Productivity is all about taking deliberate steps to use your time and energy wisely in order to achieve your goals. But how do you go about creating highly productive habits? Let's take a look.
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Creating long-term, good habits is the best way to beat procrastination and avoid it in the long run.
Did you know that habits power between 40% and 45% of our daily actions? This means that you're often working from your subconscious mind. That can either work for you or against you, depending on how good the habit is.
Procrastination is a leading cause of lost productivity.
Procrastinators put off projects until the last minute for a variety of reasons, stressing as they try to finish the task. Instead of being ahead, they scramble to finish. Or they put off fixing the small leak in their kitchen sink drain until one day it completely breaks, and water floods the kitchen. Then they have to drop everything and attend to that problem.
These seemingly simple tasks turn into big timewasters. Procrastination steals your productivity, keeping you stuck in the "never-have-enough-time" mode.
When you begin implementing new habits and ways of being productive, you start to develop new habits. The trick is to turn those into lifelong habits that keep you on the right path to success and happiness.
How do you develop productive habits that will last?
We all know that one person who always manages to get everything done. They always seem to get their important tasks early and often, it looks like, with little effort. They're the ones who manage to finish an hour-long task in less than 30 minutes.
What do these productive people have in common, and how do they do it? They do it by developing and maintaining good habits. They've already learned to overcome challenges like:
- Procrastinating on tasks
- Pushing through tedious work
- Responding to email efficiently
- Staying motivated and having energy throughout the day
- Focusing so they can finish their highest priority projects
They've learned to make the most of their time, experiencing peak productivity, carefully developed habits.
…every time you have an urge and you do something about it, the reward you get from it (whether it's tobacco high from smoking or the satisfaction of knowing you're at inbox zero) creates a neurological pathway in your brain.
When you repeat that action and experience the same reward again, the neurological pathway gets a little bit thicker. The thicker that pathway receives, the easier it is for impulses to travel down it. So when you try to extinguish a habit ultimately, you're trying to use willpower to destroy a neural pathway. It's possible, but it's pretty darn difficult for most people. Lindsay Kolowich, The Science of Productivity
Instead of trying to eliminate an old bad habit, you'll be more successful by changing that habit by replacing it with a healthier one. You should diagnose the urge that sets off the habit. Then identify the reward you get from that habit. Finally, replace that bad habit with an activity that is healthy and helps you maintain your progress.
Here's how to develop good habits that will stick in the long run:
- Start small, ridiculously small. It's easier to make small changes with smaller tasks than to try to create a significant difference quickly that requires a lot of willpower. Focus on building this little habit before adding more.
- Get hooked on the habit by using a habit tracker and putting a big red X on it each time you work on it.
- Set clear intentions on when and where the behaviour is going to take place. Reframe your habit as an "if/then" statement, use habit stacking by linking your new habit to habit you already have or implement into your schedule the new habit behaviour.
- Celebrate small signs of progress. Reward yourself each time you make progress on creating a healthier productivity habit.
- Set up an environment that drives the healthier behaviour. This can mean rearranging, decluttering, having the right tools or whatever will cause you to make the habit.
- Use a 30-day challenge to help you develop the best habits, systems, and routines that work for you. Decide what you want to improve. Write them on paper. Include your motivation, any obstacles you foresee, and the strategies you can use to overcome them.
- Start with a habit to focus on, regularly. Keep track of your progress each day. Then adjust as needed. After the 30 days, see how your new routine is working for you. Doing the routine will become a daily habit after the 30 days and will be easier and a natural way for you to be productive.
Developing new habits and implementing them into your daily routine enables you to begin building lifelong changes in how productive you are.
Use this checklist to keep you on track to be more productive.
Systems and Processes for Creating highly productive Habits
It is essential to set up systems and use automatic processes that help you stay productive just by using the system. In other words, build a system for everything you do to keep your life on track.
In the book, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big," author Scott Adams explains:
"… A system is something you do regularly that achieves your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it's a system. If you're waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it's a goal."
Systems make your life easier and provide you with the power of the habit, structure, and routine of a specific way of attacking your tasks, projects, and goals.
Many different systems can guide how you work and what actions you take to achieve what you want. If one doesn't work or give you the results, you want, try a new system, or create on that works for you.
The trick is to take steps every day to stick to it until you find a system that works for you efficiently, every day.
Types of Systems and How Each Part Works
You have probably heard of the Pomodoro Technique. This system helps you keep productive by working in sprints. You set a timer for 25 minutes. You work on your task during those 25 minutes. Then when the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break. Taking a short break helps keep you focused.
This task-prioritization system guarantees you are focusing on the right things. This system sorts tasks into four categories
- Urgent and vital: the most important tasks that are the on your list. These must be done immediately.
