Five habits to improve your productivity this year

Spread the love
Obligatory leaping holiday photo. Taken in Palawan, Philippines.
Obligatory leaping holiday photo. Taken in Palawan, Philippines.

Over the 2015 Christmas break, I committed to five new habits. Coming up to halfway through 2016, I’ve seen huge gains.

My goal was to be productive and focussed, but also more present and kinder to others.

Here are five habits you should consider adopting yourself:

1. The same routine every minute of the morning and one hour before bed

When I wake up at 6:45am, every Monday to Friday, I meditate for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, I have a routine that lasts me till 12pm. The hour before lights out, which is always at 10:45pm, is pretty much the same, with the key being a complete ban on using electronics.

Yes, this is rather obsessive behaviour. Yet since starting this, I’ve concentrated better and made difficult decisions with much more clarity. But, the most surprising thing for me hasn’t been the work benefits.

I’m a more empathetic person.

I’m more present, and a better listener. I forget less things – though I do have the occasional slip up.

I know what you’re thinking. No way can I control how I spend my time! My life is simply too haphazard, my boss and clients simply too demanding. Sure, there are things you can’t control, but you can probably control more than you think.

I cannot claim any originality for this idea, since it comes directly from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. If you ever feel like you are stretched, doing too many things at once, this is the book for you.

Days of a theme, via the Passion Planner:
Days of a theme, via my Passion Planner:

2. Days of a theme

Another tip straight out of Essentialism comes from Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter. Dorsey also uses a daily routine to control his work flow. He says he breaks up this monotony by having a different focus every day. I would argue the opposite.

Theming each day actually makes the week more monotonous, more predictable, and more routine. To me, this is a good thing.

This is how I spend each day:

  • Monday: Planning and aligning staff through team meetings
  • Tuesday: Conceptualising new ideas
  • Wednesday: Writing (I’m writing this on a Wednesday now)
  • Thursday: Learning and codifying lessons
  • Friday: Team and culture

The beauty of this system is that it allows me to focus. If there is something that relates to team and culture that crops up on a Monday, it’s going to have to wait till Friday.

 3. 10 days of holidays every three months

In 2015, it took until December for me to take more than 3 consecutive days off. As a result, my health suffered, my concentration was poor and I was generally a bad human being. I forgot my niece’s birthday, amongst other things.

In 2016, regardless of how busy I am, I will dictate my holiday time. I need to get away from emails and the office from time to time.

This tip comes from one of my mentors, Jo Muirhead. When we met, Jo and I immediately saw eye to eye. We’d both been told repeatedly that what we wanted to do was impossible. That we couldn’t live the kind of life we wanted and contribute meaningfully to society. I’m inspired by Jo’s willingness to ignore the naysayers and challenge the status quo.

Borobudur, Indonesia
Borobudur, Indonesia

4. One admin night a week, one screen-free Sunday, and no work on the weekends

As an extrovert, I tend to forget that I need some time alone to get stuff done. Things like booking flights, making sure credit cards are paid off, fixing things around the house. If I didn’t book it in, I’d probably be having dinner with friends every night of the week. The key is to mark one admin night in my calendar every week, where I’m unavailable to others.

Every Sunday, I’ll take my SIM card out of my phone, put it an old Nokia, and go without a smartphone for the day. I’ll also curtail laptop use to Skyping with family, or watching movies or sport. This whole idea only cost me 99c – the cost of a nano SIM adapter.

A 99c micro SIM adaptor keeps me on my Nokia on Sunday, and focused for a Monday.
A 99c nano SIM adaptor keeps me on my Nokia on Sunday, and focused for a Monday.

Most importantly, I don’t use social media or email.

I’ve almost always worked on Saturdays to catch up from the mayhem of Monday to Friday. This year, I’ve vowed never to work on weekends. It forces me to be focussed and selective of what I do during the week, as I don’t have Saturdays as a fall back to finish tasks. More time doesn’t necessarily mean more quality work.

Sweden, it seems, agrees.

5. Saying no as a default, unless it’s a definite yes

I picked up this idea from Derek Sivers, the musician, writer and entrepreneur, whose default answer to new things is always no, unless it’s “HELL YEAH”. In other words, if you’re not completely 100% sold on something, don’t commit to it.

This is something I’ve applied to OIC, and relates to Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept, which he writes about in his wonderful book Good to Great. If your project does not hit the intersection of all three circles, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Jim Collins' Hedgehog Concept
Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept

The same applies to your personal life. I don’t want to commit to something because of obligation, or because I’d feel like I’m letting someone down by saying no. If I did either of these things, chances are I wouldn’t be fully present anyway. No one wins.

I’m either in it 100%, or I’m not in it at all.

What are your tips for better productivity, health and happiness in 2016? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *