It’s no secret that if you want to be successful in any domain, you must constantly be looking for ways to be more productive.
The ability to sit down for 2-3 hours and get focused work done is the great equalizer when it comes to success. Whatever you lack in intelligence or talent, you can make up for by mastering how you use your time and increasing the efficiency with which you work.
In today’s article, I’m going to share five daily habits that will help you maximize your productivity and take control of your time.
#1 Make a To Do List (The Right Way)
I can’t stress how important it is to make a to-do list every day. It’s one of the easiest ways to increase your productivity, and it takes a whopping 2-3 minutes of your time.
Studies have shown that simply writing down what you want to accomplish greatly increases your chances of succeeding at that particular task.
Bobby Knight, the legendary college basketball coach, once said, “Everyone has the will to win, but it’s only those with the will to prepare that do win.”
Making a to-do list is simply the act of preparing for a successful day. You think college basketball coaches make up everything they do in practice on the fly? No, they spend time crafting a plan for how their players are going to get better that day.
When you wake up in the morning with a clear vision for what you need to do, you’ll spend less time stuck in analysis paralysis, and more time getting shit done.
My Recommended Process For Setting up a To-Do List — The Ivy Lee Method
#2: Give Yourself Breaks
When you’re really in the groove of a project, you feel at ease. The ideas are flowing, you’re laser-focused, and it seems like nothing can get in your way.
However, this feeling doesn’t last forever — stretch yourself just a little bit outside that productivity zone and you’ll find yourself easily distracted, zoned out, or maybe even a little annoyed.
Our brains are still very primitive, meaning that they are not designed to focus on one thing for an extended amount of time. Our natural survival instincts make us hyper-vigilant to changes in our external environment, so forcing ourselves to focus on one task requires self-control. As we’ve already talked about on this blog, exercising self-control depletes our willpower.
Have you ever been working on something for awhile and then just suddenly hit a wall? Ideas don’t flow as easily, solutions to your problems aren’t readily available in your mind, etc. That’s how it feels when your brain is overworked. That feeling of being “stuck” on a certain part of whatever you’re working on is your brain begging for a break.
Not only is taking breaks an easy way to recharge the “thinking” part of your brain, studies suggest that routine breaks actually improve your creativity. During a break, your mind tends to wander as it disengages from focused work.
As a result, you start to engage the creative areas of your brain because you are thinking more abstractly. This is often why many people claim to have “aha” moments when they are driving home or taking a shower.
As a rule of thumb, most experts recommend that you spend no more than two hours engaged in focused work, and take 15-20 minutes breaks before resuming whatever you were working on.
#3: Develop a Morning Routine
Developing a morning routine is beneficial for many reasons — but in this article we’ll focus specifically on how it can make you more productive.
Every decision that we make depletes our mental energy and willpower. Decisions like what to wear or what to eat in the morning are perfect examples of small decisions that gradually chip away at our willpower.
Habits, on the other hand, don’t require any willpower at all. They are unconscious behaviors that we perform almost on auto-pilot, meaning they don’t require us to use up any self-control. That’s why sometimes when you drive home you get paranoid that you may have ran a red light — it’s because you weren’t thinking about what you were doing.
Focusing on one task for an extended period of time is one activity that requires a lot of self-control. If you can make your entire morning a habit, instead of a long-string of decisions, you will be able to exert more self-control towards getting quality work done.
It’d be as if you were running a three mile race against a runner who’s already been running for a half-mile. In the beginning of the race, the other runner will be matching your pace. However, as the race progresses, you’ll outlast your opponent simply because you started with more in the tank. That’s the difference between having a morning routine that you perform on auto-pilot, and spending your mornings engaged in conscious thought.
#4: Stick Your Phone in Another Room
The most effective strategy for removing bad habits is increasing the energy that is required to carry them out
Whatever you lack in self-control, you can make up for it by designing your environment in a way that makes it easier to be successful. Turning your phone off and putting it in another room is a simple one-time action that drastically changes your work environment.
When a behavior is easy to perform, our motivation to do it increases significantly. If your phone is right next to you while you are trying to work, you’re going to find it difficult to resist the temptation to mindlessly browse social media and check your text messages. However, it’s amazing how little you care about the notifications you may be missing out on when you simply increase the friction required to find out what they are.
Every morning before I start working, I turn off my phone and put it in the kitchen drawer — and not once do I ever feel tempted to get up from my desk and turn it on.
By making your phone inaccessible while you’re working, you’ll find it much easier to focus on whatever you’re doing.
#5: Shrink Your Big Tasks
Oftentimes, when making plans for what we want to accomplish, we focus on grand measures.
We don’t just want to start working on the presentation, we want to get it all done in one day. We don’t just want to walk for five minutes every day, we want to run a half-marathon in six months. It’s human nature to strive for monumental leaps while overlooking the non-sexy idea of slowly putting one foot in front of the other.
How does this flawed mindset carry over into productivity?
Well, when most people make to-do lists, they tend to write down their big tasks as one giant activity. For example, someone who has to write an essay that’s due in three days may write down “Write essay” on their to-do list.
The problem is that writing an entire essay is a task that requires a ton of effort and energy. Simply looking at your to-do list and seeing that task on it will bring about feelings of anxiety and stress, which are the two emotions responsible for causing procrastination.
The key to making progress on your larger, high-priority tasks is to break the task down into small, actionable steps. By breaking the essay down into chunks, you are focusing on “small wins” that will give you the forward momentum you need to eventually turn in a complete essay.
Instead of writing down “finish essay”, break the task down into smaller chunks that are easier to complete. Here’s what that that could look like:
- Open Google Doc and Title the Essay
- Come up with three main topics for the body paragraphs
- Write the introductory paragraph
As you cross off each of the more manageable tasks, your body will naturally release chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which improve your mood and give you a feeling of accomplishment.
Not only that, but most people find that taking those initial steps act as a catalyst which leads them to doing much more work than they originally planned to do.
If you can learn to master the art of starting instead of obsessing over the finish line, you will put yourself in a great position to be successful in any area of life.