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How to Be an Effective Leader (A Step-By-Step Guide to Upgrade Your Leadership Skills)

How to Be an Effective Leader (A Step-By-Step Guide to Upgrade Your Leadership Skills)

Many of the most important and influential texts ever written, like Sun Tzu’s the Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, or even Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, are about leadership. With hundreds of books written about leadership, it would be easy to understand how to become an effective leader, but unfortunately that simply isn’t the case.

A leader has to be a person capable of juggling many huge demands at a time, they have to consider the opinions, needs, and wants of all around them. They need to be a person not only capable of making difficult decisions, but the right difficult decision. At the same time, they need to know how to look after their team, while pushing them forward to achieve greatness.

This article serves as an introduction to effective leadership and will give you a step by step guide on how to become an effective leader.

Is leadership in born?

Strong and capable leaders are rarely (if ever) born. Be skeptical of claims to the contrary.

Psychology research suggests that people become leaders through the process of teaching, learning and observation.[1]

If you put your preconceptions aside, you’ll clearly see that leadership skills aren’t inborn, but have to be learned by training, perception, practice and experience over time. And when we say over time – we really mean over a lifetime, as successful people never stop learning.

It’s true. Great leaders constantly seek out development opportunities that will help them learn new skills. If your goal is to become a leader – you should do the same.

How important is leadership?

There are great and inspiring leaders everywhere. Anywhere you see a team that works well together, a team that consistently works at their best no matter the pressure, a team of people that are confident and determined; you are seeing a team with a great leader.

What is the definition of a great leader?

  • A great leader can unite a group of people, each with their own goals and interests, and make them work together in synchronicity for a common goal.
  • A great leader is able to inspire confidence and resilience.
  • A great leader is open to the good ideas of others. They are good listeners and are open to learn from their team.

Ultimately, a great leader turns a group of people into a dependable, reliable, creative, motivated and effective unit.

But how does someone become a great leader?

First, learn about the basic traits as listed in the next part. And when you have mastered these traits, you’ll have to move on to the advanced level of skills to become an effective leader.

Basic traits to become a good leader

To develop your leadership skills, it’s best to pinpoint the areas that you feel you are not ‘up to par’ with, and strengthen them. To make this easy for you, I have a complete guide on all the most important leadership traits categorized into three areas:

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  • Self-development
  • Communication
  • Team engagement

In the guide, you will learn how to pick up all the basic leadership traits and behaviors. Check out the complete guide here:

14 Powerful Leadership Traits (That All Great Leaders Have)

Next, you will need to level up your leadership skills by understanding the different types of leadership.

Advanced skills to become an effective leader

The most effective leadership is not a single entity, or a single set of values or rules a person must have in order to lead people. There are multiple leadership styles each with their own benefits and rules. If you have learned the basic qualities of leadership, upgrade your leadership skills by identifying your leadership style and master it.

Find out the leadership style that best fits you in this flowchart:

      Pace-setting Leader

      A pace-setting leader focuses on targets and the speed with which said targets are being achieved. They set performance standards and schedules for the team to achieve goals and get the best results.

      Pace-setting leaders typically ensure the work is on schedule and reaches the goals quickly.

      Yet the biggest drawback of pace-setting leadership is being too predictable. Many pace-setting leaders overwhelm team members with deadlines, and harm their creativity as they rush to finish their work.

      As a result, this style works best when employees are highly motivated and already competent workers. This is also good if a clear schedule needs to be set for a specific set of tasks.

      In order to grow as a successful leader, pace-setters should ask for team members’ feedback often and give them space to work. Instead of focusing on deadlines, they should focus on the process of reaching quality work.

      Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is a successful example of a pace-setter. Welch despised micro-managing and thought leaders needed to focus more on setting examples and deadlines. That’s the essence of a pace-setting leader.

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        Commanding Leader

        A commanding leader makes decisions alone and gives orders to members to achieve goals.

        A commanding leader can make decisions quickly. They don’t need to go through any discussions to come up with a decision most of the time. This saves time and is helpful especially during a crisis. Commanding leaders are often respected and are rarely challenged by the team.

