WORK-LIFE BALANCE / FEB. 06, 2014
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Your Weekly Round-up of Quick Lifehacks

lifehack

Your email inbox is probably inundated with various messages promising the latest trick or tip to make your life better. Some of them are worth exploring, and some of them reek like a get-rich-quick scheme. So how do you sift through the good, the bad, and the ugly? With your weekly round-up of quick lifehacks!

Lifehack #1 - The Pomodoro Technique

You’ve likely encountered this one before, but it’s worth reiterating because it works. It’s been around since the 1980s (in the dark ages before the internet), but it’s popularity has really soared in the past few years.

It’s a simple concept with huge benefits. The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer (either physical or online) to break tasks into (traditionally) 25 minute chunks of focused work, separated by short (3-5 minute) breaks. You work for 25, distraction-free minutes, then take a 5-minute break, then repeat as necessary. It is recommended that you take a longer (10-15 minute) break after the 2 hour mark.

The benefits include reduced eye-strain (looking away from your monitor for even a few minutes every hour will save your eyes), gives you a chance to stretch your legs and get yourself a snack or cup of coffee/tea during the break, and has generally shown to improve overall focus and concentration. No matter how hard or unpleasant the task, you know you need only put in 25 minutes before getting a reprieve. That does wonders for your mental attitude, and gives you that little extra to push through what needs to get done.

Lifehack #2 - The “Sleep On It” Rule

How many times have you worked hard on something - be it an essay, report, letter of introduction - for hours on end, pushing yourself to just get it done so you can send it off to its final destination? We feel like only then can we relax and wash our hands of it. Before we send it on its merry little way, if we’re doing things properly, we will of course read through the final version for spelling, grammar, and style mistakes.

But here’s the problem. In our rush to get it gone, we more often than not are looking for those errors when we are most unlikely to catch them. We’re physically and mentally exhausted, having just spent hours working on it. We’ve read through it so many times already that everything just starts to blend together, or worse, we read it and see what we expect to see - an error-free masterpiece.

You need some separation. Some breathing room. Ideally, once you’re totally happy with it and its basically done, you need to set aside until the next day...hence, the “sleep on it” rule. It does require a bit more planning and preparation (as we’ve all pulled an all-nighter before that big college paper was due), but it’s totally worth the extra effort. Reading something with fresh eyes (both literally and metaphorically) allows you to catch more errors, and might even give you some new ideas on how to better articulate something or arrange your argument.

Lifehack #3 - Say Goodnight, Gracie. No electronics after 9pm.

We are all guilty of this one. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones have become so ubiquitous in our lives that it feels impossible to get away from them. But you should.

New research suggests that using electronics (possibly even including television) after 9pm has some rather undesirable effects on us. The most alarming is that the (primarily) blue light from laptop, tablet, and cell phone screens is inhibiting our melatonin production. Melatonin is a chemical used in sleep-wake cycle regulation, and it helps to promote sleep. The light from our electronics, when used late at night, is interfering with that, and it seems to cause fitful, unrestful sleep patterns. It takes us longer to fall asleep, and we wake up feeling like we didn’t get enough sleep.

In addition to that, using our devices late at night doesn’t allow us to switch off from the day (if you’ll pardon the pun). If we’re checking email from work, sending messages to our boss, and working on that report into the wee hours, we’re obviously not taking a break from work. And we need to do that.

The solution is simple. Unless it is absolutely, 100% critical, do not use your electronic devices past 9pm. Strictly adhere to that policy, and you’ll undoubtedly notice a difference in the quality of your sleep, and how refreshed you feel in the morning.

Lifehack #4 - Use a Planner

Not exactly ground-breaking here, but this one deserves to be mentioned, simply because not everyone is doing it. Any planner will do...it could be an old-school paper planner, Google Calendar, Wunderlist, Trello, or any other. They all have some great features, most are available as a mobile app and/or browser extension, and it’s worth checking out a few (they’re all free) to find the one that works best for you.

My personal favourite is Any.do, and for several reasons. First of all, it’s cross-platform, meaning it’s available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac. You can also sync it with its Chrome browser extension. It fully integrates with Gmail, and it will read through an email and find actionable tasks to suggest to you for scheduling at the push of a button. Any.do allows you to schedule tasks by specific date, today, tomorrow, upcoming, and someday. It’s these last two that make Any.do special. By allowing you to schedule a task without a specific date or day, it keeps that task on your mental radar (even if you’re not ready or able to tackle it), and it will periodically move it up the queue. It promotes long-term planning and thinking.

The most successful people - regardless of industry - all recognize the importance of planning their day. Of completing at least one important task each day. Most suggest planning out your day the night before (just be sure and do so before 9pm...see Lifehack #3). Any.do will check-in with you in the morning so you can review your agenda and make any necessary changes to the day.

A planner is crucial. It allows you to conceptualize the day ahead, and to see exactly what needs to be done. We all know we should plan our time, but with the bevy of available options, there is really no excuse not to do it.

 

Be sure and check back for the second installment of your weekly round-up of quick lifehacks. If you found any of this useful, helpful, entertaining, intriguing, or anything else, please consider sharing via one of the buttons below. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my Pomodoro timer has just gone off, and I need to hit the snack room. Until next time...

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