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About a year ago, I realized I wasn’t spending enough time doing the things I love: hanging out with my kids, surfing, traveling. Life started to feel lousy.

I’m a founder of a fast-growing contract management software company that more than triples its revenue each year. When founding the business, I thought, “I’m going to work 14-hour shifts for two to three years.” Like many startup founders, I planned to give myself more time once I “got things off the ground.” Well, three years later, things were well off the ground, and I realized I actually had less time than before. Something had to change.

While we learn from our mistakes, sometimes the most efficient solution to the problem is following the footsteps of somebody who has been there, done that. I learned some of the best productivity hacks from books, blogs, and friends. Below you’ll find five solutions that I’ve found extremely helpful in increasing my productivity and happiness over the last two years.

Exercise

In his book, Brain Rules, molecular biologist John Medina explains that our brain functions more effectively in the long-term and short-term if we exercise. Running every morning prevents me from “dying off” after lunch, giving me enough energy to work from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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Take 20 minutes to do enough running to “charge” you. You can even combine running with your commute. If showering at work is a no-go, try getting a gym membership near the office.

Combine Activities

Another productivity hack I successfully implement in my daily routine is combining activities. There are many different tasks you can combine to save you a tremendous amount of time without distracting you from other tasks.

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Because reading and learning are perhaps two of the most important jobs of any CEO, I accompany every run and every long drive with an audiobook. But I don’t stop there: I even listen to audiobooks while taking a lift on the ski slopes and watching my three-year-old have fun on the playground.

Stick To Your Calendar

Allocate time in your calendar ahead of time to exercise, spend time with the kids, or go out with your significant other. You don’t have to be specific about what you’re going to do, just set time aside for non-business related tasks. Trust me, it won’t just make you more productive at work, it’ll give you a more well-rounded life, and you’ll be happier for it.

Make Time For Silence

If you find yourself rushing around doing this or that for work and can’t help but notice a barrage of emails or Facebook notifications, you’re just like a good portion of the business world. Some psychologists have even gone as far saying the internet might be causing a rise in ADHD. While the jury is still out on the cause of this rise, constant access to anything and everything certainly doesn’t help our attention spans.

Make time for silence. Turn off Facebook, email, SMS, and don’t respond to incoming messages. Be a leader instead of a follower. Focus on what’s more important and get it done.

Narrow Down Your Focus

If you’re not familiar with it, read (or listen to) the book Scrum by Jeff Sutherland. While the methodology behind Scrum was created to help teams build software, I believe the main principles can apply to our everyday lives. The key is narrowing your focus down to a few items for a set period of time. At any given two weeks, I try to focus on only one or two things in my professional life and one or two things in my personal life. That’s a maximum of four things you should be thinking of at any given time, which provides a fantastic relief for your brain. The functioning of the ‘central computer’ of our brain takes up a lot of our energy. Limiting the number of things for it to process helps tremendously in increasing our efficiency and output.

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