10 Tried & True Habits of Impressively Productive People
We all want to be more productive, right? But as they say, you can either work harder or work smarter—and studies have consistently shown that if you work over 50 hours a week (some say 40), you actually become less productive! We all want to have a life too, so it’s critical to become very productive in a condensed period of time. Don’t just meander through the work day. Get things done and then go have some genuine fun.
But how can you do that? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are 10 of the best methods I’ve used and seen used that I would recommend incorporating into your life:
1. Weekly Goals
We’re all goal oriented, but it’s much easier to actually focus on attaining those goals if you write them down at the beginning of the week. Then you have a concrete target to aim for. Indeed, a study by Dominican University found that “The positive effect of written goals was supported: Those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals down [6.44 versus 4.28].”
I write my goals on a white board over my desk at home where I will seen them often. That being said, I would be careful with goals that are in the distant future. As Timothy Ferris notes in The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich:
“I’m not a big believer in long-term planning and far-off goals… The variables change too much and in-the-future distance becomes and excuse for postponing action” (Ferris 59).
Instead, you should use the following to supplement your short-term goals:
Scott Adams describes the problems with an over-reliance on goals in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:
“If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of success until they bore you, or set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure” (Adams 32).
Instead, he recommends using systems for both your life and your business. That way, you just align your life so that great things will happen by doing the things necessary to achieve such a life on a consistent basis. One example Adams gives is to show up at the gym everyday. He doesn’t have to work out. Some days he just doesn’t feel up to it. But usually, just by showing up, he’ll get himself to work out. And as they say, “the hardest part is putting on your running shoes.” Once you start, it’s easy going.
Another example I’ve heard from both Brandon Turner and Jay Papasan is writing 1,000 words for their books in the morning before going to work. That’s a great way to stay consistent as a writer, and it shouldn’t be hard to apply that same system to many other pursuits.
That being said, few systems, if any, measure up to the next one:
3. Getting Things Done
David Allen put together the Getting Things Done system because, as he notes in his book:
“A basic truism I have discovered over twenty years of coaching and training is that most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.” (Allen 12).
What this system does is create a funnel that puts all of your commitments into one “trusted system” that you can reference and update continually. It includes the following:
- Action Items (things you need to do)
- Waiting For (things you are waiting for from someone else, which is really helpful as we tend to forget these things)
- Agenda Items (things you need to discuss with or complete with someone else)
- Projects (things that require two or more steps)
- Project Support (supplemental steps to complete various projects)
There are an almost endless number of ways to customize this approach. I use a group of Google Docs for it, but you can also use Evernote, Outlook, or even a paper system. For more information on this method, you can check out my article on applying it for real estate investors or Josh and Brandon’s interview with David Allen on the BiggerPockets Podcast. Regardless, Getting Things Done is extremely effective—and even more so if you do the following:
4. Wake up Early
The early bird gets the worm, as they say. And it’s hard to deny the truth in this. Ever since Hal Elrod released his great book The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM), this has almost become a cliche in business circles. But regardless of how cliche it is, there are a whole host of reasons it’s beneficial to get up early each morning. For one, the distractions haven’t started, so you can focus on improving yourself getting important things done without your phone or email blowing up.
Related: 7 Productive Actions to Take While Searching For Your Next Property
In addition, a quality morning routine sets the tone for the rest of the day. Starting off with a “win” builds momentum to win for the rest of the day instead of just walking through the motions and saying, “Well, I’ll do better tomorrow… hopefully.”
But furthermore, think of how much more beneficial it is to reach “flow” early in the morning versus late at night. If you reach it early in the morning, that sets the day on the right footing. If you reach it late at night, it doesn’t build momentum toward anything but going to sleep. And if that state of hyper-productivity keeps you up hours past when you would normally go to bed, you will either ruin your sleep schedule or be extremely groggy the next day. A “miracle night” can lead to a “godawful morning.”
I’m not naturally a morning person, but the results are in: Mornings are better for productivity.
One of the best ways to get more done is to have other people do stuff for you. One part of the Getting Things Done system is to go through your inbox and decide whether to do something, defer it, throw it away or delegate it. That last bit is really important because too many people get stuck in the mindset of having to do everything themselves. This mindset will hold you back.
I’m not saying you should necessarily have to hire employees (although if that’s what you’re thinking, don’t let me stop you). Instead, it could simply mean to hire a contractor instead of doing something yourself. Or perhaps you can hire a virtual assistant to take some work off your plate. There are also forms of automation that can be considered delegation. For example, Rently allows you to put lock boxes on houses and send a prospect out to look at it without having to show the property yourself. This probably isn’t as effective as showing it to them in person, but your time (or the cost of a leasing agent) is very possibly worth that trade off.
And if you’re worried about holding employees or others accountable when delegating, check out my article on Key Performance Indicators.
6. Lean Just Outside Your Comfort Zone
One thing that will kill productivity right in its tracks in procrastination. And one of the primary reasons for procrastination is fear. Often, this fear is of things that don’t make any sense, like being judged by someone you really couldn’t care less about. But this is how our minds work, so we should learn to deal with it.
