After spending the last several years coaching people and corporations on how to create Success with Ease, I’ve realized that one of the biggest obstacles to success is the gap between perceived and actual productivity. People often think they are being productive, yet they are not actually moving the needle in the areas that matter most. Instead, many of us choose to complete the simple tasks to “get credit” and feel we are being productive. Some people call this procrastination by productivity: putting off the tasks that really need our attention in favor of anything that will not stress, annoy, or test us. Here are Seven Habits that highly productive people have in common. If you want to work less and earn more, this is a great place to start:
Be ruthless with your focus. Create a To Do list the night before and ask yourself the following question: “What is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT thing I need to get done tomorrow?” That item is #1 on your To Do list. If you complete that one thing, you’ve had a good day. Do this every evening while planning the following workday and you will be astounded at the results.
2) Be Selective.
Limit your To Do List to a MAXIMUM of three things. Focus on the three things that will move your business forward the most. That is your To Do list. That is ALL. Do not add anything else. Many people have very long To Do lists that they never complete in a given day, draining them both emotionally and physically. Highly productive people know how to focus.
3) Do a Data Dump.
When all of those unimportant To Dos are floating around in your head, try spending 10-15 minutes writing down EVERYTHING you might possibly need to do. This is NOT your To Do list. This is a data dump to free up your brain. Refer to this list on a weekly basis to see if the priority of any of the items qualifies it for your three item To Do list – otherwise the list lies dormant.
4) Limit Email.
Check email in concentrated blocks no more than three times a day. One study showed the average worker spends 13 hours a WEEK, or about 28% of their workweek, doing email! And, once distracted it takes our brains up 23 minutes to recover. That means that reading a single email can set you back by as much as 30 minutes! This is one of the biggest time sucks. By checking email at specific points of your day, you will optimize your ability to stay focused and complete the tasks that really matter (which you determined in #1 and #2 above). One option suggested by highly productive people is to manually download email. By controlling when email arrives, it becomes a communication tool instead of a distraction.
5) Stop Multi-Tasking.
Multi-tasking has been scientifically proven to be ineffective. In today’s tech heavy world, we don’t focus and we do too many things at once. Are you spinning your wheels on many things and completing nothing? Is your attention dispersed? Try focusing on only ONE task at a time by doing a Power Hour.
A Power Hour consists of concentrated twenty minute intervals where you focus on only one task. Put away all distractions. Silence your phone, turn off email notifications, or close your laptop, and then spend twenty minutes COMPLETELY FOCUSED on your most important task. At the end of twenty minutes, take a two minute break. Stretch, move, breathe. Then do another twenty minute interval. After three of these twenty minute intervals take a ten to fifteen minute break. That’s one power hour (it’s more like eighty five minutes total). If you complete your #1 task at any point in the Power Hour, move on to the #2 task on your To Do list and so on. The point is to focus on one task at a time, with no other distractions.
6) Find a Quiet Space.
When doing a Power Hour, it can be helpful to create a ritual or find a sacred space where you can work uninterrupted. You may want to leave your open office space and go to Starbucks or work in a conference room for an hour. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and focus on completing your most important task for the day.
7) Start Strong.
Do the most important task on your To Do list FIRST THING in the morning, before anything else – especially before responding to email. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and energy that will fuel you the rest of the day. We all procrastinate on some of the biggest projects, and that is what keeps us stuck. Successful people tackle the most important projects right away when they are at their freshest in the morning.
If you practice these seven principals for just one week, you will notice that you’re getting more done in less time. The next question becomes – what are you going to do with all your newfound free time? Many people make the rookie mistake of wasting that time in unproductive tasks, like incessantly checking email or Facebook. I suggest you invest that time in an activity that brings you pure joy. Allowing yourself to be productive AND to celebrate that productivity is the key to Success with Ease.
Vanessa Loder is an entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and writer whose company, Akoya Power, supports women in stepping into their power unapologetically. She is also the Co-Founder of the Mindfulness Based Achievement curriculum, a program that teaches high achievers how to attain success with ease Vanessa received her MBA from Stanford University and is trained in hypnosis and past life regression healing. Her personal transformation, subsequent research and work has led to thousands of women finding more passion, success and love with ease. You can read more at Vanessa’s blog, Akoya Power, as well as LivingMBA or find her on twitter @akoyapower.