The four best damn productivity habits high achievers use

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I’m a student of productivity. I have to be—distractions are everywhere.

And while I know there are hundreds of apps designed to plan, protect, measure, and manage my time, I prefer some died-in-the-wool methods.

The good news is you can use them as well and with zero training.

First, how are you doing? Are you able to focus when needed and complete the task at hand? Are you organized and following a plan? Can you recover from inevitable distractions quickly and get back to work?

If you’re not sure you’re playing at the top of your time management game, then these solutions can make a big difference.

1. BOUNDARIES

I think “open door” policies are stupid. It’s also stupid to check you email first thing in the morning, work without a plan and allow interruptions to rule your day.

That’s why you need Boundaries.

A Boundary is when you are strategically unavailable. Different from a meeting, a Boundary is a time block that reoccurs every day to allow you to work on projects that require your full attention.

My first Boundary is from 5:00 to 7:00AM for writing. No Internet, spell-check, email, or social media—just a big cup of tea and writing. I will either be working on a blog (guess what time I’m writing this), client proposal or speech—most mornings I can crank out 1,000 words.

My next Boundary is 9:15 to 10:30AM. I’m at my office (a 12 minute bike ride from home) and working on 50% of the hardest work on my plate for the day.

And then I have a Boundary from 1:30 to 3:30 for the second 50% of hard work.

Here’s the trick: I don’t worry if it doesn’t happen. It could be I have a client meeting, a speech out of town or I’m meeting someone. Of course, I try to schedule around my Boundaries, but if I can’t protect that time my trick is to return to my routine the next day.

2. BLOCKING

You get ready and are on time for meetings. Right? Why not create a meeting for yourself.

Blocking happens when you create an appointment with yourself for a task that either:

  • you know you might procrastinate about
  • impacts someone else and they are relying on you to get it done
  • is strategic and by completing it you move other projects ahead

When I get off the phone from a new client I block time on my calendar to interview delegates (invaluable research as a speaker), create handouts, or have a final call with the client.

I also Block time for responding to RFP’s (Request For Proposals), researching for my blog, creating email sequences for upcoming webinars and just thinking.

I’m always a bit surprised how my Pavlovian reaction to seeing a meeting on my calendar (even if I’m not meeting someone) alerts me to get ready to work on that task.

One last point about Blocking time for yourself: my rule is once the Block is created you can’t delete it, only move it.

3. BATCHING

When I visit my friend’s cabin each summer we chop wood. Nothing like chasing a scrap of wood around the chopping block to keep me happy.

It would be a bit silly for me to announce I’m going to “chop some wood”, proudly return with one stick only to head out 20 minutes later to “chop some more wood.” Instead I Batch.

Batching is a lost art in our age of multitasking and it still works like a damn. When you Batch you complete similar tasks all at once. The most obvious example is your email. That addictive InBox (Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D likens our addiction to email to that of a Vegas slot machine) will suck up every available moment unless you reserve your visits to Batching. Other examples of batching include:

  • paying bills
  • filing and clearing the clutter in your office
  • returning phone calls
  • updating your planning tools
  • updating social media
  • reading and commenting on blogs
  • dealing with personal finances, money transfers, investments, banks, insurance companies etc.

4. BREAKS

And now for the one power tool that will have the biggest impact on your success—taking Breaks. Don’t underestimate the power of a Break.

New research found that over four hours of sitting a day (between your breakfast, commute, email, social media, TV, Netflix and meetings that’s easy to do) doubles your risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and early coronary disease. Got your attention?

The trick is to take Breaks throughout the day, not to wait for that long walk in the evening. Researchers found that exercise after the fact (like going for a long run after work) can’t undo “damage” done while we’re dormant in our chair.

So you have to plan to move at least every 15 minutes. Here’s how:

  • move your garbage can, water and recycling box away from your desk
  • when working on a project, set a timer for every 25 minute to get up and move
  • park further away from your office, meeting, grocery store and walk the rest of the way
  • take the stairs
  • Use this list of office exercises to inspire some variety in your movement.

Boundaries, Blocking, Batching and Breaks – pretty easy hacks to get you productive and moving. What are you going to start with?

“When you feel good about what you did, your brain will change. It will want to do the behavior again in the future. That leads to making the habit stronger.” —B.J. Fogg, Ph.D

Hugh Culver

Bio: Hugh Culver co-created the world’s most expensive tours (to the South Pole), started five companies, and teaches experts the business of speaking. Read his blog on the business of speaking. Follow him on Twitter @hughculver