“The only sure way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it” Susan Jeffers tells us in her fantastic book Feel the Fear . . . and Do It Anyway. But she cautions that you should “do it” by “leaning just outside your comfort zone.” Start by diving off the low dive before making your way to the high dive. If you try to start by climbing Everest, you’ll almost certainly get lost in fear and fall back on procrastination. So if you’re afraid of public speaking, join Toastmasters and work through that fear there. Don’t try to give a presentation to a room full of 500 people right off the bat.
Think through your life and all the things that give you that sick feeling in your stomach and then ask yourself, “How can I lean just outside of my comfort zone?” Once you do it a few times, you’ll stop being afraid of it. And once you’re no longer afraid of it, you won’t feel the need to procrastinate because of it.
On the same token, another reason we have fear is a lack of candor. Hiding things creates a sense of paranoia: “What if I get found out?” If we are honest and straightforward, we don’t have to waste so much time beating around the bush. Nor do we have to fear what others might think or where we stand with them as honesty usually begets more honesty.
No, this doesn’t mean you should tell your wife she looks fat in that. Some discretion is called for, of course. But the more honest we are, the easier things are to keep straight. And furthermore, you should demand honesty from your friends, family, and colleagues. You might have a major blind spot that is holding you back that you would learn about and be able to correct if only someone would tell you. How much productivity are you losing because people don’t want to hurt your feelings? How much productivity are your employees or colleagues losing because you don’t want to hurt theirs? And, as should be obvious, in this same spirit, humility is also critical.
8. Speed Reading
Alright, now we move on to a more specific and off-the-wall recommendation. About three years ago, I started speed reading and I’ve probably doubled or even tripled the speed at which I read without losing any comprehension. The method is actually quite simple:
- Take a pen or similar item and track along each line. This keeps your eyes from backtracking, which normally happens about 20 times per page. Instead your eyes move in a consistent, linear progression.
- Don’t pronounce the words in your head while you read. The mind can recognize words much faster than you can say them (in your head or verbally) so you can save a lot of time by skipping the pronuciation. This takes some getting used to, but is easier than you might think.
For a more detailed explanation, check out Timothy Ferris’ post on the subject.
9. Weekly Time Audit
Unfortunately, almost all of us would be surprised by just how much time we waste every single day. That waste could come in the form of simply doing nothing or doing things of limited value. Some time ago, Stephen Covey outlined the four quadrants that we spend time in as follows:
- Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important
- Quadrant 2: Not Urgent and Important
- Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important
- Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important
Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 are obviously to be avoided whenever possible. But many productive people still get stuck in Quadrant 1, putting out one fire after the next. Perhaps some of those fires can be put out by other people (delegation) or by doing things in a better way (systems). We must strive to spend more time in Quadrant 2, even though it’s deceptively not urgent. But building the foundation of your business, like say, building systems, is a Quadrant 2 activity and therefore something you want to make time for. Quadrant 2 allows you to build systems that make you more productive on each day that follows instead of just getting done what absolutely needs to get done right now (Quadrant 1).
One way to do this is to track everything you do in a week by noting it on a spreadsheet split out into half-hour or 15-minute intervals. Then at the end of the week, review it and ask yourself, “What am I doing that I could stop?” Or “What am I doing that I could do better, more quickly, or simply give to someone else?” These are critical questions to ask and they are much easier to ask and evaluate when you have a list of what you’ve done starring you in the face.
10. Hold Yourself Accountable
At the end of each week, you should hold yourself accountable by reviewing your goals and activities and thinking about how you could do better. With the Getting Things Done system, this is built in with a weekly review. And if you can get someone else involved like your partner, spouse, or a friend or colleague, that’s all the better. Everyone works harder (and smarter) when they know they’re being held accountable. Just think of how hard you would have studied for those tests back in high school if there were no grades.
And you should truly desire to have yourself held accountable. Things that get held accountable perform better, as do people.
Bonus #1: Cut Out the Clutter
These days, we are barraged by so much media, entertainment and news that it’s easy to get distracted. I, for one, recommend going so far as to throw your TV is the trash can. While I don’t go so far with the Internet and social media, you should be very cautious about how much of these things you use. They are a giant time suck and don’t give you much back in return other than a short-lived dopamine hit. Take a long, hard look at how much of these types of things you use and how much time you spend on them. Try to cut it down, and if it’s a real problem, you should strongly consider simply deleting your Facebook or Twitter account or whatever else is dominating your time while giving little if anything back.
Bonus #2: Single-Task
Multi-tasking doesn’t work. Studies have shown this repeatedly. Instead, take the advise from Jay Papasan and Gary Keller in their book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results: Focus on one thing at a time. Close all those open tabs you have on your browser and FOCUS! Furthermore, try to come up with one overarching goal for your business and focus on that instead of 800 different small goals you will likely start and then stop shortly thereafter without accomplishing much of note.
Being more productive isn’t just about working hard. The most productive thing you can do in order to become more productive is to reorder your life to become more productive automatically. This list should provide some helpful tips. But even if you implement them all, you should keep your mind open to new and proactive ways to orient your life to doing more with less. That way, you can be even more productive while still leaving enough time have a life.
Which of the above do you use in your day-to-day life? What would you add to this list?