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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.

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      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

      How to Be Happy: Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Unhappy How Your Attitude Determines Your Success How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most How Much Do You Need to Give Up to Start Over? Is It Really Better to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone?

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      Last Updated on March 21, 2019

      11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

      11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

      Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

      You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

      But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

      To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

      It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

      “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

      The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

      In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

      Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

      1. Start Small

      The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

      Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

      Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

      Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

      Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

      Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

      It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

      Do less today to do more in a year.

      2. Stay Small

      There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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      But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

      If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

      When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

      I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

      Why?

      Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

      The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

      Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

      3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

      No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

      There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

      What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

      Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

      This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

      This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

      4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

      When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

      There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

      Peter Drucker said,

      “What you track is what you do.”

      So track it to do it — it really helps.

      But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

      5. Measure Once, Do Twice

      Peter Drucker also said,

      “What you measure is what you improve.”

      So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

      For reading, it’s 20 pages.
      For writing, it’s 500 words.
      For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
      For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

      Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

      6. All Days Make a Difference

      Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

      Will two? They won’t.

      Will three? They won’t.

      Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

      What happened? Which one made you fit?

      The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

      No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

      7. They Are Never Fully Automated

      Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

      But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

      What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

      It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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      The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

      It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

      It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

      8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

      Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

      Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

      When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

      The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

      Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

      9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

      The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

      Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

      You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

      But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

      So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

      If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

      This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

      The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

      Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

      10. Punish Yourself

      Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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      I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

      It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

      You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

      No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

      The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

      But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

      11. Reward Yourself

      When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

      Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

      The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

      After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

      If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

      Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

      If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

      In the End, It Matters

      What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

      When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

      And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

      “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

      Keep going.

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      More Resources to Help You Build Habits

      Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
      [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
      [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
      [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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