A Simple and Fun Hack to Boost Your Productivity

Carol Tice

happy computer woman latteBy Ed Gandia

Ever find yourself with small pockets of time that seem “unusable”?

For instance, you have 30 minutes before your next appointment, which doesn’t give you enough time to dive into that article you’ve been working on.

Next time this happens, resist the temptation to waste away those precious minutes on Facebook. Instead, do a “productivity blitz.”

Here’s how this simple hack works:

  1. Pick a task from your to-do list that would normally take you a little longer to complete than the time you have available. Say you have one hour available but have about 90 minutes’ worth of unanswered emails. Or you have 30 minutes to draft an outline that would normally require 45 minutes.
  2. Log out of all social media websites. Turn your phone ringer off. Close your office door. And close your email program (unless your chosen task is to reply to email).
  3. Set a timer for the time you have available (here’s the online timer I use).
  4. Get laser focused. Try to complete your task before the timer goes off. Don’t let anything distract you from your goal.
  5. Don’t strive for perfection. If your task is part of a writing assignment, think of it as the first iteration. If it’s email, keep your replies short.
  6. Wrap up your work when the timer goes off, and walk away from your desk. Resist the temptation to keep going.

If you follow this system exactly, you’ll find that 80 percent of the time, you will have completed your task fully. And when you don’t finish the task, you will have made MUCH more progress than you thought possible under these time constraints.

A Bonus Hack to Quiet Your Brain

And if you want to put this idea on steroids, here’s something else you can add to the mix: “focus music.”

I know, I know! Music can be super-distracting. I get that. I’ve tried creating “writing” playlists. I’ve tried the calmest music stations in Pandora. I’ve even done the whole “sounds from nature” thing.

None of these have worked consistently for me.

But I recently discovered a tool that allows me to listen to music AND stay super focused. It’s called Focus@will.

Focus@will is a new neuroscience-based music service that helps you focus, reduce distractions and retain information when working, studying, writing and reading. The technology is based on hard science and proven to be extremely effective at extending your attention span.

The service allows you to pick from about 10 different stations. Every track is vocal-free and has been remixed or edited to deliver the precise set of required attributes to keep you in the focus zone.

Another big plus of Focus@will is that it comes with a built-in timer. So if you use the service you don’t have to use another tool to track your productivity blitz. And, yes, there’s a free version you can try before committing anything. But even the paid version is just $35 a year—an investment that paid for itself the day I signed up!

So there you have it: a quick, easy hack to get more productivity out of all those little pockets of time that are probably going unused.

Try it today. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well it works.

Ed Gandia is a freelance copywriter, author, speaker and coach. He’s the co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer.

Got productivity questions for Ed? Leave them in the comments.

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  1. Carol J. Alexander

    This is great, Ed. But my problem is that I write while homeschooling my kids and my free snippets of time have a lot of background distractions. I do try to take advantage of them anyway, but I still have to have one ear cocked to what’s going on in the next room.

    • Carol Tice

      Carol, I think the biggest myth going is that we can spend quality time with and/or homeschool our kids while researching, interviewing, marketing and writing, without any child care help. The effect is like someone has a hand on either side of your brain and is trying to rip it in half (for me, anyway). NOT a productive situation!

      Then the question is which is getting short shrift — the writing, or our kids’ education…or maybe both.

      I was the queen of the 8-midnight shift for many years — did tons while kids were sleeping. I know others who get up early. I found that it wasn’t worth how ignored my kids felt to try to work with them hanging out. I think they really don’t understand that what WE do on the computer pays the bills, while they think of computer time as ‘fun.’

      I’ve coached SO many writers who said they were worried their hourly rates were super-low, and couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t get things done and bill enough…and so often it turned out they were in your boat. Home full-time with kids and expecting that somehow they could also have a freelance writing career, without any assistance. My experience is that usually doesn’t fly.

      Get the kids a babysitting swap during your writing time and they’ll be happier — I also did that when my kids were young.

