Becoming time efficient: 50+ methods for being efficient and productive

Research shows that people get distracted every 40 seconds when working on a computer that's connected to the internet. Our inability to focus takes a large toll on our ability to be productive. And as founders, time is incredibly precious.

As someone with projects and side projects, who is hoping to have a life and also start a family, I'm super interested in coming hyper-efficient. Turns out, I'm not alone. Lots of people on IH are talking about how to get more done.

So I've compiled what many of you have said, added in my own research, and created this list. Hope it helps!

Becoming time efficient: Lifestyle

Let's start with the basics. You need to take care of yourself in order to be truly and sustainably efficient.

  • Eat healthy. According to one study, two servings of vegetables per day gives a person the focus of someone 5 years younger. Leafy greens are especially good because they contain potassium which makes the brain more responsive. And blueberries are great (and delicious) too, as they can boost concentration and memory for up to five hours.
  • Sleep. I'm talking 6-8 hours a night. And it needs to be good sleep. Consider getting a sleep monitor. And if you snore, that's also affecting your productivity too — read Breath by James Nestor to find out why you should consider taping your mouth shut when you sleep (sounds crazy, I know).
  • Exercise. We all know the benefits of moving our bodies. But did you know that regular exercise can actually increase your brain's growth rate, giving you more brainpower?
  • Stay hydrated. The brain is 85% water and it depends on that water for its electrical energy. In fact, according to one study, being hydrated allows you to think 14% faster, focus longer, and be more creative.
  • Limit caffeine (yes, you heard that right) and alcohol. If you must have caffeine, try healthier alternatives to coffee. Matcha, for example, has an amino acid that helps the body process the caffeine, resulting in a calmer, more sustained energy boost. And people are nuts about mushroom drinks like MUD/WTR. I'm drinking a coffee while I write this, but you get it.
  • Meditate. We all know the benefits of this one too.
  • Spend time with friends and family. Connect, get support, recharge.
  • Relax.

In short, prioritize your well-being.

Becoming time efficient: Mentality

Little shifts in your mentality can go a long way.

  • Be okay with doing less. Founders have todo lists for days. But not everything is important. And doing more work isn't necessarily more valuable. Be very discerning about what you do and what you don't do.
  • Say no more often. Bosses, clients, customers, family — learn to say no to requests, favors, and assignments.
  • Stop being a perfectionist. Of course, it's important to do good work. But at a certain point, it's just procrastination.
  • Focus on results; not hours. Many of us grew up thinking that our value is derived from working hard and putting in the hours. It isn't.
  • Get interested in your work. Maybe that means finding new work that you enjoy. Or maybe it means making your current work more interesting. Challenge yourself. Gamify it if need be.
  • Set REALISTIC expectations. Failing and becoming disheartened doesn't make you more time efficient. Neither does getting overwhelmed. Set goals that you can actually achieve. Note: It should still be tight so that you aren't just bumming around — make it tight but doable.

And here's some advice for the ages, courtesy of Ron Swanson:

Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.

Becoming time efficient: Structure

Create a structure that you can lean into. I find that on days when I just "can't even," the structure that I create in my life can… even. And it gets me going.

  • Figure out what kind of schedule works for you. When do you feel creative? When do you feel tired? When do you feel motivated? Try to do deep work (work that takes 100% focus) at the same time every day. Commit to a routine for a week, then assess the results and optimize.
  • Create a morning routine. Mornings are particularly important. Start slow. Personally, my days go much better when I begin with my own personal practices, like meditation, than they do when I get right to work.
  • At the end of the day, plan your next day. With the Ivy Lee Method, you write down the next day's six most important tasks (no more) and rank them. You could also try the 1-3-5 Method where you plan for 1 major task, three medium tasks, and five minor tasks every day. Or the 3+2 Rule where you set up three primary tasks that will take 1-2 hours each, and two small things each day.
  • Time blocking. Block out time in your calendar to focus solely on a given (important) task.
  • Leave buffer time between tasks. Transitioning takes time, so plan for it. Otherwise, you'll get behind.
  • Take breaks! And be intentional about them. Stay away from social media and anything else that stimulates you. No junk food. Consider making a cup of tea, meditating, doing breathwork, taking a walk, talking to a friend, working out, showering, taking a power nap, etc.
  • Make time for writing every day. @jasonlow found that writing about goals, progress, brainstorming, etc. gave him greater clarity, emotional regulation, and overall progress.
  • Create a todo list. This one's a biggy. It can be helpful to have an overarching todo list and a daily one too. Set deadlines. And prioritize. I actually just wrote a whole post on prioritizing features, if you're interested.
  • Gretchen Rubin's 1-minute rule. Speaking of todo lists, if something takes less than 60 seconds, don't even think about putting it on your list. Just do it.
  • Bullet Journaling. @kailasbhat practices bullet journaling, which is a specific way of bulleting out tasks, events, notes, etc. in an organized and efficient way. It has a big following and it actually looks pretty cool.

