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I’ve Read over 100 Productivity Books and Summarized the 15 Most Important Tips

I’ve Read over 100 Productivity Books and Summarized the 15 Most Important Tips

Ten years ago, nearly to the day, I was given a promotion from starting-level engineer to upper management. Honestly, as exciting as the promotion was, I was incredibly overwhelmed. I felt that I didn’t have enough time to do everything that I needed/wanted to do and I began to feel that I was in over my head. Something had to give.

I’d heard of productivity books being helpful, so I decided to give it a try. I was hoping that the books would teach me how to get more done in less time. Not only did they help me achieve that goal, but other aspects of my performance as well.

After reading 100 productivity books, I have found that there are 15 key elements to staying productive and being efficient. I have compiled a list of my findings to help you to be as productive as you can be.

1. Don’t wait for others to set your deadlines, set them for yourself

While growing up with our structured school system, students are used to being given deadlines and working to meet them. This causes a problem when we suddenly don’t have a deadline to work towards. We tend to get lazy because there is no sense of urgency. This is why overachievers in school tend to be average in the real world, as they don’t have deadlines to work towards once no one sets it for them.

Successful people don’t wait, they set deadlines for their personal goals. While meeting external deadlines (those that are given to you) helps you to survive and meet the bare minimum, internal deadlines (those that you give yourself) make you push through your boundaries. The key is to be proactive, not passive.

2. Keep track of your time like you do your bank account

We like to think that we know ourselves well. But when asked to recall, we can’t remember what we did at this time on this day last week. Time is the most valuable resource we have. We need to track it like we do our bank accounts, because as the old saying goes, time is money. You can always earn more money, but you can never get back wasted time.

Keep a time-sheet to record how much time you spend on tasks. Even everyday/personal tasks. You’ll be surprised to see how much time you waste on certain things.

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3. Don’t focus on your weaknesses, work on your strengths instead

It’s common practice to improve your weaknesses. But that shouldn’t be your primary focus.  The most important thing is to first improve your strengths.  Having a strength means that you already have a foundation for it (otherwise it wouldn’t be a strength) and acquired the basic skills.  You should already have a solid idea of what to improve.  The difference is that this growth will be exponential versus improving anything else.

Weaknesses cause limitations because you’re starting from the ground up. Everything is so new and it can be difficult to identify what works.  But once you find those weak points, you can utilize your strengths (which you’ve improved) to help turn these weaknesses into an asset.

4. Rank tasks by importance, not the order you received them

Every task does not hold the same weight of importance as others might. Always ask yourself: What needs to be done right away? Regularly rank your tasks, and get the vital ones out of the way.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that because a task came earlier, it is more important than the following tasks. Some tasks have a leveraging effect, so even if they arise later than other tasks, it should be prioritized to be finished right away.

Example: You are planning to brush up on your presentation skills, so you read 20 self-improvement books to reach your goal. Then you decide to read books on speed reading. The best move would have been to read the speed reading books first, to make reading your self-improvement books quicker and more effective.

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    5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

    “You can’t eat the whole pizza at once.” Now while this statement may come off as a challenge (I’m sure some of you could scarf down a whole pizza with no issue) the point is that we think we can handle enormous tasks on our own. Taking on too much at once can be discouraging, and will ultimately lessen your motivation.

    The solution: break down big tasks into smaller, digestible tasks to create order and relieve some of the stress.

    6. Smart people know when to delegate

    Don’t feel obligated to do every little thing yourself. Doing more doesn’t mean doing better. In fact, if you have too much on your plate you are very likely to make careless mistakes because you’re trying to do too much at once. Recognize which tasks can be passed on to others so that you can focus on more challenging and important tasks.

    7. Use your brain for thinking, not remembering

    Information is unlimited, it’s impossible to remember everything. There’s a popular saying, “You have already forgotten more than you already know.” Meaning, there is just too much information to retain it all through memory alone. There’s a variety of tools that we can use to organize our thoughts and ideas for us, such as: computers, notebooks, our phones, etc.

    8. Review your productivity at the end of the day

    At the end of your day, take the time to reflect what you have accomplished, and what could be improved.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • What have I done well?
    • What have I done poorly?
    • Why did some things not work out as planned?
    • How can I do better tomorrow?

    When we don’t reflect, we rely only on natural growth. Successful people concentrate on deliberate practice, where they actively identify and focus on things to improve. Even if you feel that you’ve done a job well done, still consider what could be done in terms of improvement. There is always something!

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    9. Sometimes cutting tasks is better than adding them

    Make it a practice to regularly clear out what isn’t useful to you. This can be manual tasks, physical items, or even relationships. Think about it, physical clutter doesn’t only take up space, but it inhibits our performance as well because we have the physical impression of overload. I know that I personally need to have an organized work space, or I just can’t concentrate.

