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7 Not So Obvious Habits To Maximize Your Productivity

7 Not So Obvious Habits To Maximize Your Productivity

    I was a big fan of productivity, and, in some respects, I still am. I’ve been a very early adopter of GTD, and, for years, I did my weekly reviews with the discipline of a zen monk. But, eventually, I hit a roadblock. GTD is about getting things “done”, but in life we have much more to experience than “doing”. We feel. We dream. We enjoy stuff without the pressure of an empty inbox. And, most of the time, we simply are. We’re existing. And that’s ok.

    So, I confess I fell out from the GTD wagon. Gradually, I developed my own framework, which evolved from a productivity-based approach, to a life management based approach. I’m using it for about a year now and, as much as I can tell, so far, so good. If I compare what I accomplish now with what I used to accomplish a year ago, I’m stunned. Not only because I “do” much more than before, but because I actually live more.

    But enough with all this shameless self-promotion intro. I understand that my framework may work perfectly for me, but may be of little, if any, importance for you.

    So, instead of doing a presentation of the Assess – Decide – Do framework, I chose to isolate only 7 simple tips for today’s post. They don’t need any framework to be integrated with and they can be implemented by anyone, with a little bit of awareness. Try them for a week, one for each day of the week.

    As a matter of fact, they’re even organized as such. As you will see, there’s a reason why each tip is assigned to a specific day, but then again, if you feel this isn’t really your Monday cup of tea, for instance, feel free to rotate them as you see fit.

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    1. Monday – Ignore The Unimportant

    I firmly believe that the art of ignorance should be taught in schools. We live in such an information-rich society, our focus is so deeply challenged by dozens or hundreds of stimuli each and every second, that we have a really hard time focusing on what really matters.

    Especially on Mondays, when all the previous week unprocessed stuff seems to crash on us, try to apply this. Focus only on what matters. If you have a presentation to finish in one hour, cut out everything – and I mean: EVERYTHING – that is not connected to it.

    Slash out Twitter, Facebook, email. Turn off the music. Close the door after putting a big sign with “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” on the other side. In time, you’ll become better at this. The hidden frustration that “you’re missing something” will fade away.

    2. Tuesday – Reward Yourself Constantly

    Each tiny task that you finish is an achievement. We forget too often that our big successes are in fact big chains of small tasks performed on a daily basis. So, in order to keep this chaining process running, put a little reward at the end of each small task.

    Tuesdays are great for this habit, because they’re the first link after the week hast started. Just do something nice at the end of each task. Listen to your favorite tune or read your favorite blog (and that would be, of course, Stepcase Lifehack) for the next five minutes.

    As much as we won’t want to admit it, that Pavlov guy was right. And I’m not talking about the dogs here. I’m talking about you. Because you gotta be your own Pavlov and the dogs will be your productivity habits. Train them constantly. And, if need will be, feed them some sugar every now and then.

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    3. Wednesday – Negotiate The Expendable

    It’s the middle of the week, and, by now, there must be some garbage accumulated. Some stuff that you don’t really need to do, but, somehow, it’s still in your to do list. It’s a perfect time to negotiate that stuff. Does it really need to be on your to do list?

    The pressure of constantly doing, delivering, accomplishing made us forget that we do have this option too in our arsenal. I’m talking about negotiation. “Talk” with the task. Or with the person at the other end of the task. Does it really need to be done right now?

    I compare this negotiation process with taking out the water from a gulf. If you’re lucky, you will see an ancient shipwreck. That’s your task. It’s not a yacht anymore, it’s a shipwreck. You will start to realize that what you thought is important, may not even be there anymore. It’s just the ghost of the task.

    4. Thursday – Reuse Past Approaches

    This comes from a long history of programming. I’m still doing it, this programming thing, by the way, because I enjoy it so much. Just try to look at what you have to do and compare it with previous experiences. Like “Have I done this before?. How did I do it?”

    Thursdays are perfect for that, because you now must have a consistent “week work history” to dig through. And, allegedly, you’re also pretty much at the top of your potential. From now on, it will start to go downhill, somehow.

    So, try to identify similarities in your work before you will do the same thing twice, just because you don’t remember doing it before. Pay attention to the circumstances, because they’re never the same, but isolate what you can repeat.

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    5. Friday – Ask For Help

    If I would have a dollar for each time I didn’t ask for help when I should have, I would certainly be a millionaire. Seriously. Being “productive” has this aura of “I’m doing all the stuff by myself. I’m so cool.” Well, maybe you’re cool, but you don’t have to do anything by yourself.

    You have a unique set of skills. Other people have their own unique set of skills. If you combine your set with their set, it’s absolutely obvious that you will get far better results than by using only yours. It’s just simple mathematics here.

    And Fridays are perfect to test this habit, because, admit it, you’re a little bit tired. And it’s also a good pretext for some social interaction. Isolate some task that you know somebody else may be doing better than you and ask for their help.

    6. Saturday – Switch Workplaces

    Ok, we don’t have to work on Saturdays. As I told you, you can just put this tip on any other day of the week. But I chose Saturdays because they are perfect for traveling. Short trips around the town, seeing some new places, meeting some new people.

    Try to do the same with your workplace. See if you can work for a day somewhere else. From home, or from a coffee shop. Or even in another office. Or, if you can’t live your office, on a different chair. Just change something in your surroundings.

    All our habits are shaped by our surroundings. The more you’ll change the surroundings, the better and more consistent your habits will become. This constant stimulation will summon energy resources that you didn’t even know you have.

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    7. Sunday – Change Deadlines Into Livelines

    I kept this from my GTD routine, you know, the weekly review. I did this on Sundays, trying to project the next week. I still try to have a look at the week just before it starts.  And now, a little bit of explanation about the word “liveline”.

    I stopped use the word “deadline” long time ago, because it has “death” in it. The “task slasher” approach. I don’t do this anymore. Because crossing off tasks from your to do lists will eventually end up with crossing off your entire life from your to do lists. Rushing straight to your own death, one crossed task at a time. Change this perspective. A deadline is not the end. Make it a liveline. Make it a beginning.

    And by that I mean something connected with something else. A new start. Think in terms of new beginnings not in term of endings. If you really need to reach the end of something, use the word “milestone”. And replace “deadline” with “liveline” every time you can.

    It will be enlightening, believe me. :)

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    Last Updated on July 13, 2020

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

    1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

    The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

    Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

    For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

    The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

    2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

    Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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    As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

    Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

    3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

    Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

      This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

      We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

      Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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      When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

      Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

      4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

      Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

      For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

      Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

      5. Make Decisions

      For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

      If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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      If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

      Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

      I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

      This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

      The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

      6. Take Some Form of Action

      Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

      The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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      It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

      Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

      The Bottom Line

      Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

      When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

      More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

      Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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