Becoming time efficient: Environment

Your environment needs to be conducive to doing efficient, effective work.

  • Remove distractions. That's the big one. Whether it's in your physical space or your digital space, remove anything that will distract you. Android phones have a "digital wellbeing" mode that blocks notifications and apps. @jssk6's screen turns to black and white at a specific time. There are app/website blockers aplenty, like StayFocusd and AppBlock. Or just leave your phone in a different room while you work.
  • Remove clutter. Junk on your desktop and your actual desk is not only distracting, but it also makes for a cluttered mind. Marie Kondo the heck out of it.
  • Organize your space. Make sure you know where everything is. Looking for things like files is a needless time-sink.
  • Make some noise. @catico listens to brown noise. It helps to remove distracting thoughts and sets the stage for flow state. Others on IH have mentioned that they listen to the sound of rain, classical music, or Endel focus music. Normal music is great too (that's actually my preference because it pumps me up) but the lyrics can be distracting.
  • Create a nice space. Compare the feeling of working on the floor using a cardboard box as a desk (been there) to having your perfect setup — I bet one will feel like a more productive bet. Make sure you've got plenty of sunlight and airflow. Get a nice desk (standing desks are great). Maybe throw some art on the walls and get a potted plant. Whatever feels good. Just make it a nice environment to spend time in.

Becoming time efficient: Workflow

It's safe to say that how you work will have a big impact too. If you take anything away from this section, I hope it's the Pomodoro technique — it's legit.

  • Get SMART about your goals. That's specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Regularly stop and review where you're at, where you're going, and how you want to get there.
  • Don't multitask. Studies have shown that multitasking doesn't work. Also, don't go back and forth between tasks, as each transition takes time and energy. I'll refer back to Mr. Swanson on this one.
  • Break tasks into small pieces.
  • Set a timer. And keep going until the time's up. To make it more fun, challenge yourself to get a certain amount done in that time.
  • Track your time. And analyze where you're wasting it.
  • Pomodoro technique. Highly, highly recommended. Stay focused by doing shorter bursts and taking frequent breaks. It creates urgency, reduces the length of time that you've got to focus, and gives you much-needed breaks. Work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. After completing four "Pomodoros," take a longer break. Note: This may not work for deep work, so block out time for that too.
  • Batch similar tasks. This is particularly important for your email because checking it every time there's a notification is a huge time-sink. But it applies to any kind of task. Transitioning takes time so if you're in the flow with something, keep it going.
  • Eat that frog. The "Eat that Frog Method" simply means knocking out the most impactful, essential task first. I'd also add that it can be helpful to knock out the task that you have the most resistance to.
  • Keep a distraction list. When unrelated thoughts and ideas pop up while you're working, just jot them down. These ideas often seem urgent in the moment and they'll distract you, but they can wait. And writing them down can serve as reassurance that you'll come back to them later.
  • Find repeatable shortcuts. And automate, automate, automate.
  • Reduce meetings. Only join if it's actually productive for you to be there.
  • Get an accountability buddy. Cofounders, friends, or random strangers on the internet via a service like Focusmate.
  • Delegate.
  • 5-minute make it or drop it. If @MatthieuCneude doesn't want to do something, he tries for 5 minutes and if he still doesn't want to do it, he does something else. Usually, he'll end up getting it done. It's a nice little mind hack when you don't want to do something that needs to get done.
  • Keep your eye on the prize. Set a goal and keep it in mind. Remember why you're doing what you're doing.

Becoming time efficient: Tools

Use tools to your advantage. There are tons of productivity and time-management tools out there. In the Products section of Indie Hackers alone, there are hundreds (maybe thousands — I stopped scrolling) of productivity products.

Here are a few tools that kept showing up in my research:

  • Todoist is a solid todo list app that I use.
  • timeivy by @typologist tracks how much time you spend in apps and websites each day to keep you accountable.
  • Focusmate gives you access to accountability buddies.
  • ClickUp is an app that does it all — tasks, docs, chat, goals, etc. And they boldly guarantee that you'll save one day per week. I can't verify that, but it sounds impressive.
  • Brain.fm provides music that improves focus.
  • Focus is a website and app blocker.
  • StayFocusd keeps track of what you do online and blocks the sites that take up the most time.
  • Toggl allows you to track your time.

