by Josh Millar
I like habits because they go a bit deeper than productivity hacks. A habit isn’t an activity you try to remember to do a few times a week or when your schedule feels out of control. Instead, these small actions rarely get much thought at all. They’re automatic responses and tendencies that we do naturally. Though they may be small and get little of our attention, they play a large role in guiding much of our day-to-day life. If productivity comes naturally to you, you probably already have some strong habits that support time-management skills and efficiency. If you’re looking to give your productivity a boost, habits are a powerful place to direct your efforts. Cultivating habits that support productivity is a smart strategy if you’re looking to improve, but keep in mind that you can’t build a habit overnight. Though it may feel like more work in the beginning to turn these positive actions into habits, the payoff is worth it. Here are some of the most useful habits to strengthen or adopt if you’re aiming for higher efficiency:
Take regular breaks
Though they don’t involve doing any work, breaks are an important productivity strategy. They help you recharge your body and mind so that you can bring more focus and energy to your work. The reason that getting into the habit of taking breaks is so important is because we often guilt ourselves for taking breaks. It feels counterintuitive to step outside for a ten-minute walk when you have a mountain of work in front of you. Even if you’ve read a handful of articles that have recommended taking more breaks, and it sounds good in theory, when we’re not in the habit of doing so, we don’t always utilize this strategy. You can cultivate it by scheduling breaks and mini-breaks into your schedule and being intentional with how you spend them. Choosing activities that make you feel more alert or less stressed and placing them at key moments throughout your day can keep you working at your best.
Organization is a foundational element of productivity. It keeps things moving smoothly and prevents us from wasting time looking for papers, deciding what to do next, and getting lost in a flood of thoughts. There are several types of lists that productive people use to streamline their days. The classic to-do list is the most common, though it’s important to create your own strategically. Sometimes, modifying this type of list to better support your workflow can be an even better method.
Another type of list that I think can be extremely useful for productivity is a catch-all type of list. It’s an ongoing handwritten or typed note where you can store all the things that come into your mind when you least need them to. You’re nearing a deadline and trying to concentrate, and these small tasks you need to remember to complete tomorrow keep popping up in your mind. Rather than engage with them or worry about forgetting them, jot them on this list and move on. Maybe you stumble across an article that could be relevant to share with a client while working on social-media marketing. Save the article, and add a note to your list to read and send it later. As long as you check in with this list regularly, it can be a great way to preserve your concentration without letting important tasks or good ideas fall by the wayside.
Eat the frog
Most professionals have tasks that are more challenging or less pleasant than others. In Mark Twain’s metaphor of eating the frog, those tasks are the frogs. Productive people get into a routine of tackling these things first. They get them out of the way early on in their days while their brains are fresh and energy levels are high. If you want to build this habit, try assigning yourself a few tasks to complete before 10am every night before bed. It will motivate you to get a jumpstart on your day and help the practice become a natural habit.
Busy people multitask, productive people single-task. Without having to consciously make the decision every time, they know that multitasking is almost always less effective than concentrating on one task at a time. We often resort to multitasking when we feel overwhelmed and when our to-do lists are too long. If you can cultivate the habit of single-tasking, you can set that as your default and stop losing time to multitasking.
If you’re on a quest for greater productivity, take a look at your habits. Do you have some in place that already support working efficiently? How can you strengthen and support those? Are there other habits that may be standing in your way? Can you work to replace them with something more productive? Let me know what you think about the role habits play in your own work life. I’d love to hear your thoughts!