      • Carol J. Alexander

        You are exactly right, Carol. I did learn after my writing grew, to work when the kids were sleeping and to establish regular “business” hours. For the past few years, it’s been from 9 to midnight. Now, I am doing the opposite end of the clock and getting up at 5 a.m. But for those small snatches of time that Ed spoke of, I use that for moderating blog comments, answering simple emails, or checking social media channels–all things that can be interrupted.

        • Ed Gandia

          What Carol T. said! 😉

          Seriously, though, I think we need to be easier on ourselves. If you spend enough time on Facebook, it seems as if everyone else is raising perfect children and doing everything right. That makes other parents feel that they’re not good enough, that they’re not trying hard enough, that they should be able to crank out copy and content in the middle of the daily chaos.

          Yeah, right. Ignore those “my life is perfect” people. The reality is that just because you happen to work from home doesn’t mean that you can get away with help. Get the help. Your productivity will improve, which will help boost your earnings, which will enable you do provide more for your family … and so the flywheel goes.

          • Carol Tice

            So true — my sister finally rented an empty bedroom from a friend down the street so she could go off to work and get that separation.

            Right now those perfect people are all posting photos of how they’re in Hawaii and I’m not, as we have a midwinter public-school schedule break right now…a must-ignore for me, personally. 😉

  2. Sara

    I did a productivity blitz the other day because I was desperate to get out for a run. My to-do list told me it wasn’t possible, but aiming to wrap up a chapter in time to run before lunch with my kids, I got it done. (I also got the run in, which made me more productive later in the day.) Closing out email and social media really helps keep the focus.

    • Emelia

      Hey Sara, I think I should really start to teach myself to close all social media and emails. This is my biggest challenge.

      • Katherine Swarts

        I agree. Every e-mail that comes in while you’re trying to concentrate is a fresh knock at the door–another few seconds wasted in switching focus back and forth.

        • Carol Tice

          I am down to checking email about twice a day now.

          Notices have GOT to be off!

          I find increasingly, emails don’t often have urgent info in them…really, they can wait. What’s important is that we CREATE.

          • Ed Gandia

            Oh, yeah. Email off, phone off, social media off, door closed, do-not-disturb sign up!

            That’s the ONLY way to develop and maintain periods of intense focus. It’s simple and we know better, but we don’t always do it.

          • Raspal Seni

            Hi Carol,

            I used to have an e-mail notifier running all the time in the taskbar. I’ve removed it and feel better that I can check my e-mail at will. E-mail is also a one big distraction. I know people who will check every few minutes and then waste time reading e-mails, than doing what they started to do.

            You are very right – e-mails aren’t urgent. If it’s so urgent people would pick up the phone and call up!

            Ed – I know some writers who actually lock them up in a different room to get their writing done. This is really needed.

          • Carol Tice

            So true – I have friends who’ll take an old laptop that doesn’t really get the Internet anymore to the park or library to write to kill the distractions.

          • Raspal Seni

            I myself do this – going to a park to write my post drafts. Haven’t used the laptop, though I have an old one. I love writing in a notebook and later typing it when I get back home. I think, going to the library would be nice too, since you get a study atmosphere there. I’ll try this one.

  3. Emelia

    Hi Ed, Thanks for the interesting and helpful post. I think I have a short concentration span. I am easily distracted by anything-emails, social media, day dreaming, you name them. Even the links in your post distracted me. I kept clicking on them before I finished reading the entire post and I didn’t want to.

    I love listening to music when I write. But I realized that I struggle to concentrate with the music on when I write technical subjects. I definitely have to try out Focus@Will.

    • Carol Tice

      We have tried out Focus@will with one of our ADD kids, and it’s very promising! Really appreciate that tip, Ed. 😉

      • Rebecca Klempner

        I loved the Focus@Will program, too. After you recommended it, I tried it out. Really useful, and I’m thinking I’ll follow Carol’s suggestion and try it with a couple of my kids at homework time.

    • Ed Gandia

      Thanks for your comment, Emelia. Yes, I’ve found that most of us have to hack our way into focused work. We need little tools and games to make this work and to stick to our focused-time commitments. I know I do! 😉

  4. Rohi Shetty

    Thanks, Ed
    I’ve subscribed to Focus@Will and will see how it goes.
    I’m looking forward to your webinar tomorrow.

