Estimated reading time – 13 minutes, 20 sec
Estimated reading time only action steps – 1 minute 2 sec
Do you ever feel like there aren’t just enough hours in your day to go through all of the things you want to get done? Or at the end of the day, do you feel that you haven’t accomplished anything of value today, even though you sat down at your desk and stared at your screen for eight freaking hours?
I felt the same way since I started working after college until I created a system for myself which helped me immensely to become more productive and get stuff done on time.
Here are some of things I do to stay productive in the world full of distractions and create time for things I love to do. I am confident that you can find one or two tips from this post that you can implement in your life.
1. You don’t have to dress like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs to be productive and a solid decision maker
Guess what? I hate this advice when most productivity gurus recommend wearing same type of polo shirt for five days a week. Are you kidding me?
We get to hear examples like “Mark Zuckerberg wears same hoodie everyday or Steve Jobs wore similar clothes everyday or president Obama wears same white shirt and blue tie everyday”.
You know what, most people like you and me don’t want to be Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs or Obama. What we want instead? We just want to learn how to be more productive, so we can free up some time to spend on things we love.
Most of these productivity gurus who give this piece of advice aren’t wrong because making these kinds of menial decisions every morning sucks out precious energy and will power.
Even though I like to wear nice clothes, I absolutely hate spending time choosing and ironing them every morning. So, here’s what I did to resolve this issue.
On Sunday evening, I turn on my podcast and go pick 4-5 shirts and 2-3 pants that I want to wear next week and iron them if need to be. Secondly, I hang them in a sequence in which I want to wear them, so when weekday morning comes, I don’t even have to think for a second to what to wear that day.
Total time spent – 15 minutes
Sometimes, it takes me 20 minutes as I start to enjoy podcast, I slow down the ironing process which I absolutely won’t be able to do on a weekday morning.
Here are the links to podcasts I enjoy as they help me to take my life to the next level: –
If you have the resources to do so, you can use dry cleaning or ironing services which can cost 10-15 dollars/week. I don’t recommend this to anyone because some people think I am crazy to pay someone to iron my clothes.
You can free up 20-30 minutes of your time by doing this and use it to hang out with people you love, play video games, read a book or whatever it is.
Isn’t it worth for 10 dollars?
I do it once or twice a month and definitely find it helpful and it doesn’t hurt my pocket either.
Action Step #1 – On Sunday night, prepare your clothes that you are going to wear during work week. To avoid any decision making in the morning, hang them in a sequence you want to wear them.
2. Plan ahead and thrive
Please don’t just go to work and assume that you are going to have a productive day.
Instead, before staring your workday, spend at least 5-10 minutes planning your day and come up with three most important things you need to get done. This exercise can be done at office or at home before leaving for work. Ideally, if you can do it the night before then you don’t even have to think about what to do next morning, you just jump right into it.
In his bestselling book, Eat that Frog, Brian Tracy says, “It takes only about 10 to 12 minutes for you to plan your day, but this small investment of time will save you up to two hours (100 to 120 minutes) in wasted time and diffused effort throughout the day”
Isn’t it amazing? It blew my mind when I first came across this point in his book.
This is what I do to implement this technique. I am researching about an interesting topic. I have planned my mornings in advance. Monday – read other research papers, Tuesday – read blogs, Wednesday – read any related forum posts etc.
Now, when I wake at 5:30am, I don’t have to think what I am going to work on today, I just do it as it’s already planned. Trust me, it doesn’t require tons of effort and the results outweigh the effort big time.
Remember, if you don’t have a plan for success, failure is imminent.
When was the last time you heard that someone made a fortune in business without any planning?
Same principle applies to our personal productivity. By showing up to work and spending all day in your inbox, you’re setting up yourself for a failure unless you are in a position where your only job is to keep an eye on the emails.
Action Step #2 – Instead of figuring out what to do next and wasting time doing that, do bit of planning (5 – 10 mins) upfront to define three most important tasks for your day. Go through them in a sequence and complete them. Anything that comes up during day, just add it to your list and you can later sort out when and how to do it.
3. Work on cognitively demanding tasks when you have high energy and will power
If you are reading this post, you are most probably a knowledge worker like me. As knowledge workers, we always have cognitively demanding tasks on our plates.
