To be honest, I don’t like the term “life hack” very much because too often it just stands for “tips that are common sense”, like “do sports”, “eat healthy” or “put your phone away when you need to focus”. Although definitely important, these more general life guidelines are not what I understand as “hacks”. For me, a “life hack” is a not so well-known trick or technique that one can easily implement into his or her daily life, and which provides a disproportionally large return on investment. In other words, something simple that makes life a lot better or easier.
In this post, I want to share a few of these “tricks” that I use regularly to improve my own productivity, and which fit very well into this description. Do you know any useful productivity “life hacks”? Share them with us in the comments below!
Hack #1: Don’t drink coffee less than 8 hours before bed
Okay okay, I just said common-sense advice is not the same as a life hack. And to a certain degree, this one is common sense too. You probably already know that caffeine isn’t particularly helpful with sleeping and that you shouldn’t drink a cup of coffee right before bed. But did you know that, according to studies, having your last cup even as much as 6 hours before bed will significantly reduce your sleep quality? Now you might be thinking “I’ve drunk coffee before bed countless times and I always sleep like a baby”. But the truth is, you don’t. Your subjective feeling is just tricking you. In the study linked above, the participants thought their sleep quality was unaffected and rated it accordingly when asked, but sleep monitors revealed that they had an objective loss of around 1 hour of sleep. So even though they thought they were getting a full 8 hours worth of sleep, it was only the equivalent of 7 hours. The caffeine made them not sleep as deeply and wake up more often without them remembering it the next day.
This tip is a true life hack because you can easily reduce the number of hours of sleep you need every night by just drinking your last cup of coffee a bit earlier. Of course, this also applies to any other caffeinated beverage or food. But keep in mind: 6 hours is not enough. You should aim for a gap of at least 8 hours between your last dose of caffeine and going to bed. Of course the bigger this gap is, the better.
Hack #2: Use an alarm clock app with a barcode scanner
Using an alarm clock app that requires me to scan a barcode in my bathroom to mute it has solved the problem of oversleeping for me once and for all. Even though I work from home, I haven’t overslept a single time since I installed the app over a year ago, even on days when I only had a few hours of sleep. One troublesome problem of daily life just disappeared like that. That’s the definition of a life hack for me.
I use the free Alarmy app. You can use the barcode of any product, like a toothpaste tube or the packaging of your dental floss. The alarm won’t stop ringing until you deactivated it by scanning the code with your phone’s camera. It also has other unlock mechanisms, like solving difficult math puzzles or shaking the phone heavily, but I think the barcode one works best because it forces you to get out of bed and move to another room.
Tip: Set the number of allowed snoozes to 1 and the snooze-time to 5 minutes. This way, you have a 5-minute window to move to the bathroom without the alarm ringing all the way there.
Hack #3: Use a video speed controller browser extension
This Video Speed Controller Chrome extension is useful for a couple of reasons:
- You can use it to quickly and granularly change the playback speed of pretty much any online video from anywhere between 1x to 16x instead of just the usual 1.5x and 2x
- You can use it on websites that don’t provide playback speed controls
- You can even use it to fast-forward video ads
This free extension (and similar ones) are very useful to be more productive with video content in general. I often use it to skim through videos where I just want to get a quick overview instead of watching the whole thing slowly (like announcements and updates) or to fast-forward videos where I am searching for a particular moment that I don’t know the time of.
Since it has simple keyboard shortcuts, your muscle memory will quickly make you very productive with it. So check it out!
Hack #4: Use the “5 Second Rule” to beat procrastination
I already mentioned this trick in my How to Beat Procrastination blog post and it’s worth mentioning here again because it works amazingly well. “The 5 Second Rule” by Mel Robbins is a very simple but effective technique to beat procrastination and hesitation in general, and it works like this:
As soon as you have the instinct to act on a goal, you immediately start counting backwards from 5 and physical move towards that goal before you reach zero.
For example, let’s say you’re browsing social media and remember that you should be studying instead—that’s an instinct to act on a goal. Or you grab some sweets but realize that you should eat something healthy instead. Or you sit on your comfy couch but remember that you should go to the gym before it closes. These typical moments where our willpower tends to fail, and we make decisions that we later regret. Whatever it is, if you start counting backwards from 5 the moment you have this gut feeling of moving closer towards your goals, you can temporarily shut down your brain’s natural tendency to overthink and second-guess, and instead get yourself to take immediate action, like closing that social media tab, putting the sweets back and picking something healthy instead or standing up from the couch and grabbing your gym back.
Just try it out the next time you’re hesitating on something. You will be amazed by how well it works.
Hack #5: Use Brown noise when you need to focus in a noisy environment
I recently wrote about “Brown noise” in my blog post about concentration music. It’s a form of electronic signal-noise with an ongoing deep tone, that can drown out pretty much any other distracting noises without becoming a distraction itself. When you listen to it with in-ear-headphones, it blocks out more noise than just earplugs alone, but it’s at the same time much less irritating than music. It won’t distract you even if you make it very loud, which makes it particularly useful in extreme situations. It allowed me to study while my neighbor was doing heavy construction work right in front of my window. I wouldn’t have gotten anything done without it in this time.