    • Ed Gandia

      Awesome! Thanks in advance for attending, Rohi. Hope you get a lot out of it.

  5. Brenda Spandrio

    This is exactly what I needed today! I’ve been whining about not have big enough blocks of time to be really productive, even though I know in my heart of hearts that I could be doing SOMETHING better with my “snippets” of time. I’m a big advocate of using a timer (I recommend it for all my organizing clients), but I haven’t used it enough for my writing focus.

    I do use Pandora as focus music (piano mostly), but I think I will look at Focus@will.

    Thanks Ed!

    • Carol Tice

      I love the idea of challenging myself to take on tasks I *think* I don’t have enough time left for — totally going to be trying that out. I think I’m a real victim of negative thinking on that and then end up just goofing around with the time…but Ed is cracking the whip on me here and I will obey! Bet I’ll get a lot more done than I thought I could. 😉

    • Ed Gandia

      Hi Brenda! Yes, try Focus@will. I like it better than anything I’ve tried on Pandora (for maintaining focus).

      Way to come out clean with the whole snippets of time thing. I must admit that I occasionally fall prey to the “what could I possibly do in 18 minutes??” trap!

  6. Elke Feuer

    Great tips, Ed! I use my waiting to catch up on my reading or to finish an easy task like a follow-up email or phone call.

    My mind is overactive, so I always use music to distract my stray thoughts so I can concentrate on what I’m doing. Ironically, Salsa and/or Jazz music works best for me. Not sure why. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, we have a jazz station here in Seattle that I loooove for background music. Perfect for relaxing into your task.

    • Ed Gandia

      Wow, salsa?? Hey, if it works, stick with that. 😉

  7. Holly Bowne

    Ed, I LOVE your tips! I immediately went over to Focus@will and I’m giving it a try. I love listening to music. But just as you mentioned when I tried creating Pandora playlists or listening to Mozart or something, I usually end up turning it off because it’s distracting. Can’t wait to see if this works for me.


    • Ed Gandia

      Cool! Hope you like it. And thanks for checking out my session with Carol. 🙂

  8. Raspal Seni

    Hi Ed,

    Thanks for the nice tips, Ed! Will try these out. I hadn’t heard about Focus@Will so will try it out. Though, for me, relaxation music doesn’t seem to work while working on the computer. It seems to induce sleep.

    Just signed up with Focus@Will to try it out. I can use your tips not only to writing and other important tasks, but also to some small things I wish to learn/practice but haven’t been able to make time.

    Hoping to hear you on the podcast.

    • Ed Gandia

      Awesome! Hope you found my session with Carol helpful.

  9. Terri

    One of my goals for this year was to work on my productivity. In addition to limiting the amount of time I check email and monitoring my use of social media, I’ve made it priority to work out in the morning. Waking up and doing crunches in the morning along with some squats really sets me up for a productive day. When I don’t them, I never seem to get as much done at work.

    I also have to give credit to my self control app. I downloaded this app that blocks of certain websites for a period of time. It’s amazing how much work I can get done when blocking of some sites for 15 to 30 minutes at a time.

    • Ed Gandia

      I think exercise can be a great part of a morning routine. It gets the blood flowing, it habitualizes your day (which I talked about in my interview with Carol), and it helps give us a sense of accomplishment early in the day. Way to go!

  10. Aahna

    Hi Ed,

    Never thought that music can even help you to concentrate more and increase your productivity. That’s certainly a new technology and must be tested. I personally feel that social media and emails are the main distractions, and they must be switched off when you’re working on any essential work.

  11. Ed Gandia

    Thank YOU, Bert!

  12. Susan B. Bentley

    Thanks for this Ed, I’ve started using a kitchen timer (shaped like an orange!) for my writing – there’s something about listening to that tickticktick counting down that’s really focusing me!

  13. Rob

    I use Transparent Corp’s brainwave entrainment products to improve focus. Their Neuroprogrammer III has tracks for everything from delta and theta meditation to high beta and gamma for focus, motivation and caffeine replacement.

  14. gode

    J’écris un petit commentaire uniquement pour féliciter l’auteur

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