5 Ways to Escape Productivity Hell In 20 Minutes a Day

Manage expectations and set the bar low enough

A woman smiling in the sun. She can escape productivity hell.

Photo by nappy

If you make your to-do list a god you answer to, prepare for wrath.

The goal of having goals is to enable positive emotions. If you feel them, it means you’re doing something meaningful. But if you stress over doing everything because it’s on your list…

To avoid creating a To-Do List god, use your schedule to escape productivity hell, not to create it.

Here is how to escape productivity hell in 20 minutes a day.

Deal With Infinity

Nothing can fix the fact there is always more.

Life’s bag of events is endless. No tool or technique changes that. I tried tens of different apps for planning my life. None of them could handle my problem: Wanting to do everything.

Its toxicity comes from the divergence between expectations and reality.

We see our tasks and mistakenly assume that’s all we’ll do. Then life happens, and we must drive to another city to help a friend. Or you wake up devastated and know you won’t deliver everything you planned.

The key is not to finish everything but to decide what you want to finish.

Dealing with infinity is not our best vice. It scares us, and it eludes our senses. To understand it, we must reduce it. You can do that by deciding what you want.

Prioritize the tasks that are the most efficient in pushing you toward what you want. Ignore the rest.

You’ll get a chance to work on what’s crucial. Life happens no matter what you do. It’s easier to deal with when you accept it instead of fighting it.

How to get the most out of your time in 5 minutes a day

The way through is to keep your goals in mind.

You must always know what you want. Then you can prioritize.

Here is how I do that in three questions:

  1. What do I want?
    • Work on my to-do list with a calm attitude
  2. Why do I want that?
    • I focus too much on the things that aren’t a priority for me
    • I feel anxious
  3. How can I get that?
    • Use the priorities I have to decide what I should work on
    • One thing at a time
    • Accept that I can’t do everything

Have a Plan

Stop struggling with what to do next.

Don’t give yourself an occasion to look at your phone. Stop watching social media and lying to yourself. You benefit from consuming them.

You’ll have to plan on the go when you don’t know the plan.

It affects your current task. You do something, and in the background, you think about what’s next. It’s a waste of your mental energy.

To maximize effectiveness, have a plan.

Knowing what you’ll do saves mental energy. You can use it to work instead of looking for the next task. Limiting distractions is vital to enabling flow states. Stop getting yourself in the way–plan your day.

How to get clarity thanks to knowing what to do in 5 minutes a day

Planning must happen before work.

The best time is the day after. Why? Because your brain will analyze the requirements while you sleep.

My way is super simple.

I start with the most important tasks, one for work and one for personal. Next, I go according to priorities. Everything is in order of importance.

When I start working on something and must switch orders, I do it.

Flexibility is helpful because I can’t predict what’ll happen. In the next point, you’ll see what exactly my plan looks like.

Set The Bar Low Enough

The problem with having high expectations is that we’re terrible at estimating how long something takes.

High expectations block us from happiness.

It’s all too easy to set the bar so high that we don’t even know where to start. And we should do it the other way around. Start small. Set the bar low enough to access positive feelings on the way.

If you must wait months to feel good, you’ll stop.

It’s more important to continue after you fail than always succeeding to get great results. You will fail at some point. And if the bar is so high you won’t see it, you’ll quit. You must see the bar. Like with the carrot on the stick, there is no point in hanging it outside the rabbit’s view.

How to manage your expectations with
1-3-5 in 5 minutes a day

During evening planning, prepare a list of 1-3-5 tasks:

  • 1 critical task,
  • 3 medium importance
  • 5 maintenance You can plan more, but your day is productive when you deliver these 9.

You can adjust the numbers and trade. My trades:

  • big = 3 medium or 5 small
  • medium = 2 small
  • I only trade bigger ones for smaller ones, so I can’t do five small and not do the big on


  1. Work on the 1st draft of my article – big
  2. Work on implementing *** feature at work – big
  3. Work on publishing my article – medium
  4. Comment on articles on Medium.com – medium
  5. Write 10 headlines – medium
  6. Schedule a dentist appointment – maintenance
  7. Clean up the kitchen – maintenance
  8. Call a friend – maintenance

I can do 1,2,3 or 1,3,4,5,6,7,8.

Adjust the numbers and trade rules. Use the 1-3-5 idea to deliver critical tasks.

Laser Focus on One Thing

Life is a river of events we can’t predict.

It’s natural for us to get distracted. Another notification is a potential that something interesting has happened. Maybe someone liked your photo. Or you got a message from your crush. Because it’s so easy to get distracted, we must find a way to focus.

Having your attention everywhere is a great way to deliver nothing of value.

The remedy is straightforward in writing but harder to implement. You must give your full attention to one thing. The ability to do that redirects all your resources to doing one thing. The efficiency of this approach comes from limiting energy waste. When you are distracted, you switch context.

Context switches are expensive.

The more complex is the task, the higher the cost of switching context. What’s worse is that you need uninterrupted periods of thinking to draft a helpful idea. Constant interruptions render you unable to think on your own. You’d be forced to repeat what others say online or in the news.

You don’t want that.

You want to discipline your mind, so you can use it to solve your problems.

How to achieve laser focus with To Do One in 5 minutes a day

To Do One is my system to limit distractions.

It’s about executing my 1-3-5 plan in the best environment I can create.

Here is how to use To Do One:

  1. Turn off ALL notifications on your phone and all devices that make sound
  2. Get to your working space: close your door, put on noise-canceling headphones, or go to the coffee shop
  3. Have a list of 1-3-5 tasks
  4. Put the first one somewhere else, so you can see it, but without seeing the whole list.
  5. Work only on this task
  6. When done, put another task under the previous one and hide the list again.

Stop Measuring The Gap

Your goals are for you to enjoy life.

But if you focus only on achieving the end goal, you won’t enjoy getting it. For most of your life, you’ll be working on some goal. Enjoying the journey is, therefore, more important than achieving the end goal.

What’s the point of having a to-do list if you hate doing it?

As there is always more to do, if you attach your feeling to the end goal of doing everything, when will you be happy? Never.

That’s what measuring the gap is. You think about how much you still lack. Where you are compared to where you want to be in the perfect place is blatant. It’s a matter of perspective.

The solution is to appreciate what you already did. To notice the progress you accomplished. This way, you’ll enjoy every step or at least many of them. Remember, positive feelings are enabled when you’re on the way to achieving the goal.

Nothing stops you from splitting the big goal into smaller ones to enable positive feelings now.

How to measure the progress in 5 minutes a day

How to eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Take your dream. Write what you need to achieve it. Everything you need becomes your goal. Split your goals into daily tasks. Then you’ll have your schedule aligned with your dream.

Every day check the boxes on what you did.

You want to see the progress. You want to get dopamine every time you do something that brings you closer to your dream.


Productivity hell is real.

Getting there is easy. It’s enough to treat your plans a bit too seriously. The result is your misery.

That’s a shame because following goals is a positive thing.

Doing what you find meaningful enables positive feelings. So, start using your plans as enablers, not stressors.

In 20 minutes a day, you can:

  1. Learn how to deal with the infinite scope of things to do
    • Reduce the infinity with clear goals
  2. Manage your expectations to enjoy going for your goals
    • Use 1-3-5 tasks idea. Start with your most important task
  3. Laser focus on what you’re doing
    • Use To-Do One
  4. Measure the progress, not the gap
    • Split the task into small chunks to eat the elephant one bite at a time

Do you sometimes wonder how your life would look if you could get what you wanted?

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