This article was originally published on the WorkForce blog.
Learn simple behaviors that will give you more energy and focus at work.
On its face, WorkForce is a software company.
But beneath it all, we’re in the efficiency business. We develop technology that helps 2 million professionals get more done in less time, garnering employee engagement and customer success in the process.
Productivity is a big part of our mission. That said, if you’re reading this, you’re also probably keen to do more in less time. Why not, right? Productive workers do better, advance quicker, and earn more than their less efficient counterparts. In short, they deliver more value.
5 habits that’ll make you more productive
As you read this list, keep in mind that habits are the product of cumulative, on-going effort. Forming a habit is hard work—and the items on this list are no exception. Partly because they compete with already established, negative habits that are holding you back and slowing…
Enough of that.
These five behaviors, when habitualized, enable and promote productivity. That said, feel free to choose only one. One behavior to focus on, cultivate, and develop into habit. Twenty-one days later, you’ll be:
- A better, more balanced person
- A more valuable, less dispensable employee
Then it’s on to the next habit, and so it goes.
Commit to doing one of the following:
1. Curtail your decision making.
Every day, you make thousands of decisions of varying consequence. Some are miniscule, dwarfed by the mental weight of bigger, more serious choices.
Even so, each decision—conscious or otherwise—demands energy. Your energy, of course, is finite. You only have so much of it before engagement and motivation make their exit and your productivity clicks off.
Therefore, the fewer low-consequence decisions you make throughout the day, the more energy you’ll have to devote to thinking and concentrating, to solving significant problems.
How to start:
Start with streamlining your morning decisions. Simplify.
For instance, prepare your outfit the night before to avoid any morning indecisiveness. Or, if you’re intense, wear a civilian uniform, like Steve Jobs.
You can also prepare a lunch, set a coffee timer, and pack your work bag the night before, saving yourself the time and nerves often associated with the morning crunch. Over time, those spared minutes and positive moments add up, gradually, like nickels in a jar.
Once your morning routine is streamlined, move on to the next part of your day. Go at your own pace, but be consistent. Habits are born out of pressure and time.
2. Take that break.
According to researchers from the University of Illinois, brief diversions from our work vastly improve long-term focus.
The study shows that workers who take a break every hour out-perform those who don’t.
“You start performing poorly on a task because you’ve stopped paying attention to it,” said Alejandro Lleras, the psychology professor who led the study, “but you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not the problem.”
The study says we need to step back, letting our brains relax and refocus to maintain our quality of work over time.
How to start:
Start by setting an hourly alarm. Every time it goes off, step away from your work for five minutes.
Upon return, you’ll find yourself re-centered and instantly productive.
Remember: Be disciplined or bust.
3. Say “No” to colleagues.
“You have to learn to get rid of all these people and commitments that don’t mean anything to you,” says Greg McKeown, author and researcher, “because they’ll rob you of the things that really do.”
McKeown, a Stanford MBA, spent fifteen years studying a single question: What is it that holds capable, driven people from breaking through to the next level?
Part of the reason, which he expounds in his book, is that so many of us are bad at saying “No.” As in, “No, sorry, I can’t attend this meeting” or “No, sorry, I can’t take on any more projects right now.”
If you find yourself often stretched thin or constantly busy but still somehow unproductive, you may be bad at saying “No,” which might also mean you’re in the bad habit of saying “Yes.”
How to start:
Start by saying “No” to a commitment—a meeting, an impromptu favor—at least one time tomorrow.
Be polite, but resolute. A hard “No” is appropriate so long as it comes with a legitimate, gracefully delivered reason.
NOTE: You’ll find that the more often you say it, the easier it gets.
4. Learn indiscriminately.
In other words, don’t make an effort to learn only about what interests you.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t continuously develop your passion or profession. Absolutely do that. But also let yourself be random and spontaneous when it comes to the information you ingest.
New knowledge feeds our creativity. It also keeps burnout at bay, which is productive on its face.
How to start:
Start with a random web page generator, like StumbleUpon.
Perhaps, use it during your break (See: #2).
5. Go to the gym.
Exercise is good for your physical and mental health, which increases productivity. We all know this. We all know that we should go work out…
But we don’t. We stay home.
This sedentary habit is the product of inertia, or our resistance to change.
Luckily, inertia works both ways: It may keep us on the couch if that’s where we’ve been, but it’ll also keep us going when we establish an active regimen.
How to start:
Start by making attendance a habit. You can do this by religiously showing up.
Go slow. Avoid walking out of the gym thinking, “I have to do all that again… tomorrow?!”
At first, aim for comfort, enjoyment even. But gradually and consistently increase your effort each day. The more smoothly you transition into an active lifestyle, the more likely you’ll be to stick to your newfound routine.
Too long; didn’t read:
While bad habits can stunt our output, good habits can give us back the time, health, and focus we need to be productive in the long run.
That said, purposefully developing these habits should be a gradual process. If it’s not — if too much changes too fast — our natural urge to resist may become overwhelming. That’s when we quit.
It takes three weeks to foster a habit. Give it a chance by starting small and slow, building momentum and inertia over time.