“Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” – Charles Reade
Productivity requires taking action on your intentions. The best way to make progress with your intentions is to find a way to pay attention to them. Productivity habits – repeated actions that pair your intentions with attention – are an excellent way to do this.
But this kind of progress doesn’t happen overnight. You need to build productivity habits that become part of your character. No matter what time of year it is, you can work towards building productivity habits – and building ones that will stay with you for both the short and long term.
Ready to start building your habits today? Here are 3 steps to building productivity habits that stick.
1. Simplify as much as possible.
“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” – Sir Isaac Newton
When you want to build productivity habits that stick, you need to make them as simple as possible. This allows you to stack habits one on top of each other to craft routines in your days and weeks (and beyond). This allows you to go into a form of “autopilot” so that you can let your mind tackle the things that fall outside of routine in a much more effective way.
Simplification can come in the form of taking on less stuff whenever possible. It can come in the form of reducing the number of tools in your toolkit. There are always ways to simplify – to take something back to its simplest form – so that you can redesign it, rebuild it the way you want it to take shape, and reclaim your time, focus, and energy.
I encourage you to look at one thing you’re doing right now that seems overwhelming but would have a huge impact on you if put into practice. See how much you can simplify the one item so that the benefits are largely untouched but the overwhelm you’re feeling is minimized.
I bet you’ll find that you can simplify more things in your life. And remember – simplicity scales.
2. Create Productivity Pillars.
A pillar is defined as “a firm upright support for a superstructure.” Your life is most certainly a superstructure. That’s why you need to create “Productivity Pillars” to act as supports for your life.
There are several types of Productivity Pillars that you can put in place. One is to use Daily Themes to give yourself an overarching focus for your day. This will allow you to come back to focused work faster after being distracted or disrupted. You’re not asking an open-ended question like “What should I do now?” Instead, you’re asking a question with only one possible answer: “What day is it today?” This allows you to resume your daily tasks without veering too far off course.
Another Productivity Pillar to have is a consistent way to capture your ideas and tasks. Again, you want to simplify this as much as possible. Being able to look at any sheet of paper and know immediately what you’ve done, what you’re not going to do at all, and what you haven’t done is incredibly powerful. Why? Because it lowers the chances of falling prey to paralysis by analysis and allows you to move forward intentionally and attentively faster.
My Productivity Pillars are all part of The TimeCrafting Method that I created and teach to others. They include My Three Words, My Monthly Themes, My Daily Themes, and one that I use to make the third step in this process take shape.
3. Give yourself 2-3 ways to tackle your to do list.
Look at your to do list right now. Go ahead…the words will still be here when you get back.
Can you easily decide which way you want to tackle your to do list? How much time do you spend examining your list instead of executing the tasks on it?
I can look at my to do list – whether it is written on paper or entered into an app – and decide in less than a minute which way I’m going to approach it. How? Because I’ve given myself 2-3 ways to work through it. I can work one of the following 3 ways:
- Project: This is the way most people work because we’ve been conditioned to do so. There’s nothing wrong with working this way. But it isn’t always the ideal way. Projects can stall. Then momentum is lost in the process. I work by project as a second or third resort. I do this by choice rather than by force because of the other two ways I can work. (I indicate a project name for most tasks so that I can easily see what project they belong to. Then I group them all together and get working.)
- Schedule: I actually work this way infrequently because I’ve got a personal productivity framework in place that allows me to be proactive far more often than reactive. Still, I do indicate when certain things on my to do list need to be done before a certain time period so I can take care of them well in advance. (I mark tasks that require scheduling on my to do list with either an AM or PM depending on when I need/want to work on them. You could get more specific than that, but I don’t need to.)
- Mode: Every action requires a mode in order for it to be worked on. That’s why this is the most common way I work. Modes can be categorized by theme (like Daily Themes), resource needed (person, product), energy required (low, high), activity to do (anything ending in “ing”), and/or time (simplified so there are as few options as possible – like 5min, 15min, 30min). Working by mode is the best way to get into a state of flow and is the closest anyone can get to multitasking. This works because you can move multiple projects forward by working in one mode. (I sometimes have multiple modes attached to a task, which gives me options on when to work on a task based on my Daily Theme, energy required, and time needed to do it.)
Even when I find myself stumbling or veering off course on my productivity – which happens – the productivity habits I’ve built allow me to get back up. I can continue to move things forward in a way that works best for me quickly and easily. I trust these habits because they’re firmly engrained in my mind.
These productivity habits I’ve built have done something else for me, too. They’ve built my character and continue to help me grow.
To help you out with this process I’ve created a free course in partnership with Todoist and Skillshare called Building Productivity Habits that Stick. In the course I dive into the basics of creating a simple, flexible, durable productivity framework will transform the way you work. Whether you’re a freelancer balancing multiple gigs or a 9-5er with a calendar full of meetings, this class will give you the tools you need to maximize your time at work and at home. You’ll learn to:
- Foster awareness to make strategic decisions
- Establish smart habits that support your needs
- Use tools effectively to simplify your workflow
The class has received tremendous review so far:
“Productivity, goals, and task management is an ongoing challenge. I find myself constantly chasing after the latest tools and apps that promise to bring sanity to the chaos of helping get my to dos in order. But, as Mike Vardy points out in this course, productivity apps and tools are only as good as our framework for managing our days. He provides actionable steps to take control of our day and move towards accomplishing what matters to us.” – Ryan R.
“Wow. I’ve never taken in so much in such a short period of time. Normally, you’d have to read 200 pages of a book or hours of video to get practical tips in this class. I’ve already adapted my learning into my daily workflow.” – Mike B.
“I like the more open-ended approach to productivity. I’m not someone who has had success with scheduling and sticking with productivity plans. This one is so simple and gives so much freedom that I might actually be able to stick with it for the long haul!” – Calhoun G.
After taking this class, you’ll have an arsenal of strategies to personalize your productivity and to ensure you’re getting the right things done.
I hope to see you in class. Enroll here today.