    Just like we need to de-clutter our surroundings, we need to do the same with our digital space, only making room for what it important and deleting the rest. Your device will work more efficiently, and you don’t have to sift through endless folders and files to find whatever you’re trying to access. Less is more.

    10. Estimate time for your task

    Sometimes this is something that we slack off on, going into a project without considering how much time it is going to take us. To help with this, follow the 2 minute rule. If it can be completed within two minutes, get it out of the way first.

    Neglecting to estimate your time can cause you to waste time; because you do not have a real goal in mind or deadline you are trying to meet. If you don’t set a standard, then you won’t know which aspects need to be improved upon and tweaked for efficiency when the task is repeated.

    Example: You are making an avocado salad. Before beginning, how long do you think it is going to take? 30 minutes? 15? 3? When we consider the task at hand and the time needed to complete it, we start planning on how to do it more efficiently.

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      11. Stretch your creativity no matter what your job is

      We need a bit of creativity for every task that we complete, no matter how mundane it may seem. Creativity is not always a naturally given talent, but a muscle that can be trained. Perhaps you’re not the Renaissance man (or woman) of the century, but you can drum up some out-of-the-box ideas along with the best of them. We need a bit of creativity in order to step up our efficiency.

      This could relate to tasks such as time management or production procedures. You need to exercise your creativity to make an already existing practice even better.

      12. Know when to stop as tasks tend to devalue overtime

      When the productivity of a project beings to diminish, you need to know when it’s time to call it quits. Tasks tend to devalue overtime. The longer a task is taking, the less likely it is to be successful. When it starts to seem that progress is declining, it’s time to cut your losses and reevaluate your game plan.

      Example: When a business realizes that they are losing more and more money each month, they need to change their strategy.

      13. Always assume that you don’t know as much as you may think you know

      Because the truth is, most people don’t know much. There’s an endless supply of information relating to just about anything. Never be overly satisfied, always know that there is room for improvement. Just because you have a good thing, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be better. Always continue to strive for more and look for new insights. You’re really only the best if you look for new ways to grow. And most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be secretly arrogant. Or outwardly arrogant. Stay humble. You will gain much more respect from your peers and your followers this way.

      14. Identify your instant gratification and ditch it

      You might think that you don’t have an instant gratification trigger, but everyone has one. This is something that you don’t really need to work for, but fills you with enough confidence and feeling of productivity that you don’t feel you need to do anymore. What is yours? Identify yours, and overcome it.

      Example: Your boss is always very complimentary, nearly to the point of being coddled. Since you’re always hearing that you’re doing a good job, you feel like you don’t need to do more. But in order to improve, you should strive to do more to get to the next level of excellence.

      15. Start with the big picture, work down to the details

      Identify the ultimate goal at hand, and start from the beginning. Then, break down every task in sequential order that needs to be achieved in order to reach this ultimate goal. Double check your tasks at hand, ask yourself how it fits into the big picture and if it is really necessary. Could you time be better spent on a different task? Don’t just work mindlessly. Always consider the big picture and the moves you are making towards it.

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

      How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever The Lifehack Show: Overcoming Anxiety Through Personal Agency with Dr. Paul Napper How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide) What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide) When You Never Stop Learning, These 5 Amazing Things Happen

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      Last Updated on December 2, 2019

      How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

      How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

      Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

      I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

      Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

      How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

      Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

      Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

      At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

      Want to know the good news?

      No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

      All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

      1. Develop a Positive Mindset

      If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

      According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

      That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

      Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

      Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

      Absolutely!

      But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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      Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

      Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

      It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

      “I’m not smart enough to…”

      “I don’t have enough experience to…”

      “I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

      When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

      If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

      When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

      • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
      • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
      • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

      Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

      Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

      All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

      But this isn’t true!

      If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

      If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

      When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

      Ditch the Dwelling

      Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

      Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

      When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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      But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

      The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

      Easier said than done, right? Try these:

      1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
      2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
      3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
      4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

      The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

      Be Patient about the Process

      No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

      Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

      If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

      To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

      2. Connect with Your Purpose

      One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

      If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

      Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

      Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

      Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

      “Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

      One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

      Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

      Find Intrinsic Motivation

      Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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      Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

      But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

      If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

      3. Find Strength in Unity

      The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

      Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

      Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

      If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

      If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

      Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

      The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

      A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

      If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

      Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

      Recruit Some Cheerleaders

      If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

      Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

      As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

      Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

      Form an Accountability Group

      Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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      Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

      Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

      Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

      Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

      4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

      Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

      As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

      We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

      When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

      • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
      • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
      • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
      • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
      • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
      • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

      Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

      Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

      Tying it All Together

      Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

      But here’s the bottom line:

      A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

      No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

      More About Mental Strength

      Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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