3 habits that stand in your way of your productivity

Timo Kiander — №23 with Mike St. Pierre

When you find a piece of advice on the internet or in a productivity-related book and consistently integrate this strategy into your life, you will see major results. But since there is an overwhelming amount of advice (and habits) you could implement, what are actually the most important ones for improving your personal productivity? And which habits stop you from moving forward and getting things done?

1. Postponing things without a good reason

When you are postponing things without a good reason you are procrastinating. And procrastination, my friend, is one of the biggest reasons why deadlines are not met, opportunities are lost and goals are not reached.

In some rare situations, procrastination can work favors for you (by clearing your task list), but you shouldn’t rely on this strategy too much. So stop postponing your life and take a more effective route instead!

New habit to form: take (immediate/scheduled) action.

Action Steps:

Analyze the situation. Know the task or event that you are postponing and be brutally honest about the reasons why you are procrastinating. Is the task too difficult, do you think you are not good enough to handle the task or perhaps you don’t value the task at all?

Understand the cost. Once you know why you are procrastinating, make sure to understand the costs of doing so. Let this cost then be the driving force for actually taking action in a timely manner.

For example, if you start hearing a weird sound coming out of your car’s engine, understand that your car could soon break down, leaving you at the side of the road in the middle of the night. If you don’t like spending your night in middle of nowhere waiting for a tow truck, then pick up the phone and call the repair shop right now!

Make starting as easy as possible. Too often we see a task as one gigantic project that we have to take care of at once. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to overcome this false illusion:

If you procrastinate cleaning your house, don’t do everything at once. Rather, clean the kitchen first and then proceed to other rooms the next day.

If you promised your boss or your colleagues that you would take care of the task, are you really ready to tell them that you didn’t do the task (or that it wasn’t started in the first place)?

Take instant action or schedule it. If possible, take care of the task right away if it takes just couple of minutes to accomplish.

On the other hand, if instant action is not possible, schedule the task on your calendar and do it later.

It’s of utmost importance that the task gets done in a certain timeframe. Knowing this makes you feel better and helps you to focus your energies on other things.

Delegate or do it yourself. With delegation, you get the task out of your head and off of your task list. You are naturally responsible for giving proper instructions to the person you are delegating your task to so that you get the expected results in return.

However, if you can’t delegate your task, start preparing mentally for it. Instead of dreading the task, focus on the outcome (the feeling) when the task is ready.

Reward yourself. Pull yourself through the task by rewarding yourself.

Try to treat yourself with something that makes you feel better or improves you somehow. This could be, for example, buying the book you have been looking for, going to get a massage or by taking a vacation from your task list for a day.

2. Not using a “GPS navigation” in your day

A second core habit that clears out your way to productivity is to become a bit more organized. Just 15 minutes in the evening can make a huge difference in your everyday life.

New habit to form: Spend 15 minutes in the evening to plan the next day

Action Steps:

Schedule a time block of 15 minutes every evening and jot down (either on paper or on task list software) the things you want to accomplish the next day. Let this plan become your “GPS navigation,” guiding you through the day.

Pick three “big rocks.” You should accomplish three important tasks (a.k.a “big rocks”) rather than 50 low-value ones.

Achieve the “big rocks” first and you can feel good making progress on the tasks that take your business or your personal life further.

Add the “gravel” too. As you have the “big rocks” on your list, make sure that the “gravel” fits in too.

By “gravel,” I mean the smaller tasks, which may not be as important as the “rocks.” However, the fact is that even the tasks with smaller priority need your attention as well. Besides, small tasks can boost your productivity, too (you can read how here).

Go through the list one more time. The purpose of this step is to make sure you really understand what you are doing the next day and how much actual time you have for your tasks.

Take a really critical look at your day and be ruthless with your plan, dropping any tasks that you feel you can’t do the next day.

For instance, if you have a webinar or other appointment in the middle of the day, it’s likely that you can’t get all the planned work done, but only a subset of it.

3. Monitor your sleeping habits.

Understanding how much sleep your body needs and actually living according to that information is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your health and for your productivity.

New habit to form: Get enough sleep using your body’s natural rhythm!

Action Steps:

Understand (and value) the benefits of being rested. Before you get started with improving your sleep, it’s fundamental to understand the benefits of proper sleep.

For instance, sleep can improve your memory, learning and immune system. These facts alone should be enough to convince you to get enough quality sleep every night.

Go to bed at the same time every day. To make your sleep schedule regular, make sure to go to bed at the same time of evening. This, combined with regular wake-up times, can help you become naturally tired in the evening, signaling to your body that you should head off to bed instead of watching television.

Wake up naturally. For some, this may not be easy to implement, but I encourage you to do this anyway - try waking up without an alarm.

You could test this, for instance, on your vacation, knowing that you don’t have to wake up early for work. Just rise up naturally without an alarm and record your wake-up times (considering that you go to bed at the same time every day) for a few days. After a few days you can count the average amount of sleep you need and you can then adjust your daily rhythm accordingly.

Have a backup in place. If you worry about being late to an important meeting or such, use your alarm as a backup. This is just to ensure that you show up on time, without being late.

In closing

While there are plenty of other ways to improve your productivity, make sure to get a hang of these three steps first and only then move forward in your productivity journey with other advice.

To make these habits stick, make sure to implement them (if possible) one at a time, in smaller doses. This way you build habits that actually stick.

Photo: Flickr / Kim Scarborough CC BY-SA 2.0

Timo kiander

Timo Kiander

Timo Kiander is a blogger, author and speaker who helps work-at-home professionals to improve their productivity. With 18 co-authors (like Pat Flynn and Corbett Barr), he wrote a book about how to build an online business and get stuff done — even when working from 9 to 5. You can download his book for free.

Download Timo's book Timo's website