdown complete" is the phrase that Cal routinely uses to signal to his brain that work is done for the day. It closes open loops and distinguishes between work and non-work times. Too often, your work mind tries to creep in during the wrong times. The rumination prevents attention recovery, reduces sleep quality, and can impact family or hobby time. He proposes you develop a unique phrase and routine to complete the day. Over time, your brain will adapt to the process, and you can combat that rumination more effectively.
You can use this routine even if you have to work later in the evening ("second shift"). Cal proposes to still end your daily routine (with the unusual hook) but specifically plan the task for your second shift. It will tell your brain that you are done with your typical work day, and the only thing scheduled for later is one specific task. Consider ending your first shift earlier if you consistently do a second shift.
💵 Latest Deals
Here are the top deals I’ve seen in the past two weeks:
🔀 15-30% Bonus on 12 Amex Transfer Partners!!!
If you’ve been thinking of booking a trip with Membership Rewards points, now might be the perfect time. I just logged into my Amex account and saw that there’s a 15-30% bonus on transferred points to 9 different airlines (Aeroplan*, Avianca* British Airways*, Virgin Atlantic, AerLingus, AeroMexico, Air France/KLM*, Hawaiian, Qantas) and 3 different hotel groups (ChoiceHotels, Hilton and Marriott). I’ve never seen so many transfer bonuses. The programs with a * are my favorites, but you might also enjoy this post about some sweet spots for transferring Amex points.
🎥 $3 Movie Tickets on Saturday
This Saturday is National Cinema Day, which means all movie tickets (including IMAX/Dolby Cinema) are only $3 at most theaters nationwide. Full details here.
🏖️ Southwest: 25% off Beach Travel (must book today)
Southwest’s latest promotion is 25% off travel to/from beach destinations (Hawaii, Mexico, Caribbean & Central America) with the promo code BEACHES25 and book TODAY. Best of all the promo code works for paid and award fares. More details here.
🏨 2x Hilton Points and 100-130k Signup Bonuses
If you’re looking for more Hilton points, there are a few great things happening:
You can earn 2x points on all stays from 9/6 to 12/31, plus get 2,000 bonus points when you check out on a weekday. Register for the promotion it here.
Amex increased the no annual fee Hilton Amex signup bonus to 100,000 points and the Hilton Amex Surpass dropped the $95 annual fee to $0 for the first year
⛽️ 3x Gas (or EV Charging) with Bilt Rewards Card
Until October 31st, if you have a Bilt Rewards Card, you can earn 3X points on gas or EV charging (on up to $1,250 in net purchases). If you don’t have a Bilt card yet (and want to earn points on your rent), then definitely use my referral link and check it out.
💼 30k Free Amex Points with a Business Checking Account
Amex is offering 30k Membership Rewards points if you 1) deposit $5k and keep it for 60 days and make 10 or more transactions. On top of that the account pays 1.1% APY, which is rare for most business checking accounts. Check it out here.
📺 Get 10-15k Chase Points for Referring a Friend
Chase just brought back a 10,000 point bonus for referring friends to the Sapphire Reserve card, so I thought it be good to share the Refer-a-friend page where you can refer friends to various chase cards (incl. Sapphire Preferred) and earn free points.
🏨 2,500 Free Wyndham Points From Bakkt
I debating putting this in here because Wyndham isn’t my favorite hotel program, but it’s free points, so why not. You just need to download Bakkt, link your Wyndham account and make a redemption (can be as small as 100 points) – all by 9/8. More here.
🎙 Recent Episodes
#75: Building Wealth, Engineering a Layoff and Living Life on Your Own Terms
Financial Samurai and bestselling author, Sam Dogen discusses ways to maximize wealth-building, his 70/30 rule for decision making, how you can engineer a layoff and more. Thank you to Trade Coffee, Wren, LinkedIn and BlockFi for sponsoring this episode!
#74: A Hospice Doctor’s Advice on Making the Most of Your Finances, Relationships and Time
Hospice doctor and author Jordan Grumet, MD discusses the biggest regrets people have at the end of their life, how to broach difficult conversations with family about money, and why time perception work might be more useful than productivity hacks. Thank you to Trustworthy, Inside Tracker, Wren and Daffy for sponsoring this episode!
💭 Parting Thoughts
Thank you so much for reading! How’d you like this one? (click an emoji)
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Today, I’m grateful for the support of our partners Amazon, Trustworthy, Inside Tracker, Wren, Daffy, Trade Coffee, Wren, LinkedIn, MileValue, UpgradedPoints, Vuori, BlockFi, Oura, 1Password, CardPointers and Superhuman.
Chris Hutchins works at Wealthfront. All opinions expressed by Chris and his guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of Wealthfront. This newsletter is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for investment decisions.