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Get Productive! 15 Ideas that Really Work!

Get Productive! 15 Ideas that Really Work!

Can I tell you a little secret?

Working smart isn’t about doing more in less time. It’s about doing less in more time.

Confused?

Let me explain: Being truly productive — maybe “effective” is a better word — is not about rushing mindlessly through your to do list. It’s about first being prudent with task selection and then doing the tasks that make the biggest difference.

The Most Important Thing

If there’s one thing I’d want you to take away from this post, then it’s this: Use the Eisenhower matrix to identify what tasks are important and what tasks are urgent and then act on them in this order:

  • Quadrant 1 – Urgent and Important tasks – these are critical to your day and must be dealt with immediately. Think dealing with a heart attack or child in hospital.
  • Quadrant 2 – Not Urgent and Important tasks – You want to spend most of your time in this quadrant. Think regular exercise or good parenting. If you exercise regularly you’re less likely to end up with a heart attack.
  • Quadrant 3 – Urgent but not Important tasks – Unfortunately we waste a lot of time in this quadrant. Think ‘urgent’ emails or constantly responding to SMS messages. These appear urgent but are just interruptions and hijack your day.
  • Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent and Not Important – These are downtime and recreational activities. You need to decompress but try and schedule these towards the end of the day.

Once you’ve decided on which tasks fall into which quadrant you can use one of the productivity tricks below to work through your targeted to do list.

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1. The Pomodoro technique.

Essentially this is breaking your tasks down into 25 minute increments and attacking your work with intense focus for those time slices. After each 25 minute slice you take a 3-5 minute break. And every four pomodoro’s you take a 15-3- minute break. That’s it. The idea here is that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

2. The Getting Things Done (GTD) approach.

This approach categorises tasks in two ways. By projects (which we’re all familiar with) and by contexts which is a set of conditions necessary to execute on the tasks. Imagine this: You need to make an appointment to see the doctor, call the plumber to fix the bathroom and call back your accountant. These tasks would probably fall into the health, home maintenance and finance projects respectively. But they would all be executed from one context – your phone. One of the benefits of the GTD method is that it allows you to club tasks by context and keep several projects moving forward using the ‘context handle’.

3. Process your email in batches.

Email is one of those quadrant 4 tasks that can really hijack your day. Don’t check your email too often. That’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to productivity. Train your stakeholders to expect replies from you at 10am, 12pm and 3pm (using an out off office message and/or a message in your email signature) and then stick to these times. You’ll be amazed at how many ‘urgent’ tasks ‘resolve themselves’!

4. Reserve your creative work for the morning.

If your day involves work that’s creative or requires critical thinking, schedule this for your mornings. For most people mornings are their ‘prime time’. This is when you’re likely to get the best breakthroughs and maximum output on creative pursuits. Save the admin tasks for later in the day.

5. Plan your day the night before using time boxing.

Planning your tasks the night before gives you emotional distance from the overwhelm that inevitably creeps into your busy work day. Plan your tasks on your calendar using time boxing and stick to the plan. Only make exceptions for emergencies!

6. Learn the art of saying “no”.

Know what makes Apple so successful? They know how to say ‘no’. They say no to hundreds of possible design features that they could cram into their devices and distill it down to the bare essentials. They are masters of elimination. The end result? Simplicity in form and functionality. This is the approach you need to take to your to do list. Distill it down to the bare essentials and then go to town on those tasks first.

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7. Use a timer (I like Vitamin R for the Mac).

Here’s another very powerful secret. Time yourself while you’re working. Set yourself aggressive time lines too. Think it’ll take you an hour to write that article. Try and do it in 45 mins. You’ll find that it’ll sharpen your focus if nothing else.

8. Consume audio content while running or exercising.

Use audiobooks whenever possible. Check out the Amazon matchmaker offering which allows you to swap between reading the ebook and and listening to audiobook version while still keeping your bookmarks intact. It’s an awesome product and often offers the complimentary audiobooks to go with your existing ebook at prices as low as $1.99.

9. Develop rhythms of focus and rest.

In keeping with the Pomodoro technique make sure you figure out a rhythm of focus and rest. I tend to keep the longer work sessions and shorter rest sessions towards the beginning of the day. As the day wears on I tend to shorten the work sessions and take longer breaks. Work out the rhythm that’s right for you and then go for it.

10. Do a productivity audit on yourself.

Having experimented with excel, handwritten notes, and a few other methodologies, I’ve found the best way to track your time is to get rescuetime.com setup on your computer. It automatically tracks your activities while you’re online. And if you decide to upgrade to the professional version (currently around $10 a month) you can even track your activities offline.

You only need to track your activities for a month to do a productivity audit on yourself. That’s enough to get an understanding of how you’re spending your time and compare it to how you think you’re spending your time.

Trust me you’ll be surprised.

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11. Don’t multitask, Uni task.

Let’s bust one of the biggest prevailing myths around productivity. Multitasking does not work. Several studies have demonstrated the myth of multitasking.

Mult-tasking causes more distractions, dulls your focus and increases stress levels. Its costs far outweigh its benefits.

12. Use your mornings as a springboard for success.

Know the secret of the highest achievers? They use their mornings to get a jump on their day. By the time they’ve reached their afternoon they’ve completed their most important tasks. They even get a workout done, read or listen to inspiring material (often while working out) before they start their day. This increases their energy levels and sets them up for success.

The first few hours of the day sets the tone. What do you do to get yourself into gear when you wake up?

13. Identify your prime time and eliminate distractions during those hours.

Get very clear over all the times when you’re most productive. Most people hit their stride at about 10 am. When’s your prime time?

Also, eliminate distractions to take full advantage of your prime-time hours. For example, if you find that your prime time is at 10 am then make sure you don’t change your email and avoid meetings around that time.

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Block out that time in your calendar and use it to become laser focused.

14. Develop rituals that you associate with high performance.

Have you seen Rafael Nadal arrange his drink bottles obsessively in between sets at wimbledon? That’s an example of a high performance ritual.

Rituals are great because that don’t involve a lot of thinking, and automatically get you into the design for high-performance work. I find this is one of the best ways to achieve ‘flow’.

15. Stop procrastination dead in its tracks once and for all!

One of the biggest drains on your productivity is procrastination. Procrastination affects your productivity in two ways. Firstly, you lose time when you are procrastinating. Secondly, and more importantly, delaying tasks often comes with a cost. For example, if you don’t exercise regularly you’re more likely to end up with a heart disease or stroke. Or if you let important tasks  build up you’re going to spend a lot more time putting out fires that you would never have had in the first place if you had completed the tasks ahead of time.

Want to overcome procrastination? Use this mindfulness approach to become aware of your patterns around procrastination so you can overcome them.

What You Achieve is More Important that How Much You Achieve

At the end of the day it’s not how many tasks you get through but how many strategically important moves you’ve made in your day. It’s about identifying the most important items on your to do list and then applying these tools to get them done first. Applying excellent productivity tools blindly to your to do list is like using a blunt instrument to cut through steel. You’re wasting your time.

How do you prioritise your tasks and what’s your favorite productivity hack?

More by this author

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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