When you woke up this morning, you put one foot down before the other. It’s very likely you have a preferred foot. Do you get out of bed left foot first or right foot? Like many people you probably don’t think about it. Just like how you don’t think about which direction you brush your teeth or which side of the bed to sleep in at night.
Many of the things we do each day run on autopilot. Our habits eventually become so ingrained that we don’t even realise we are doing them. Life just seems so much easier that way. Productive people take advantage of this to build habits that sustain their goals. Bestselling fiction writers are people who have the habit of writing a few hundred words each day. Virtuoso musicians are people who have the habit of practising for two hours each day. Five hundred words do not make a decent novel but multiply those words by the number of days in a year and you have a trilogy. Similarly, two hours on the violin won’t make you a professional but do that over ten years and there is no piece you can’t tackle.
Good habits are easy to form if you are aware of a few things:
A lot of workers are complaining about stress at work. I’m not completely sure why. It could be a result of smaller teams having to deal with more complex projects. This often means an individual has to manage responsibilities that aren’t always in their area of expertise or require learning new skills. Naturally, this can be a source of anxiety which contributes to feelings of stress.
My boss once told me “The faintest pencil is stronger than the sharpest memory.” The human brain is a very powerful supercomputer. Not once does it stop working throughout your life. Every second, the brain processes a lot of information and controls many things you are not even aware of such as heart rate. Latest estimates suggest the brain has up to 2.5 petabytes (Google it) of storage space. Despite possessing this unfathomable amount of memory, the brain is not good at keeping ideas.
I have observed that when people are informed they are not productive, the natural tendency is for them to take on more tasks almost as if they felt by showing they could complete a lot more tasks, they will be seen as productive team members. In a way, they are right. Productive people do complete tasks. However, they do NOT try to do everything. It may seem counterintuitive but sometimes the best way to become more productive is to do less. An Accountant doesn’t try to design the company website by themselves. They know that is not the most productive use of their time and skills.
First do what is important, then everything else. This could be a maxim for personal productivity. People who prioritise tasks and focus on those that yield the most results (which by definition, are important) are said to be productive. A question for you: Is responding to emails immediately an important task? According to a Mckinsey report, the average professional spends 28% of their work day reading and responding to emails. If you work 8 hours a day, that’s 2 hours dedicated to your inbox. Is that the best use of your time?
Some people have a natural flair for task management and organisation. Others had the good luck of starting their careers in organisations where supportive bosses showed them how to become more productive. Regardless, how you started your personal productivity journey, it is interesting to know that while productive people come from all walks of life and have different personalities, they all tend to have behaviours that make them more productive than others. Productive people tend to:
Most articles written on productivity tend to focus on personal productivity. Emphasis is often laid on the use of to-do lists, Eisenhower matrix and deep work to manage tasks, focus and attention respectively. These are the starting points for productivity. If you can’t master them, you won’t go far. A limitation of this approach to productivity is it focuses so much on the person and leaves out the larger environment. Unless you work as a one-man freelancer, very few people have the luxury to set their own schedules as they wish. You may have written your to-do list the night before and blocked out time to work on an important task this morning. However, if the Head of your Department drops by and assigns you a task, that task automatically jumps to the top of your priority matrix.
When we fall sick, we go to a hospital. Doctors ask questions to understand how we feel and based on our symptoms, they make a judgment and recommend a course of treatment. Doctors never try to treat symptoms though. Instead, they treat the root cause: the disease. If you complain of a persistent headache, the doctor doesn’t give you a painkiller and send you on your way. This is because they understand there are many things that can give you a headache. They try to find out what that thing is so they can cure you.
And they all lived happily ever after. Thus ended many a fairytale. As children, we enjoyed those tales (Although I sometimes wondered what that statement meant). In reality, no one ever lives happily ever after. We have good and bad days. There are days when we succeed in our attempts. There are also those when despite out best efforts (or lack of them), we will fail at something. Being able to deal with failure is an important skill. Fortunately, it is one we can all learn.
Suppose you had a number of tasks on your to-do list but can’t seem to get started on any of them. You know these tasks are important. That’s why you wrote them down in the first place. These are tasks you can’t delegate. The responsibility for getting them done rests with you. What’s one thing you can add to your to-do list to boost your chances of getting those tasks done? A time constraint.