Tasks such as writing a requirement document for technical design, sales email to a client, preparing presentation etc. are considered cognitively demanding tasks. These are just few examples and there are many more tasks we perform on a daily basis that can fall into this category.
What do you think at what time most human beings have high cognitive power?
It’s morning time and as we start making small or big decisions during the day, it starts to decrease.
“But, I’m not a morning person”
I hear this all the time from people I talk to. If I’m not a morning person, how can I do this?
Guess what, most people aren’t and who wants to be a morning person anyways. We all just want to be more productive unless you are a weirdo like me who likes to wake up at 5am.
I wasn’t always a waking up earlier weirdo, but trust me guys, you can change it in a month. I did it in less than a month. We can talk about it in a different post.
Weather you want to wake up early or not, book time during starting hours of your day to work on cognitively demanding task on your list.
For example, that website design you need to finish by end of a week, a presentation that you have to deliver on Thursday to a potential client, or detailed product requirements you need to write.
Whatever it is that’s considered cognitively demanding on your list, try to spend some time (Ideally 45 minutes or more of focused time) during early hours of your day. Using this technique, you can get way ahead of other people who are still in the lineup at Starbucks for a coffee.
One of the many benefits of waking up early
Waking up a little bit early, even 10 minutes earlier than your standard wake up time can have a dramatic effect. You can use these 10 minutes to have breakfast at home instead of buying coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts and wasting 20 minutes in the morning when those 20 minutes can be equal to 40 minutes of productivity later in the day.
Action Step #3 – Whether you want to wake up early or not, work on most cognitively demanding task (task that requires lot of focus and brain power) during first few hours of your day.
4. Save your mind from email pollution
When was the last time you heard that someone got promoted to a higher position or received a big raise in their salary due to their ability to reply to emails within five minutes?
Probably, answer is NEVER.
It’s the quality of work and value you produce gets you ahead of other people not how quickly you reply to emails.
Now, do yourself a favor and stop opening your email inbox first thing in the morning. I consider it a black hole which starts sucking out your energy once you get into it. Instead, you want to use this energy and willpower to complete cognitively demanding tasks you have on your plate.
I get over 50 work emails a day and most of them are just polluting my inbox (Familiar with those chain emails you are cc’d on and everyone chiming in with their opinion?). I understand that it’s very important to check emails because that’s something which is part of our jobs.
But, don’t forget that our goal is to become more productive and produce quality work while using email to our advantage.
Additionally, stop switching back to email inbox every five minutes.
While working on an important deliverable, most people often want to take a peak at their inbox. Even if we don’t respond to that email, we distract our mind from deep work we were doing on that specific piece of deliverable. We instantaneously loose 20-25 minutes of productivity because that’s how much time our brain needs to go back into deep zone again. Cal Newport talks about this in great detail in his book “Deep Work”.
Here are some actions you can take to save your mind from email pollution and free up some time for yourself: –
- Remove outlook or any other email client that you use from quick links on your computer and turn off all email notifications
- If you are worried about missing emails with “high importance”, set up a rule in your email to display notification on your screen and also send a notification to your phone. Here’s how to do it:
- Reduce the number of visits to your email inbox. If you do it 20 times, plan to cut it down to 10. Ideally, you want work in your inbox no more than 3-5 times i.e. reading and replying to emails. Exception: Email with high importance for which you receive notification on your phone.
- If you use calendar, book time slots to work on your emails. For example, do it before lunch (around 11:00am), in afternoon and right before calling the day off. I didn’t get into any trouble yet with this approach and it helped me to complete complicated tasks in less time.
- Never be the first person to reply to chain emails unless you are a person responsible for that task.
- If you want to avoid email back and forth during your day, setup a delay delivery on your outgoing messages.
- For example, when I am working through my inbox, I don’t want to get replies right away (Because Joe sitting on the other side is ready to respond to his email as soon as he sees the notification) to emails I am just sending out or replying to. To avoid it, I set delay delivery on them and they go out at whatever time I want them to. Here’s how to do it:
Action Step #4 – If you want to save time, produce valuable output and get ahead of other people in your organization, stop spending all day in your inbox. Instead, pick tasks where you can use your unique abilities and skills to produce quality work. Use tips outlined above to save your mind from email pollution.
5. Nourish your mind and body with real foods
When people think of productivity, they think of latest apps and software that they can leverage to save time.