Still not efficient with your time?

If you just can't seem to focus, it might be time to ask yourself why you're choosing to do things that you don't want to do. Perhaps that is what needs to change.

Sometimes, it's just not something that will serve you. And sometimes, there are mental blocks and resistance that need to be overcome. The trick is learning the difference.

Godspeed, friends

  1. 8

    The most effective method?

    Stop reading listicles like this and do the actual work!

    (I'm obviously talking to myself here; there's some good tips above).

  2. 4

    Thanks for the mention of timeivy.com :)

    And, of course, for taking the time to gather all these tips and resources in one place.

    This is one to bookmark, guys. Lots of useful stuff here.

  3. 3

    Mentality Part is often the hardest, but I think the most useful.

    1. 1

      Couldn't agree more!

  4. 3

    Thanks for this post it's a great resource!
    I'd love you to write a short sentence on "Delegate". It's the only one you provide no advice and it's one of the points I definitely need some inspiration.

    1. 4

      Delegating is hard, especially as a founder. I think that's because 1. we don't want someone to mess up a project that we've worked so hard on, and 2. it sometimes takes MORE time up front as you teach (and correct) them on how to do the work.

      For #1, start by delegating small tasks that you can easily part with to a contractor (like a PA, which you can find on Upwork). Delegate bigger tasks as you gain trust in the person. Finding the right person (or teammate) is SUPER important here because this requires a high level of trust. #2 just requires holding the vision of what delegation can do for you (freeing up time for the most important tasks) and planning for the additional work.

      Does that help at all? Let me know if you have specific questions.

      1. 2

        Yes it helps thank you very much!

  5. 2

    So solid.
    …takes less than 60 secs to add this to list of things to re-read, wait I’m doing it wrong :|

  6. 2

    been joining Flow Club sessions and found it helpful. kinda like pomodoro mixed with coworking buddies

  7. 2

    Hey James!
    Maybe you will be also interested in a new calendar Tweek ,
    it is very simple and users like it.

  8. 2

    This is so detailed, awesome work!

    I am also working on a productivity tool for software engineers to help them get in a state of flow and stay there - https://makerflow.co

  9. 2

    Prioritizing our work will also lead to productivity

    1. 1

      For sure! Super important.

  10. 2

    Best productivity post ever!

    1. 1

      Wow, thanks! Glad you liked it. 🙏

  11. 2

    If you just can't seem to focus, it might be time to ask yourself why you're choosing to do things that you don't want to do. Perhaps that is what needs to change.

    Such a great call-out. Sometimes, we put things off because we don't like doing them, not because we don't have the time.

    Thank you for a great post.

    1. 1

      Thanks! Glad you liked it 😀

  12. 2

    Great share, very elaborate! Have bookmarked it 👍

    In terms of tools, I'd also recommend RescueTime. It seems pretty similar to Time Ivy. RescueTime gives you insights into the distribution of your time spent but they also have an option to enable 'focus time'. During focus time you can block certain attention grabbing websites (for me that would be youtube or linkedin). Very helpful!

    1. 2

      Nice, that sounds like a great app! Thanks for weighing in 💪

  13. 2

    Thanks for bringing some great tips under a roof. And, also for the mention @IndieJames.

  14. 2

    Great Insight! Personally think it's become more harder to stay focused and productive during COVID especially with social distancing and quarantining precautions. Found a lot of students unhappy with online school, so I told them the same thing about breaking up their tasks as well as taking small breaks in between while studying. I also shared this tool i.e. a free chrome extension - Website Read Progress which is a reading progress bar that measures the content length and correctly estimates the position of your overall reading progress and remaining content.

    It provides online readers with gradual feedback in terms of how far they’ve progressed in reading a particular page, content or a lengthy article and even webcomics or mangas.

    Think tools like these can also help students study and focus better by helping them gauge how much of their studying and reading content was left, allowing them to manage them time more effectively and productively.

  15. 2

    Thanks for your mention and gathering all of that here :)

  16. 2

    thanks a lot for this

  17. 2

    This is so impressive! thank so much!

  18. 2

    What a resourceful post. Thank you!

  19. 4

    This comment was deleted 4 months ago.

    1. 1

      Thanks! Hope it's useful.

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