First, you must ask yourself why you want to be more productive in your life.
Here are a few questions to answer:
Are you procrastinating?Are you letting things fall through the cracks?Do you have a hard time focusing?Do you keep your phone on during work?Do you constantly check social media and your email and messages?Are you using software to “remember” things for you?Are you using systems and routines?
Let’s break down each of these questions. By analyzing each one, you’ll get a masterclass in how to think about your productivity.
Are you procrastinating?
This is the hardest thing to figure out when it comes to personal productivity. Maybe you are afraid of being successful. Perhaps you don’t have control of your racing thoughts and anxiety, which in that case, you should be doing the deep inner work necessary to figure that out (meditation, mindfulness, self-reflection).
The best way to fight procrastination I have found is by creating systems. When you get into the routine of doing deep work for an hour or two a day, your mind gets in the habit of focusing. When your mind is focusing, there is no room for other thoughts. More focus = less distraction and less distraction = less procrastination.
I highly recommend reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Are you letting things fall through the cracks?
It's likely because you mistake your memory for a tool.
Your memory is not a productivity tool. Don’t use it. Do everything in your power to avoid using your memory as much as possible.
Use software, notebooks, and a system to get everything out of your memory and onto paper. THen use a system to send you reminders so that you don’t have to remember anything ever.
The Getting Things Done method is the most popular productivity system in the world. Most productivity follows the GTD principles in one form or another. You should look into it and figure out if that works for you or steal some of the core principles to use in your routine.
The most important takeaway from GTD for me was the importance of getting everything out of my head and into an inbox or calendar (scheduler). This single mental shift is an absolute game-changer for not letting things fall through the cracks.
How to increase your focus
To keep this article short, I’ll give you a foundational principle for thinking about improving your focus.
Let’s first define what focus is by looking at what it is not.
The opposite of focus is distraction, so if we remove distraction we get focus.
It’s as simple as that and as hard.
So the first and most important thing for focus is ELIMINATING DISTRACTIONs. And this leads to the next question, “Do you keep your phone on during work?”
If your phone notifications are on, or your phone is face up and next to you, put it in airplane mode and out of sight.
That’s step one to increasing your focus. This simple hack will completely revolutionize our productivity routine and your ability to focus and do your best work for long periods. Keep in mind that early on, you’ll keep thinking about your phone. So stick with it. Over time, you will sever this mental connection. Eventually, you’ll come to love the time when you aren’t assaulted with a barrage of other people’s agenda.
Apply this to all of your notifications on your computer, tablets, and devices.
Cultivate a work routine based on removing yourself from the outside world. In our modern distraction-filled age, your ability to focus while everyone else is distracted is going to be your superpower.
The next step in mastering your productivity is to stop actively checking your messages and notifications. It’s one thing to turn off incoming notifications. But then there’s your brain, and it’s a constant desire for dopamine. Since every little message or notification you get is a little dopamine spike, your brain seeks it out like an addict.
Where you are on the dopamine-addiction spectrum is anyone’s guess. It’s probably a good idea to figure that out.
Try this: turn your phone off for an entire day. If you fail, try this: turn your phone off for an hour.
So on and so forth.
The more you can unlearn the habit of constantly checking your phone, the better.
The final piece in productivity: systems and robots.
Let the robots work for you.
Google calendar or a productivity app like asana or Todoist are worth the investment. The key is to pick one and commit to it. Trust me, I’ve tried them all, and I have a nagging habit of switching apps in search of the perfect “system.”
The perfect system is then one system you pick. That’s it.
All the apps do the same stuff. So pick one and let the robots work for you.
Start with recurring tasks—bills, reminders, followups.
One way to get ahead today is to be better at following up than everyone else. Fortunately, people suck at following up. They suck so bad that I end up doing their job for them. Yes, this is one of those annoying opportunities in business. I'd prefer if people were better at this, but then I wouldn’t have as much opportunity to stand out now, would I?
Use a calendar for your preliminary schedule and check it every morning. You can also use it to set reminders for paying rent, bills, etc. (though it’s even better if those are on autopay).
Use email tools like mix max or boomerang to make sure emails come back to you. Remember, your memory is not a productivity tool; it’s a productivity liability, so don't use it.
The productivity journey
If you are just getting started with managing yourself, then I should warn you that you want to be patient. YOu aren’t going to build the perfect system overnight. This stuff can take years. Though you can shortcut so much of this process if you follow these few principles of productivity:
1. Eliminate distraction when working - there is no such thing as multitasking. There is focused work or distracted work. That’s it2. Pick one productivity system and stick with it, then make sure you check it daily and build a system for managing your inbox3. Constantly improve your ability to turn your phone off and only check notifications and messages once or twice a day. Your life will improve more than you can imagine.4. Stay consistent and learn as you go.