12 Habits that Improve Productivity and Focus
By Kevin Gibbons
"I don’t have time," "I couldn’t possibly do that this week ," "I’m so busy." How many times have you said something along these lines this week alone?
Do you cringe a little every time you say it? I know I do, because these are all nothing more than excuses.
Finding focus can be challenging—there’s always lots happening on a day-to-day basis for everyone—but no one else is going make you more productive. You have to make things happen, not let them happen.
You have to start with yourself. When you’re the founder of a company, it’s vitally important to have a clear vision on where you want to go. Once you know that, the most powerful thing you can do is to break this down into small daily changes that will take you there. If you can master that, then the rest will follow. Here’s how to start:
1. WAKE UP EARLY
When you look at the habits of highly successful people, you’ll start to notice a common trend. Laura Vanderkam, who studied the morning rituals of top executives for her book What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, found that the majority of these executive wake up before 6 a.m.
Waking up early is hugely underrated; it gives you a head start on everyone else at a time that allows you more focus with no distractions and when your mind is at its most alert.
2. CREATE A ROUTINE THAT WORKS FOR YOU
Having structure isn’t a bad thing. When you know what you’re doing each and every day, it’s much easier to be focused on your bigger picture goals. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have some pretty interesting daily routines.
Clearly there’s huge health benefits toward being fit. Yet if it’s not a part of your daily routine, exercise may be overlooked. Seventy-five percent of executives interviewed by executive jobs site The Ladders said physical fitness is crucial for career success at the executive level.
If you make time for exercise, it’s not just the health benefits you’ll notice. You’ll have more energy, more brainpower, less stress, you’ll be happier, and you’ll be able to think clearer to get more done.
4. MAKE TIME FOR READING
If you don’t learn anything new, how are you going to improve? Try having a balanced mix between reading books that can trigger new ideas by taking on more strategic information and concepts and reading more tactical, shorter articles and blog posts that can keep you in touch with the latest trends within your industry.
As Warren Buffet said, "Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will."
5. PRIORITIZE YOUR DAY WITH LISTS
I create for myself daily, weekly, and even monthly and yearly lists. This helps me to focus on the most important tasks for a given period and also prioritizes what’s essential to the bigger picture. Don’t just create these and forget about them; revisit them every morning, making them part of your daily routine.
6. BLOCK YOUR CALENDAR FOR KEY TASKS
If you don’t make time for it, it won’t happen. Lists are useful to focus on key actions, but to do it the right way it needs to be scheduled.
Make sure you’re realistic with the time you need to complete tasks and try to prioritize by value and importance. Also look to get the tasks you really don’t like done early. That way you can move onto the fun stuff you enjoy quickly afterwards—rather than procrastinating to find something/anything else to do, focusing on the task at hand.
7. FOCUS ON ONE TASK AT A TIME
Everyone likes to think they can multitask, but the reality is that no one really can do it well and you could be losing up to 40% of your productivity by trying.
If you’re already waking up early, use that time to plan the most important task of the day, so that you can get it done before anything else comes up.
8. TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
Most of my creative ideas rarely come when I’m at a laptop. I personally find that nothing is more inspirational than reading a good book while I sit on the beach.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to do that every day, but you can get yourself into a similar mindset by taking regular breaks.
Try going for a walk, having a shower, or generally switching off. Find what works for you and embrace it.
9. TAKE A WALK AT LUNCH
If you work in an office, getting out is hugely important—this is one I’ve struggled with personally, but getting outside and taking a walk is hugely important toward keeping your mind fresh and active.
Still having the "I’ve got too much to do" excuses? Try taking a walking meeting with a team member, line it up with an afternoon phone call you need to make, or use it to brainstorm your latest ideas for a project. Just make sure you carry a notepad close by to capture those great ideas.
10. PUSH ALL MEETINGS AND PHONE CALLS TO THE AFTERNOON
In the morning you have more brainpower, so make sure you use it to its full effect by keeping this time clear for the most important tasks; 3 p.m. is often suggested as the optimal time for meetings, since this allows for prep time and getting out of the sluggish after-lunch feeling. You can give this your undivided attention without the worry that you know there’s something else you should be doing.
11. LEARN HOW TO MANAGE YOUR INBOX
How you manage your email habits can have a huge impact on your focus and productivity. What you need to strive for is a balance between not being controlled by your inbox and being able to respond within a timely manner.
12. REMOVE NOTIFICATIONS AND APPS FROM YOUR MOBILE DEVICES
You can’t just rely on willpower alone to ignore distractions. The constant pings and alerts you receive on your phone are often the most difficult to ignore.
Try removing any social apps and notifications that may interrupt you during the day. Likewise sign out of any social accounts from your laptop and limit checking down to a couple of times a day. Trust me, you really won’t miss that much.
All of this advice sounds easy in theory, but doing it—and sticking with it—is the hard part. There will always be good days and bad days. It’s a learning process for myself, too. But like anything, it’s all about forming long-lasting habits.
Once you start to focus your own time on what’s truly important, then you can really start to set yourself apart and bring that into how you can grow your whole business to new levels.
Mark Dilworth, BA, PES