You’re setting smart goals, writing your daily to-do list, practicing a morning routine, and applying numerous other tips to increase your productivity but still fail to accomplish all the things you set to your mind, right?
You want to perform better, get more done, deliver more significant results, and generally succeed in life. Working less, getting more done, and having more time for the activities you truly enjoy is what you desire.
You’ve read books like The 4-Hour Workweek, Deep Work, or Eat the Frog, yet, productivity seems to be a myth, and most of your workdays end in frustration.
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Been there, done that: I know how terrible it feels to be motivated, wanting to achieve more but finding yourself at the exact same point of stress and disappointment over and over again. I found myself in a doom-loop of reading about productivity techniques and still being ineffective for a long time.
However, the problem with productivity techniques or tools is not that they don’t work. They do. But there’s a reason why most productivity advice doesn’t help to change in your life.
These tools and strategies only work if you’ve covered a few basic mindset shifts. It’s about your daily habits and the way you think and act throughout the majority of your days. What you occasionally do will not impact your life, your daily routines, however, make or break your success.
While the wrong habits can often lead to misery, the right ones can help you save time, energy, and willpower.
After working with hundreds of people as a mindset and productivity coach, here’s what I found to be the five core habits of highly productive people:
1. They separate the wheat from the chaff
I barely know anyone who’d say, “I have so much time to do everything I love”. Instead, most people are complaining about not having enough time to do all the things they’ve written on their to-do lists.
For many people, accomplishing daily, monthly, or even yearly goals is a hurdle because time passes quicker than expected. However, we all have the exact same problem: It’s not a lack of time, but a lack of priorities.
Most people don’t know which tasks to prioritize and which to eliminate from their endless to-do lists. And instead of getting the critical tasks done, they add even more points to the list as if having lots of things to do would make them happier.
Highly productive people know how to cut off the unimportant. Instead of coming up with new, unnecessary tasks, they are masters in spending their time on tasks, projects, and relationships that truly matter.
We all only have 24 hours per day. Once you eliminate all the time you need for necessities such as sleep, eating, or commute, not much is left. Along with our health, our time is our most valuable resource, thus managing it well is the very first step to a more productive and happy life.
If you want to be highly effective and productive, you’ll need to set a few monthly and yearly goals that truly matter instead of writing endless lists of goals. However, you also need to be able to create a powerful daily to-do list that focuses on the important stuff.
To find your long-term goals and focus, I’d advise using Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule: Write down 25 things that you want to do and achieve in your life. Then, eliminate 20, and find your top five.
According to Buffett, you should now focus on these five priorities until you’ve accomplished all of them. While doing so, discard the other 20 ideas and possibilities. Only if your top five are finished, look at what else you want to achieve.
Another way to set priorities is the Eisenhower Matrix. This one works particularly well to set your daily to-do’s, and I use it whenever I feel stuck and don’t know which tasks to prioritize.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a chart that helps you organize your tasks according to two main factors: Urgency and importance. The rule is simple: First, focus on tasks that are important and urgent, schedule urgent but unimportant tasks, delegate important tasks that are not urgent, and forget about the rest.
There are tons of other ways and fancy tools that might help you to set priorities. The only thing that matters is finding a strategy that works for you and sticking to it in the long term.
2. They know how to chill
Besides setting the right priorities, highly productive people also know when to schedule breaks.
Overworking and not caring for your health will barely lead to satisfying results. Keeping an eye on your health, concentration levels, and wellbeing and taking breaks before your body starts striking is essential to perform on a high level.
Moving your body, consuming high-quality food, and drinking lots of water should be part of these breaks.
What works wonders for me is the so-called Pomodoro Technique, which is a simple strategy to schedule deep work sessions and breaks: First, decide on a specific task you want to accomplish. Then, set a timer of 25 minutes and work distraction-free for this period. No phone, no emails, no toilet breaks, just focused work.
Once the 25 minutes are over, take a 5-minute break, and then start with 25 minutes again. After four 25-minute blocks, you can make a long break, get some fresh air, grab a coffee, stretch your body, and do whatever else helps you to relax and unwind.
The duration of 25 and 5 minutes is based on the original method, however, feel free to adapt these times so that it’s most useful for you. If you can keep your focus for more than 25 minutes, go for it and then take a more extended break.
3. They put their head down
We are so used to a constant information overflow, that most people can’t do focused, productive work for more than a few minutes without the urge to check their phone, emails, or newsfeed.
Highly effective people, however, know how to eliminate distractions and build an environment that allows them to focus on essential tasks.
Here are some ways to instantly to eliminate distractions:
- Remove everything that is not work-related from your desk.
- Turn off all notifications: Social media, Whatsapp, emails, pop-ups,…you don’t need any of these while producing great work.
- Prepare everything you need to get your work done in advance so that you don’t waste your precious time searching for stuff.
- Regularly clean up your workplace: A clear outer world leaders to a clear mind and more productive output.
- If you’re working in public places or a big office, get yourself some over-ear headphones: People often avoid distracting someone who obviously doesn’t want to be disturbed. Over-ear headphones are a great way to demonstrate that you don’t want to be bothered.
4. They guard their private time with their life
Warren Buffett once stated the following:
“Really Successful People Say No To Almost Everything.”
And what I experienced during the past years as a productivity coach proves the truth of that statement: If you want to get shit done and achieve meaningful goals, you need to know how and when to say no.
Particularly for new entrepreneurs, it often seems tempting to join lots of events, network with tons of people, and say yes to all opportunities that arise. However, this is precisely what differentiates highly productive people from the rest of the world: Your time is a highly valuable resource, and if you want to have more of it for things that you genuinely enjoy, you need to stop being too accessible.
At the beginning of my entrepreneurial career, I was telling everyone how flexible I was. Whenever a friend or business partner asked to meet up or hop on a call, I’d say, “I’m available all day, just tell me when to catch up”. After two years of practicing that approach, I realized how stupid it was: If you want to be highly productive, you need to set boundaries and can’t be available all the time.
Figure out when your most productive times of the day are and don’t let any meetings or interruptions get in your way during these sacred time blocks.
5. They stick to (fake) deadlines
To increase your productivity, you need to become a master in setting and sticking to deadlines.
Think back of your time at school: Did you ever had several days or even weeks to finish an assignment, but completed all of it in a single night?
That’s the power of deadlines.
According to Parkinson’s law, work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
Without specific deadlines, being a perfectionist, and spending way too much time on simple tasks can happen quickly.
Increasing your productive output should never come at the cost of delivering great results, yet, often, being strict with deadlines, and getting shit done quickly is the right decision.
Most of the time, good is good enough, and there’s no need to overcomplicate specific tasks and projects: Set a clear deadline, find someone to hold you accountable to your own promise, and do it.
Productivity is no coincidence. If you want to get more stuff done and use your time more efficiently, you first need to be aware of a few basic principles.
Without applying these correctly, hardly any time management strategy will work in your favor.
Separate the wheat from the chaff: Learn to set priorities and have a few core goals so that you can cut off the unimportant quickly at any given time.
Know how to chill: Listen to your body and nourish it properly.
Put your head down: Eliminate distractions without excuses.
Guard your private time with your life: Value your time and privacy by saying no more often.
Stick to (fake) deadlines: Don’t spend 10 hours on a project that could be finished in 5 hours. Set deadlines and build the discipline to stick to your own word.
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