So you’re looking for productivity habits, huh? Great. This article will give you three high-leverage but straightforward habits that will help you skyrocket your productivity.
In the end, I’ll also let you in on some secret self-improvement tricks. These will lead to actual long-term productivity and high-quality work, meaning you’ll no longer block yourself from reaching your goals.
I originally wrote this article for People Development Magazine. Find the original article here.
Productivity Habit 1: Work in Short Periods
This habit has seriously increased my productivity. I couldn’t imagine working as a freelancer and writer without it. It works great for hobbies and side projects too: any endeavour that requires productivity.
It requires a paradigm shift: instead of seeing work as seven hours of slogging, only interrupted by lunch stops, bathroom breaks and coffee trips, we see it as a series of chunks or periods.
The first step to implementing this is to find what I’ll call your optimal time. To do so, time yourself while you work, and when you feel like you’re becoming distracted, restless or in need of a break, you stop the timer and take a 5-10 minute break.
Repeat this several times until you notice a pattern. You’ll eventually come to the optimal number of minutes for you. Then you can start to divide your work into chunks of that length, between times perhaps taking a call, grabbing a coffee or stretching.
During these periods, you’re seeking maximal productivity, maximal focus. Put your phone away and resist the urge to snack or make unimportant phone calls. You’re working. Timing yourself helps you stay on track.
This habit is adapted from the famous Pomodoro method. The typical time chunk used in that method, 25 minutes, is short for me. And because I work from home, I tend to spend my mini-breaks folding clothes, washing dishes and so on, meaning breaks vary in length. As the day goes on, my work chunks tend to shrink a little.
Productivity Habit 2: Ditch The Distractions
Distractions are those items that rob us of precious time and energy while masterfully masquerading as must-do tasks.
We can look at this second habit from both a macro and a micro point-of-view: in our lives, we have macro distractions and micro distractions.
These habits persistently prevent us from dedicating periods to productive and fulfilling tasks.
Let’s take an example I’m sure we’ve all wrestled with: Netflix. Though this media platform provides endless hours of entertainment at a price affordable to all, it also addicts us and turns us into a window through which we throw all our precious time and energy. Dreams of a side project or passion turn to dust remarkably quickly.
Social media and excessive phone use are others. How many hours do you spend looking at posts and content that add very little to your life? The idea of scrolling seems exciting, but how fulfilled do you feel?
Excessive phone use diverts your attention from important tasks, fills your mind with unnecessary information and makes you a servant to immediate pleasure and gratification.
I kicked my phone addiction four years ago, deleting my personal Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and I’ve never looked back. My neck is also in better shape!
Macro distractions are more challenging to kick than micro distractions.
Those that distract us as we’re in the middle of meaningful work.
No guess what the culprits are here. You can brainstorm your own, but the most salient ones for me are email, phone, news and music.
Every minute spent looking at emails unrelated to your project is a minute wasted. The same goes for your phone contacts and the latest breaking news. I’ll repeat, these are secondary activities that masquerade as important ones. They divide your attention and take your eyes off the prize.
The good news is that micro distractions are easier to kick, especially if you implement my first habit. Set your optimal time, ditch your distractions, and get to work. You can catch up with your Facebook friends during your short breaks. Doing so can help you reset and replenish ahead of the next work chunk.
I recommend you list your top five micro and macro distractions and make the commitment.
Now let’s look at my final habit.
Productivity Habit 3: Task Planner
This is another simple habit that will get you great results. It’s excellent for productivity, mental clarity, and prioritising. It is particularly suited to days when you have several tasks to undertake.
At the start of a workday, we mentally sort through the list of our tasks for the day, juggling them around, thinking about the time we’ll spend on each and sorting them from most to least enjoyable.
Let’s take those mental gymnastics out of the equation.
The idea here is to write down all the tasks you need to carry out and work your way through them. It sounds straightforward, but this will put you ahead of the curve. But there is a little more strategy involved than that. Let me explain.
Every Monday, I write my tasks for the coming week on a spreadsheet. Then I highlight which tasks I need to complete that day and unhighlight each as I complete them. On a Tuesday morning, I highlight the tasks for the day and so on.
By the end of the week, I’ve usually completed everything I had set out to. At the beginning of my day, I have clarity and know what is essential. This habit also helps me avoid those luring micro distractions.
I combine this with habit 2: I work on a particular task for one chunk of time, have a short break, and move on to another when I return.
This fits well with The Great Updraft, where I often write, research, alter the website, do my marketing, and more, all in one day. It brings a structure and order to that seeming whirlwind of tasks.
It can easily be extended too. I’ve picked up lots of ways to optimise planning on my travels. You can make a task calendar that goes weeks and months into the future, choose two top-priority tasks each day and tackle those first, highlight the tasks you least fancy, do them first, etc. Be creative and adopt planning habits that make you ultra-productive.
Beyond Habits: Change Yourself
Now it’s time for those extra tips that I promised.
I’ve discovered a self-defeating tendency by observing myself and others in the process of self-improvement: people want to change their externals while making a minimal change to their internals.
Sound fancy and philosophical? Let me make it very concrete by using the example of productivity.
People want to be more productive, be more efficient workers, and produce better work but tend not to be willing to change their psychology, mental habits, and behaviour patterns. They want a quick solution, a pill that magically transforms their lives and makes them super productive.
If you desire to be a productive person who consistently produces results and sees yourself as one, you’ll have no productivity problems. But if you just like the idea of productivity while seeing yourself as fundamentally lazy, distracted and procrastination-prone, you’ll never be consistently productive.
How this works is way beyond the scope of this article. But in broad terms, you have to go from a fundamentally unproductive person trying to be productive to a fundamentally productive person expressing that in their work.
They don’t tell you that you need to change for any lasting external change. Your identity needs to shift. Parts of you that hinder your productivity need to die. No matter how many habits you put in place, you will never see permanent change until you’re willing to die and be reborn. Your habits are merely a step towards that.
So take these habits, use them, and realise they’re a bridge from the unproductive, half-in-half-out you of old to the productive, energetic, focused you of the future.
One of the things I pride myself on at The Great Updraft is that I encourage deep change and transformation, not just surface-level solutions. If that sounds like you, stick around.