The Best Productivity And Time Management Habits


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Podcast 213

This week’s question is about habits and more specifically the best habits to have for greater productivity and time management.

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Episode 213 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 213 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Over the years I have been obsessed with time management and productivity, I have tried and tested multiple ways of better managing my time and my productivity. And from all that testing, I have learned that there are some hard and fast rules that, if followed, guarantees improvements in these areas.

I’ve spoken before about things like developing workflows, about making sure you plan the day the day before and keeping your task manager and calendar clean and tight. But of all the best methods, there is is one that stands out more than the others and that is the development of the right habits.

And that is what this week’s question is all about. What set of habits should you adopt so that better time management and productivity becomes a habit, rather than something you need to think about.

Now, before we get to this week’s question, if you would like to receive all the content I produce each week in one convenient place, then subscribe to my weekly newsletter. Every Friday, I send out a newsletter that gives you all the links to things like my Youtube videos, my blog post and of course this podcast. Plus, I include one or two articles written by others that I have enjoyed reading as well as a couple of videos I have watched that have helped me develop my systems.

PLUS… I also write a short essay each week that is exclusive to my newsletter that will give you tips and tricks to optimise your own productivity set up. And of course, it’s all FREE. All you need do is sign up, which you can do from the link in the show notes.

Okay, on with the show and that means it’s time for me to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question

This week’s question comes from Julia. Julia ask, Hi Carl, I read Atomic Habits by James Clear over the Christmas break and that got be thinking about the best habits to help me become better at managing my time and getting more of my work finished. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Hi Julia, great question! Thank you for sending it in.

Firstly, may I just say, Atomic Habits is one of the best books you can read if you want to transform your life as a whole, not just your productivity. I remember a few years ago I was struggling to fix my morning routine and make doing it consistent. After reading Atomic Habits I discovered the piece I was missing—something called “habit stacking” which was the missing piece to making it consistent.

Essentially habit stacking requires a trigger—in my case turning on the kettle in the morning to make my coffee, and then a sequence of little actions steps. So in the case of my morning routines, the turning on of my kettle leads to me doing my shoulder stretches while the kettle boils, which then triggers me drinking a glass of lemon water while my coffee brews, and once I have my coffee, I sit down either at my desk or on the sofa and write my journal for ten minutes.

I’ve got to say it really does work.

Now, let’s look at some habits you can develop that will massively improve your productivity.

Let’ start with a simple habit. The habit of consciously closing out your day.

What do I mean by “closing out your day”? This means that at a specific time each day you stop and close down the day. It’s where to put a hard border between your work life and your personal life.

While technology has done a lot to make our lives eminently more convenient and comfortable, it has also blurred the lines between our work life and personal life. This is not good for our mental and emotional wellbeing. There needs to be a time for work and a time for our personal activities. That could be doing some exercise or meeting up with friends. It’s often these essential parts of our lives that get sacrificed on the alter of career development and business growth.

So, closing out your day is about drawing a line underneath your work and projects for the day so you can move to giving yourself some time.

A good closing down habit is to stop working on whatever it is you are working on. Then clearing your task manager’s inbox. Then spending a few minutes planning out what needs to be done the next day. That involves looking at the tasks you have scheduled for the next day and your calendar for your appointments. You can prioritise your tasks and make sure you have sufficient time to accomplish everything you have planned for the day at this point.

Now, the benefit of this habit is you avoid worrying about what you have missed and what you have to do tomorrow. Just a few minutes at the end of the day going through what you collected in your inbox and looking at what you have scheduled for tomorrow calms your mind and allows you to properly shut down the work side of your life for the day.

What I notice about not closing out the day and planning the next, is your brain will randomly throw up thoughts about your work long into the evening and if you are particularly busy, it can have a negative affect on your sleep. You try to sleep but you are worrying about what you may or may not need to do the next day.

It’s far better to get that sorted out before you finish the work day.

So habit number one - get into the habit of closing down the work day. That one habit alone will massively improve your productivity AND your focus.

The next habit I would recommend is to start the habit of journaling. A lot has been written about the benefits of journaling, but the biggest benefit for me is the focus and clarity I get from writing out what’s on my mind.

