The Productivity Hacks You Need Right Now

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When COVID-19/quarantine life first started nearly a year ago, we tried to look for silver linings. One big one? We’re going to get so much done! Whether that meant tackling a work project, finally learning Spanish, organizing our closet, or making sure our kids got a jump start on SAT prep or spending extra time on subjects they struggled with, we all had big plans. After all, what else would we have to do?


Fast forward to February 2021: If you look back and wonder where the time went and why you never finished a fraction of what you wanted to, don’t beat yourself up. It’s been a tough year and making sure your family is staying healthy -- while not killing each other -- is a feat to be proud of. But if you do want to accomplish more every day -- while also helping your kids boost productivity in the face of pandemic fatigue -- we promise it’s possible. Read on for advice from Scott Doty, productivity expert and founder and CEO of academic coaching firm BrainStormTutoring, for advice you can (easily!) implement right now. Ready. Set. Blow that to-do list away.


Audit Your Daily Routine

There are things we do every day that eat up time without realizing it. Think: things that we could be doing more efficiently or, in some cases, cut them out of our lives entirely. “If you’re a typical adult, maybe you do a little bit of social media throughout the day, you’re reading some articles online, maybe you’re watching some videos, sending some emails. Then it’s 4pm and you think, ‘What just happened to my day?’” says Doty. “Doing audits of ourselves can help us become more mindful and more intentional about the way we organize our days.” 

Most smart phones include a built-in feature that tracks and breaks down how many hours you spend on each app you use each day. After a quick peek at the report, you can usually figure out which apps you’re spending way more time on than you thought (we’re looking at you, Instagram), and then make a valiant effort to limit your use. Also take note of how often you drop what you’re doing to respond to a text, open a link a friend sent (OMG, you have to look at this!), or click on a headline that leads to an Internet rabbit hole. “A lot of the time we’re just responding to the day and we’re being reactive to what’s being thrown at us. We get into patterns and if we’re not intentional about it, then the pattern controls us and we’re not in control. Sometimes you’re kind of caught in a vortex and you don’t even realize it,” says Doty.


Dive Into Energy Management

We’re all familiar with the strategy of time management, but energy management is an equally important -- if lesser-known -- strategy for staying productive. “I think we’ve all had that experience. where it takes you two hours to do something because you’re just not in a good mood or a good headspace, but if you were in a good mood or your energy were up to par, you would have knocked it out in a half an hour,” says Doty. So, the concept is that being more aware of and actually managing your energy leads to better time management, which leads to greater productivity. (Cool how that works, right?) It comes down to something known as your chronotype, the physiologic preference for a time of day (think morning people vs. night owls) and being more in tune with when you have your best energy throughout the day, then making sure you use that time wisely. “That’s when your brain is at its best, when your most focused, and when you have the most calm, clear energy,” says Doty. One reason your child may be struggling to finish homework could be as simple as the fact he’s tackling it at the wrong time. “If doing it at 4pm means you can just knock it out, then do it then don’t wait until 8pm at night, then your brain is going to be mush you’re going to end up hating math,” explains Doty. “And it’s not math that’s the issue, it’s your energy management that’s the issue.”


Go On a WiFi Fast

Pick an upcoming Sunday and make it a day your family takes a break from technology, advises Doty. Put your phones on airplane mode and literally unplug the router from the wall. It’s not as much about what you’ll accomplish on that particular day but more about how you’ll benefit from the shakeup that is a day without the Internet. Think of it as a juice fast for your mental health.

“This is part of a broader piece of wisdom about good living. We need to fast from things intermittently …just to help us reset.,” says Doty, adding that it’s all about interrupting those patterns mentioned above. “Imagine a day off from WiFi: You don’t look at anything on a screen. It rests your eyes, it rests your brain. How does it help your chemistry, your focus, your energy? It’s an interesting experiment.” Bonus: In the short-term, in can help you get more done by temporarily shifting to “output mode only,” as Doty can attest to personally. “I’m always on intake mode. I love, reading, learning, listening to podcasts, but sometimes it’s too much. When I’m not getting enough done, it’s been helpful for me to do fasts from media.”


Eat the Frog

The name for this productivity hack comes from a Mark Twain quote: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” The best thing about this hack? It doesn’t actually require eating any frogs at all, though it often requires doing the worst thing first. “Pick the one big thing that would put your day in the win column productivity-wise. Even if something is hard, it would feel amazing to get done,” explains Doty. “The idea is to do the worst thing that will most help you but that you are most avoiding and maybe really don’t want to do and keep procrastinating on. Always get that done first and then the rest of the day will be smooth sailing compared to that.”


Scott Doty is the founder and CEO of academic coaching firm BrainStorm Tutoring, an academic performance coach, and an executive function and teen wellness expert.

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