HOW TO WORK SMARTER AND NOT HARDER
Become A Highly Productive Person
There are people who always seem to be able to get things done with great efficiency. The person whose work is always done early. The one who manages to finish hour long tasks in half of the time.
Surely no simple human can crank away at maximum efficiency consistently; What makes it possible, how do they do it? What do these highly productive people have in common?
We need to examine the habits of highly productive people. By studying how they work efficiently and overcome the challenges we all experience, it’s possible to boost your own productivity as well.
How do efficient people overcome challenges like:
- Procrastinating on tasks—both small, nagging ones and large, challenging ones
- Boring work that needs just to get done
- Responding to email and other messages while working
- Staying motivated and energized throughout the entire work day
- Focusing and finishing the most important projects on their plates
Increase productivity and become highly efficient with these 14 habits:
1. Focus On Most Important Tasks First
The theory behind Most Important Tasks (MITs) is that any given to-do list has some tasks that are more important than others. If you focus on simply checking off to-do list items, you’ll end up with a mix of important and less important tasks completed. It also exposes you to the potential for procrastination. It’s easy to spend the whole day checking off easy, less important to-dos instead of buckling down on the hard stuff.
Instead, spend a few minutes at the beginning of your day to choose 1–3 MITs, the things that, no matter what, you need to finish by the end of the day. With a renewed focus on what’s important, it’s easier to make sure the important things get done.
2. Cultivate Deep Work
There are some tasks that are just difficult. There’s no substitute for deep work. You can’t multitask your way to finishing them. You need to devote serious time and mental effort to knocking them out of the park. The skill of intense focus is increasingly rare. Those who can master it are at an enormous advantage.
Recommendations to cultivate deep work are:
Schedule deep work: Plan deep work into your schedule at a similar time every day, probably in the morning. Having a regular time to do deep work helps you make it a habit.
Get bored: It sounds counterintuitive to call being bored a productive habit, but being comfortable with boredom is important. Deep work isn’t always enjoyable, and boredom or frustration are what cause us to seek out distractions. Avoid using social media for entertainment as much as possible, and get more comfortable doing nothing.
Be harder to contact: Email and other distractions can be reduced by asking people who contact you to do more work up front. Ask people to research their questions before coming to you, and provide as much info as possible in their emails. Same goes for you, spending time on communications instead of dashing off a quick email can minimize back and forth.
Know your work habits: Do you work best in isolation? With periodic breaks? Are you working around a hectic schedule? You don’t need to overhaul your entire schedule, just set aside some time for deep work. Highly productive people have mastered the skill of deep work.
3. Keep A Distraction List To Stay Focused
With emails, social media, and a thousand little to-dos, it’s easy to get distracted when you’re trying to be productive. Whether you’re trying to focus on deep work or just dealing with smaller tasks, distractions are the bane of productivity. It’s hard to maintain efficient work habits with distractions around.
One powerful method of reducing distractions is creating a “distraction list.” Keep this list nearby while you’re working. Whenever a distracting thought pops up, write it down on the list and get back to work.
This technique, which is one of the secrets to the Pomodoro Technique, is powerful because a lot of the time your distractions legitimately require attention. They just don’t deserve it right now. As thoughts arise during your work, jot them down. Once you reach a break in your work, you can come back and either tackle them or add them to your larger to-do list.
4. Use The 80/20 Rule
Another way to prioritize tasks comes from the 80/20 principle. Discovered by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the 80/20 rule (also called the Pareto Principle) states that in any pursuit 80 percent of the results will come from 20 percent of the efforts.
To maximize efficiency, highly productive people identify the most important 20 percent of their work. Then, they look at ways to cut down the other 80 percent of their schedule, to find more time for the things that make the biggest impact.
5. Break Tasks Into Smaller Pieces
There are a variety of reasons that people procrastinate, but one of the most important is that the tasks on their to-do list just seem too daunting.
If you have to-do list items that are large in scope and not very specific, tackling those tasks becomes challenging. You look at the item and think “I don’t even know where to start.” You can start by breaking large to-dos into smaller to-dos. By making items on the list more specific, all you have to do is tackle them in order.
6. Take breaks
Nobody, not even highly productive people, can focus for eight hours straight. It simply isn’t possible. No matter how many efficient habits you build, you can’t maintain distraction-free focus for that long. That’s why taking breaks is so important (and research shows it makes people more productive). Even breaks that are just a few minutes long can help you recharge and come up with new ideas. When you take breaks, it’s important to make them structured and deliberate. Scheduling breaks can keep you fresh and productive throughout an entire day.
7. Make fewer decisions (about things that aren’t important)
Some decisions are important. Most aren’t. If you want to be more productive, consider outsourcing or eliminating everyday decisions.
If you’re thinking about buying a book, just buy it. Don’t waste five seconds debating it. If you’re trying to decide between two books to read, read them both. There’s no point on wasting your decision-making energy on the unimportant.
8. Eliminate Inefficient Communication (spend less time on email)
Highly productive people reduce the number of emails they send by making each email clearer and more valuable. That might mean each email takes a few more minutes to write, but it also ultimately saves time.
9. Find Repeatable Shortcuts
If you find yourself doing the same things over and over, look for ways to do those things faster. This can be as simple as learning common keyboard shortcuts, or involve automating entire sections of your business.
10. Work Before You Get Motivated Or Inspired
A lot of people looking to get more productive habits talk about needing to get inspired or motivated. Highly productive people instead focus on getting started, whether they are motivated or not. Taking action is what leads to motivation, which in turn leads to more action. Highly productive people don’t wait for motivation—they start working and the motivation follows.
11. Don’t Multitask
With so many distractions in our surroundings, it’s tempting to fall into the trap of multitasking. Don't. The research on multitasking is clear: people are bad at it.
The reason is that “multitasking” is actually misnamed. When you try to multitask, you aren’t actually doing two things at once—you are rapidly switching your focus between two things. Every time you switch, you have to re-focus on the new task. Because it takes a few minutes to get up to speed on a task, these “switching costs” make multitasking extremely inefficient.
Avoiding multitasking can be as simple as closing the tab with your email and muting Slack /text notifications. In most jobs, waiting an extra half hour to respond to an email won’t be the end of the world. But eliminating multitasking is one of the most productive habits you can develop.
12. Fill The Tank, Recharge
You need to take care of yourself. Highly productive people spend time recharging. That means getting enough sleep every night, exercising, and eating healthy. If you aren’t thinking straight or have trouble focusing, take a look at your personal habits. Taking care of your healthy habits is a crucial part of efficient work habits.
13. Manage your energy (not just time)
Time management is a huge part of productivity. Many of the productivity habits on this list will help you manage your time more effectively. Just as important and often overlooked, is energy management. Productive habits mean energy management. If you are exhausted and can barely think, it doesn’t matter how many hours are left in the day. You won’t be able to use them productively.
This is the logic of tackling difficult tasks early in the day, you can get more done in less time before you get tired. Highly productive people know that it isn’t enough to have time to do things. Managing your energy to ensure that you tackle the most intense tasks while you have the energy to handle them, is an important trick that can make you more productive.
14. Get Better At Saying “No”
New projects and opportunities crop up all the time. It’s easy to get excited by the possibilities—and then wind up with too many commitments. Saying no is hard. It means consciously setting things aside so that you have the time to work on your most important priorities. Stop doing some activities in order to focus on the things that are most important for you and your goals.