One of the most common traits that successful people share is the fact that they are incredibly productive. Over the previous two decades, our society has made rapid technological advancements which have made our day to day lives easier. However, progress always comes with a cost.
Smartphones. Streaming websites. Social networking sites. The advancement of these platforms means that we are more prone to lose focus and procrastinate than ever before. Our attention spans have reached an all-time low, with each person boasting an average attention span of 8 seconds. This means that if you can master the skill of sitting down for 1-2 hours and performing focused work, you’ll have a giant leg up on 98% of your peers who want the things you want.
Here’s a list of five productivity tips that will help you maximize your time and become a highly productive individual.
Tip #1 – Lose the Phone
Compulsive phone use is one of the most common ways people lose focus. Not only does pulling out your phone interrupt your current work flow, it also forces your brain to go through a redirecting process where it has to consciously refocus energy back to the task at hand.
Frequent interruption means that your brain is rarely fully engaged in whatever you are working on because it is constantly having to concentrate on different stimuli. In other words, checking your phone constantly not only sabotages your productivity, it sabotages the quality of your work as well.
Action Step – Whenever you sit down to work, turn off your phone and put it in another room.
Tip #2 – Make a To Do List Every Day
Yes, I get it. You’ve been told this a million times. Guess what? It doesn’t make it any less true.
Making a checklist for what you want to accomplish for the day is something that almost all productive people do. If you roll out of bed and have no clear plan for what to work on, it’s very likely that your day will end up going one of two ways.
You’ll either spend a bunch of time on insignificant work, or you’ll constantly jump from task to task without making significant progress on any of them. Obviously, neither scenario is ideal for achieving peak productivity. Furthermore, it’s impossible to know if your day was productive if you don’t specify any criteria for what a productive day would entail.
By making a to-do list, you are giving your brain a clear directive for the day and establishing criteria for success. Think of it this way: If you were a Navy SEAL Commander, would you tell your team to jump out of an airplane without giving them a mission plan? Of course not! You’d give them a clear set of tasks to perform that, if completed, would ultimately result in a successful mission. The same principle should apply to your day to day life.
Of course, you don’t want to go overboard either. Don’t make the classic mistake of forming a giant list of tasks and expect to check all of them off. If your to-do list begins to resemble a grocery list, you’re going to feel anxiety about your day before it even gets started.
To combat this, I recommend using The Ivy Lee Method when setting up your to-do list. It’s a methodology I’ve been deploying for the last six months, and it’s worked wonders for my productivity. Every morning, I write down six tasks I want to accomplish during the day. Then, I rank them in order of importance. Once I’ve ranked them, I separate the top three tasks from the rest and only work on completing those three tasks during the day.
If I complete my top three tasks fairly quickly, then I start working on the other the bottom three tasks that were lower on the priority scale. Any unfinished tasks, whether from your top three or bottom three, roll over to the next day.
Action Step — Every morning, perform the Ivy Lee method and create your to do list.
Tip #3 – Block Distracting Websites
While technology can seem like an obstacle to performing focused work, there are situations where it can drastically help your productivity. There’s dozens of browser plug-ins nowadays that block distracting websites like Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Reddit, etc. On most of these plug-ins, you have the option to block these sites permanently, or block them during a specific time frame.
In your day-to-day life, your brain is always looking for the path of least resistance. It’s why you hit the snooze button instead of rolling out of bed. It’s why you choose to eat a sugary bowl of cereal instead of taking 10 minutes to whip up some eggs. Using a site blocker makes mindless web-surfing much harder to do because it puts resistance between you and your desire to escape from your work.
Watching a Youtube video becomes far less appealing when you need to spend two minutes changing settings around inside your website blocker as opposed to taking ten seconds to type it in the search bar. Increasing friction is one of the most effective ways to break bad habits because you are using laziness to your advantage.
There’s so many of these softwares out there right now, but here’s a few of the most well-known:
Tip #4 – Eat That Frog!
If you’re a little confused after hearing that phrase, don’t worry. It made no sense to me either the first time I heard it.
“Eat The Frog” was a phrase was popularized by Brian Tracy, the legendary self-improvement coach who has published over 70 books on personal development. In his best-selling book titled (shocker), Eat That Frog, Tracy recommends that you complete your most difficult task first thing in the morning. The philosophy is based around a quote from Mark Twain, who said “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Most people have an incredible knack for being busy. High-achievers have an incredible knack for being productive. What’s the difference?
Being busy is about being occupied with mundane work that doesn’t require much thinking. Things like checking and responding to emails, editing presentation fonts, or touching up your website all fall into this category. It’s not that they don’t need to get done, it’s just that they don’t require much mental energy to complete.
Being productive is about being occupied with challenging work that requires a significant amount of mental energy to complete. Things like building out a pitch deck, writing a blog post, or making sales calls all fall into this category. The thought of actually sitting down and powering through these tasks induces a stress response in your body, which typically leads to you putting them off to focus on tasks that are less important.
Here’s a good rule of thumb to separate your high-priority tasks from your lower priority tasks: The more likely you are to put something off, the more likely that thing needs to get done. Additionally, studies have shown that our level of motivation and willpower are at their peak levels in the hours after we wake up, which means that it’s the perfect time to complete challenging work.
If you want to be successful and achieve abundance in your life, you need to accept the fact that you are going to have to repeatedly do things you don’t feel like doing. By completing the tasks you are most likely to put off first thing in the morning, you’ll feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction that will make completing the rest of your tasks easier.
Action Step — Spend just 5 minutes each morning working on your most important task from your to-do list. Once you start, studies have shown there’s an 80% chance you will keep working after the 5 minutes is up.
Tip #5 – Focus On One Thing At a Time
One of the most common mistakes people make while they are working is continually jumping from one task to another. First off, only two percent of the population can successfully multitask, which is defined as the ability to alternate between tasks without significantly impairing the quality of work done on either task.
For the lucky few reading this who are in that two percent, you can completely ignore every word of advice in this section. However, if you’re in the 98 percent of people who struggle to multitask effectively, then stay with me.
Focusing on one thing at a time is a fool-proof way to become more productive and improve your focus. It’s been shown that our brain receives 11 million “bits” of new information every second, even though it can only process 40 of them. This filtering process happens on auto-pilot because your brain has a limited amount of mental energy it can expend at any given moment.
If you want to be more productive, you need to focus the brain’s limited energy on completing the task at hand. People who are unproductive tend to do the opposite. They might think that they’re doing two things at once, but all they’re really doing is rapidly switching between them. Essentially, people who try to multi-task do mediocre job of pretty much everything.
Another benefit of “single-tasking” is that it builds our attention muscle, which is essentially our ability to control where we focus our attention. Building up your attention muscle has huge long-term ramifications for your productivity. Someone who is fully attentive 38% of the time will get much less done than someone who is fully attentive 65% of the time.
If you notice that you always seem to be thinking about the future or the past as opposed to what you’re doing in the present moment, that’s a good indicator you need to spend more time mastering the art of single-tasking in your daily life.
Action Step — Every day, choose one activity that you are going to focus all of your attention on for 10-20 minutes. It could be anything: putting away laundry, writing an email, making breakfast. Just make sure you direct all of your attention to that specific activity and catch yourself when your thoughts start to wander.