We all strive to be more productive.
But in this day and age, staying focused and avoiding distractions is harder to accomplish than ever before.
But you still can – you just need to work a little smarter.
Cultivating the habits of highly productive people can help you stay on track and achieve your goals.
So, what are the habits of productive people?
In this article, we go over 8 key things productive people do to maximize productivity and get things done.
1. Break your tasks into small manageable tasks
People often procrastinate when the task seems insurmountable.
By setting priorities and breaking the bigger project into smaller tasks, the task is more manageable and less intimidating.
As David Allen says in his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,
you don’t actually do a project, you do action steps related to it:
“You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it “done.”
Famous writer Mark Twain had the same advice:
“The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
2. Reduce the chatter in your mind
If there is one thing we could all use more of, it’s the ability to focus. Simply telling yourself to stay focused is often a lot easier said than done.
According to Daniel Goleman in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, often the biggest driver of distraction is our own inner chatter:
“It’s not the chatter of people around us that is the most powerful distractor, but rather the chatter of our own minds. Utter concentration demands these inner voices be stilled.”
Daniel Goleman has an interesting technique to calm these inner voices. He says to “start to subtract sevens successively from 100 and, if you keep your focus on the task, your chatter zone goes quiet.”
This is a form of meditation to bring your mind back to the point of focus. When you notice your mind is not focused on this point of focus, and you correct it, this is called meta-awareness:
“The antidote for mind-wandering is meta-awareness, attention to attention itself, as in the ability to notice that you are not noticing what you should, and correcting your focus. Mindfulness makes this crucial attention muscle stronger.”
3. Regular exercise routine
When we think about the benefits of exercise, we tend to focus on the health benefits.
But over the past decade, there’s been quite a lot of compelling evidence suggesting that regular exercise may improve the way we think.
Studies suggest that our mental firepower is linked to our physical regimen.
Some of the cognitive benefits related to exercise include:
– Improved focus
– Sharper memory
– Prolonged mental stamina
– Increased creativity
There is also evidence suggesting that exercise during regular work hours might even increase performance.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habits, exercise is a key habit that triggers widespread change:
“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
4. Take action now
Are you a perfectionist? If so, I’m willing to bet that you find it hard to get started.
Perhaps your plan isn’t perfected yet, or the conditions aren’t just right.
But the truth is, your plan doesn’t need to be perfect, and you don’t have any control over the conditions.
Things will change along the way anyway.
According to Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, it’s imperative that you just start and correct the course along the way:
“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.”
As Brian Tracy says in his book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, once you begin a task you’ll motivated to see it through:
“The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue.”
5. Have clear goals
When you have clearly stated goals, your attention can always be brought back to what you want to accomplish.
So many of us are not clear on what we should be focusing on at a given moment because we think everything is important.
As a result, you never give full attention to what really matters.
Goals give you a clear sense of what to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to. This is important to keep a laser-eyed focus on your priorities.
Furthermore, having goals, setting milestones and timeframes gives you an opportunity to gauge how you’re really doing along the journey.
Being clear on your goals is a great quality to have. But what else makes you unique and exceptional?
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6. Don’t rely on willpower
Productive people don’t rely on willpower every day to achieve what they want. They realize that willpower should only be used as a last resort.
This is surprising to a lot of people because many of us believe that successful people have more willpower.
But willpower should never be a primary strategy for accomplishing difficult things.
It should only be used as a backup plan.
James Clear in his book Atomic Habits said that research has found that disciplined people are just better at structuring their lives to not rely on willpower:
“When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.”
Self-disciplined people know that there are much better strategies for staying committed to their tasks and goals.
For example, productive people design their environment to be more conducive to completing a goal.
If they have to study hard for an exam, instead of trying to focus at home where they’re countless distractions around them, they go to the library, leave their phone at home and find a space without distractions to study.
Rather than using your willpower to resist temptations, why not remove them in the first place?
If you really want to be more productive, ask yourself:
How can I achieve this task by using the most limited amount of willpower possible?
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7. They’re organized
Time is our most precious resource. It was Annie Dillard that wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.
If we aren’t allocating the time and energy needed to achieve a certain goal, it will never be fulfilled.
The benefit of having an organized system is that it allows all the focus to be placed on the work itself.
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, all big things come from small beginnings, and it’s really your habits every day that determines where you’re going:
“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.”
8. They stay focused
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking isn’t only ineffective but also produces lesser quality work.
By tackling a problem one at a time, you’re able to give your absolute best effort and energy to accomplish it.
Successful people are focused on their work and themselves only.
According to Shane Snow, bestselling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, successful people tend to focus intently on a tiny number of things:
“There are a lot of great inventors and improvers in the world. But those who hack world-class success tend to be the ones who can focus relentlessly on a tiny number of things. In other words, to soar, we need to simplify.”
Getting into the cycle of comparison may be productive on the surface — understanding what can be done better — but getting caught up will lead to emotional and mental stress along the way.
So successful people stay in their lane and focus on what they can do.
The energy spent comparing oneself to another person could be better allocated to making oneself better.
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