There just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done!

I often used to find myself frustrated, and occasionally, this frustration would escalate to anger.

Another precious day passed with little productivity I kept telling myself.

Fortunately, I studied and emulated the work habits of great achievers (Tim FerrissChris Bailey, David Allen, etc.) and now I ace each day filled with the joy of my massive productivity.

Here are the 5 habits through which you can guarantee productive days and life.

I. Massive Productivity: The Two Core Habits

I call the following two habits the core habits of massive productivity. These two habits ensure not just a productive day but also a productive and fulfilling life.

1. Decide On A High-Value Producing System

If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal. — Scott Adams

I have recurringly noticed this pattern that almost all the extraordinary achievers have a system with these three elements:

  1. A vivid idea of what is their core high-value task.
  2. A robust schedule for practicing that core high-value task on a regular basis.
  3. A tangible self-monitoring system to track and monitor their system.

Depending on what you want to accomplish in the long run, before everything else, you must identify your core high-value tasks.

Then, you must design a system which constantly supports and guarantees the execution of your core high-value tasks. Otherwise, you will fall victim to the banalities of trivial checklists and to-do lists.

For instance …

If you’re a Ph.D. student, your core high-value task must probably be to read and synthesize valuable academic papers.

So in your system, you must designate fixed and specific hours to this task on a regular basis.

If you’re a blogger, your core high-value task must be writing for specific hours on a daily basis. This is one of the major habits of iconic figures.

essential habits productivity
Fig 1. Anthony Trollope — Photo Credit TheConversation

One of the most prolific novelists in history, Anthony Trollope had cultivated the habit of writing each day for 3 hours early in the morning.

As for the self-monitoring, for each of his novels, he would draw up a working schedule, typically planning for 10,000 words a week, and then kept a diary:

In this I have entered, day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labor, so that the deficiency might be supplied. There has been the record before me, and a week passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart.

A blister to my eye. You won’t find anything on psychological literature that would so aptly summarize the efficacy of self-monitoring.

My own high-value task that I practice daily is practicing programming or devouring related tutorials and this is how I conduct the self-monitoring part:

Fig 2. My Daily Self-Monitoring Sheet

This simple sheet drastically motivates me to each day compete with myself and try to stretch my abilities and productive hours.

Given such a rigid systematic working ethic, what happens to creativity, you might ponder?

I had the same thoughts when I was reading Murakami’s book what I talk about when I talk about running:

If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy: focus — the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value. — Haruki Murakami

2. Time-Block The Portion of Your High-Value Task

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. — Alexander Graham Bell

Our mind is capable of forging marvels. But, only under one condition: If it is provided with a laser-focus on the material or the task at hand.

For instance, it is known between the expert programmers that you need at least 30 minutes of undivided attention before you can get to the zone where your mind is working with peak performance.

Even if for brief moments (1–2 minutes), you jump from the task you’re doing to something irrelevant (social networks, emails, answering a phone call, etc.), you will lose the optimal performance and you have to start over again.

So, block your time (absolutely no phone call, no social network, no e-mail, etc.). Guard your time block as if it’s sacred and you will reap the sweet rewards of your undivided attention.

If you want to see real magic, just designate 2 blocks (each of 2 hours) of dedicated focus to a task and you will definitely be astonished by the gargantuan progress you will make.

II. Massive Productivity: The 3 Supporting Habits

Keeping up with the two core habits may not be easy. But, we can make them much easier.

I have found that following much easier habits drastically help you to forge the two core habits.

1. Establish Your Signature Routines

There are many books dedicated just to this subject such as Daily Rituals: How Artists Work; and if you dig enough, you’ll notice that all the great achievers have some sort of rituals.

So, why is there so much emphasis on routines and rituals?

Imagine you wake up, take a cold shower, then move on to brew your coffee and then you get to work (assuming you work at home).

If you repeat the same process for a few days, your ritual (shower, coffee) gets associated with what comes immediately after it which is your work.

Next time when you take your shower and start sipping your coffee, your mind shifts into working mode. This is called priming effect and you can take huge advantage of it.

o switch to optimal performance, professional athletes like Roger Federer perform specific routines:

This routine quickly puts them into the optimum state.

In my programming sprints, I always listen to the same and single music on repeat.

Consequently, my brain has linked my mind’s deep state of programming to that music.

This routine quickly puts them into the optimum state.

In my programming sprints, I always listen to the same and single music on repeat.

Consequently, my brain has linked my mind’s deep state of programming to that music.

As a result, instead of having to work for 30 minutes to enter the zone, as soon as I play the music, my brain shifts the gears to a high-performance level I want. — This is one of the techniques that Matt Mullenweg used when he was creating the WordPress.

As a side note:

 For the music ritual,you should not listen to it on any other occasions. Otherwise, you risk breaking its association to the high-performance zone.

2. Leverage Your Environment to Work For You, Not Against You

Following time blocks (the second core habit) is not easy.

You will be distracted by numerous stimulus (phones, colleagues, etc.)

You will be tempted by countless impulses (checking e-mail, facebook, twitter, etc.)

The simple technique I’ve found to be bulletproof for me to stick to my time blocks is to exile all the distractions in the first place.

The key to this habit is this: make it as hard as possible to indulge in or access the distractions.

In his book the happiness advantage, Shawn Achor suggests:

We are far more likely to procrastinate on doing things that take us more than 20 seconds to start.

So, you can procrastinate productively.

Turn off your WiFi modem and your network card if your work doesn’t involve the internet.

If you have to use the internet, white list the websites you might need using free extensions like StayFocused and make it hard to disable it.

Not having to deal with distractions and temptations has another crucial value.You will preserve your precious and limited willpower which you will need to tackle mentally-demanding tasks.

3. Consolidate and Shrink The Maintenance Tasks

Even as a college student I used to grow long lists of non-academic tasks. Laundry, making dinner, paying the bills, returning the library books, etc.

These can add up and infinite stress.

They can also shred your concentration by forcing you to keep wasting time pondering unfinished tasks. According to the Zeigarnik Effect:

Unresolved and interrupted tasks thieve the attention of your brain until you have a clear — if subconscious — proposal of what you’re going to deal with them.

What I do is designating one day of the weekend for dealing with such maintenance tasks.

But that’s not it. I designate a very limited amount of time to them lest I fall prey to the Parkinson Law:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

So, to dodge the vicious pitfal of Parkinson law I allocated a limited pre-defined time for completing such necessary but low-value tasks.

Final Thought

I believe that stretching oneself to become a productive person is one of the best investments one can do.

To be massively productive you need to grow your discipline, get clear on what you want, and carve out a systematic lifestyle and in the end, each of these end up serving you in all domains of life.

Productivity is my passion in that nothing makes me more fulfilled and joyous than a productive day and life.

Happy thriving

In summary

  1. Think and figure out your high-value tasks. What activities generate the highest returns on the time you invest.
  2. Allocate specific and regular time-blocks to your high-value tasks.
  3. Establish a monitoring system to track how much you engage with your core high-value tasks
  4. Establish routines before starting your day and before engaging with your high-value task to enter the zone more swiftly and avoid being side-tracked.
  5. Exile all distraction to better stick to your time blocks. Remember that laser travels far because the photons are focused towards the same direction.
  6. During the week, collect all the maintenance task you have to take action on (shopping, washing clothes, paying the bills, etc.). Then designate a limited amount of time on the weekend to strike them all out at once.
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