Feeling a little scattered?

Here’s a list of productivity “easy wins”: little tweaks that will make you significantly more productive with virtually no effort required.


1. Unsubscribe from unwanted email lists

We’ve all had our concentration broken by our buzzing smartphone as it brings us good news of a 40% off sale at LL Bean or BOGO Honey Nut Cheerios at Walgreens. Our email inboxes should be free of spam, and the good news is this dream is now in sight. Almost every mass email has a tiny “unsubscribe” link in the fine print at the very bottom, and unsubscribing really does work.

Take two minutes and unsubscribe from 3 or 4 of the worst offenders: sites you don’t want to hear from and blogs you no longer read (hopefully not this one!).

Do several two-minute sessions today and tomorrow, and you’ll soon have your email life back.

2. Block distracting sites

Use a browser extension like Stayfocusd or SelfControl to block sites that take more of your time than they deserve. Here are the sites I have blocked:

cnn.com espn.com espn.go.com facebook.com imgur.com news.google.com onion.com penny-arcade.com reddit.com trumpetherald.com xkcd.com youtube.com

If I really need to access one of these sites (and sometimes I do), I have to open up another browser. Surprisingly, this extra step usually stops me in my tracks and forces me to sheepishly close the tab.

3. Turn off non-essential notifications on your smartphone

When my wife texts me, I want my phone to buzz at me (even if I’m deep in thought). But I don’t wish to be interrupted by news that Tony Robbins has uploaded a new video to YouTube.

Think very carefully about which apps/companies deserve the power to interrupt you. The next time you notice yourself picking up your phone, reading a notification and thinking “Why would anyone care about this?”, try turning off that app’s notification privileges. You can always restore them later.

4. Schedule 90 minutes of focused work

If you’re feeling pulled in too many directions at once, pick your most important task and schedule a 90 minute session of focused work. Like a good workout after weeks of zero exercise, it will be hard to do but worth every second.

5. Create accountability on a big project

Procrastinating on something big? Don’t beat yourself up; it’s part of being human.

Do take some action, though.

What’s the next step for your big project? Not the next stage, just the very next physical step. Got one? Now, choose a reasonable time frame to accomplish this step. Could be 5 PM today, could be noon next Monday.

Once you’ve decided, grab your phone.

Think of someone you trust and respect who’s not big on excuses. It could be a friend, colleague, partner, or family member.

Send them a text saying “I’m having some trouble moving ahead on a project. Could you text me at [reasonable time frame you just chose] and ask me if I’ve done [very next physical step you just chose]? Thanks.”

Congratulations, you’ve just raised the stakes! By involving someone else and being a little vulnerable, you’ve made yourself more likely to accomplish the task and get the project moving again.

6. Automate a recurring task

What are you doing that A. you don’t enjoy and B. could be done automatically?

If you’re still paying routine bills by mailing checks each month, you’re, well, wasting hours of your life each year. Most banks have easy-to-use Bill Pay systems, and nearly all utility companies offer automatic paperless billing as well. Either option is a fine choice, and you can set up email notifications so you’re notified of each bill’s total before your account is debited.

Or perhaps you’re self-employed and track your mileage for tax purposes (as I do for my side gig as a musician). Apps like MileIQ track your drives automatically, allowing you to classify them later as either business or personal. Some apps will even auto-classify frequent drives, and all will save you significant time over keeping a paper mileage log.

Did one of these tips intrigue you? Take immediate action on that one and leave the others. The two minutes you invest will come back to you many times over.