Productivity hacks

Stephanie Thurrott is a freelance writer who found herself feeling overwhelmed. As 2018 approached a close, tasks were accumulating faster than she could handle then. Deadlines grew closer and loomed larger. But after instituting three time management practices, she saw an interesting trend in her income. The first quarter of 2019 was up 65% over the same period a year earlier.

Thurrott wrote about her changes in an article for NBC News Better. I tell you this story because she interviewed me to get my perspective on these three practices. In this post, I share the practices and my take on them.

Zero-Based Scheduling

This technique involves accounting for every minute of the day on the calendar…when you’re going to walk the dog, when you’re going to watch TV, when you will check email, etc. Proponents of the idea argue as follows, “What goes on the calendar actually gets done.”

I take a different approach. Sure, it’s fine to have a general map of how time is accounted for. A college freshman could plug in classes, social obligations, meals, sleep, and exercise. The blocks of time left provide an idea of how much discretionary time one has. Beyond that, the rest is overkill.

The calendar is a place for day-and-time-specific activities. It tells “where I am.” Need to make a phone call? Chances are, that call doesn’t need to happen at a specific time. If 9:00 is fine, 9:15 probably is as well. Assigning a specific time on the calendar adds an unnecessary restriction. It also makes it harder to see the items that are truly time-sensitive.

Instead, my to-do list does the heavy lifting. Every task has a date. I use the “Priority” field to segment my day into morning, afternoon, and evening. For me, that’s enough.

Snoozing Gmail

“Snooze” is a recent enhancement to Gmail. Click the small clock icon that appears above the message. Set a date and time. The email disappears and returns at the requested moment.

I like the idea for certain types of email. Think about the promotional emails filled with pictures and clickable buttons to make purchases. It’s great to be able to snooze the email and have a couple of days to research what’s being advertised. When the email reappears, you’re ready to either make a purchase or delete the email.

Other situations don’t lend themselves to “snoozing.” When you take the time to read an email, also take the time to decide what that email means to you and what you’ll do about it. I read 5 paragraphs and decide the needed action is to discuss the topic with “Jim.” I’m also thinking of a half-dozen questions to ask. I don’t want to have to re-think any of that.

Instead, I forward the email to my digital task list. In the process, I change the subject line of the email to reflect exactly what I need to do (“Call Jim about the XYZ account”). I assign a date and add to the body of the email my questions. When Jim and I get together, a task on my list reminds me to talk to him about the email. In the note section of that task are the questions I had formulated. No need to rethink anything!

Schedule Tasks for Times You’ll Actually Be Able to Do Them

Thurrott wrote about her struggles with a long to-do list. Her problem was the lack of specific date or priority assignments caused her tasks to pile up. Her solution was Google Tasks because of its ability to assign a date for each task. There are far better choices. Remember the Milk is mine. In other posts, I wrote about why I chose it and the learning curve other might experience. Google Tasks does not allow for repeating tasks and lacks a place to add details about the task. Those two problems are deal-breakers for me. [Update, Google Tasks now does support repeating tasks.]

I agree that assigning a date to each task is a good idea. You’re deciding on the front end when you want to see a task again. Going a step further to assign tasks to the morning, afternoon, and evening puts tasks in an order that’s going to help them get done more quickly. You’ll spend your time accomplishing what you planned instead of scanning a long list wondering what to do next.


The author did relate that the 65% boost in income wasn’t all necessarily due to these three productivity hacks. But they certainly made a difference in the feeling of control she has over her time. You can read the full article here.

So it’s your turn… What’s a productivity hack that is responsible for making you more productive? Let me know in the comments.