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10 Habits of The World’s Most Productive People

10 Habits of The World’s Most Productive People
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Everyone has had the experience of not having enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to. Given the busy lives that we all lead, staying organized and staying productive can be a challenge. It is easy to get caught up on the wrong path and waste valuable time you need to get things done. Take some advice from ten of the world’s most productive people about staying on task and staying productive.

1. No Email in the Morning

Author of The 4-Hour Workweek Tim Ferriss has a brilliant strategy for handling the ubiquitous time-sink that is email. He spends the first few hours of the day ignoring it. According to Ferriss:

“You might need to get into your email to finish 100% of your most important to-dos. But can you get 80 or 90% done before you go into Gmail and have your rat brain explode with freak-out, dopamine excitement and cortisol panic? Yes.”

2. Create a System for Certain Tasks

When you have something you work on everyday it is best to create a system to handle it efficiently and without getting overwhelmed. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com has come up with a strategy for staying on top of emails that he calls “Yesterbox.” Each morning when he boots up his computer he only answers emails he received the day before. As he explains on yesterbox.com:

“The great thing about this is when you get up in the morning, you know exactly how many emails you have to get through, there’s a sense of progress as you process each email from yesterday and remove it from your inbox, and there’s actually a point when you have zero emails left to process from yesterday.”

3. Limit Decision Fatigue

Each time you have to make a decision you use up a little bit of your limited supply of mental energy. To make the most of your cognitive reserves eliminate unnecessary decisions and simplify others. Take an example from productivity gurus like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Albert Einstein and wear the same outfit every day. By not spending time and energy on picking out clothes, you have more time and energy to devote to more worth-while things.

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4. Handle Things Once

When swift action or decision-making is required, use Harvard Business Professor Robert Pozen’s OHIO strategy and Only Handle It Once. If you get an important email that requires your attention, reply immediately and move on to the next task. Keep your day moving and keep easily finished tasks off your to-do list.

5. Prioritize Tasks

Sometimes the best strategies for staying productive are the most obvious. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stresses the importance of getting easy tasks out of the way in rapid-fire succession:

“I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of  progress.”

6. Take Vacations

In a world where everyone is always fighting to get ahead it might seem counter-intuitive to go on vacation, but more and more companies are adopting policies that make time away from the office mandatory. Taking some time to clear your head and relax can do wonders for your productivity when you return. Follow Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s philosophy:

“I pace myself by taking a weeklong vacation every four months.”

7. Sleep

Similar to taking regular vacations, getting a good night’s sleep will recharge your brain and improve your ability to stay on task. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington swears by the strategy of stepping away from a perpetually busy schedule to get the necessary amount of rest (at least 7 hours a night). Not only are you more able to make decisions when you’re rested, those decisions tend to be of better quality and you are less likely to feel overwhelmed by them.

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8. Stay Fit

Take a page from Virgin CEO Richard Branson’s playbook and treat working out like it is part of your job. Many productive people (and scientists alike) find that engaging in at least 20 minutes of moderate intense exercise each day keeps their brains working at a high level and their energy levels high to match.

9. Start Early

You may not love the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn but a surprising number of the world’s most productive people love to get a head start on their day by starting early. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz takes advantage of working at a company built on foundations of caffeine:

“I get up around 4:30, and naturally the first thing I do is make some coffee.”

10. Keep a Routine

Let’s end with a tip from one of the busiest and most powerful men in the world, US president Barack Obama. The secret that keeps him from getting overwhelmed when the going gets tough is to keep to a strict schedule. In addition to only ever wearing blue or gray suits, the leader of the free world insists on his morning workout, dinner with his daughters, and having a late night block of time devoted to reading and preparing for the next day’s work. By limiting uncertainty, he is able to stay maximally productive.

Featured photo credit: Joe Crimmings via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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