The greatest productivity hack of all time

The greatest productivity hack of all time is working less.

Slack recently published new research into desk worker productivity. It is a worthy read – however, it sheds light on something that most desk workers already inherently know: longer hours do not mean greater productivity.

I have put a lot of personal focus on trying to be a productive person. I wish to use my time wisely. Working occasional long days is a unavoidable reality. However, the greatest boon to my personal productivity has been to forcefully create relatively short periods of intense work and ending the workday on time. Ben Franklin did it. Today, some would call it the Pomodoro Technique.

Using a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique triggers me into an intense work session but has the added benefit of also breaking me out of it. I can easily forget to eat lunch or take breaks if I’m not reminded to do so. Having a timer that gets me focused on a specific task and also forces me out of that task has helped me a lot. I’m more productive and less anxious. A win win.

I’ve found a variety of ways to do this over the years from bullet journaling to setting reminders and timers to blocking out times on a calendar. These days, I’m using an app called Structured – at the beginning of each day I create general blocks of time within the app for each activity I need to do. I use generic names like Code, Break, Support Emails, Lunch, Documentation, etc. Structured isn’t my to-do list, it is a when-to-do-what list.

I don’t always stay perfectly on schedule and sometimes I do a little more than the timer wants. But overall it forces me into and out of intensely productive work sessions.

This candence of work, break, working again, and ultimately stopping work has easily been the number one productivity hack of my career. When measured over the long term, rather than day-to-day, I can say that I’m far more productive now in my career than I was when I was younger and working far longer hours.

This includes personal projects too. Creating self-imposed deadlines and giving myself only small windows of time in which to reach them, forces me to be incredibly productive.

In fact, 2023 has been my most productive year professionally by far. And I’m confident that 2024 will be also.

Slack’s Workforce Index research tells us a lot of things we already know; working long hours and having too many meetings decreases productivity. Taking care of ourselves, making time for breaks throughout the day, and spending time away from work actually leads to more productive outcomes when measured over time.