What makes a productive person? What do they do, what habits do they follow?
The common notion of productivity is the ability to get a lot done in a short span of time. While it is true, it is not complete. True productivity is the ability to create high impact results in a short amount of time. This is the kind of productivity that matters, not busy work that creates no impact in the long term. For example, it’s better to send out one email that may double your sales, than reply to 100 emails that make no difference to your business.
As someone obsessed with productivity, I have identified 8 habits of highly productive people. These habits help me get the best out of my day. If you follow just one or two of these habits, you will see your productivity soar.
Habit #1: Remove the unimportant (and Focus on the important)
Before you start your work day,
- Write down what you are going to do.
- Identify the most important tasks, and rank them by importance.
- Ask yourself: “Are these the best use of my time? Do they bring me closer to my goals?”
You want to work on the most important things for the day. For the non-important tasks, push them to a later date or take them off the list. Learning to say no is very important here.
Many people tend to wrongly classify regular tasks as high-value tasks. The Time Management Matrix is a great tool to classify your tasks. Focus on Quadrant 2 tasks, which are tasks that contribute to your long-term goals such as having good health, building meaningful relationships, and pursuing your ideal career. Read more: Put First Things First
Habit #2: Work on the 80/20
Habit #2 is about being effective first, before being efficient.
Effective means being strategic in how you approach your goals by focusing on the biggest impact actions. Efficient means doing your tasks quickly and accurately.
While there are many things you can do to pursue your goal, focus your energy on the few tasks that create the biggest impact. By the 80/20 Principle, 20% of tasks create 80% of results in a goal. The other 80% of tasks create only 20% of the results. Being effective is about focusing on the 20% key tasks to create maximum results.
The difference between Habits #1 and #2 is that with Habit #1, you focus on tasks that lead you to your important goals. With Habit #2, you further strategize by identifying the methods that help you achieve your goals in the fastest way. This helps you get the most out of your time.
Habit #3: Take breaks
No matter how much you work, there are areas in your life that work can’t fulfill, such as social needs, love, and rest. Be sure to take breaks. You can take regular short breaks throughout the day, such as looking out of the window for 5 minutes every hour, going to the washroom to freshen up, or meditating for 5 minutes when you are tired. Take vacation breaks every once in a while. For example, a weekend trip every few months, or just time out from your usual routine. Doing so helps you maintain focus, take stock, and sharpen the saw.
Habit #4: Remove distractions
In our deeply networked world today, we face distractions everywhere. It’s easy to visit our social profiles when we lose focus. But each click wastes 10-15 minutes of our time. When we enter Facebook’s walled garden, we are sucked into the world of endless notifications and updates. When we go to YouTube, we are dowsed with tons of videos we “might be interested in.”
Such distractions add up, so do a productivity audit. Start your day, then track whenever you get sidetracked. What distracts you? How much time do you spend on each distraction? In total, how much time is wasted?
When I did this audit, I realized that Facebook sucked up a lot of my time. While I would use Facebook groups to look for a piece of information for my work, Facebook’s overall design is created to lock you in, so you find yourself sucked into its little walled garden. It also creates an addictive cycle because you are “rewarded” with a small sense of gratification each time you answer a message, not unlike pulling the slots of the casino slots machine. After realizing this, I stopped using Facebook, only logging in once in a while to get some information, then logging out right after.
What’s distracting you? How can you remove it? Note that using old or slow tools can be distracting as you combat technical difficulties. Upgrade your tools if they are slowing you down.
Habit #5: Set a timeline
Even though I enjoy the process of doing something without a deadline, there are certain tasks where it’s good to set a timeline. This is especially so for big goals, because you can end up working on them for ages. A timeline helps you stay focused and prioritize. It also helps you keep the end in sight.
The goal here isn’t perfection. The goal here is to get something out so that you can get something done and improve on it.
What do you want to finish by this month? Set your targets. Break down your goals for the month into weekly tasks, then daily tasks. Use this task list to guide your daily activity. This will help you make the best out of your days.
Habit #6: Be in a flow environment
In my course on overcoming procrastination, I teach my participants the importance of creating your flow environment. A flow environment is an environment that inspires you and helps you achieve peak productivity.
For example, I recently revamped my workroom and it has greatly improved my productivity. Even though my new workroom is small (maybe 4-5 square meters), it has everything I need. All my filming equipment is set up so I can film videos whenever I want to. I have a laptop stand which improves my posture. I have a nice view outside my window which inspires me. And I have decorated the room with different colored ornaments which keep it vibrant.
Even though it may not seem like it, your environment plays a big role in your productive output. A question to you: Does your work environment inspire you? Does it help you stay productive? If not, what changes can you make to stay productive?
Habit #7: Use time pockets
Time pockets are the pockets of time you have in between activities. You usually get time pockets when waiting for people, commuting, queuing, or waiting for the next event to happen.
Even though I work from home, I still commute a fair bit, say when meeting friends, attending events, and giving workshops. Rather than let the time go to waste, I use these time pockets for work. I type articles on the go. I bring a notebook to jot down ideas. If I’m walking or queuing, I listen to informational podcasts. Sometimes I meditate to clear my mind.
Amazingly, I’m highly productive during these time pockets. Because there’s nothing else I can do during these 15, 30, 45 minutes, I can fully concentrate on what I’m doing. When I was in college, I would do my homework while waiting for the professor to show up. Doing so helped me complete a lot of work, and I usually had no homework after school.
Look at your schedule. What are your time pockets, and how can you maximize them? Have ready things to do during these pockets, such as listening to podcasts, reading books, and planning. You will be amazed at how much can be done in a short amount of time!
Habit #8: Automate
With technology, it’s possible to automate a lot of things. Even when it’s impossible to fully automate the task, we can still automate part of it.
Some things I automate:
- Email. I have email filters to file my emails into specific folders. That way, my job is to read emails and respond to mail, not sort.
- 1-1 Coaching. My 1-1 coaching calls are automated, in that clients book appointments on my 1-1 coaching page, make payment, and the appointments are added to my work calendar. I get a notification and work on preparing for the call, rather than the administrative hassle like figuring out time zone, arranging for a time, etc.
- Social media. Whenever I have a new blog post, it is automatically posted on my social media profiles.
- Product sales. My product sales are automated. Whenever someone makes a purchase, my payment vendor will automatically generate an invoice, generate a download link, and send a confirmation email to the buyer. The payment is automatically sent to my account.
- Bill payment. All my bill payments are automated, from insurance to phone bills to taxes to cleaning fees.
What are the things you do regularly? Can you automate them instead? For example:
- Organizing your mail
- Deleting spam
- Paying bills
- Paying taxes
- Scheduling appointments
- Any repetitive, low-level task
When you automate recurring tasks, you can use your time for the most important things.