        Unfortunately, commanding leaders often inhibit critical thinking and demoralize employees’ team spirit as their opinions are not valued under such leadership. Team members are there for execution; they do what they’re told, and only the commanding leader gets to drive a decision forward.

        Commanding leaders work best when quick decisions are to be made in a crisis or situation with inexperienced team members. As a result, many famed generals and politicians operating in times of strife fall into this category.

        Winston Churchill is an example of a commanding leader. Churchill was especially known as a powerful orator and man overall, and often was able to inspire others to action simply via his commanding speeches and viewpoint. As mentioned before, his great leadership was instrumental in the allied victory during the second world war.

          Visionary Leader

          Visionary leaders are able to see the bigger picture and set the overall goals for the team.

          This type of leader Inspires creativity and teamwork as team members are encouraged by the bigger end-goal of what they’re working on day-to-day. Jobs is one of the examples, but many tech company CEOs fit into this type too. Startup CEOs often frame product decisions around “saving the world”, and this is where the vision is found.

          The flip side of believing you’re working on something which will change/save the world is that it may inspire fanatical belief in the leader himself. Another potential flaw is its heavily context-dependent, in another word, the goal at the end. With a constant focus on making the world a better place, team members can sometimes lose focus on their day-to-day plan they need to execute.

          Visionary leaders are good in transition situations. Think about a new CEO coming in and immediately laying out the long-term vision for a place after the disgraced exit of his predecessor, the company and the employees benefit in this case.

          A visionary leader, though, does need lieutenants who can take their vision and translate it into day-to-day work for the rest of the organization. If it’s all vision and strategy with no tie to day-to-day execution, employees will get confused and ultimately leave.

          Steve Jobs built a company that completely changed multiple industries, and he did so by singularly looking at possibilities no one had ever considered. Imagine ten to twenty years before the first iPhone came out, if you had described that idea to your friend, they would probably have laughed you and thought you were a dreamer.

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            Democratic Leader

            Democratic leaders make decisions together with the team members—regardless of rank—and closely work together with the team to achieve for the best results.

            Democratic leadership is good for boosting team morale and improving relationships between leaders and members. An open environment encourages a constant stream of communication and idea exchange. For example, the idea of Gmail was brought to Google decision-makers by a lower-ranking staffer, as was the idea of AdWords. AdWords is a huge revenue driver for Google and it didn’t necessarily begin at the absolute top ranks, but the top ranks weren’t threatened when a new idea came about.

            However, the authority of a democratic leader may be easily challenged and cause inefficiency in decision making.  A collective decision-making process usually takes a longer time.

            Democratic leaders work best when team members are experienced and have strong knowledge in their functional area. Inexperienced members may be confused under such leadership, or wondered why their voice was sought after despite their lack of experience.

            John F. Kennedy was a successful democratic leader. When Kennedy handled the Bay of Pigs situation, he gave everyone in his circle a voice. The way he made decisions had changed decision-making for the modern era.[2]

              Affiliative Leader

              Affiliative leaders show warmth and acceptance to members and create emotional bonds with them.

              Because of the warmness provided, members feel safe and have a strong sense of belonging to the organization and perform better. Google has done studies of effective managers and found the No. 1 thing they provide is “psychological safety.” Affiliative leaders do that.

              Unfortunately, mediocre performances may be fostered under an affiliative leadership because it rarely puts team members under pressure. Some team members may feel they can coast on certain work because their managers will always support them.

              This leadership style works best in stressful situations or when team members’ morale is low. Typically, it’s used best together with other leading styles.

              The Dalai Lama brings people along with him and into a bigger picture of contentment and safety.

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                Coaching Leader

                Coaching leaders are mentors to the more inexperienced team members. They help the members to better their capabilities and performances by constantly providing them feedback.

                This creates a positive working environment where leaders and employees are constantly communicating. With the coaching leader’s guidance, team members grow and improve continuously.

                The downside of regular coaching is that it’s time-consuming. It also takes patience to coach each of the team members. In an organization that focuses on immediate results, coaching is not preferred because it takes time to see significant results.