- Important but not urgent. These are tasks that have a significant impact on your goals but aren't urgent.
- Urgent but not essential. Some tasks feel essential but aren't necessarily important. Tasks like answering most emails, booking travel or some meetings are urgent but can be done after tasks in your first two categories.
- Not important and not urgent. These tasks shouldn't be prioritized. They can be eliminated or done after all your other tasks are completed. Things like scrolling social media feeds, watching television or mindless chatting at the office.
Based on the book "The 12 Week Year" by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, this system creates urgency. The idea behind the system is that with a typical 12-month year, we tend to put off goals until November and December because we believe we have plenty of time to reach our goals set in January. With this system, however, think of the year as 12 weeks. This creates urgency and action.
In this system, you set goals for projects every three months. Then every week, you set up tasks that you need to do to achieve the goal. Each week, month, and at the 3-month time frame, you track your progress to see what needs to be improved.
This system helps you break your goals down into tangible, specific action tasks. Smart stands for:
S-Specific defined steps
M-Measurable goal that is trackable
A-Achievable and not too big to reach
R-Relevant, realistic and reasonable
T-Time-bound and time-limited to create a sense of urgency
This system is about creating and implementing habits. This system is based on comedian Jerry Seinfeld's simple but effective strategy to implement any new habits. Every day, mark an X in your calendar after you've taken consistent action on your healthy habit.
This system, developed by David Allen, is a five-stage workflow system. It includes the five stages of:
- Capture all your material in your inbox and go through it once a day.
- Clarify by asking yourself questions about every item to assign actions to each one.
- Organize the items into action time blocks; these include trash, maybe, reference, list of tasks, complete immediately, delegate, add to the next action list, and added to the calendar.
- Reflect to define your next action and the desired outcome for projects that require multiple steps.
- Engage or work on the tasks on your list.
Possibly my favourite productivity tip. The 5-second rule system uses the concept that whenever you have an idea or an urge that you should instantly take action, within 5 seconds.
This system helps you organize and execute all your projects and tasks. This is a project management system where you write down all the tasks related to a project. Then you organize them according to categories such as to-do, in process or done.
You start to build systems with one habit at a time. Focus on small wins and working consistently on the habits within a system to get things done.
Choose one or two types of systems that will work for you. It may take time to find ones that work for you, but you will see your productivity go up. By spending a little bit of time figuring out what works for you and your habits, you are more apt to use them to help you become a highly productive person.
Creating Highly Productive Routines
Creating productive habits and using a system that works for you is vital in developing lifelong habits. The final piece is creating routines.
Creating routines will transform your life more effectively than just changing the habit of putting a system into force. Routines help you by:
- Prioritizing what is important. They force you to think about tasks that are a top-priority to you, or what you want to achieve and then make choices on what you are going to work on.
- They help you know what you are going to be doing each day. This helps block out any distraction that might pop up.
- Habits and routines free up your energy for the critical projects.
- Daily routines boost your creativity. Working consistently and putting in time allows your creative ideas to come through.
- Routines are what keep you moving forward. They help you see the progress that motivates you to do more. Especially, a morning routine - these are perfect for developing peak productivity levels.
What is a routine?
A routine is a string of habits you use at certain times of the day. You could have a morning routine you follow when you first wake up or an evening routine when you get ready for bed. Most of us have some sort of routine for some area of our life.
It's best to create a routine and ritual that is personal to you. Don't try to copy what successful people are doing if it doesn't work for you. Instead, try to make your routine.
Here are some routines you can try:
- Wake up earlier and don't hit the snooze button. Even if you are not a morning person.
- Make your bed and straighten your room.
- Set your intentions and tone for the day. What are the most critical tasks for the day? How do you want to feel: scattered or focused? Write them down.
- Spend time journaling to reflect on your goals, dreams, and feelings.
- Meditate or do yoga to prepare your mind for whatever the day brings.
- Skip checking email and social media first thing in the morning. Set aside the first hour or more without checking your email or chats.
- Eat the frog or tackle the tough stuff when your energy is at its highest. Everyone has regular ebbs and flows of our focus, productivity, and energy throughout the day. When you have a spike in this cycle, it's the perfect time to do the difficult tasks.
- Schedule regular, short breaks. Our minds naturally crave breaks after 90 minutes of intense work. Listen to your body and schedule breaks away from your screen or task. Take a brisk walk or spend time around nature to rejuvenate and recharge on your short break.
- Batch similar tasks to be done at the same time.
