A few simple habits can make a big difference in our day-to-day productivity by helping us accomplish more with less effort.
Good habits can help us be more productive
The other day, I was thinking about things we do habitually that help us be more efficient and therefore more productive. We all are creatures of habit. We all do things that require almost no conscious thought. In this episode, I thought I'd share a few habits that help me day-to-day to be more productive and make my life easier.
What is a habit?
A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice.”
“Habits are routine behaviours done on a regular basis. They are recurrent and often unconscious patterns of behaviour and are acquired through frequent repetition.”
How can habits help us be more productive and peaceful?
Habits reduce the amount of decision-making needed.
When you act on a habit, you don't need to dip into your decision-making power. For example, when you first learn to drive, you have to consciously think about every step of the process. But after years of driving, all these steps happen automatically, and can even be done as you're talking to someone in the car with you or while you're thinking about other stuff.
There is research that says our decision-making power can get depleted throughout the day due to all the little decisions we have to make; that decision fatigue can lead us to make poor decisions later in the day. Developing habits that serve us reduces the amount of decision-making power we need.
Another benefit of habit is that repetition leads to efficiency.
If you repeat an action, you'll get better at it, and it will take less of your time, which is a good thing for those things that you need to get done so you can spend more time doing things that are fun and creative.
Simple habits that help me
Home maintenance with less effort
Keeping my home tidy and clean helps me feel more peaceful and enables me to focus better on the tasks that require my focused attention. This is especially important now that I work from home, but a busy legal practice and the projects I'm working on for The Productive Woman mean I can't spend a lot of time cleaning house. Developing just a few small habits helps me keep order while minimizing the time I spend on it.
- Make my bed every morning
This helps me feel more orderly and gives me a small feeling of accomplishment first thing in the morning. As soon as I get up, I fold back the blankets/sheets to air and fluff the pillows; after I shower and get ready for the day, I make the bed. One respected military leader takes the position that making your bed is a first step to changing the world.
- I keep a cleaning cloth by my bathroom sink and wipe down the counter, faucet, mirror after I get ready in the morning & at night before bed.
This 15-second task keeps the water splatters and soap/toothpaste scum from building up, and keeps the area generally clean without requiring a lot of time.
- I do a 10-minute evening pickup
Before I go to bed, I spend just a few minutes tidying the kitchen and living areas. I quickly load the dishwasher and run it if it’s full. Then I wash anything that can't go into the dishwasher, clear off and wipe counters. I do a quick cycle through the living areas to toss trash, grab dirty dishes, straighten cushions. Admittedly, I'm an empty-nester and it’s just my husband and me in the house, so there are fewer people are making messes. If you have kids still at home, there may be a few more things to do, but they can/should be helping!
In her helpful book, Real Life Organizing, Cassandra Aarssen shares her Nightly Cleaning Checklist (and her reasons why an evening clean up matters):
“This simple list of daily chores had a huge impact on my home and my life. Waking up every morning to a clean house always feels so much better than waking up to a messy one. It really does set the tone for my entire day, and I feel happy and energized instead of overwhelmed and exhausted. I also find it so much easier to fall asleep at night, just knowing I’ve accomplished a little something and knowing I’ll be waking up to a fresh and clean start the next day. The best part is because I do a little bit every night, my home never really gets overrun with clutter or grime anymore. These few minutes I spend each night save me hours of scrubbing in the long run.”
~ Cassandra Aarssen
Load the dishwasher (5 min.)
Wipe down kitchen counters (1 min)
Wipe down the bathrooms (1 min)
Put away clutter left out (3 min)
Speed mop the floors (5 min)
Put away one load of laundry (5 min) (She starts a load of laundry as a part of her morning routine)
- I try not to walk from one end of the house to the other with empty hands
Take a moment to look around where you are to see if there’s anything that should be where you’re going.
- I make use of waiting time
- While waiting for tea water to boil, empty the dishwasher or wash up the dishes in the sink.
- While waiting for food to heat in the microwave, wipe down a counter or quickly go through one drawer or one shelf
- While waiting for a conference call at work, put files away or check a couple of emails.
Manage tasks and commitments
(For more ideas, check out Episode 215 – Task Management 101)
- I write everything down as soon as I think of it
This is helpful in that I don't forget things, and I don't have these thoughts and ideas hanging in the back of my mind and taking up mental bandwidth that could be used for creative thinking and problem-solving. Even when the project is only in the idea stage, I add it into my task manager as “Think about project A” or “Brainstorm the pros/cons of doing project B.” Appointments go straight into my calendar along with pertinent information such as phone numbers and addresses.
- I do a 10-minute review at the end of the day
I take a look at the next day's calendar and ask myself a few simple questions: What am I doing tomorrow that I can prepare for now? How can I set myself up for a good start to the day?
- I try to batch tasks
- If I'm running errands, I try to do several and plan a route that avoids backtracking
- When I record the podcast, I plan ahead so I can record 2 or more at a time. This reduces the number of times I need to get my recording gear out and set up and I can get in a flow of recording
- Think of other household tasks that can be batched for more efficiency – ironing, prepping veggies or other meal components, etc. Similarly, what work tasks can be batched? Think of returning phone calls, drafting letters, filing, and more.
- I spend a little time on Sunday evening setting up my bullet journal for the week.
- It helps me get a handle on the coming week, and I feel like I’m prepared and getting off to a good start
- I Look at the coming week, evaluate busy days, look at what I need to do to prepare; move tasks around to avoid overloading days already full of appointments
Advice from others
Google “productive habits” and you'll find lots of lists of habits of highly productive people. A list of the articles I've referenced can be found below in ‘Resources and Links.' Here are a couple of key takeaways from reading them:
- All of them say take regular breaks. Find the rhythm that works for you for focused work followed by a break that gets you away from your workspace. Consider using the Pomodoro technique.
- Many of them recommend getting sufficient sleep. To facilitate that, develop a wind-down routine that sets you up for a good night's sleep, including turning off screens an hour or more before bedtime.
Developing better habits
There is always room to improve, to develop new habits that can help us be more productive. Not all of our habits help us, but they can be difficult to overcome. We’ve talked about that in the past in episodes 114 (Mindset Matters: Productive Habits) and 147 (Productive Reading: The Power of Habit (by Charles Duhigg)). Check out those episodes (and Duhigg’s books) for more info on how habits are formed and how they can help us. One thought from Duhigg's work (and from The Organized Mind, by Daniel Levinson) to keep in mind now is that rather than trying to “break” a bad habit, which is very difficult, it’s actually easier to form a new habit to replace the one that doesn’t serve us.
What do you think?
What habits have you developed that help you be more efficient, more productive, and more effective at making a meaningful life? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- What Is a Habit
- 9 Habits of Productive People
- 15 Habits That Will Totally Transform Your Productivity
- 8 Habits of Highly Productive People | Real Simple
- 12 Habits of Highly Productive People – Pick Any Two
- What Is a Habit, How Do They Work, and How Can I Change Them?
- TPW114 Mindset Matters: Productive Habits
- TPW147 Productive Reading: The Power of Habit
- TPW179 Motivation and Habit
- TPW 215 Task Management 101
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