                Coaching leaders work best with inexperienced employees who are eager to learn and grow. A leader who is proficient in convincing and influencing others will execute coaching leadership well.

                John Wooden, who won more NCAA basketball championships than any other coach, is a successful coaching leader. He had a very specific coaching model that focused on conveying information as opposed to course-correcting.[3]

                  Not all styles can be applied to every situation, and some people may be better at one style over another. If you use the right style at the right time, the effect can be substantial.

                  Bonus: Combine leadership styles

                  All these styles work well in specific situations, and oftentimes teams need a mix of the different leadership styles across different work teams and work projects.

                  The most successful organizations often have a mix of these leadership styles for teams and deliverables. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The important thing is to understand where you fall, what your achievements and drawbacks are, and how you can grow or most benefit your team by considering adapting a slightly different leadership style.

                  Imagine that you are the leader of a small team. You have been given a problem to solve, and for a while you all have struggled over it. Suddenly you come up with a great idea solves the problem, but time is running out… what style of leadership do you choose?

                  You need to be flexible. Let’s try mixing a few styles:

                  • Visionary/ Commanding leader – Here, you have the goal in mind, as you have worked with your team before, you know their strengths and weaknesses, because of this, with your idea in mind, you are able to delegate tasks to each person depending on their strengths. You are able to successfully implement your idea.
                  • Coaching/ Pace-Setting Leader – You know not everyone fully understands your idea, but there are some that do. Those who understand it immediately begin to work while you bring the rest up to speed, soon you’re all working well together and your plan is implemented.

                  These two aren’t the only combinations that might work here, and sometimes they may not work at all. But the key is to know when to be flexible.

                  Ultimately, everyone has it in them to be a great and effective leader. It takes knowledge and practice sure, but if you are flexible and consider the many different forms of leadership out there, then you may find your skills as a leader, and the ultimate effectiveness of your team, grows and expands to greatness.

                  Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

                  Reference

                  More by this author

                  Leon Ho

                  Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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                  Last Updated on February 17, 2021

                  50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

                  50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

                  If you feel like you don’t have enough time to do everything you want to do, maybe it’s time to check-in with your time management skills.

                  No one is born to be very good at time management, so that’s okay if you think you’re bad in it. But everyone can learn to boost their productivity and achieve more!

                  Here are 50 ways to increase productivity and add hours to your day.

                  1. Set a Timer

                  Estimate the time you need to tackle different tasks and set a timer for each of your tasks. How you go about this is up to you as there are many different ways. There is the Pomodoro technique where you focus on a task for 25 minutes followed by a five minute break afterwards.

                  In the event that you have a task that will take much longer than that, you can consider one of the many timer-based apps. One that comes to mind is Clockify. It’s used for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike, however it’s a good way to be setting yourself a timer. It provides reports and you can serve as a project manager of sorts too. Best of all, it’s free.

                  2. Eliminate All Distractions

                  Distractions include the phone, email notifications and having multiple web browsers open on the desktop. Just as it’s important to be organized offline, it’s key to have things organized online as well. This free guide End Distractions And Find Your Focus is a good tool to help you. With this guide, you’ll learn how to get rid of distractions and boost productivity. Grab your free guide here.

                  You can also learn more on how to get rid of all distractions in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

                  3. Listen to Music That Boosts Productivity

                  Distractions should be avoided, but sometimes a bit of music in the background can help you focus.

                  Of course, it doesn’t need to be heavy rock music, but a bit of Beethoven may do you some good.

                  Here’s a complete guide to help you pick the right music for better productivity: How To Maximize Your Productivity With Music: A Complete Guide

                  4. Find Meaning in What You Do (And Love What You Do)

                  Enjoying what you do is the ultimate way to increase your productivity.

                  If you aren’t sure what you love doing yet, don’t worry. Leo Babauta has some unique ways to help you: How to Find Your Passion

                  5. Prioritize your tasks ahead of time.

                  By listing your tasks in order of importance, you can make sure that you finish all of your most important tasks during the day.

                  Learn a unique technique to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster.

