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10 Underrated Things Productive People Do Differently

10 Underrated Things Productive People Do Differently

Are you ready to be a productive powerhouse of a person? Really? No. You’re probably not ready. Go on back to that average life, with the occasional spurts of productivity followed by the long stretches of doing-nothing-significant.

Wait. What’s that? You’re really tired of that cycle? Are you sure? Because if you really want to be productive (instead of just read about it and talk about it), you’ll need to change. No, not by getting the latest task management app or becoming a calendar ninja.

By doing things differently. By thinking differently. By changing your life in subtle but powerful ways, like these 10 things productive people do differently.

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1. They quit caring about what other people think of their life and choices.

Not in a cool, rebel-without-a-cause kind of way. No, productive people are too busy actually doing stuff to waste time worrying about if other people think they’re cool or not. Who cares if they fit the current definition of cool? Productive people are the ones doing, changing, moving and shaking the world in ways that will change the definition of cool. Want to be productive? Let go of your concern for the opinion of your group, your peers, your buddies, your trendsetters. Let them waste their time chasing what’s cool. You do the stuff that changes the world.

2. They quit trying to make everybody happy a long, long time ago.

In fact, productive people have learned that sometimes it’s really important to say No to making other people happy. Because what makes other people happy is often not what makes you productive. Your friends want you to go out and have some fun with them… every night. Your mom wants you to come visit… every weekend. Your significant other wants more time together, more dates, more romance. Your cat just wants to cuddle.

Look, that’s great, but making everybody happy means that you have no time or energy left to get stuff done. You’ve got to learn to say No. Let your friends and family make their own happiness, while you do what you need to do. Then you can spend time together without any weird, codependent factors messing things up. Yay for healthy relationships that let you be the productive person you can be.

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3. They choose and commit to a few things at a time.

Being a productive person does not mean being a superhero. You’re not here to save the world. You’re here to do your job in it, whatever that job is for you. Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s designing, maybe it’s inventing, maybe it’s helping in some other capacity. But if your powers are divided between many things, you will not be able to accomplish much of anything. Choose a few areas in your life that matter the most to you, and commit to doing your best at those even if that means letting go of other things.

4. They have a few well-defined priorities.

When productive people commit to a few, well-chosen areas in life, they let those areas define their priorities. Then they let the rest of life go to the non-priority side of things. No, that doesn’t mean that they cut out everything and everyone who isn’t a “high priority.” But it does mean that when there’s a choice to make, between something that is high priority and something that isn’t, the high priority always wins.

5. They choose to do less but do what matters.

When you think of productive people, maybe you picture somebody hammering through a mile-long list of tasks, scratching off a million to-do items by the end of the day. But that’s not really what productivity is about. Productivity is about saying no to the endless list of things that could be done. There is always more to be done, in any area of life: personal, home, relationships, physical, work, hobbies. The task list is endless. But the priority list is short. Productive people tackle a few things, the things that are high priorities, and focus their time and energy on getting that stuff done.

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6. They don’t try to cheat or skip the work.

The world wants a get-rich-quick handbook for life, and there are plenty of those out there. Of course, none of them really work. The really successful people in life know that overnight success comes after months and years of work. Productive people aren’t wasting their time trying to get out of work, or get around work, or figure out how to cheat and get to the front of the line. They just do the work. How much time do you spend trying to refine your systems, streamline your organization, redo your apps, set up your workspace, train your assistant, or otherwise simplify and reduce your workload? It’s not that those things aren’t helpful. Systems, organization, workspace and workflow, help, and overall simplification are great methods and tools. But they don’t replace that part of life where you simply buckle down and do the work. Productive people do the work.

7. They see work differently than you do.

Speaking of work, what’s your attitude toward it? Because your attitude toward work says a lot about how productive you will be, or not. If you’re the average guy or gal, you probably “get through” work so you can get to the fun stuff. That’s fine, but it’s not going to make you a productive person. It’s going to keep you average. Productive people understand that work – whatever it is, whatever it looks like – is a privilege. Work is how we accomplish things. Work is how we change things. Work is how we reach goals. Work is always required for productivity. Whether it’s the work you get paid for, the work you call a career, the work you do for the love of it, or the work you do at home, work is how you make stuff happen. It’s not a burden. It’s not a duty. It’s your right. It’s your power. Your ability to work is your ability to be something, do something, and change your life the way you want.

8. They spend time learning before they start doing.

Productive people know that knowledge is power. When they’ve chosen their focus areas, and they’ve set their priorities, they start doing the research. They find people who know what they need to know and develop relationships. They conduct interviews. They read studies and reports, newspapers and magazines, books and journals. They try and test. They take notes. They think. They develop skills, and then they start doing.

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9. They spend less time planning than you think.

Plans are helpful but they’re not ever going to be error-free. Life changes along the way. Productive people know that a plan is a starting point. A good plan is more like a compass than a roadmap. It’s going to point you in the right direction, but it’s not going to lay out every bridge, road, route, and obstacle you’ll encounter on the way. Productive people take just enough time to put together a decent plan that gives them a starting point and a direction for the goal they’re trying to achieve. Then they start, and they change the plan as needed along the way.

10. They know that risk is inevitable.

Most of us, here in the Land of Average, have this idea that if we do things right, we’ll be safe. We’ll eliminate danger, whether that’s physical danger or financial danger or emotional danger. But that’s simply not true. Nothing you do can ever take the risk out of life. Life is risk. That’s all there is to it. So be like the productive people of the world, and quit wasting your time trying to avoid risk. Instead, be proactive and choose the risks you’re willing to take.

After all, if you are alive, you’re going to be taking risks. You might as well be the one who decides what they are.

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Featured photo credit: Quasic 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)

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

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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