Habits make up who we are — they are either helping us achieve our long-term goals or making it difficult for us to do our best work.
Highly effective and efficient people rely on better productive habits to get things done. They are proactive about how they spend their time.
To be productive in the most meaningful sense, we need to able step back and reconsider our habits — what’s helping us and what’s hindering our progress and do more of what can guarantee the results we expect. There are tons of habits that can sabotage your productivity. These are a few things that may be hindering your personal efficiency.
Starting your day without a reliable routine
A morning routine allows you to focus on getting things done instead making decisions when you are most productive.
Jim Rohn once said, “Don’t begin the activities of your day until you know exactly what you plan to accomplish. Don’t start your day until you have it planned.”
A morning routine ensures you take action first thing in the morning. It’s essential to getting your mind into productive gear every day. Without some structure, your productivity can suffer.
When you start your day without a routine, you can waste a lot of energy in the morning deciding what’s worth your time for the rest of the day. S. J. Scott, author of numerous books on habit development says:
…doing things only when you feel like it gives too much control to your state of mind. And let’s be honest, most of the time none of us “feel” like working. Giving control of our productivity to our fickle — and lazy — emotions is a recipe for failure.
Don’t waste all that mental clarity and energy you have in the morning planning what to do in the next eight hours when you can do all your planning the night before.
Prioritising shallow work over deep work
To get more done every day, you should make the clear distinction between shallow or low-value work and deep or high-value work. Once you know’ve identified the difference, spend your most productive time on your most important tasks.
It is easy to get excited about low-value work — the shallow and easy tasks that keep us busy without without really moving us forward: email, organising files, returning phone calls, meetings, paper work, etc.
Many people start their day with long meetings, too many calls and spend a lot of time responding to emails before making time for actions that actually contribute to real progress.
To focus on your most important work, schedule less time for low-value tasks.
High-value tasks contribute to your long-term goals. Activities like executing the sales process, writing, designing, coding, and video or photo editing move the needle. They produce your most important outcomes.
When you delay the hard tasks to do just comfortable work, you can easily run out of time for high-value work. This is a vicious cycle that can lead to low productivity. Invest your most productive hours in your highest priorities. Deep work should always take precedence over shallow work. Don’t mistake busyness for real work.
You can get over the hump by setting a 10-minute timer and focusing solely on the most important task at hand. Often, starting is the hardest part.
Starting your day without a priority list
Is everything really important?
When almost everything needs to be done now, you can get overwhelmed really fast. Learning to prioritise your priorities can make a difference to how you work and get things done. When you have two important things that need your attention, you can end up in a paralysis that leads to no action at all.
“This lack of clarity often arises from a feeling of ambivalence–I want to do something, but I don’t want to do it; or I want one thing, but I also want something else that conflicts with it,” explains Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project and Better than Before.
Until you know what you want, where you are headed and the right actions that can get you what you want at the right time, almost everything you desire will scream for your attention, energy and time.
To prioritise effectively you need to be able to recognise what is important and what is urgent. Getting real work done is about putting your time and energy where they are most needed when they are most needed.
To take control of your priorities, start work with the end in mind. Ask yourself, “What do I have to do today to get close to the end goal?”
Working without the right system
What is the first thing you do when you wake up? What is your productivity trigger? A life without a system is so much more draining mentally, physically, and emotionally than you can ever imagine!
A productivity system provides you the ability to manage and execute your commitments and tasks at specific times.
It’s simply a collection of behaviours, repeated consistently and in a particular order, plus the tools that support them.It makes you efficient.
The most popular productivity systems are: Getting Things Done (GTD), The SMART Method, Time-boxing, Biological Prime Time, Personal Kanban, The “To-Do” list, The “Must Do” list, Pomodoro Technique, Eisenhower Matrix, Don’t Break The Chain, and Eat That Frog.
All of these systems are designed to do one thing: get stuff done. They are individual systems, but you can combine what works for you with other tools and apps to make the results you want. Remember, there is no perfect system. Every top performer has a system for getting things done. What works for David Allen may not necessarily work for you.
Never truly disconnecting
Working without breaks can increase fatigue and stress levels, making it harder to do more high-level work.
The moment you make time to relax — when you’re not consumed by to-do lists, plans, agendas, you allow your brain and body to recover, recharge and get ready to do what it does best. For consistent peak performance, schedule enough time on your calendar to unplug from work.
Quality rest from work doesn’t have to be huge to make a difference — just 5 or 15 minutes in between deep work can be enough. But the rest itself should be free from distractions or diversions — not filled with passive digital interaction.
“Running on high-alert is cognitively expensive for our brains, so to maximise our mental processes we need to build in time where they aren’t focused on anything” explains the team at Memory.
If you want to keep your productivity at the highest level possible, prioritise quality sleep. Lack of sleep not only leads to reduced productivity but it can also lead to poor health. Don’t put peak productivity ahead of sleep.
Scheduling downtime creates the balance your brain needs to keep delivering the results you expect of it.
Quality rest has been proven again and again to increase our well-being. So much of our year is spent in relentless busyness. We don’t make time to disconnect and take care of ourselves. Taking a complete break, even a quick one, can recharge your brain, get rid of a lot of mental clutter, and prepare you for your next task.
To summarise, the sooner you identify the habits that get in the way of pragmatic productivity, the earlier you can regain control to do more great work and become a top performer.
Remember: Your life is determined by your habits — if you are not making real progress in life or career, the first place to look is your habits.
This article first appeared on Medium.