                  6. Batch Similar Tasks into a Single Batch.

                  Tasks like blog writing, phone calls, email and errands can be grouped into a single batch. You will save time by completing similar tasks in one session. One way to help you with organizing all of those things is through the app Todoist. It’s an easy and simple way for you to plan out your day, set reminders, and group all of your most important tasks in a convenient spot.

                  7. Complete Your Most Dreaded Tasks First Thing in the Morning.

                  Whichever activity you are dreading the most is probably the one you need to complete first thing in the morning.

                  Many people tend to check emails in the morning because after checking a list of emails, they feel fulfilled. But that’s just an illusion of having achieved more.

                  Doing simple tasks like checking emails first in the morning is bad for you. Instead, do the difficult tasks because you have more energy in the morning to tackle them!

                  8. Reward Yourself for Finishing a Big Task

                  To stay motivated for whatever you do, reward yourself every now and then.

                  Keep track of your small wins and milestones and celebrate them. So whenever you struggle about your progress, you see how far you’ve come!

                  Find out more about this 2-Step Approach to Self-Motivation: Track Small Wins and Reward Yourself.

                  9. Don’t Multitask

                  Research has shown that multitasking is not productive. If you think you can multitask, think again.

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                  For optimum productivity, focus on one thing at a time.

                  10. Step Away from the Computer

                  The Internet has become one of the number one distraction. To increase your productivity, try to do as much of your work offline as possible.

                  I do this a lot when I try to brainstom new ideas and have found it to be very beneficial to simply unplug.

                  11. Use Focus Tools

                  Make good use of apps and technology to help you remove distractions.

                  Here’re 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools to help you stay focused. This way, you’re not distracted by the web, e-mail, or IM.

                  Also, join the free Fast-Track Class – Overcoming Distraction, and you’ll learn the one simple method to work even when you’re surrounded by distractions. Join the free session now!

                  12. Just Start

                  Often times, starting is the hardest part. People tend to wait for the perfect time with perfect condition to start. But there’s no perfect condition.

                  Once you get going, you will quickly get into a rhythm that could last for hours.

                  13. Find out Your Productive Hours

                  Everyone has a certain time of the day in which they are more productive than others. For me, it’s the morning.

                  Find out when your prime time is for productivity and optimize your work schedule accordingly.

                  14. Keep a Notebook and Pen on Hand at All Times

                  This way, you can write down your thoughts, to-dos and ideas at any time. The key is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Your subconscious mind won’t be reminding you about it every other second. Another consideration is getting the app Evernote. Not only does this save you on ink and paper, Evernote is a convenient place for you to jot down notes and thoughts and then share them with the team. In certain circumstances, this can prove useful if you’re the type of person that has a lot of ideas that you want to share.

                  15. Write a Blog to Chronicle Your Own Personal Development and Achievements

                  The blog keeps you accountable and always working towards self improvement and personal growth.

                  When you write down all the small achievements you’ve been having, you’re also more motivated to move forward.

                  And you know what, this is how I started Lifehack too! What also helped me in starting Lifehack is WordPress, which allows people to set up a website for free. WordPress has simplified a lot of the process of building a site to the point that virtually anyone can build a website now.

                  16. Write out a To-Do-List Each Day

                  I like to plan my day the night before. This way, I can get started on my most important tasks as soon as I wake up. The Full Life Planner is a nice tool to help you organize your days and get things that matter done. Check out the planner here and start to plan your day ahead easily!

                  Make sure you don’t make any of these common to-do-list mistakes!

                  17. Write Your Most Important Tasks and To-Dos on a Calendar.

                  The key to good time management is knowing where to be and what to be doing there at any given time. Effective calendar management goes hand in hand with good task list management.

                  Learn here How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space.

                  18. Reflect on Your Productivity Constantly

                  As you go throughout your day, repeatedly ask yourself:

                  “Am I currently making the best possible use of my time?”

                  This one simple question can be an excellent boost to your productivity.

                  19. Get up Early Before Anyone Else

                  I know it could be difficult for some to wake up early in the morning but nothing beats a quiet house!

