The Personal Hackathon: One day to crush your todo list

The Personal Hackathon: One Day To Crush Your Todo List

You have probably heard of hackathons – Google and Facebook are famous for them. But you neither have to work at a Silicon Valley giant nor be a programmer to get a lot of work done through the hackathon format. Here are some tips plus a free template to get you started.

Personal hackathons are a great way to advance your personal projects, network, and get extra motivation through a group of friends. Instead of working on your own, you commit publicly to a small number of goals, take active breaks for increased focus, and experience a serotonin burst after a day of ‘deep work’!

To get you started, we’ve prepared a handy checklist for participants and a print-ready schedule for hosts:

PS: The first time we read about the idea was at Self Spark, so full credit to them! If you want to dig deeper into the method and read some interesting research, make sure to check out their website.

Preparation Is Everything

Preparation for the host(s)

  • Plan the event several weeks in advance.
  • Aim for ~15 participants. More than 20 people can get crowded. Anything below 5 is not enough to build a good atmosphere.
  • Prepare a few activities for the active breaks, e.g. simple yoga exercises or games.
  • Bonus: Create a hashtag for participants to share accomplishments and photos on Twitter and Instagram.

And of course you’ll need the following:

  • Fast WiFi
  • Coffee & beverages
  • Whiteboard (or flip chart) to write down goals
  • Our free template :)

Preparation for participants

  • Clear the entire day. Focus starts with saying no ;)
  • Email your clients a few days in advance that you won’t be available on the day of the hackathon.
  • Get lots of sleep the night before and bring all you need for maximum productivity (chargers, noise-cancelling headphones, energy bars…)

Public commitment is a key component of a personal hackathon. Knowing your output will be seen at the end of the day is a good way to guard against procrastination!

Planning your goals

Kick off the day by gathering around a whiteboard where the hosts provide a short introduction to the ideas behind the personal hackathon format.

Every participant commits to 1-3 tasks. The trick is to find a good balance between challenging and realistic. For some people, focusing on one big, audacious goal works better. In that case, you can throw in a bonus goal that is less cognitively demanding (getting to inbox zero, processing your todos, bucket list, etc) for later.


Our typical personal hackathon takes about 9 hours in total. Instead of working like crazy and having our productivity drop off after a few hours, we aim for a balanced approach that keeps our mental capacities strong until the evening.

Start at

Active Breaks To Keep You Going

Having effective breaks is crucial for a sustained level of productivity throughout the day. There are a lot of factors in play (and reaching peak productivity varies from person to person), but two tricks work for all of us: (Light) physical exercise and undirected attention.

The benefit of physical exercises is obvious – they increase your heart rate, ensure your brain is supplied with enough oxygen, and prevent tension that builds as a result of long periods of sitting.

It’s equally useful to not shift your focus to shallow that could occupy your mind in the work session following the break. In his best-seller Deep Work, computer scientist Cal Newport summarizes research about Attention Restoration Theory (ART), and how undirected attention can re-fill our capacity for directed attention (i.e., your regular work):

The core mechanism of this theory is the idea that you can restore your ability to direct your attention if you give this activity a rest. Walking in nature provides such a mental respite, but so, too, can any number of relaxing activities so long as they provide similar “inherently fascinating stimuli” and freedom from directed concentration. Having a casual conversation with a friend, listening to music while making dinner, playing a game with your kids, going for a run—the types of activities that will fill your time in the evening if you enforce a work shutdown—play the same attention-restoring role as walking in nature.

Focus is your most important resource for working deeply, and its limited. If you occupy your mind with news sites and social media in the breaks, your ability to focus in the work periods will be diminished. If you want to read more on the topic, check out Cal’s blog post on the subject.

Bonus tip: Meditation further helps to exercise your focus. Meditation and exercises that combine both physical training and concentration (such as jumping rope, tightrope walking, or slacklining) are proven to improve focus and attention.

Crush Your Todo List

For many of us, todos tend to build up over time. Clearing them out of your system seems a daunting challenge, but the personal hackathon format makes it a bit easier.

The tips and schedule above are just a suggestion though and we’d love to hear your feedback below or on social media. What works for you, what doesn’t?

Recommended reading:

Now, before you go…

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