Why Productivity Hacks Fail and Just Doing It

Let’s talk about being productive and learn how to actually get things done instead of trying shortcuts or “productivity hacks”. There have been countless articles on how to hack your way to becoming one of the productivity elite. The real secret is much simpler, but more on that in a second.

I’m sure you’ve read a few post with such titles as “8 Hacks To A More Productive Day” and “The Ultimate Hack To Being Productive“. Do you want to know why those posts rarely live up to the expectation? It’s because the titles are usually more link-bait than representative of what the post is really about and most of the time people are just searching for the answer rather than taking time to reassess the question.

The real secret to being productive is simple and here’s what it looks like:

  1. Sit down
  2. Set a to-do in your task manager of choice
  3. Just do it (also known as JDI)

Now let me explain how to actually go about putting those steps into practice.

JDI explained: The phrase I use most often is a slight changing of a phrase Adii Pienaar uses a lot. He uses JFDI (Just Fucking Do It). I use JDI (Just Do It).

Stop productivity hacks: 3 steps to getting things done

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1 Sit Down

There have been countless times when I’ve needed to do something. The work is easy, it’ll only take ten or twenty minutes, the stars have aligned and so on but I tend to put it off anyway. The real reason I and many others do this is because of a little thing called procrastination. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years and something I’m finally overcoming.

The first and hardest part of JDI is sitting down and starting. Have you ever heard the trick writers use to get themselves going when they’re stuck on a blank canvas? The easiest thing to do is just start writing anything, even if it doesn’t pertain to what you sat down for. Write about what you had for breakfast or what you did on your lunch break. Anything just to break-in that fresh writing canvas and get you moving along.

A lot of what I write never even sees the light of day. I write and revise and write some more. My process can be different every time but in the end there’s usually a well-crafted post ready to go. Sometimes whole sections will get written over or deleted. I sometimes know when I’m writing something that will never be published but if it gets me over some sort of writers block then I just go for it…or JDI.

2 Set The Task

So you’ve sat down, started writing or designing any old thing and you’re ready to work. What now? Where do you start? Well before you do anything important set a to-do task in something like Wunderlist, Todoist or Trello. That way you’re setting yourself up for success and you’ll get that amazing feeling of achievement when you get to tick it off.

There are however differences between design and development tasks. I do both on a daily basis and have come to realise how each must be approached with a certain mindset.

A design task might just need a color change to a button. It may only take ten minutes. A development task may be the same thing but you may need to set up a local development server, use the command line to watch for Sass changes, connect to the right MySQL database and only then can you make the change.

On the other hand, the design task may take 45 minutes if you realise the icon you’re using needs changing and the layout needs some refinement. The development task may only require you to open up the CSS file and change #ff0000 to #ff00ff.

Make sure you set the task and write down any and all details before doing it. That way you can avoid unnecessary complications that could’ve been foreseen and accounted for.

3 Just Do It (JDI)

This is the part that defines you. This is the part that proves ‘hacks’ are nothing when you have the will-power to just get things done, but how?

The best answer I can give you is to just start. Remember the little trick (not ‘hack’) we used when sitting down? It was to just start doing anything that moves you closer to your goal. Do that but this time change it up so you either write or design something that aligns with your overall end-goal.

I like to write personal blog posts that are in some way connected to my more professional articles here on IP. Most of the time I only write a few sentences before I leave the personal stuff altogether and get knee-deep in the design and development related articles.

You might also like: The Building Blocks of a Good Design

Isn’t All That Just One Big Hack?

The reason I stay away from the ‘hack’ label is because a hack, in development terms, is something quick and dirty. It gets the job done for the short-term but isn’t very sustainable for the long-term.

The worst thing you can do, especially if you want a sustainable schedule, is to hack your way through it. At some point it’ll all come crashing down and you’ll be left feeling lost without a purpose.

If you’ve got a couple of productivity tips or want some advice on beating procrastination leave me a comment below or get my free e-book titled “Staying Productive When Working at Home” when you subscribe to the free Inspirational Newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Comments (2)

Jonathan Clift

August 11, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Good stuff again Seb, certainly agree with a lot of this. Asides from procrastination, I think the other problem is that people often try and cram too many tasks into one day. In an attempt to be ultra productive we list even more things to do which actually has a negative impact when we get to the end of the day and fail to complete them all.

To help with this I try to look at my day in a slightly different way and ask myself “What will make today a productive day”? It might be that sending a few emails and finishing off a design will be all that ‘has’ to be done and I know that when I complete those 2 simple tasks it will make my day productive. I’m also focussing on only listing things that I’m 99.9% sure will be completed on the day, so that I get the satisfaction on 100% completion. Obviously If you still have time then you take another look at your long list of todos and move another one over to knock down.

On another note, something I’ve found that has really helped me to focus on specific tasks is the Pomodoro technique, which helps to break up your day into short 25min sprints to focus your mind on getting things done. The idea is that anyone can focus for 25mins, so you focus on your task for 25mins then take a short break ready to go at it again.


Seb Kay (Author)

August 12, 2014 at 7:18 am

I couldn’t agree more! I also do the same when setting up my tasks for the day. There have been times in the past where I’ve given myself too much to do in one day. I’ve finally come to a point where I now know it’s not the amount of tasks on my todo list but the types of tasks that matter.


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