Busy, busy, busy. If there’s one thing we can say for certain these days, it’s that everybody is extremely busy. The real question though is not how busy you are but how much you’re actually getting done.
We all have the same 24 hours available to us each day but have you ever noticed how some people seem to get a lot more things actually signed, sealed and delivered in that time? Other people, by stark contrast, seem to be stuck flailing through a seemingly never-ending series of minor, low-value tasks no matter how much time is available to them.
We’ve probably all found ourselves in the unhappy position of simply running to stand still at some stage or another. Left untackled, it’s a scenario that can seriously sap morale and cripple your ability to perform. Once those tasks start to really pile up, it’s all too easy for a minor rut to turn into a full-blown ongoing slump.
So, how do productive people avoid this trap? How do those lucky few seem to clock in at 9 and out at 5.30, a full day of completed work happily behind them, with a song in their heart and a smile on their face?
The reality is that productive people approach life in a fundamentally different way than the average person. They do different things, think different thoughts, cultivate different habits and, as a result, live radically different lives in terms of their output and overall mental equilibrium.
With a view to significantly upping your game, we’ve put together six key things that truly productive people do on a daily basis for you to learn from so that you can boost your daily productivity. Start working them into your routine and you’ll be amazed how much more quickly your various wheels start turning.
- Don’t Make Moods Your Master
Pick up the average productivity book and you’ll find an endless series of “hacks” or “tactics” to employ, all of which promise to shave a few crucial minutes off your day here and there. In fairness, many of these tactics actually work. Use them wisely and you’ll be able to carve out potentially significant amounts of extra time for yourself over the course of the average working week.
The unfortunate truth though is that if you’re not managing your internal emotional landscape on an active, ongoing basis, there is not a tool or trick in the world that can really deliver game-changing results. Left unchecked, your emotions and default reactions are more than capable of sabotaging even the best laid plans.
Cultivating a calm, non-reactive outlook is the single greatest boost you can give to your capacity for actually getting things done. It’s the difference that will make the difference across every area of your working life over time.
There are many paths towards cultivating this sense of calmness and not falling victim to the default churn of your emotions. Cognitive behavioural therapy will be the route for some, others will naturally lean towards mindfulness or meditation to help tame their thoughts and acquire a wider perspective.
Whichever solution you end up plumping for, the point is that you need to be establishing some sort of mental practice to put you firmly in control of your moods and emotions rather than the other way around.
By regularly working on this skill – a skill which can be learned like any other – you give any of the techniques we’re about to move on to a much greater chance to work their magic.
- Put Email On A Schedule
Let’s perform a simple thought experiment. Pick a person you admire in a business context. It could be someone in your organisation or a well-known industry name. Maybe it’s Zuckerberg, maybe it’s Alice over in Accounting.
Now imagine that person sitting down to work of a morning. Five minutes in, there’s a knock on the door and someone they’ve never seen before runs into the room and dumps a huge load of urgent papers on their desk before storming out without a word.
Ten minutes later, three random employees enter the room without knocking and begin conducting a heated argument about a series of obscure topics for half an hour. Variations on these events recur at completely unpredictable intervals throughout the day.
Is this how you imagine successful, productive people go about their business on a daily basis? Is this the type of endless interruption and context switching your chosen person would tolerate? Of course not!
Yet by taking an unscheduled approach to email and letting it dominate your working day, that’s exactly the situation you’re willingly putting yourself into.
Email is a tool – nothing more. And, like any tool, there are good and bad ways of using it. The two most important rules to incorporate into your daily routine are the following:
- Don’t check your email first thing in the morning.
- Only check your email on a fixed schedule.
The mere thought of trying either of these ideas will be anathema to many people but the productivity gains on offer are enormous.
By checking email first thing in the morning you are effectively handing total control of your working day over to anybody who’s taken the time to send you a message. Get into the habit of tackling some real work first thing in the morning before you even look at your email and you’ll be amazed at how much more gets done during the entire day.
Having specific times where you check and process your email puts you back in control of your hourly schedule, clears up significant amounts of uninterrupted time to work and sets an appropriate level of expectation for those contacting you.
The amount of time wasted in the average office on mindlessly checking and re-checking email inboxes is truly staggering. Introduce some order to your approach to email and you instantly set yourself apart.
- Not Everything Has To Be Done
One of the great curses of modern life is the idea that everything is important, that every piece of the never-ending stream of input we are faced with is something to be processed and somehow dealt with.
The key to any sort of sane attempt at being productive is somehow turning this flood into a manageable trickle. Your time is valuable and limited and you need to draw hard lines in terms of what will actually occupy any of your available bandwidth.
To put it simply, the first question you should ask yourself about any potential task that crosses your desk is not how will I do this? The first question should be do I have to do this at all?
Make sure you’re taking the small bit of extra time it requires to actually assess whether each potential task is necessary before diving in and you’ll start to quickly see your daily workload diminish as your output increases.
- Distractions Have To Go
As humans we are unbelievably prone to distraction. Depending on who you believe, there may or may not be solid evolutionary reasons behind this but, in the context of most modern work, this character trait is more curse than blessing.
The internet itself is also a near perfect distraction engine and, if any part of your job at all involves being online, that temptation is never more than a click away.
Productivity requires focus and focus requires narrowing your attention down to a single point. In order to actually do this, you simply cannot tolerate unnecessary distractions in your environment.
If this is an area you struggle with, you need to look the situation in the eye and take some adult decisions. You either have time to spare for spending on distractions such as Facebook or you don’t. There is no middle ground.
- Systems, Systems, Systems
One of the classic signs of disorganised, unproductive people is that they lack systems in their lives. Rather than following a series of defined steps when tackling a task, they tend to just muddle through and hope for the best.
The problems with taking this sort of ad hoc approach to most tasks are legion. First of all, a lot of precious time is wasted trying to reinvent the wheel, or coming up with solutions from scratch for what are, more often than not, solved issues.
The second problem is that there is virtually no room for iterative improvement in any kind of repeated task without following a system. By definition, a system can be tweaked and refined over time and in doing so it naturally improves. Fail to systematise and you throw away this potential upside from the outset.
The final point is that lack of a system means you are condemned to carry out the task yourself for the foreseeable future. Having a system in place opens the door to being able to delegate future responsibility in a safe way and possibly scale its implementation.
- Know What’s Important In Advance
Before you sit down to work each day, before you pick up a phone or open a browser tab, you should be crystal clear about what the three most important tasks of your day are. The best time to make this list is the day before you actually plan on carrying out the tasks.
By singling out your priorities for the day before anyone has had a chance to interject their own into the mix, you maintain clarity, focus and momentum and significantly improve your chances of actually finishing important work.
This small actionable list also gives you a bulwark against ending up in an unproductive muddle by mindlessly reacting to whatever crosses your plate during the day. You can assess any incoming data in the context of an already defined set of priorities and make informed decisions as a result.
The six tips we’ve discussed above are simple concepts on paper but putting them into practice on a daily basis takes time and real perseverance. The rewards on offer are enormous though. Stick to these principles over time and your productivity is sure to skyrocket!