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Last Updated on October 31, 2019

Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials

Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials

These days our lives are busier than ever. We work more than ever. We are more stressed and exhausted than ever before. And yet we get less done and are not as happy.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The problem is that we are overloaded with information and tasks, and we try to get everything done instead of just the most essential things. Solution: focus on only the essential, eliminate the rest, and allow yourself to get into that beautiful state known as “flow”.

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And although it can be hard to give up all the busy-ness that we’ve grown accustomed to, the change will have tremendous benefits on our sanity, our stress levels, our happiness, and yes, our productivity.

Here are 10 simple ways to be more productive with less effort:

1. Clear your head.

It’s impossible to gain perspective, and to know what is truly essential, if we are in the middle of an information stream. Take an hour, or half a day if possible, to shut off the information flow, and to get a larger view of your life and your job. The time you take off will be well worth it. Tell everyone that you are unavailable, shut off all communications, shut yourself in somewhere private, and take some time to think about what is important. What do you want? Where are you going? What will it take to get there? Another good way to clear your head, which is necessary for focus, is to write down everything that you need to do, all your tasks and projects and ideas. Dump the contents of your mind on paper, and then stop thinking about them for a little while.

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2. Focus on the essential tasks.

Once you’ve gotten your head cleared, you need to figure out what tasks are most essential. Ask yourself this magic question: “What task can you do that will get you the most return on your time?” Figure out the project that will get you the most recognition, win you awards, or get you the most business. Something that will pay off big. Not something you’ll forget about in a week, but something that others will remember you by. This is an essential task. Make a list of these types of tasks — they’re your most important things to do this week.

3. Eliminate the rest.

Now look at your overall list. What’s on there that’s not essential? Can you just drop them from your schedule? Or delegate them to someone else? If not, put them on a “waiting list”. Then, as you focus on your essential tasks, check back on this waiting list every now and then. Sometimes you’ll realize that the less essential tasks weren’t really necessary at all.

4. Do essential tasks first.

If you’ve got a list of things to do today, and one or two of them are truly essential, do those items first thing in the morning. Don’t wait until later in the day, because they’ll get pushed back as other urgent stuff comes up. Get them out of the way, and your productivity will truly soar.

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5. Eliminate distractions.

You can put essential stuff on your list all year long, but if you are constantly interrupted by email notifications, IM, cell phones, your RSS reader, gadgets and widgets, social media, forums and the like, you’ll never be productive. Turn these things off, disconnect yourself from the Internet if possible, clear your desk of all papers, clear your walls and surrounding areas, and allow yourself to truly focus.

6. Use simple tools.

Don’t fidget with a bunch of gadgets or the latest and coolest applications. Find a simple notebook for writing things down, a simple to-do list (no frills) and the simplest application possible for doing your work. Then forget about the tools and think only of the task at hand. If you’re too worried about the tools, you’re not actually doing anything.

7. Do one thing at a time.

Multi-tasking is a waste of time. You can’t get things done with a million things going on at once, pulling for your attention. Focus on the essential task in front of you, to the exclusion of all else, and you are much more likely to get it completed, in less time, with less effort.

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8. Find quiet.

In addition to a quiet working environment, you need time every day that you can call your own, where you don’t have to do work. This could be through reading, taking a bath, walking in nature, going swimming at the beach, going jogging, meditating. Not reading your feeds. Get away from the information overload and find that peace that will allow you to truly focus when you do work, and to review your day in your mind, and to get the perspective to see what is essential.

9. Make the most of your work.

It’s one thing to write something great, or to create something fantastic. But it’s entirely another thing to make that great thing explode, to get you attention, to earn the recognition you deserve — which will lead to more business or more opportunities. Once you’ve created the Next Great Thing, promote it, show it to others, find a way to have it carry you as far as it can take you. Don’t just create something and move on to the next thing. Use your energy and talents to their fullest extent.

10. Simplify some more.

Once you’ve simplified down to the essential, and eliminated distractions, you should become productive. But distractions and the unnecessary have a way of creeping back in and accumulating. Every now and then, take a look at what you’re doing, at the information coming into your life, at how you spend your time and the tools you use. Then simplify some more.

Featured photo credit: Domenico Loia via unsplash.com

More by this author

Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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