Open Thinkering


HOWTO: Productively hack your workday.


It’s entirely possible to make a massive effort and write that lengthy report in a weekend, pull an all-nighter to get that code committed or spend all your holidays with those lesson plans. Of course it is.

But that’s not being productive. That’s panic-working. Being productive is all about the everyday routine. ‘Hack’ that and not only will you consistently get more done but you’ll also avoid negative knock-on effects on your health and energy levels.


I changed job last week. In fact, it was more than a change of job: it was a change in so many respects that it was almost a complete break with what had gone before. I’ve at least changed:

  • My method of transport to work (car –> train)
  • The hours I work (now on flexi-time)
  • My working environment (classroom –> office-based)

As a result, I’ve had to re-think my whole system of productivity. In fact, given that it takes a while to get into a routine, I’m still iterating it. Such things take time to tweak.


As I explain in #uppingyourgame: an educator’s guide to productivity, context is everything when it comes to productivity.  That’s why I can only explain how I’ve decided upon my new system; you have to create your own!

1. Write down the top five things that you need to fit in to either every day or at least most days. If you’ve never done this before you may need to brainstorm 20 or so things and then narrow them down. For me it’s (in order of importance):

  1. Spend time with my family
  2. Work on my Ed.D. thesis
  3. Exercise
  4. Write daily blog posts
  5. Research things that interest me

2. Think about time constraints when doing these things. For example, it’s impossible for me to spend time with my family whilst I’m at work in my current position, so I need to make sure that I’m available to spend time with my son, Ben, from when I return home until his bedtime. It’s also important to think about things that have to be done in ‘chunks’ (like exercise) as opposed to things that can be disaggregated (such as writing blog posts).

I’ve decided that I the best time for me to exercise is in the morning. It makes me feel better, enhances my productivity, and fits in better with with my working day. I’m also spending 30 minutes each way on the train each day. Unlike driving, this is time I can spend doing things (although even when I was driving I’d be listening to relevant podcasts). So, whilst I don’t want to lug my Macbook Pro to and from work each day, I have found a way I can work on my thesis by reading journal articles on my iPhone.

3. Finally, consider changing your sleeping habits. This, I think, can have the greatest effect on your productivity. I’m not a huge believer in people stating they’re a ‘morning’ or ‘night’ person, but if it were true I’d be in the former camp. Getting up and going to bed half an hour earlier can have a huge effect on your productivity. Find out what’s the best time for you. At the moment I’m thinking of shifting from 6am to 5.30am to get some blog post writing done! 🙂


Productivity is a very personal thing. But it’s important to reflect constantly on what you’re doing and why. It’s not about spending every single moment of your day working, but it is about organizing it so everything in your life points in a direction you’ve consciously chosen.

Happy planning! 😀

Image CC BY-SA gadl

6 thoughts on “HOWTO: Productively hack your workday.

  1. Doug,

    I have exactly the same “Top 5” things to do each day (except it’s an MA rather than an Ed.D.) but I still only every manage one or two rather than 5!

    You’re so right about sleep patterns but I am struggling to get up on time as it is I don’t think I could squeeze another 30min out of the day.


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