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                  Here’s How to Start Your Day at 5:00 AM and some Simple Things Early Risers Do to make waking up early easier.

                  20. Get Plenty of Sleep

                  When you work online, sleep can become a long lost memory. However, it’s important to get plenty of sleep so that your working hours can be as productive as possible.

                  Try out this night routine which I highly recommend for productivity: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

                  21. Exercise

                  Research has shown that midday exercise boosts productivity and morale in the workplace.

                  Take a short walk at lunch or do some simple stretches during your break to maximize your productivity.

                  Here I have some exercises recommendations for you:

                  22. Outsource as Much as Possible

                  If you want to achieve more in less time, learn to delegate or outsource work. Here are just a few of the companies that will help you outsource your everyday tasks:

                  Also, read this guide to learn how to delegate effectively: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

                  23. Set Some Exciting Goals

                  Without worthy goals, you will never be motivated to get things done.

                  Set goals that are challenging and achievable. The best goal setting framework is a SMART goal. That said, there are other tools that can help you out as well. For example, The Dreamers’ Guide To Reaching Your Goal is a great guide to help you set and reach goals effectively. Grab your free guide and learn how to make your goals happen this year!

                  24. Tell Other People About Your Goals

                  When you tell others about your goals, you will instantly be held accountable.

                  25. Listen to Podcasts

                  Listen to educational podcasts or audio books while you’re driving to work, cleaning the house, exercising, or cooking dinner.

                  Audio learning has the power to add hours to your day. Not to mention, your cranium is sure to thank you for it.

                  Some recommendations for you: 11 Podcasts To Inspire Yourself

                  26. Read David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done

                  This is one of the most important productivity books you will ever read. Read it, apply the tips in your daily lives and get more things done.

                  Here’re more great books about productivity too: 35 Books on Productivity and Organizational Skills for an Effective Life

                  27. Learn to Speed Read

                  When you can read faster, you will read and learn more! Check out these 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed.

                  You can also make use of the app OutRead to help speed up your reading speed!

                  28. Learn to Skip When You Read

                  When you’re reading a book, just read the parts that you need and skip the rest. But you have to read with a purpose.

                  Learn how to make it work here: How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

                  29. Focus on Result-Oriented Activities

                  Pareto’s law (also known as the 80 20 rule) states that 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. This means that 20% of our actions result in 80% of the results.

                  We must find the 20% that is creating the 80% of our desired outcomes and focus solely on those activities.

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                  30. Take a Break

                  You can’t always be working at optimum productivity. Instead, you should shoot for working in short bursts at your most productive times.

                  31. Start a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

                  What is polyphasic sleep?

                  Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern specification intended to compress sleep time to 2-5 hours daily.[1] This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short (around 20-45 minute) naps throughout the day. This allows for more waking hours with relatively high alertness.

                  While you can learn more about it here, you’re recommended to take some naps during the day to recharge your energy too.

                  32. Learn to Say “No”.

                  We can’t do everything and therefore we must learn when to say no in order to save our sanity.

                  Learn the Gentle Art of Saying No from Leo Babauta.

                  33. Go on an Information Diet

                  Most of the world lives on information overload. We must eliminate mindless Internet surfing.

                  Stop reading three different newspapers a day and checking your RSS feeds multiple times a day. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything done.

                  The key is to limit yourself only to information that you can immediately take action on. Here’re some simple tips you can try: 10 Simple Productivity Tricks To Manage Overloaded Information

                  34. Organize Your Office

                  The piles of paper around your desk can be a huge barrier on your productivity. Optimize your time by organizing your office, setting up a system and dumping the junk.

                  Check out these 21 Tips to Organize Your Office and Get More Done and 20 Easy Home Office Organization Ideas to Boost Your Productivity.

                  35. Find a Mentor

                  By modeling after those who have already achieved success, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy.

                  A good mentor is hard to find, so here’s a guide to help you: What to Look for in a Mentor

                  36. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

                  With technology’s help, you can double your work efficiency. Even better, you learn all the shortcuts when using technology, for example keyboard shortcuts.

