6 Simple Habits That Can Save You Hours

Every minute counts! Three productivity experts offer six ideas for hacking your habits for maximum productivity.

From shortcuts and life hacks to proven productivity methods, we’re all looking to save time and get more done. If you want to be even more successful, it’s time to tap into your super powers: your habits.

A Duke University study found that 40% of the decisions we make each day are habits. While bad habits can derail you, good habits can put minutes back on the clock because they put you in a proactive mode and help eliminate wasted time.

We reached out to three productivity experts who offered six ideas for implementing habits that save time and improve your workflow:

1. Plan your day the night before.

When you check your to-do list in the morning, you’ve already wasted time, says Julie Morgenstern, professional organizer and author of Never Check Email in the Morning (Touchstone; 2005)

"If you’re overscheduled or end up with gap in your day, you don’t have the distance you need to correct it, and you go into pure reactive mode," she says. Instead, take five minutes at the end of each workday to check your calendar. Decide ahead of time how to fill free time or handle overlaps.

"You will buy back two or three hours a day of focused productivity instead of wasting a half hour sorting through all of your options," she says.

2. Log out.

If you're easily tempted by social media or email, make a habit of logging out before you start a project or important task, says Emily Schwartz, author of The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management (2012).

"The extra step of having to enter in your password will buy you enough time to realize that you're distracting yourself and shouldn't," she says. "Distracted work takes far longer than focused work."

3. Prepare for meetings.

While meetings can be vehicles for wasting time, Morgenstern says establishing a pre-meeting routine can help improve their effectiveness. If you’ve called the meeting, send an email to the other participants telling them what to expect. If you’ve been invited, ask the organizer how to best prepare.

"Proactively engaging people before meetings could save an hour of wasted time trying to get everyone on the same page," she says.

4. Follow up.

After you delegate a task to a person, make a habit of writing a confirmation via email, clearly defining what’s expected, says Schwartz.

"This extra minute of follow up can save hours of hassle later if, for example, a deadline has been miscommunicated," she says.

5. Clear off your desk.

When you put everything away at the end of your day, you can jump right into work in the morning, says professional organizer Janine Adams of Peace of Mind Organizing.

"If you have papers all over your desk, you’ll waste time finding what you need," she says. Tidying up each afternoon takes just minutes because you only have one day’s worth of stuff to handle. If you wait until you have a pile, it could take a whole afternoon, Adams says.

6. Establish a charging routine.

Dead cell phones can be inconvenient, causing you to waste time searching for an outlet. Instead of freaking out over the power left on your battery, Adams suggests creating a habit of charging your electronics.

"I plug in my phone, iPad and Kindle every night before I go to sleep," she says. "The charge usually gets me through the day and I don’t have to waste time worrying about my battery dying."

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Leuthard]

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11 Comments

  • Juanita Martinez

    I tried doing a charging routine just like that, but I find that I end up forgetting my phone at the charger in the kitchen. I need my phone with me at all times, so I have about 10 USB chargers floating around everywhere, in every room, in my car, at work, in my bags.

  • Joe Piazza

    Waste time searching for an outlet? If you don't have time to look around for an outlet in an office space, you have some serious time management problems.

  • Ethan Glessich

    I agree that drawing up a daily agenda is of fundamental importance, but disagree about when it should be done. Making decisions and planning requires a large amount of mental energy, and consequently should be done when we "have" a lot mental energy. Often in the evening after a long day, we are too tired and consequently are more likely to make bad decisions. When do you generally have a lot of mental energy? First thing in the morning? After your first coffee? After a work out at the gym? It is often different for different people. Take notice of when you are mentally alert, and then try to build a habit of planning your day (or the next) at this time.

  • Pete Curtis

    The concepts are very good. However, I find drawing up an agenda for the next day should be completed no later than six in the evening. Then I use the following 3 or 4 hours on family stuff and winding down. I like to get up about 4 or 5 in the morning and start fleshing out the plans for the day. At about 6, I sit quietly and think about what I'm going to be doing this day.

  • It clearly doesn't apply to a scientist life. these 6 tips assume that you can actually choose to schedule your day with just the right amount of work for a day, which is not true in most of cases in science. You deal with seminar, experiments, follow-up (which are never 5 minute), papers. My desk is overloaded with papers...papers that need to be read and understood in details if you want to proceed carefully regarding your research project. You need to keep updated you literature knowledge...Have you ever did a pubmed on your topics in the morning? If you're scientist, you know what I am talking about. To this paper, you need to add your own paper, the one you're writing, or reviewing. What if a journal ask you to review somebody else paper? You must accept! Again, that is a constant learning process, help you career and your critic attitude (what scientist are most asked for!). Add, writing grant, application, managing student....

  • Esther Wallace

    'Check your schedule the night before' means I don't sleep well. I just check time and venue of early meetings. My first 15 minutes of the day is planning. It does not take 2 hours

  • I'm missing 'email management' here. People spend hours searching for lost emails, or just, scrolling through them. Good use of rules and logical filing is key, saves a huge amount of time and puts you on top of the data mountain.

  • 6th looks strange in this list. 1st thing, for battery longlife we should not charge whole night but only till it is 'full charged' 2nd Having an USB cable handy helps you charge right through your lappy/Pc and need not to run arond for free sockets. All other points, excellent. I have been using and reaping fruits of it.

  • These all seem like sound ways to save time. I especially like the idea of preparing for meetings. Nothing seems to suck time out of the day like trying to get everyone up to speed on a project.

  • Desks and their tidiness is very much a personal thing. What works for one, doesnt work for an other. Some 'untidiness' to some is organised to others. My desk is messy, if I was run over tomorrow, its going to be difficult to pick up where I left off, but thats fine, i know where everything is & it mirrors my mind. Charging routine sounds like a good idea though