Productivity Hacks Simply Don't Work

J.R. Heimbigner

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

I used to love productivity.

At any given time I would devour the next productivity tip, hack, and tidbit I found. I would read every article, try each technique, and then write about it.

But now, I’m sick of it.

You probably are too. If you’re honest with yourself. After all, you cannot possibly find anything that’s completely new. Shoot, I have tried a billion different things and I came upon one for myself.

Yes, it was a derivative of two or three other tips or tricks I had found. But it was very effective. Sure enough, someone wrote about it a few months later too. They even sited my book!

I recently came to the conclusion that productivity tips were killing my productivity. And they are burning people out to boot!

After spending years researching, writing, and experimenting with different productivity tips I realized it was time to make a change. I also realized that all of this nonsense is hurting us.

Productivity Tips Hurt Too

A few months ago I hit a wall. With all the tips and tricks available to me I started to crawl back in the hole I was in at the beginning of my productivity journey.

What happened?

Life happened. I started getting ready for my third child to be born. I had a sudden shift to what I wanted to write about and felt I should be writing about.

Oh, and did I mention my third child was born?

It’s been a heck of a mix up in my productivity, to say the least. My writing has been like a basket full of cats, and luckily I took 12 weeks off to be home with my family.

Nevertheless, I realized something a month ago…

Productivity tips, tricks, and hacks are killing us.

I have researched, implemented, and refined a huge number of productivity tools and techniques, but when it comes down to the insane moments of life it falls apart like a house of cards.

At first, I thought this was a ‘me’ problem. As I started going back to the research chair (i.e. the baby rocking chair) I started seeing other people experience this too.

Then it dawned on me.

Sometimes, we don’t need all these tips, tricks, and hacks. What we need are a few key systems to produce and when things get crazy, we should set all the rest aside.

Otherwise, we are going to lose our minds when it falls apart and we start struggling again.

Key-Systems for Productivity

The reality is that key systems are essential for overcoming extremely hectic times. No matter how much planning you do, at some point, you will be in a situation that is flat out overwhelming.

When this happens, you need your key systems.

So, what are the key systems? Well, that might change person to person. However, I have three key systems below.

2-Minute Drill

The first one is the two-minute drill. First made wildly popular by David Allen and his book, Getting Things Done, he suggests that you go through every actionable item and decide the following:

  1. Is this actionable or something to remember? If it’s information, store it in your references and move on. If it is actionable move on to the next question.
  2. Can I do this in two minutes or less? If so, do it. If not, move on to the next question.
  3. Is this something that needs to be scheduled? If so, schedule it. If not, move on to the next question.
  4. Is this something someone else should do or would the best person to do it. If so, send it to said person and schedule a follow-up. If not, schedule it or delete it.

The two-minute rule is designed to get moving through requests, demands, and received information quickly. And it is highly effective.


While there are a ton of different methods available to you in the self-help world, by far the best prioritization technique is the Eisenhower Matrix. It goes like this:

  1. Important & Urgent (Do First). These are tasks and items that are your most important tasks that need to be done in a timely manner.
  2. Important, But Not Urgent (Schedule). These are tasks that are important to do but don’t need to be done right away. They can be scheduled and should be the next set of tasks you do in the day.
  3. Urgent, But Not Important (Delegate). These are things that need to be done in a timely manner but are not as important. You can delegate these types of tasks to others or complete them once all-important work is done.
  4. Not Urgent, Not Important (Don’t Do). These are tasks that come your way which does not apply to you. They are not important to what you do or urgent whatsoever. Don’t do these tasks.

This is my favorite because it helps me work through my task lists, demands on my time, and projects. And yet, they also help me determine my workflow. I will work right down the list, just as it is above.

Calendars and Task List

Now, I don’t like keeping task lists that are a mile long. They are incredibly intimidating to me and super annoying if I cannot complete all the items on the list for the day.

Instead of keeping these super long task lists, I keep one small one. Then, everything else goes under a project task list or is scheduled into my calendar. This is system looks like this:

  1. Top 5 Tasks: These are the tasks that must be done in the day due to deadlines or because they are the ones that help me feel accomplished in my work. I only keep these five things on the list.
  2. Project Task Lists: You know how I said I hate having a mile-long daily task list? Well, this is different. This is the place I keep all of my tasks for a single project. It might be a mile long, but I don’t intend to try and complete all of these at once. I work out of this list when working on any given project.
  3. Calendar: If something needs to be done today, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be on my Top 5 Tasks List, then I schedule it into my calendar. This way I get a notification to do it and I set aside time to complete these items.

These are the main ways I work through my work in conjunction with the previous two systems. It helps me get a significant amount of work done in a short amount of time.

Demanding Time for Myself

Lastly, I make sure I take breaks and lunch throughout the day. If I try to work through these times, I will end up burning out around 2–3 pm and will waste the rest of the day floundering about.

Turns out this is true for most people.

So, I focus on taking ‘purposeful breaks.’ What is a purposeful break? It is scheduled time that I plan out what I will do for this break. That might not sound overly relaxing, but it focuses on the things that give me life and energy.

The key here is making sure that we are taking breaks that give us life and energy. Scrolling through Twitter or Instagram will not do this. Reading the news will not do this. We need to pick life-giving things.

So, I know what I will do with my break and schedule it. Yet, I make sure that the entire break sets me up for success. This is how I do it:

  1. Set my break time in my calendar.
  2. Decided ahead of time what I will do: go for a walk, read a book, eat a snack, etc.
  3. When the time comes for a break, I make a quick note of what I was doing and get up from my computer.
  4. Take my break.
  5. Come back from my break, put away anything I used during my break. Pick up my note about what I was working on and jump right back into it.

While this seems to be complex and rigid for taking a break, it actually has helped me reduce my stress levels significantly with my day job because every break has a purpose. That purpose? To give me the energy to get my stuff done.

What Are Your Key Systems?

“Focus on being productive instead of busy.” —
Tim Ferriss

When we overload our lives with productivity systems, hacks, tips, and tricks we start doing the exact opposite of what we are trying to do. We attempt to get more things done, but we only make our lives busy.

Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is trim the fat.

Are there productivity tips that you are using that aren’t really making a difference for your right now? Is there a system you have in place that isn’t actually helping you get things done?

Maybe it is time to get rid of these systems and start focusing on the most effective ones. Much like Peter Drucker says:

“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”

Maybe its time to focus more on the right things about our productivity instead of doing ALL the things. When we do this, it will take a load of stress out of our lives.

If you were to look at your productivity systems right now, what are a few systems that would be essential? What are some that you could get rid of? Share in the responses below!

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My goal with my writing is to help people get everything done they want in their very busy lives. I believe we can we all can achieve our dreams and I know it starts with having the right mindset, systems, and taking action every single day. My writing shares how to do this through self-improvement, inspiration, and productivity.

Spokane, WA

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