If you include ten minutes of journaling in your morning routine you will get several benefits. The morning is when you are likely to be at your most creative—even if you are a night person—because as you begin to write you create a connection between your subconscious mind and the page. I cannot count the number of great ideas I’ve had from those ten minutes I write.

Now, I must confess, great ideas do not come every day—perhaps once or twice a month—but when they do, I often find myself switching from my journaling app to my notes and collecting the idea there.

But, perhaps the greatest benefit is the way journaling focuses you on the day. If you use a dedicated journaling app such as Day One, you can create a daily template. For me, my daily template includes a place where I can put my two objective tasks for the day—these are the tasks that I must complete that day, it also gives me a place to track my morning routines. For that I have a checklist to confirm I have completed my morning routines.

The benefit of this is I have record of what I have done, AND not done, so if I ever feel out of balance, I can go through my journal and see where the imbalance may have occurred. It’s usually because I am not doing something important to me.

My journal is also my accountability buddy.

Last year was a torrid time for my exercise consistency. I really struggled to get back into my exercise routine after a Christmas break. Things did not start well. I strained my calf while out on my annual New Year’s Day run which stopped me from running for two weeks. And we had moved house and the new environment caused me to drop out the habit of doing exercise in the afternoons.

I found I was berating myself almost every day and promising I would get back into my exercise routines the next day. This constant reminder eventually pushed me to solve this problem and by April I was getting back into the habit. By July I was back to where I wanted to be.

So habit number two; start journaling. It can be a little strange at first, but if you stick to it, eventually you will find you always have something to write about. Don’t worry if in the early days you only write out the weather forecast or some news item. We all start there. Once you start doing this consistently, you will soon start writing out your thoughts.

Habit three is to write everything down. This has saved me so many time from missing something important. How many times have you agreed to a meeting and not written it down believing you will remember and at the appointed meeting time you get a call asking where you are? It’s so easy to forget these things if we are not writing them down.

But it’s more than that. If we don’t have a trusted method of dealing with information our brains will try and do the job for you. The problem is our brains were never designed to store factual information in this way. Our 200,000 year old brain evolved to recognise patterns—it’s what kept us alive on the open savannahs thousands of years ago. We recognised the pattern of some predatory creature stalking us for lunch. The crack of a twig or the russell of long dried grass.

If you think about all the information coming at us every second of the day through sounds, smells, sight and touch. It’s impossible to be consciously aware of every information input. Pattern recognition is a far more effective way to alert us to danger or opportunity. Our brain automates the process and if a number of informational inputs come together at the same time that corresponds to a known danger or opportunity, you brain will make you consciously aware of it.

One the best things our ancestors have left us are their journals and notebooks. From Leonardo D’ Vinci to Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. People who changed the world captured every little idea and hypothesis into notebooks. We can go and see these notebooks and see how amazing ideas and inventions developed over time.

Now whether you collect everything in a paper notebook or a digital notes app doesn’t matter. Choose something that works for you. Just make sure that you develop the habit of collecting everything. You can discard things later when you close down your day and clear out your inboxes.

I think of all the productivity tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years. Developing the habit of capturing everything has been the one that has had the biggest impact on my overall productivity. I would say I probably delete around thirty or forty percent of what I collect, but it very rare I miss something. If I do miss anything it was because I didn’t write it down.

I’ve set up my phone and Apple Watch to be little collection tools. I use an application called Drafts which is a very powerful collecting tool available on all Apple devices (I’ve even done a series of videos on using Drafts for collecting)

Anything from my shopping list to tasks and notes are collected using Drafts or Siri in the case of my shopping list.

So the third habit I would suggest you develop is collect everything. Once it’s written down and in a place your brain trusts you will look at later it will relax. Once you are in this habit, I can promise you you will find your stress levels reduce and you feel a lot more relaxed.

So there you go, Julia, three habits worth developing as we begin this New Year. Create a habit of closing down the day, begin journaling and collect everything in place you trust you will see later.

Those three little habits will give your productivity, mental well being and overall sense of accomplishment such aa positive boost.

Thank you, Julia for the great question and thank you to you too for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.

236 episodes