10 Life Hacks for Improved Productivity and Health in 2017

Lawrence Neal

Happy holidays! The following are a bunch of tactics I’ve used this year to be more productive, healthy and happy. It’s been a mixed year for me with some good times and some hard lows. Some of the below I’ve used for several years and never written about. Others I’ve only just added to the mix. Hopefully you will find some of them useful in your own life.

1. Outsourcing

Before I started the podcast, I never intended to edit my own audio. No way. The podcast would never have even started if I had to do that. Seriously.

Upon receiving the finished audio, I used to spend a few hours every week listening to each podcast (again) and typing out the blog post, show notes and every selected link from each episode. This might not seem like a big time commitment but it is when I’m working a high-pressure full-time job in technology sales, spending time with my girlfriend, trying to experience something that resembles a social life, etc.

I learnt to leverage my time by automating repetitive tasks. After reading the Checklist Manifesto, I started creating checklists in Evernote for everything. Even checklists to pack for 2-day trips to Portsmouth to see family (I always forget either a phone charger or a belt….). I created checklists for pre-interview preparation, standard questions, post-interview blog post structure, and marketing activity. I then used the outsourcing template in The 4-Hour Work Week to design a trial job description. You can see my refined template here (this template can be altered to suit almost any task you want to outsource).

I found an excellent editor on UpWork.com who charges a reasonable fee to build the entire blogpost including the show notes and all selected links. This has freed up 2-3 hours per week for me to spend my time on more high impact and/or strategic activities.

Time is non-renewable. Time is a far more valuable currency than money. If you are earning enough money to justify outsourcing certain tasks, it enables you to scale your passion/business and multiply your impact. The alternative is that you end up doing the small things and the big things over the long term and potentially work yourself into the ground trying to do it all.

2. Podcasts

I confess, I’ve not read many books this year. Probably less than 1 a month! I do however, listen to podcasts almost everyday. I find them entertaining and a great source of convenient learning when walking/commuting. They’re especially ideal if your commute consists of being compressed in a tube/subway like a sardine for 40-minutes without enough space to even read a Kindle.

Here are some of the podcasts I listen to:

I’ve churned through hundreds of hours of podcasts in the last few years. It’s amazing to me that we have this opportunity to listen to successful billionaires, athletes, philanthropists, etc on-demand and for free. Never before have we had such easy access to wisdom. I do sometimes feel bad for not reading more books, but I believe I get a lot of the same benefits listening to podcasts.

3. Productivity Routine

When sitting down to work, it’s incredibly easy to get overwhelmed with email and a to-do list the length of a toilet roll. I started implementing the following from Tim Ferriss with some success. This is my distilled version of “Productivity” Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me):

  1. Don’t open email, yet.
  2. Look at your “to-do list”
  3. Ask the following for each item:
    1. “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
    2. “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”
  4. Look at those you answered “yes” to for at least one of the above questions.
  5. Block out 2-3 hours and focus on ONE of them (ideally the one you answered “yes” to both questions).
  6. Ignore the rest. It will still be there tomorrow.
  7. If you get distracted or start procrastinating, don’t downward spiral. I do this all the time (damn you YouTube). Just calmly, return to your ONE to-do.

I use e.ggtimer.com to create a time limit for my ONE to-do. This forces me to focus on the essentials and ignore the unimportant to get the job done. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you create time constraints. This is based on Parkinson’s Law (work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion). Shorten your timescales and get important stuff done quicker and more effectively.

4. Bulletproof Coffee

Every now and again I will follow the Bulletproof Coffee protocol for a very productive morning. I either make it at home or buy it from Crussh on the way to the office. If the former, the recipe is:

  • 2 tbsp Bulletproof Coffee
  • 2-4 tbsp grass-fed, unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil

Bulletproof Coffee is designed to enable the health benefits of intermittent fasting, whilst delivering ketones to the brain for enhanced cognitive function. There is a lot of controversy on the internet about Bulletproof Coffee. Does it really work? Is it placebo? Is it over-priced? All I can say is that I love the taste and it seems to work well for me. I’ve tried the recipe with other coffee brands and not had the same experience.

If you want to learn more about Bulletproof Coffee, click here.

5. Therapy

I’d been thinking about having therapy ever since my mother passed away in mid-2015. Back then, I shunned the idea. I thought I was part of the “I don’t need therapy” club. Too proud to give it a go. Fast forward to now, and after going through some personal issues and hearing about the benefits from a few close friends, I decided to take the plunge.

I’m so glad I did.

At first glance, it seems expensive (I pay £60 per 50-minute session). That’s until you sit through one. In essence, you sit there and verbally vomit on the therapist whilst they steer your ramblings with constructive questions. This forces you to think out-loud and address uncomfortable issues. I leave every session feeling like I’ve improved a little – equipped with new tools to dealing with personal challenges. I now consider it a critical part of my personal development.

Many of our ancestors lived in small communities their entire life. They were guided and mentored by their families, friends and elders. This seldom exists today. Modern life often means families are distributed. Most of my family live a 2-hour drive from me.

People are often forced to tackle life’s challenges without this supportive structure.

Therapy is one activity that has helped to bridge the gap. It’s a valuable weekly experience that provides me with mentorship, advice and direction.

My close friend said it best – “there is a huge psychological ROI from therapy that translates into more happiness, productivity, focus, purpose, etc.”

London-based and interested? Start here.

6. Nutmeg

I’ve always been intimidated by money. Especially investing. Financial jargon confuses me. Yield, leverage, gearing, what does it all mean?!

