If there is one thing in life people underestimate, it is the impact of their daily habits.
I just published a book called 19 Tiny Habits That Lead To Huge Results, about how it’s the little things every day that end up making all the difference. Whether you want to admit it or not, the truth is that just about everything in life can be directed back to your habits. Long-term success is the result of good habits. Positive relationships are the result of good habits. Improvement and growth are the result of good habits. Even personal health and wellness can be traced back to the foundation set by your daily habits.
That said, if you are guilty of any of these habits, you need to eliminate them immediately.
Because even if they don’t seem like a glaring issue right now, they will be.
Constantly Checking Your Phone
Let’s skip the cliché here.
The real reason you need to stop constantly checking your phone is that it instills probably the worst habit you could possibly acquire: distraction. People don’t realize that 99 percent of the time they check their phones because they want to avoid thinking. They get confronted with some sort of task or obstacle, and out of impulse, they check their phone instead. It’s a distraction.
Instead, try to catch yourself when your impulse is to reach into your pocket to refresh your email again. There’s nothing new there — and even if there is, it can wait.
Not Really Listening
There are two kinds of listeners.
The first is the person who sits opposite you, quiet, and is intently following every word you say. They are connected to the conversation, and diligently following your thoughts along with you.
The second is the person who sits opposite you, quiet, and isn’t really listening at all. What they’re doing is rambling on and on in their head with their own inner dialogue. They are thinking about something else. They are wondering what they’re going to say next. They are absent from the moment.
Don’t be that second person. Listening is an art — and in order to do it, you need to keep your head clear and be focused on the conversation at hand. Why? Because nothing kills productivity faster than having to say, “I’m sorry, I zoned out for a second — what did you say?”
I don’t care how amazing you think you are at multitasking. It’s not a thing.
If you don’t believe me, try taking a sip of water out of a glass with one hand while typing with the other. You’ll catch yourself taking a tiny sip and then typing. Or typing and then taking a sip. Multitasking is not “doing two things at once.” It’s “trying to do two things really close to each other.” And it is never as effective as concentrating on a single task. Ever.
People who multitask lack any clear focus on the task at hand. Their attention is divided. So even if they get two things “done,” neither one of them will be of much quality.
Instead, do one thing at a time — or even better, “clump” similar tasks together. Look for things that share common elements, find your flow, and crank them out. For example: Look at all the emails you have to respond to and devote an hour to answering them. Don’t respond to an email, then try to work on a proposal, and then call your friend back, and then go back to emails, etc. It will exhaust you.
Working With the Television On
I realize certain things work for certain people, but I have never found a secondary input to be very productive.
Having noise (or even a visual distraction) on in the background does your productivity no good. Really good work happens when you find your flow — and in order to get in that zone, you have to be quiet (shhh…). It’s almost like a meditation. This is where you lose track of time, pick your head up, and realize four hours has gone by. And if you notice, when you get in that zone, you forget the television was even on at all. So why have it on in the first place?
Turn off all distractions. Find your flow.
Working in Unproductive Environments
One of the places where I work frequently here in Chicago is Soho House — and when I travel, I tend to prefer working out one of Soho House’s other spaces.
However, I’ll be the first to admit that there are certain rooms (and times of day) in which productivity is absolutely not happening. Like Sunday brunch. Sounds great in theory, right? Open up your laptop. Grab a table nearby. But when you’ve got a house packed full of people, that energy can mean death to your productivity.
Too many times, people think they can be productive in environments that are not built for getting things done. But they try! They want to feel like they’re “being productive” while at the same time “being social.” Rarely do the two go hand-in-hand.
Find a quiet space of your own and get to work. When you’re done, you can go hang out.
Working With Unproductive People
Another huge mistake people make is thinking that getting together with a bunch of friends for a “work session” is going to be remotely productive.
Let me note: There are times when this works. However, the only times I have found this to work effectively are when everyone is working together on something. For example: Maybe you’re all working on a short film together. Or all brainstorming on design ideas for a website. Great!
Everybody is engaged, and that’s productive.
But at a certain point, the project will require “grind time.” The fun stuff (brainstorming) is a very small piece of the larger puzzle. Everyone is going to have tasks or things they need to get done, and the truth is, everyone just needs to crank. In silence.
When you have a lot to work through, you need your own space. You can be in the same room with other people, but everyone has to understand it’s work time. It’s not “hey, let’s all hang out and sort of do stuff” time. There is a difference.
So round up your friends. Tell everyone to bring headphones. Sit around a table and grind together. And after two hours, take a little break.
Lack of Preparation
I love when people say, “This Sunday, I am going to be so productive,” when they haven’t put any time or effort into the thing they need to get done for days, or weeks, or even months.
Realize that if you do not sit down prepared, you won’t be productive. If you haven’t touched your project in weeks, it’s going to take you a bit to remember where you are and what you need to get done. Or maybe you’ve forgotten how to use a certain program. Or your skills have gotten dull — and it takes you some time to sharpen them again.
Productivity isn’t just about the moment. It’s about all the moments that lead up to that moment. Your productivity increases over time through consistency. So, even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes a day, make that time so your skills don’t get dull and whatever you’re working on stays top of mind.
And of course, the famed but so casually ignored culprit known as “notifications.”
It’s astounding to me how many people say (as if announcing to the world), “Time to grind!” and then, before the sentence has even left their mouth, their eyes are darting to the top right corner of their laptop because two texts, a tweet, a calendar invite, and an alert from Facebook all popped up at the same time.
If you want to get anything of value done, turn off your notifications.
Turn. Off. Your. Notifications.
Why do you think people enjoy vacationing in the middle of nowhere?
Why do you think everyone travels across the world to seek peace and quiet?
Because they think the only time they can afford to turn off the notifications in their life is when they retreat to a foreign beach, or a forest, or a prized vacation spot.
You can find that peace and quiet anytime, anywhere.
All you have to do is turn off your notifications — and nobody can disturb you!
This piece originally appeared in Medium.