How to develop productive habits and powerful routines?
How to Develop Productive Habits
Perhaps the drawer of barely used planners, or the history of uninstalling productivity apps has you questioning whether you can really ever be truly productive. Well, the answer is: of course you can be as productive you could ever be! Develop the right habits and you'll be ticking off tasks faster than you can draw their check boxes.
Clarify exactly what you mean by "productive".This might be less obvious than you think. Do you want to finish more work in less time, or become more efficient as a whole? Remember that these two options need not mean the same thing. Would you rather complete five assignments within an hour with okay quality, or five of your best work by the end of the week?
Be clear on exactly what habits you would like to develop.Just saying, "I'm going to be more productive every day," or, "I'm going to prioritize better," or, "I won't procrastinate anymore" won't cut it. You need to get concrete. Have an action, a number, and a time. Ideas include 'Write the day's entry in journal at 9pm every night', 'Do 15 squats before leaving for work', and even 'Be mindful every 3 hours'. That last one might require the alarm in your phone, although there's an app for that now too, if you'd like.
Define your habits.This might vary according to your occupation, your lifestyle, your attitude, etc. Be realistic. 'Complete 20 high priority tasks every day' is not realistic, unless those tasks revolve around a season of Friends episodes. Here is a list of habits to develop:
- Write down the task list(s) every morning.
- Cut out three unimportant tasks every week (or day, if you're really super busy)
- Delegate three tasks to other people
- Do one high priority task every morning
- Go through the schedule of the week ahead every Sunday
- Cut down social network time to an hour a day (or two if you're a serious addict)
- Cut down email time to ten minutes a day
- Start on an assignment as soon as it is received.
Find out what is stopping you.If you've tried cultivating productive habits before but couldn't keep at them, figure out why. There's no point starting a habit that's doomed before day 3. This will require some introspection, and while that may seem too tedious or take too much time, the result is worth it. Dig deep. If you find these anti-productive demons, you can learn how to defeat them and let your habits thrive. Some examples of reasons for habit failure include:
- On some level, you fear change
- You're afraid of disappointing someone, maybe even yourself
- It was unrealistic or impractical
- You feel alone in your quest
- It's not really what you want
- You fear failure.
Deal with the root causes.The reasons given in the previous step are close to what are called 'root-causes'. You don't fail in your habits because you missed a day and got demotivated; rather, it's because you couldn't face that feeling of failure again if you missed another day. If you've planned to delegate more tasks and couldn't keep up with it, it's because of the fear of giving up control or in many cases, a lack of trust. Note that many habits go down the drain because of fears. You've got to identify them and drag them out for each of your goal habits.
Tackle whatever it is that's holding you back.Confront your fears of change or failure. Remind yourself why the habits you want to develop are going to work and are more important than what you've currently got going on. Sometimes, even the awareness of these pesky demons can help you dodge them.
Enter your habits into your planner/organizer/calendar book/app or even a post it that is easily accessible and which you will see every day.Its time to get into action now. Revise them and make sure they aren't too difficult to start with or too vague to follow correctly. Once you've got concrete productive habits and are aware of what could shut them down, you are ready to start.
Gain momentum.Pushing a large rock downhill is difficult when you start pushing it. When you get some momentum going, the rock rolls down without any effort. Its the same gist with habits. Here's what you do to get that momentum. Chances are your habit is a long term one:
- Start with following the habit for just three days. Do not underestimate this trick. Focus only on the first three days. Pretend you don't need to follow it after that.
- Take a day off on the fourth day. Just like exercise, rest periods are just as important as the workout itself. Even if you are motivated to follow your habit on this day, I suggest you rest.
- Focus on five days now.
- Don't take a day off, but reward yourself with something tangible: a new planner, a new handbag, a big mac, whatever works
- Carry on
Be prepared to encounter loads of bumps.At times it might feel like the cost outweighs the benefits. There will come a time you convince yourself you don't need the habit anyway. Watch out, these are those little demons we spoke about earlier. Fight them. Productive habits will yield you results in the long run when you've got momentum. Don't question the habit itself. Question what drives those insecurities.
- Exercising regularly is a great way to keep fears and laziness at bay and stimulates your creative and productive thinking.
- It could take 20 to 60 days (or more, depending on the habit) to gain momentum and develop a habit.
Sources and Citations
- Ciotti, Gregory "5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits That Stick", 99u. Retrieved from
- Hart, Kyle "16 Everyday Habits of Highly Productive People" Life Hack. Retrieved from
- Dahl, Melissa (2014) "Think it'll take 21 days to make your resolution a habit? Try tripling that" Today.
Video: 15 Ways To Improve Productivity
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