You don’t need a grand gesture. You don’t need a vast makeover. There are simple things you can do each day to dramatically increase your productivity. Realistic, actionable things that require little time and no experience. Things that are easy yet valuable. After all, the more productive you are, the more time you will have for fulfilling pursuits. Or better still, the more you will be able to make your time each day meaningful.
There are four micro-habits I adhere to on a regular basis. Four small things that make a big difference. Test them out for yourself. See first-hand how your productivity and, more importantly, your life’s fulfillment grows for the better because of them.
1) Listen closely
A pile of clean clothes rests before you. You look at it, calculating how much time it will take to fold. It’ll be close to an hour. You sigh. Laundry day is the worst day. The birds chirp outside, but your heart doesn’t match their joyous sound. Rather, you feel contempt and boredom. Why hasn’t someone invented something to fold all this? How can there be self-driving cars and not self-folding laundry? The madness!
You save the worst for last. The socks. You curse your flair for color. The heap in front of you is a smorgasbord of pinks and blues, greens, yellows, and reds. Off-whites, pure-whites, beiges, and creams. Light greys and dark greys. Blacks, browns, and tans. You never realized just how many socks you wear day-to-day. Apparently, it’s a lot. And like a puzzle you didn’t sign up to do, you’re faced with a series of potential mixings and matchings. You sigh again and once more repeat your mantra: Laundry day is the worst day.
Laundry day doesn’t have to be the worst day though. In fact, chores altogether no longer have to be… well… chores. I use audiobooks to transform tedious tasks into times of learning and enjoyment. Doing the dishes, dusting, unloading the dishwasher. These are basic activities that don’t require your attention. Like your daily commute, your mind is often wandering around anyway. Might as well fill that aimlessness with something valuable.
Use audiobooks to do just that. When you’re next folding laundry, put on an audiobook. Particularly one with an engaging story or on a topic you are interested in. Not only will this transform formerly wasted time into productive time, it may just become fulfilling time as well. It has for me. Use audiobooks to transform useless time into useful time. *Note: I use Libby to get audiobooks for free through the library. When they aren’t available there, I use Audible.
2) Please silence your cellphones
If you pick up my phone you’ll think it’s off. Unless you tap the screen, it remains black. Unchanged. Nothing pops up. No texts display. No messages showcase. It’s just black. It’s become standard practice to silence your phone. Same goes for turning on airplane mode. And still further, you’ve surely seen cries for the disabling of some of your more annoying notifications.
Well, I argue you can go one step more. Nearly 100% of the notifications on my phone are disabled. Additionally, I’ve also turned off the indicators that let me know I have messages waiting for me (you know the ones – the little red bubbles that sit atop each app). The only time I know if someone has texted me is when I unlock my phone and open the texting app. Same thing goes for email, WhatsApp, Slack, and the rest. Same thing goes for travel alerts, photo memories, and the like.
Implementing this habit is simple. Any time you receive a notification, go into your settings and disable it. Your phone will convert from a seeker of your attention back into the tool which it is. If your job requires constant communication, you can still apply this habit. Just leave the one or two notifications on that are actually necessary. Turn off as many notifications as you can.
3) Goodbye for now
It happens almost unconsciously. You sit at your desk, minding your own business, when suddenly you find yourself scrolling through LinkedIn for 45 minutes. It’s not something you intentionally choose to do. In fact, upon reflection, you can’t even remember what led you to this moment. You’re just… there. It happens again later that day. You’re in the middle of some task when you catch yourself watching video after video on YouTube. Again, it’s like you have amnesia. You don’t know what brought you there. All you know is that you’re there.
I used to have this problem. I eventually figured out the cause. Whenever I had the slightest feeling of stress or dread, like I had some task I was procrastinating on, I’d jump onto social media. All I had to do was type “Fa” into the search bar. Facebook would automatically populate. And even better, I was already logged in. With a keystroke or two, I easily put off until tomorrow what I could have done today.
At present, I’m no longer on social media. I’ve deleted (not deactivated, deleted) all of my accounts. It’s a step I’m happy I took. It wasn’t adding fulfillment to my life so I opted out. But that’s a more macro-choice. Before I got to that point, I implemented something on a more micro-scale. Whenever I was done visiting one of those sites, I logged out. That way, whenever I had the urge to go on LinkedIn, I would have to log in. It wasn’t a ton of friction, but it was enough for me to catch myself. For me to realize what I was doing and return back to the problem at hand.
When you are done with social media, log out.
4) Don the nightcap
Your bed is within arm’s reach. All you would need to do is stand up and take a single step over. And from there, sweet, sweet sleep. Yet you can’t. Yes, your brain feels like a swamp of creamy mashed potatoes. Yes, you know how easy it would be to close your eyes for a minute or two. But the hard worker that lives inside you won’t let up. Rest and work do not go hand-in-hand.
In fact, they are enemies.
And so you march on, hoping the fog will soon lift. It doesn’t. It only grows thicker. And with each new ladle of swamp, your decision-making becomes increasingly shaky. You send an email to your boss’s boss half-finished. Your boss calls you, yelling over the phone. That wakes you up for a second. The adrenaline soon wears off though. The fog settles back in.
You submit a customer contract without checking all the details. To your surprise, the customer signs it and sends it back immediately. Turns out you forgot a zero. The contract terms are much better than what you initially agreed to. You know you’ll have to tell your boss about the mistake… and that’s another call you don’t look forward to having.
I get eight hours of sleep most nights. I wake up feeling rested. Yet more often than not, I take a quick 20-30 minute nap during the day. It helps me do what I do. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking them. After all, society frowns upon it. But then I remind myself that my business continues to grow and it’s ok to recharge. Then I close my eyes and wake up feeling great. When I used to work for a corporation, I would take naps in my car during lunch. Now that I work for myself, I take naps on my bed whenever deemed necessary.
If you need a nap, give yourself permission to take it. It requires little time and it will provide the refresh you desire.
Moving forward with realistic micro-habits
You don’t need anything drastic. A few minor changes here or there will make a big difference. As a reminder, here are four realistic micro-habits you can use to increase your productivity each day.
- Listen to audiobooks while doing menial tasks.
- Disable as many notifications as possible.
- Log out of social media when you’re done using it.
- Take a nap if you need one.