I am also a fan of these technologies but only few people talk about what we put in our bodies and how it impacts our productive output in professional and personal life.
Are you familiar with that after lunch slump?
For quiet sometime, I used to think it’s normal to have that feeling after lunch. Guess what, I WAS WRONG.
I was loading my body with extra carbohydrates, sugars and fats from junk foods and then later relying excessively on caffeine to overcome the food hangover. You can guess how productive I was during 1pm-3pm timeframe especially.
I wanted to be more productive but I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong without realizing it’s the food that I put in my body.
I decided to fix it and started nourishing my body with healthy foods (Greens, protein rich foods, fruits etc.) instead of polluting my body with junk foods. I started experiencing effects of this change after couple of weeks.
Now, I always had more energy after lunch. I am now more alert during my afternoon meetings as compared to earlier when my attention level used to drop to all time low after consuming big mac and fries.
I don’t feel like going to sleep at 1pm in the afternoon anymore.
Now, I can easily plough through work hours productively and still have energy left at the end of the day to do things I love to do in my life.
As a result of this change, I need less time to complete tasks scheduled for afternoon. I am saving 30-45 minutes on daily basis just by eating right and avoiding after lunch crash.
Action Step #5 – If you want to be more productive, start nourishing your body with vegetables, protein rich foods and fruits. If you don’t want to do for all of your meals, you can only start with lunch. Eat something light and healthy which won’t make you crash during afternoon and also keep your hunger satisfied.
6. Practice self control and discipline on daily basis
You can learn about world best productivity hacks and download best productivity apps and still struggle to create free time for things you love.
When I talk with my friends or coworkers about productivity, here are some common responses:
- I’m not very disciplined
- I have minimum to no self control
- I get distracted very easily
- I just can’t focus
Self control/discipline is a powerful weapon in your arsenal to crush your productivity goals.
Now, I am not saying you need to control your mind like a Buddhist Monk or a Hindu Yogi. You just need to establish basic rules in your life to control what distractions you allow in your life and when to allow them.
We live in a world full of distractions where we are constantly bombarded with notifications (Email, social media, text messages etc.). If you don’t know when to allow what distraction in your life, you are going to struggle to build a productive mind and body.
There’s no doubt that you can be little bit productive by using some fancy apps but we are talking about being ultra productive so that we can achieve what’s demanded from us in less time and create time for things we love.
Here are specific actions steps you can take to deal with world full of distractions: –
- Instead of checking social media 333 times a day, decide a time slot when you can go nuts on it. For example, I explore every single social media app on my phone right after work and spend about 20 minutes. That’s it, no more waste of time after this.
- If you can’t turn off all notifications on your phone, try to minimize them. Decide what is important in your life. May be you don’t want to miss a text from your loved one but you don’t care what’s your favorite celebrity is posting on Instagram or Snapchat. If it works for you, eliminate all notifications.
- Have me time – start with at least two minutes everyday. It could be in your bedroom, in the woods, taking a walk or whatever you are comfortable with.
Yes, I am talking about meditation.
If our brain is what’s goanna get us ahead and earn us living in the knowledge economy, we need time to train it everyday.
Guess what happens if professional athlete starts missing training on a regular basis? Soon, he will be out of professional sports because of bad performance.
Same principle applies to knowledge workers. If our brain is our most important asset, we need to learn to train it to thrive in the knowledge economy.
Only 2 minutes to begin. C’mon now.
As Tony Robbins says, “If you don’t have 10 minutes for yourself in your life, you don’t have a life”
- Get bored sometimes
When waiting in line at grocery store or waiting for elevator, we all have the tendency to pull out our smart phone and do unnecessary things. We have trained our brains to always look for external stimuli. Instead, let it get bored few times a day and it will start training to become more focused and disciplined.
Try eating dinner next time without watching your favorite TV show. It’s hard at first but definitely rewards you in the long run.
Action Step #6 – To develop a focused mind, cut down on number of unnecessary distractions in your life. Practice self control everyday with small activities such as spending some time alone and embracing boredom. Use tips outlined above to practice self control.
Everyday, I try to learn something new that can help me to become more productive and save me time to do things I love in my life. If you enjoyed the post, please do me a favor and let me know:
- What do you struggle most with when it comes to being productive in your life?
- What do you currently do to have a productive lifestyle?
- If you were able to save an hour from your day, where would you like to spend that time?