- Set and keep rules. It's especially important to keep hard limits on distracting activities. This can mean setting rules for how long you on social media. It means catching yourself when you revert to old habits like watching too many YouTube videos before leaving for the day or staying up late watching movies. Try to do your hardest task first. Use time-tracking tools to see when you are spending time on specific activities that may turn into a productivity killer.
- Schedule your email and instant messaging for a specific time. This can be once a day, or every 2 or 3 hours.
- Implement the Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity system to help you stay organized. This life-changing habit, when built into your daily routine, helps you know what to work on and where it should go in your priority list and when it should be worked on.
- The evening is when it's time to disconnect from work. Leave work at the office as much as possible.
- Destress from the day by doing a personal debrief. Reflect on what you accomplished that day. Write down three good things that took place during the day. This routine helps you change how you perceive your day, so you don't get pulled into the negative as easily.
- Make sure you have a place where you can be alone or at least have some "mental solitude" in your evening. Separate yourself from other people's thoughts and ideas and focus on your own. Write them down to get them out of your head.
- Pick up a hobby that helps you relax. Engage in what is called a mastery task. These experiences are engaging, exciting things you are good at. They can be challenging and mentally absorbing but always rewarding. Look for hobbies that include other people, are healthy like sports, exercise, or things that allow you to think and be alone.
- Get prepared for the next day with a ritual that closes the current day. This can be straightening your desk, making a list of what you need to do tomorrow, journaling, or setting out clothes for the next day or the gym.
- At least 30 minutes before bed turn off devices including cell phones, televisions, tablets and anything else that emits a blue light from the screen. This light can make falling asleep difficult.
The way you start your day, the routines you have during the day, and how you end your day determines how productive you are going to be. It means developing routines that will guide you when you first wake up until you go to bed. This will help you build life-long productivity habits that will change your life.
Highly Productive Habits and Your Lifestyle
"Good well-being promotes good productivity." – Lailah Gifty Akita
Having a healthy lifestyle is a crucial component in creating productive life-long habits that stick. How your body feels can affect how well you focus and can be productive. Ignoring your health is not an option if you want to be productive in every area of your life.
Having a positive, healthy outlook on life can help you see things in a better light. Positive thoughts keep you motivated to do the tasks and follow the routines that must be done. Use affirmations and positive self-talk.
How we move our bodies and our ability to be flexible is key to staying healthy and focused. Moving your body is a way to recharge your body. It's also a way to destress and explore ideas while you move. Do it every day if possible, but at least four days a week. Yoga, walking 20 minutes every day, or any other form of exercise that gets you moving is all that's required.
Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and good fats helps you stay focused and in good health. Avoid processed foods, foods high in bad fats and sugars. Eating healthy is another way to help you ward off stress and get better sleep.
Water is a great productivity tool. Instead of heading to the coffee machine every time you get up, grab a drink of water. Carry a bottle of water with you as a reminder to stay adequately hydrated. Our bodies depend on water to keep going. Dehydration can cause a lack of focus, no motivation, low productivity and lack of energy.
Getting regular amounts of sleep each night is necessary to stay focused and be productive. The recommended amount is 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night. Set up routines you can implement to help you relax and prepare yourself for sleep.
Many people who procrastinate and end up not taking regular care of their health. It's essential to stay ahead of any problems with your health when you are aiming for increased productivity. This means regular checkups, visiting your health care provider when something isn't right, regular eye exams, and dental cleanings.
Give your eyes regular breaks throughout the day. Like many people, you are probably spending a great deal of time staring at a computer screen every day. This can cause the eyes to become fatigued, which in turn causes physical fatigue, decreased productivity and more errors in your work. Eye fatigue can cause minor irritations as well, including eye twitching and dry eyes. Look away from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds or so.
Our lifestyle affects our focus and productivity in ways we don't often think about. But each part of our life interconnects with the rest. Getting good sleep, eating well, and exercising are just a few of the things that should be a part of your healthy habits for the long-term.
We've learned a lot about ways of making productivity a life-long habit in this guide. Like any habit, the more you do it, the quicker it will become a long-term part of your day. It's about learning what is causing you to procrastinate and why it's keeping you from being productive.
As you can see, building these healthy habits to last involves doing something every day that changes the lousy habit into what you want it to be. It takes work and discipline, but in the long run, it pays off with being better focused, more productive and able to accomplish more.
Through this ultimate guide, you've learned why you procrastinate and how it can harm you. You know how to recognize when you're procrastinating and how to halt it quickly. You are becoming more productive. By implementing what you've learned, you are making productivity a lifelong habit, which is how people develop and maintain success in multiple areas of their lives.
Finally, use this checklist to keep you on track to be more productive:
Is there anything else you would add to this checklist? Let me know in the comments below...
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