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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

Life Coach, Blogger

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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