In past two years, I’ve read dozens of books and blogs on improve personal productivity. I tried everything from Fancy to-do apps, GTD and Pomodoro technique to inbox zero, Zen habits and automation. Out of these, a few habits really made a winning difference in increasing my productivity manifold. In this article, I am going to share with you how I started these habits, why they have stayed with me and how can you get started to skyrocket your productivity.
#1. Simple To-Do’s
My journey to become a productive person started with GTD. For a few days, the GTD Evernote combination seemed like a silver bullet. I spent a whole weekend organizing “stuff” using the 5 stages of GTD workflow.
In a few weeks, I realized that it was sucking too much time. The so-called productivity gains from a “clear mind” came at the cost of spending a lot of time in keeping everything tidy and organized. Productivity became a task in itself.
Hence, I settled for a simple To-Do system that goes like this:
- Dumped Evernote for GTD. It was a terrible time suck and adopted Things app, which is extremely simple to use.
- Keep one simple to-do list on “Things” App so that I do not have to remember tasks.
- Organized “non-actionable” stuff inside Notational Velocity (a free notepad app).
As a result, I am fairly organized, without having to waste time in elaborate GTD workflow.
Do not follow a system just because it’s famous. GTD can teach you important lessons, but use it the way that works for you. Use simple software such as Things app, Simple note or Notational velocity to manage your brain dump. And you will spend much less time trying to become productive.
#2. Checking email during Afternoons
Research proves that checking and replying to email is associated with dopamine secretion, a pleasure hormone inside our brain. Brain associates emailing with gratification.
Wired by the daily habit of checking emails every morning, it was challenging enough to avoid that pleasure.
Initially, I noticed that every morning after waking up, my default behavior was to click on the mail app icon in my iPhone/iPad. In fact, I was so addicted to checking email in the morning that it was almost a second nature. I got uneasy when I wasn’t checking my email first thing in the morning.
To counter this habit, here is what I did
First, I removed the email account from iPhone/iPad. Then, I removed the shortcuts for email icon on my laptop and made it a little harder to access email. During the first few days, I had to literally tell myself “no” several times when I had the urge of checking email. Productivity shoots upon days when succeed in avoiding email during mornings.
Try to keep your email sessions short like a fast sprint. If possible avoid checking email in early hours of your day. Instead, use it for creative purpose because your brain glucose is fully available.
#3. Yoga & Meditation
Yoga and meditation have direct impact on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual energy.
Let me admit. I was never a fan of Yoga or Meditation. But I reluctantly started under a coach, mainly to get rid of the back pain.
The results have been great. Not only the back pain vanished, but also my overall health and well-being are at my best ever.
When practiced regularly, yoga and meditation results in increase in energy, concentration, self-awareness and enthusiasm.
#4. Start day at 4:00 am
I had been a late riser for most of my life. This habit was inspired from Sean D’souza at Psychotactics.com. It took me a few months to actually start waking up at 4:00 am. Earlier, my usual wake up time was 7:00 am. I decided not to be too harsh and start slow. So, I started waking up at 6:30 am first. Gradually, I shifted the alarm clock early by 30 minutes every few weeks to ultimately reach the magic number of 4:00 am. The productivity gains are huge, almost unimaginable. I could actually use that time to do my bonus activity, writing a book on freelancing. It will be ready for launch in a few weeks from now.
If you are looking to start this habit, here are a few points to consider:
- Sleep early: If you want to wake up at 4:00, sleep between 9:00 to 10:00. Surprisingly, I found that I need less sleep and quality of sleep is way better.
- Bring self-motivation: Having a strong reason to gives you the right motivation to wake up early. Find what motivates you and use it as an objective to wake up early.
- Use triggers: What’s the immediate thing you will do after waking up? Jog, write, have a cup of coffee or read something. Just keep those things readily accessible. For instance, every night before I got to sleep, I keep the word file open with the article title written. That way, when I turn-on my laptop, that’s the first thing I see. As soon as I read the article title, fresh ideas start flowing.
- Do not beat yourself: Life isn’t predictable. There are times when I wake up late (due to social functions, travel or hangout with friends), but I never beat myself up for waking late. The key is to embrace the “human” element and yet, not give up the habit.
#5. Short “bursts” of productivity
Tim Ferris inspired this productivity experiment. Instead of strolling on the work desk for 8 straight hours, it involves doing intense focused work on a specific task for a short period of 2 to 3 hours. If the task is accomplished, I reward myself for “finishing” it with something as simple as a cup of tea or allowing myself to check email.
Results have been fascinating. I could get so much done during those creative bursts. For this experiment to succeed, there are two prerequisites:
- Turnoff external distraction by disconnecting Internet and putting your cellphone on DND.
- Declare everyone around you that you are engaged in focused work
#6. Replacing Caffeine with Green tea
Green tea did not taste well and it wasn’t so much exciting drinking it. But I didn’t stop and keep experimenting with new flavors and ingredients. In a few days, I begin to develop a liking for green tea. The best part is – I can drink it as much as I can, without worrying about calories. Give it a try because you will always thank yourself.
#7. Low Information Diet
Earlier, reading newspaper, watching news on TV was inseparable part of my lifestyle. I went on a low information diet. I rarely watch News on TV or read Newspaper. Fundamentally, it hasn’t made much difference in my awareness of current events, because I get to know the most important ones from friends and family.
#8. Technology Fasting
Technology has become an inseparable part of our lives. At the same time, when overused, it becomes an enemy of productivity. In this eye-opening book “Your Brain at Work”, David Rock recommends turning-off technology for a few hours every day. Given our huge dependency on the technology these days, I found this advice slightly impractical. But I decided to give it a try.
I started by turning off all devices and gadgets at 9:00 pm, everyday. I also turned-off Laptop, iPad and iPhone on Sundays. Initially I was concerned about the reaction people might have or potentially important communication getting missed out. But in a few days, I realized that people adjust to your choices.
Initial experience of not being with technology was that of “missing something”. But soon, there was also a newfound freedom. Finally I can be with my own self, not tied to any device. There was a breath of fresh air and a lot of calmness to complement with it.
Start small and gradually increase the time when you can remain without technology. It will be peaceful and a calming experience. Do not use your cellphone for alarm. Use a dedicated alarm clock so that you can turn off your cellphone during nights. Turn off Wi-Fi and any other electronic gadget that emit EMFs for a peaceful rest at night. Once you have the realization how peaceful technology fasting is, you will practice it again and again.
Productivity is a function of Good Habits
At the end of the day, it’s all about good habits. Good habits are the lever that pushes us to the next level. If you consistently try to incorporate new habits in your lifestyle, productivity gains will be obvious.
What are your productive habits? Which ones brought you the most benefits?
Looking forward to learn your productivity secret in the comment box below!