                  When you use keyboard shortcut, you gain 64 hours every year!

                  Not sure what shortcuts to lear? Check out these 22 Tricks That Can Make Anyone A Keyboard Ninja.

                  Besides learning the shortcuts, you can also create keyboard shortcuts with AutoHotKey.

                  37. Improve Your Typing Speed to Save Time

                  Do you know you can save 21 days per year just by typing fast?

                  You don’t really need to take some serious courses to type faster, try these typing games online:

                  38. Work from Home and Avoid the Daily Commute

                  If your job is a flexible one, consider working from home. This saves you the commute time and you’ll find yourself more energetic throughout the day as you have saved the long ride.

                  Take a look at these tips to help you stay productive while working from home:

                  How to Work from Home and Stay Ultra-Productive

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                  39. Get Rid of Time Wasters

                  Common time wasters include Instant Messenger, video games, Flickr, checking your stats 10 times a day, television and extraneous Internet surfing.

                  Don’t rely on your willpower, make use of some of these useful tools to help you stay focus: 10 Online Apps for Better Focus

                  40. Plan Your Meals in Advance

                  Plan out all of your meals a week ahead and make your grocery list accordingly. This allows you to focus on the necessary – saving you time and money. You can also save yourself even more time through a wide variety of apps. One app that I find helpful is Mealime. It’s an app that provides you with a wide selection of recipes and also a convenient spot for your grocery list as well.

                  Considering the fact that over 4 million users have this app, it goes to show that there is a good selection of meal plans that you can follow and that the app is friendly to use.

                  41. Cook Your Meals in Bulk

                  When you cook your meals in bulk, you will have plenty of leftovers. This can avoid having to cook everyday.

                  Find out more about how to make cooking in bulk works: Once a Month Cooking: Productivity Hack or Overrated Time Suck?

                  42. Protect Yourself from Unnecessary Phone Time with Caller ID

                  The minutes you spend on picking up unnecessary phone calls are time wasted. You can prevent that from happening.

                  Check out this detailed guide how you can deal with those unnecessary phone calls: How To Lose the Useless Items that Weigh Down Your Day – Cellphone Calls

                  43. Take Shorter Showers

                  This one may sound silly but it’s actually something I struggle with. I spend up to 30 minutes in the shower. Think of the time I could save simply by speeding up a bit.

                  44. Save the Trips to Bank by Taking Direct Deposit

                  Many employers now offer direct deposit. If yours does, then be sure and take advantage of it and save yourself from a number of trips to the bank.

                  45. Auto Pay Your Bills

                  How many times have you been worried about whether you missed the bills deadline?

                  Auto paying your bills will save you time and eliminate late fees and increased interest rates.

                  46. Shop Online

                  Whenever possible, avoid going to the store. When you shop online, you can be more focus about what you’re getting.

                  47. Speed up your Internet With a Broadband Connection

                  Many people are aware of the slow speed of internet but aren’t doing anything about it. In fact, this is the number one Internet time-saver!

                  If you must use dial-up, then you can use accelerators like Propel and SlipStream to double or even triple your speed.

                  48. Keep up the Speed of Your Computer

                  If you’re a Windows user, use Windows hibernation feature to avoid the slowdown of exiting and restarting Windows.

                  Or maybe, consider switching to Mac as there’re plenty of Advantages You Probably Don’t Know About Switching To Mac From PC.

                  49. Turn off the TV

                  The average American watches more than 4 hours of television every day. Over a 65-year life, that’s 9 years glued to the tube.

                  For better health and productivity, turn off the TV. Here’re 11 more reasons to tell you to stop watching TV so often.

                  Turn off the TV and you are sure to get more out of life.

                  50. Use a Tivo or DVR

                  This can help you cut an hour-long television show down to just 40 minutes. You can save time while not missing the fun.

                  So, here’s the ultimate list of techniques you should learn to boost productivity. Pick the techniques that work for you and make them your daily habits. As time goes, you’ll find yourself being a lot more productive.

                  More Time Management Tips

                  Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

                  Reference

                  [1] Medical News Today: What is biphasic and polyphasic sleep?

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