This was until my good friend Tom Church wrote Money’s Big Secret – a layman’s guide to slashing debt, saving, and investing.

I learnt how to implement a simple automated money management system and take advantage of compound interest using Nutmeg – a set it and forget it investing service. This means that a team of experts use clever software to invest my money across multiple asset classes to minimise risk and maximise returns. Previously, my savings just sat nervously in a low interest savings account.

Sign up for Nutmeg here. If you’re in the US, try Wealthfront.

7. High Intensity Training

High intensity training (HIT) is a form of resistance training made popular in the 1980s by Arthur Jones. I was first introduced to HIT by Dr Doug McGuff on the 21 Convention (this was a game changer). This YouTube video dramatically altered my health and fitness perspective. I switched from practicing intense exercise 6-8 times per week to just once per week. I found I had better results and more time and energy for other activities. I then accidentally created a podcast to geek-out on exercise and that became a bit of a hit (no pun intended….).

HIT is resistance training performed smoothly and under control to one-set to momentary muscle fatigue. A routine typically consists of 5-10 exercises which can be performed on machines, with body weight or free weights. A workout typically lasts between 15-30 minutes and should only be performed once or twice per week to allow enough time for recovery. The purpose of HIT is to provide an effective and efficient stimulus to improve muscle strength and size and overall health and fitness.

Once or twice per week probably sounds appealing. Wait till you try it. Hardest workout you’ll ever do.

Properly performed resistance training has been shown to improve bone mineral density, organ health, the cardiovascular system, resting metabolism, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, muscle mass, strength, gastrointestinal transit time, glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, release of body fat stores, flexibility, ease the discomfort of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and reduce lower back pain.

To find out more about the benefits of HIT and how to perform it safely and effectively, I highly recommend you read Body By Science by Dr Doug McGuff. A riveting page-turner if you’re a productivity/exercise geek like me. Alternatively, you can check out my podcast, Corporate Warrior, where I have interviewed many experts on HIT.

8. ZipJet

Who in their right mind enjoys washing and ironing shirts? Not me that’s for sure.

About a year ago, I discovered Zipjet – a London laundry service that collect and deliver your laundry at a time of your choosing! I have been using them bi-weekly and it has been a joy.

Once again, time is a non-renewable resource, and time spent ironing (assuming you don’t enjoy it – some do!) is better spent doing something you enjoy.

Get £15 off your first order here.

Not London based? Not too worry, I’m sure plenty of alternatives are popping up around the world.

9. Getting Things Done: The In-Tray & The Waiting For List

I learnt about the concept of the in-tray from David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (GTD). I read his book and interviewed him, and then decided to put his productivity system to the test.

I implemented his whole list system into my routine. After a while, I found it to be too stressful and challenging to stay on top of the GTD system and consistently process and review each list. David did say how GTDers typically mold GTD to their own way of working. I ended up abandoning some of the lists but I kept two, which have been very helpful:

The In-Tray

David Allen is famous for saying “the mind is for having ideas not holding them”. He explains that the human brain is only capable of holding on to 3-4 ideas at a time. We depend on our brains to retain a lot of useless information. It makes sense to free the brain’s RAM and processing power for more useful tasks and creative ideas. The purpose of the in-tray is a place (list, tray, ‘fill in the blank’) where you can note down/store thoughts, to-dos, errands, articles, etc on demand to liberate the brain.

I started out with multiple in-trays (2 x email accounts, Evernote list and physical in-tray at home). I have since removed the Evernote list to consolidate and simplify as much as possible. My personal email currently serves as my main in-tray and get’s sorted in a batch manner once or twice per week.

The Waiting For List

One action might be to delegate a task for someone else to complete and handover. I have a separate list that I short cut in Evernote for all of these outstanding items. As per GTD, I have location-based sub-headings e.g. Anywhere, At Computer, At Work, etc. And then beneath I note: “[desired outcome] – [next action]” e.g:

“XXX owes me £36 for flight baggage to Ireland on 1912 – giving me cash 21/12”

“Send quote to customer – with XXX to complete 21/12”

The best thing about creating this in Evernote is that it’s indexable; you can search using keywords.

Plugins like Boomerang create automatic ping backs for emails that haven’t received responses for a set time. Boomerang does help do away with some of the Waiting For List workload but I still find this list incredibly useful for tracking delegated tasks.

10. Gmail Hack

I posted this little hack a while ago and I’ve reposted it here because it’s really useful and works well with the GTD method above.

Let’s say you have an idea and want to email yourself or need to send an urgent email without seeing all of your inbox, simply follow this….

How to send an email from gmail without entering bullet-dodging mode in your inbox (great for entrepreneurs that use their gmail for everything!):

1. Go to your gmail inbox.
2. Type a search like “coyote” or some other obscure word that would never appear in your email.
3. Highlight the URL and save as a bookmark on your browser.
4. When you need to send an email, click your newly bookmarked URL to send emails *calmly* without being overwhelmed by an endless list of unchecked email. This will load gmail with your search listing by default.
5. Welcome to a happy place where you can send emails to get shit done without being distracted by, what is typically, less important work (a shit load of unchecked email).
6. Optional – Save unchecked email for batch processing, once per day/per week/…. per month.

I hope you have found these useful. Would love to learn your feedback.

What is your favourite current life hack? Let me know in the comments below.

  • Wayne T

    Great post. Thank you Lawrence

  • Stu

    Nice post!