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The 8 Habits of Highly Productive People

The 8 Habits of Highly Productive People

For the full original unedited article, visit Celestine’s blog, Personal Excellence.

Are you a productive person? Have you ever wondered what makes one more productive than another?

Unlike what most might think, being productive is not about one’s intellect or capability. Being productive is about practicing certain habits over others, such that you can get the most out of your days. As someone very passionate about personal productivity, I have found eight habits to be superior in boosting one’s productivity. Practice them and prepare to skyrocket your productivity!

Habit 1: Ruthlessly cut away the unimportant (and Focus on the important)

The first habit of productive people is to slice and dice everything that’s unimportant.

For everything you’re doing now, ask yourself how important this is. Does this bring you dramatically closer to your dreams? Does this create any real impact in your life in the long term? Is it the absolute best way to spend your time or can you be doing more high value tasks?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all the questions, keep this task. If not, perhaps it’s time to ditch it. No point doing something unimportant! Say you’re handling a project that makes no difference to your business after it’s completed. It wouldn’t matter whether you take an hour, three hours, or one week to do it—it’d still make no difference at the end of the day!

Many people tend to wrongly classify regular tasks as high value tasks. A good tool to set them apart is the Time Management Matrix that classifies our daily activities into 4 different quadrants. Your most important tasks fall under Quadrant 2, which should be your quadrant of focus.

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Habit 2: Allocate breaks strategically

The second habit is to allocate breaks strategically.

I don’t think being productive requires you to work non-stop like a robot. On the contrary, it’s by doing that that you become less productive. While the number of hours spent on work increases and the amount of work accomplished seems marginally higher, the work done per unit time is lower than your average. Not only that, your work done per extra unit time actually decreases. In Economics, this is known as the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Rest is important. No matter how much you want to work, there are areas of your life that work can’t fulfill, such as love, family, health. That’s why our life wheel is made up of different segments, vs. just 1 big segment. Each segment is distinct and irreplaceable by others. By “rest”, I’m referring to taking time for any segment of your life that is outside of Business/Career/Studies. Taking time off charges your batteries so you can sprint forward when you return to work.

Watch this video tutorial on the life wheel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfDUK6c9gwk

If you’re self-employed or on a flexible work schedule, you can put this into practice easily. Even if you’re in a 9-5 job, you can still do it all the time. Whenever you feel unproductive, throw in a quick break. Walk away from the desk, get a drink from the pantry, go for a toilet break, talk to a colleague about work. You’ll be more perked up when you return.

Habit 3: Remove productivity pitstops (i.e. distractions)

The third habit is to remove productivity pitstops.

Productivity pitstops are things that limit your productivity. They can be the music you listen to when you work, your slow computer, unwanted phone calls, alerts from your inbox on incoming mail, the internet, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. These things trap you and prevent you from getting things done.

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Go about your daily routine and observe when your output slows down. What’s distracting you? How can you remove it? Experiment and try working in different places. Adjust your environment. Make tweaks here and there. The more productivity pitstops you find and remove, the more productive you’ll be.

Habit 4: Tap into your inspiration

The fourth habit is to tap into inspiration.

How do you do that? Simple – think about what inspires you in life. Is it helping others grow? Connecting with people? Being recognized for your work? Working with the poverty? Helping the unfortunate? Being #1 in your field? How can you achieve them? Find out your motivators, then use them to drive you.

My biggest inspiration is to see others achieving their highest potential and living their best lives. I love seeing everyone living to their highest being, and if there are ever anything blocking them I’ll feel all ready to rip it away, so I use this to drive me in everything I create. When I’m writing a blog entry, I’ll start by thinking what is an area people are facing blockages in, then I channel into that energy.

Habit 5: Create barriers to entry

The fifth habit of is to create barriers to entry.

A great thing about our world today is that it’s easier than ever to reach out to someone. Everyone is just a text message/phone call/email/Facebook message away. At the same time it has become a highly distracting place to live in. Every few minutes, there’s a distraction coming in, whether by way of a phone call, a text message, an e-mail, or a Facebook mass event invite.

To get real work done, I recommend you put up barriers, so it’s hard(er) to reach you. Unplug your phone, switch off your phone, close off your inbox, set a personal rule where you only reply to emails after X days. I’m not saying disappear from the face of the earth, but do that during your work hours at least, especially when you’re working on an intense project. After a while, people will get used to it and adhere to the rule in order to reach you.

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Habit 6: Optimize time pockets

The sixth habit is to optimize time pockets.

Time pockets refer to pockets of time you have in between events. You usually get time pockets when waiting for people, commuting, walking from one place to another, etc.

Look at your schedule. What are the time pockets that can be better utilized? How can you maximize them? Have some ready activities to do during these pockets, such as listening to podcasts, reading books, planning, etc. You will be amazed at how much can be done in just a short amount of time!

Habit 7: Set timelines

The seventh habit is to set timelines.

This is a fundamental productivity habit. By Parkinson’s Law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. This means if you don’t set a timeline, you can take forever to complete what you’re doing. If you set a timeline of two weeks, you’ll take two weeks. If you set one week, you’ll take one  week. And interestingly enough, if you set one hour, you actually can complete it by one hour too, if you truly want to.

So, set timelines. When you set timelines, you set the intention to complete the work by this time, hence paving the way for the reality to manifest.

Habit 8: Automate everything possible

The eighth and last habit is to automate everything possible.

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Technology today has made automation possible for a lot of things we do. Even when it’s impossible to fully automate the task, we can still use the systems to get a lot of the work done for us.

Keep a record of the things you do today, and see how you can automate them. Some of the not-so-productive tasks that we do on a regular basis are:

  1. Delete, archive, sort our mail
  2. Delete spam mail
  3. Paying our bills
  4. Appointment scheduling
  5. Planning our days/weeks/months (unproductive because it’s still planning vs. acting)

Here is a partial list of things I automate:

  • Mail: I have set up e-mail filters where all site requests and reader mail automatically go into my ‘Reply later’ folder.  I also have filters where newsletters and subscriptions go into different folders depending on what they are about. That way, my only job is to read e-mails and respond where needed, not to sort.
  • Scheduling: My schedules are somewhat automated. I set recurring items for things I’ve to do daily, weekly or monthly like paying the bills, exercising (daily), training workshops, etc so I don’t have to worry about them later. It’s not exactly automatic in that I have to first create the entry, but once it’s set I don’t need to do anything about it anymore.
  • Tweeting/Facebook: I automate the tweeting and posting of my new posts. Every time a new post goes live, my twitter will have an announcement, which automatically feeds into my Facebook as well
  • Payments: My product payments are automatic. Whenever someone makes a purchase for one of my books, e-junkie (my payment vendor) will automatically generate an invoice, a download link and a confirmation email and send them to the buyer. The payment is automatically sent to Paypal.

I’m continuously looking for ways to automate my process, so I can spend more time on creating value for others rather than being stuck in busy work. By automating your to-do list as much as possible, you reserve your time for the absolute important things. If you get a deja vu feeling when doing something on your task list, that’s a cue to automate that item.

This article is also available in manifestoweb lecture and audio podcast formats.

 

More by this author

Celestine Chua

Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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