9 habits for mastering productivity
We’ve selected 9 habits that are the foundation for mastering productivity. Feel free to pick the ones that will work for your individual style, and focus on mastering those. Each of these habits should be learned and practiced one at a time, if possible, or 2 to 3 at a time at the most. Focus on each habit change for 30 days, then move on to the next. That can be difficult, but the habits will stick better in the long run if you focus on them one or two at a time. And over the course of a year, you’ll have mastered them all. Becoming completely organized and productive in one year is not such a bad accomplishment!
1. Collect things.
Carry a small notebook (or whatever capture tool works for you) and write down any tasks, ideas, projects or other information that pops into your head. Get it out of your head and on paper so you don’t forget it. You should pick a very simple, portable, easy-to-use tool for capture: a small notebook or small stack of index cards are preferred, simply because they are much easier to use and carry around than a PDA or notebook computer. The simpler the tools, the better. When you get back to your home or office, empty your notes into your to-do list.
2. Process things.
Make quick decisions on things in your inbox. Do not put them off. Letting stuff pile up is procrastinating on making decisions. Process your inboxes (email, physical, voicemail, notebook) at least once a day, and more frequently if needed. When you process, do it from the top down, making a decision on each item: Do it (if it takes no more than 2 minutes), trash it, delegate it, file it, or put it on your to-do list or calendar to do later.
3. Plan your day.
Set your “Most Important Tasks” (called MITs) for each week and day. At the beginning of each week, list the MITs that you want to accomplish for that week, and schedule them first. Each day, create a list of 1 to 3 MITs and be sure to accomplish them. Do your MITs early in the day to get them out of the way and to ensure that they get done.
4. Do a task.
Do one task at a time, without distractions. This is one of the most important habits. You must select a task (preferably one of your MITs) and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. First, eliminate all distractions. Shut off email, your cell phone and Internet if possible (otherwise just close all unnecessary tabs). Then, set a timer if you like, or otherwise just focus on your task for as long as possible. Don’t let yourself get distracted from it. If you get interrupted, write down any request or incoming tasks/info on your notepad, and get back to your task. Don’t try to multitask.
5. Set up a simple trusted system.
Keep simple lists and check them daily. Don’t create a complicated system, and don’t keep trying out new tools. It’s a waste of time, as fun as it is. Either use a simple notebook or index cards for your lists, or use the simplest list program possible. You don’t need a planner or a PDA or Outlook or a complicated system of tags. Keep it simple, and focus on what you have to do right now, not on playing with your system or your tools.
6. Organize your work.
Everything should have a place. All incoming stuff goes in your inbox. From there, it goes on your context lists and an action folder, or in a file in your filing system, in your outbox if you’re going to delegate it, or in the trash. Put things where they belong right away instead of piling them up to sort later. This keeps your desk clear so you can focus on your work. Don’t procrastinate. Just put things away.
7. Review your progress.
Review your system and goals weekly. During your weekly review, you should go over each of your long-term goals, see what progress you made on them in the last week, and what action steps you’re going to take to move them forward in the coming week. Once a month, set aside a little more time to do a monthly review of your goals, and every year, you should do a broader review of your yearly goals and life goals.
8. Simplify things.
Reduce your goals and tasks to essentials. If you attempt to tackle all incoming tasks, you can quickly become overloaded and be left without the necessary focus on the important tasks. So instead, review your task and project lists, and see if you can simplify them. Remove everything but the essential projects and tasks, so you can focus on them. Simplify your commitments, and your incoming information stream. Be sure that your projects and tasks line up with your yearly and life goals. Do this on a daily basis (briefly, on a small scale) during your weekly review and your monthly review.
9. Set a routine.
Set and keep routines. Routines put you in control of your day and help you protect your time. A morning routine (for example) could include looking at your calendar, going over your context lists, setting your MITs for the day, exercising, processing email and inboxes, and doing your first MIT for the day. An evening routine could include processing your email and inboxes (again), reviewing your day, writing in your journal, preparing for the next day. Weekly routines could include an errands day, a laundry day, a financial day, your weekly review, a family day, etc. It’s up to you. Set your own routines and make them work for you.
These 9 simple habits — collect things, process things, plan your day, do a task, set up a simple trusted system, organize your work, review your progress, simplify things, and set a routine — can dramatically increase your productivity.