The daily habits that ruin productivity – and what to do about them

Regardless of how much planning goes into long-term goals, day-to-day workflow can often prevent you from reaching them – this is particularly true in the education sector. So what can you do to make sure you’re as productive as possible?

This edited story was originally seen on: Search Engine Journal

Productivity is about creating day-to-day habits; the underlying theme is simple – create habits that embrace proactivity over reactivity, with both the big and small pictures in mind.

The common consensus is that you can form a new habit in 21 days – a statistic that came from Maxwell Maltz’s book Psycho-Cybernetics – but that book was published in 1960. Recent studies by the University College London say some people can form a new habit in as little as two months, though others take over eight months; the point is, focus on destroying unproductive habits and creating productive ones.

Productive habit formation begins with optimising day-to-day time management by ceasing activities that make you less productive. What follows are unproductive habits, and solutions to replace them with productive habits.

1. Neurotically checking email
This is the number-one habit that derails productivity. When you neurotically check emails, you enter reactive mode, answering things that, typically, aren’t that important at that moment. Begin by turning off email notifications. This psychologically eases the need to check your email and won’t distract you.

Schedule periods of time – the shorter the better – each day to check and respond to emails and make it a habit; how many periods per day depends on the day’s workflow. A good rule to remember, which is from Chet Holmes’ Ultimate Sales Machine, is the ‘touch it once’ rule. This works for those types who feel frequently compelled check emails; basically, if you have to open an email, deal with it. If not, put it aside by organising it into a prioritised list.

2. No call to action in subject lines
If you’re sending an email, make sure the subject line says exactly what you expect in response. Make this a habit and influence others to do the same. In a leadership role this should become a demand across all staff. Tied to this is making sure that those emails only address what the subject line intends; if the email’s content changes, either note it in the rewritten subject line or start an entirely new thread.

This small practice-turned-habit will save, not only time personally and across the company, but much frustration when searching for a subject within emails.

3. Neurotically checking social media
We’re all victims of this, especially when something newsworthy surfaces. Soon we’re sucked into reading every response, which naturally leads to the formation of opinions and responses. Suddenly 30 minutes has passed and we’re behind schedule on whatever it is we’re working on.

The same thing happens if we post something important to us or our business. We all naturally thrive on an immediate reaction from others – and social platforms quickly fulfil those needs. These are bad habits and tough ones to break.

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First, like emails, shut off all social notifications on any electronic devices. You can reward yourself every few hours with checking social updates, but allocate the least amount of time needed. It’s important to break these habits in order to find extra clarity throughout the day.

You can now install apps that track your on-phone time. You’d be surprised at how much time you waste.

4. Embracing other distractions
Do what’s necessary to control out-of-control distractions, such as work noise coming from another portion of the office, or listening to music if working at home. Let people know they just can’t come up to you at any time and ask a question. You’re not being mean – you’re simply getting stuff done in a more timely manner.

5. Not creating a prioritised tasks list
Back to Chet Holmes’ The Ultimate Sales Machine. Holmes says that, without a day-to-day list of actionable items, you’ll likely always be in reactive mode. He says to have, at most, six items daily that you must complete.

Also, make it a habit to prioritise daily tasks from the most to least important. When you do this your mind will be fresher for the bigger tasks, and the ideas much clearer.

6. Planning a meeting without an agenda
Meetings without agendas are useless. Everyone, typically, walks out frustrated – and then takes another half hour to relax before getting back to work. Make sure to plan meetings with a clear agenda and always have one person leading. This doesn’t mean it’s their meeting; rather, they are tracking and monitoring time, which brings us to the next point.

7. Getting hung up on either the big or small pictures
While the new habits above will abolish most people’s productivity issues, you can get more granular with other, day-to-day tactics. One way to sustain productivity is to establish a unity of focus on both the big and small pictures. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t be paralysed by the size of longer-term goals.

8. Not taking multiple breaks
A short 10- or 15-minute break of diverting attention to something totally different allows the mind to refresh. Make daily breaks a habit. As you master more and more of these time management lessons, fewer breaks will be needed throughout the day.

9. Not asking questions
Asking questions will educate you faster and speed up productivity in the long run. Some people are afraid to ask questions because they’re worried about how it will make them look. Time can be saved, however, if you simply ask questions. Founder of American investment management firm Bridgewater, Ray Dalio, says in his book Principles, that everyone has the ‘right and responsibility to try to make sense of important things.’

One of the quickest ways to learn is to ask, and listen with an open mind. The more knowledge you have, the easier future tasks will become.

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