“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King
“Think of many things; do one.” – Portuguese proverb
We all get a mere 24 hours a day.
Whether you’re a top executive of a Fortune 500 company, or a college student preparing for finals — the clock ends at precisely the same time.
But why is it that some can achieve so much more in those set hours than others can? Is it in their genes? Were they taught superb time management skills from when they were young, or is it simply good habits they practice daily?
Well, it’s a combination of both. Time management skills is exactly that — a skill that anyone can master with effort and a bit of focus. To get us started, let’s look at 10 habits of highly productive people that you can incorporate into your daily routine.
Here are 10 ways to become more productive today:
1. Get rid of distractions
First things first; log out of your social media accounts and turn off notifications. This is not exactly new “news” but it’s worth mentioning.
If you don’t see what your childhood friend from second-grade (whom you haven’t seen in years and lives all the way across the ocean in Thailand) had for breakfast on Instagram – you’ll be ok! So go ahead, turn it off. You’ll be grateful you did once you see those checks on your To-Do list.
2. Identify your single Most Important Task (MIT) for the day, and do it!
We’re busy people with loads of things to do every day. Unfortunately, we can get so busy doing all the little day-to-day things, that we don’t wind up doing the important work. I’m a huge Tim Ferriss fan, and I like his take on this problem. “Focus on being productive instead of busy.” – so true!
“If I have 10 important things to do in a day, it’s 100% certain nothing important will get done that day,” Ferris says in this podcast episode (Productivity Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me). “On the other hand, I can usually handle one must-do item and block out my lesser behaviors for two to three hours a day.”
The solution: Write down 1-3 Most Important Tasks (MIT’s) for the day. This is the task you most want or need to get done by the end of today.
3. Do the hardest task first
As you start your day, it might feel like you have all the time in the world to do your work, but your time is limited. Especially with all of today’s distractions and notifications, it’s no mystery where all our time goes! (Ah you Reddit vortex, you sucked me in again!)
Make sure you work on the Most Important Tasks (MIT’s) first which you’ve already established if you’re following along. Set yourself a deadline and get to work on this task. This not only helps you stay focused and productive, but it can help you to say no to disruptions and keep you on the road to success!
By fulfilling your MITs as quickly as possible, it gives you this superhero-like momentum to keep going and handle anything else that comes your way.
4. Listen to a productivity playlist
Studies show that music can help us to better retain new information.
“Music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory,” says Dr. Masha Godkin, a professor at Northcentral University.
You can create your own or here are some free music playlists on YouTube to get you started:
- Classical: The Best of Classical Music – Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin
- Spa: Relaxing spa background, music
- White noise: Relaxing white noise, sleep music
- Electronic Music: Hybrid Minds EDM
- New Age: Calming New Age music for meditation, deep sleep & massage
- Alpha Waves Music: Relaxing studying and concentration music
Focus@Will is a great app that has playlists already set up to help you be more productive during your workday.
5. Limit the number of times you check your email
Avoid checking your emails first thing in the morning, and instead set sometimes to check them throughout the day. A study by the University of California at Irving found that the average worker checks their email 74 (gasp) times a day!
Instead, schedule times to check your inbox to be more proactive, not reactive. Set a reminder on your phone when it’s time to check emails or jot down the times that you’ve decided on.
6. Get some fresh air
Your brain might be hard at work, but your body needs some TLC too. Take a break from time to time, and ideally, go for a walk outside and get some fresh air.
7. Work in 25-minute increments
Created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management tool that I love and use daily. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” (Italian for tomato) after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. You basically use a timer to break down work into intervals, 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. I use this free Chrome extension, Tomato Timer, which you can set and it helps you stay the course.
I like to take a short walk or stretch, get some water or just relax a little during my 5-10 minute break. The idea is to keep going with this method and once you complete 4 “Pomodoro’s” or 4 x 25-minute tasks, you’ve now earned a longer break of 30-40 minutes. I like the gamified approach so this is a winner in my books.
8. Quit multitasking
It may “feel” productive when you’re inputting data in a spreadsheet on one screen, checking your emails on another, skimming a text on your phone, all while listening to a Hidden Brain podcast in the background. Well, it may actually be depleting your power reserves more than anything else.
One study found that only 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. Multitasking has also been found to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Every time you change gears, it essentially causes stress to the brain and leaves us feeling mentally drained (even when the work day has barely begun).
Stick to one thing at a time. Instead, use your break time for checking social media or chatting with a friend.
9. Ask someone to hold you accountable
You don’t have to do everything on your own. In fact, it helps to have someone you can share what you’re working on and some deadlines you’ve set for yourself. There’s a right way to hold someone accountable and there’s a stress-inducing way. If you feel suffocated instead of motivated, perhaps you’ve chosen a wrong person to buddy up with. Change your “check-in” person but stay the course.
10. Reward yourself
Lastly, be good to yourself! You’ve worked so hard in setting and achieving your goals, so now it’s time to treat yourself. You can set a little reward for yourself at the end of the day (Pinot Noir and Netflix comes to mind), or wait till the weekend for a treat. Whatever serves as your motivation hook, set that as your reward and work towards it.
~ Persist and Grow Forth ~
Know any other great tips on how to increase your productivity? I’d love to hear them, share it in the comments below.