6 Life Hacks Learned in Prison That Will Maximize Your Productivity

7 minute read

A life hack is defined as a strategy or technique to more efficiently manage one’s time and daily activities.

After I quickly shook off the shock of being sentenced to two to five years in prison for a bar fight that took place seven years prior, I proactively made the decision to make my time behind bars the most productive time of my life. Have I mentioned prison has parallels to startups? Yes, I have (How My Life As An Entrepreneur Shaped My Time In Prison and 3 Entrepreneurial Skills Inmates Perfect).

Tim Ferriss thinks his life is an experiment, but give a natural born entrepreneur two years in prison and you’ll see real life experiments.

As you can imagine, there’s little to do in a 6-foot-by-8-inch gray cell. Just like any Chuck Norris movie, I had to take a quick inventory check of my resources to figure out how to maximize my time.

Inventory check:

  • Endless supply of notepad paper (purchase on commissary)
  • Trusty number-two golf pencil
  • No Internet or computers
  • Typewriter in law library
  • 16 magazine subscriptions
  • Blog articles printed and sent via USPS
  • Continued flow of books
  • Abundance of time
  • Few distractions
  • As you can see from the above list, prison has somewhat limited resources, and you’re forced to become a MacGyver entrepreneur if you want to be productive. Here’s a list of strategies I adopted to be more productive with my time in prison that I still use today. I recommend these strategies for all entrepreneurs:

    1. Be an early riser.

    Chow comes between 4:45 to 5 a.m. every morning. If you miss that meal you don’t eat again until noon. Needless to say, I missed that meal one time, and never again. I quickly adopted the early morning routine, and rather than go back to bed like all my fellow inmates, I stayed up and used the quiet time for my daily reading and writing regimens.

    I still use this technique today (although my start time is not quite so early). My tip is to commit to something very important early in the morning. For example, client calls, user demos, investor calls, breakfast with mom, run with cofounder, etc.

    If it’s important enough, you’ll get up and be able to create a habit. (Research shows it takes 21 days to create a habit).

    2. Write every day.

    Where I was an prisoner, there are four phones for every wing, and roughly 80 dudes. I never enjoyed writing as much as I do now until I went to prison. The thing is, if you want to be heard on the outside, you have to write because your voice is heard through your written word.

    I wrote every day for two years straight. I hand wrote articles to Entrepreneur. I wrote my first book. I wrote letters to friends. I wrote ideas in my journal. I wrote, wrote and wrote.

    You should commit to a daily time to write (for me it was 5:30 to 8 a.m.) For starters, read and summarize what you read, or write down how you feel that day.

    Write an outline on paper to organize your thoughts. Write your notes by hand on paper to get them out of your head. Just write.

    3. Write to communicate effectively.

    The most advanced piece of technology that prison inmates have access to is the coveted number-two golf pencil (besides the typewriter that typically resides in the law library, which actually comes in handy when writing a book). Writing out my thoughts during my time in prison has allowed me to be a better communicator.

    I’ve learned to think diligently about my thoughts, and use them to communicate more effectively. Writing can help you organize your thoughts better and actually helps you to be a better verbal communicator.

    Start with communicating to your team via email, send emails to partners about discussions and/or send emails to your spouse when working through tough decisions.

    4. Read every day.

    I read 197 books in two years. As you can imagine, there’s ample time to read while in prison. However, it is still a decision that has to be made. There are plenty of other ways to distract your mind vs. feeding it knowledge.

    Reading is vital to building successful startups. We can gain new knowledge, new perspective and learn from others.

    To adopt this habit, commit to a regular schedule. Highlight important points of the book, then upon finishing it, go back through and write notes from the highlighted sections. Finally, keep a running log of all of the books you’ve read.

    5. Bootstrapping like an inmate.

    Prison is expensive. State food rations will leave you starving, and commissary can cost you a small fortune every week. Your outside savings won’t last long, and you have no way to make money in the real world to support your prison lifestyle. Yikes.

    Fortunately for me, I had been bootstrapping startups since high school. Even more so in prison, I learned how to maximize every dollar. I used to buy coffee for cheap on commissary because it sold out quickly and I would sell it to people looking for it once it was gone. I sold my meals and traded them for books.

    I build businesses by leveraging my resources, being scrappy with my time (working all hours of the day) and working with people as partners rather than outsourcing the projects.

    You can do this by first figuring out how to decrease your large expenses by scrutinizing every dollar spent. Look for discount codes when applicable. And be sure to test everything.

    6. Beating the system in the system.

    As entrepreneurs, we see the world differently, and successful entrepreneurs bend the world to make it more like the way they envision it.

    I figured out how to bend the rules in prison. I found out that if you claim adrenal issues you get better food. I got a doctor’s note that said I couldn’t work, which allowed me to read and write all day. I found out that working in the kitchen allowed me to eat better, and visiting the law library allowed me to use the typewriter to type up my notes rather than write them by hand.

    As entrepreneurs, we need to release the bondage society puts on us. If we’re trying to change the world, we need to be comfortable with living the lives we all envision without the guilty feeling of not working nine to five.

    So bend the rules, learn from others who have the success you envision, design your own life and go against the norm as often as possible. (I go to the movies during the day to get rid of the feeling of needing to be at work from nine to five.)

    Just for the record, Tim, there’s no “4-Hour Prison Term.” I’ve learned that when life hands you lemons, you figure out how to hack those dang lemons and be hyper productive, even in the face of a prison riot.

    On another note, today, June 26, is my birthday. I welcome all gifts, tweets and Facebook cards.

    This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

    More from Entrepreneur.com:

  • 10 Leaders Share the Habits That Help Them Be Freakishly Productive
  • 5 Harsh Lessons Learned in Prison That Made Me a Better Entrepreneur
  • 20 Ways to Make This Week the Most Productive Yet
  • 5 Horrible Habits You Need to Stop Right Now

    Do Not Email First Thing in the Morning or Last Thing at Night “The former scrambles your priorities and all your plans for the day and the latter just gives you insomnia,” says Ferriss, who insists “email can wait until 10am” or after you check off at least one substantive to-do list item.Chris Pecoraro—Getty Images
    Do Not Agree to Meetings or Calls With No Clear Agenda or End Time “If the desired outcome is defined clearly… and there’s an agenda listing topics–questions to cover–no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes,” claims Ferriss, so “request them in advance so you can ‘best prepare and make good use of our time together.'”Sam Edwards—Getty Images/Caiaimage
    Do Not Check Email Constantly Batch it and check it only periodically at set times (Ferriss goes for twice a day). Your inbox is analogous to a cocaine pellet dispenser, says Ferriss. Don’t be an addict. Tools like strategic use of the auto responder and Boomerang can help.Jetta Productions—Getty Images
    Do Not Carry a Digital Leash 24/7 At least one day a week leave you smartphone somewhere where you can’t get easy access to it. If you’re gasping, you’re probably the type of person that most needs to do kick this particular habit.by nacoki ( MEDIA ARC )—Getty Images/Flickr RF
    Do Not Let People Ramble Sounds harsh, but it’s necessary, Ferriss believes. “Small talk takes up big time,” he says, so when people start to tell you about their weekends, cut them off politely with something like “I’m in the middle of something, but what’s up?” But be aware, not everyone agrees with this one (and certainly not in every situation), and you may want to pay particularly close attention to norms around chit chat when traveling internationally.Reza Estakhrian—Getty Images

    More Must-Reads from TIME

    Contact us at letters@time.com