I want to talk about 6 very productive, but seemingly counter-intuitive habits that I’ve built up, in order to get more done every day.
I don’t think I do have a massively productive output. I’ll often look at myself and think “I could have done so much more today”. But I also have a persona called “Super Mike”, who seems to smash goals out of the park over and over.
The problem with being productive is that it’s confused with being busy, effectiveness and efficiency. We all know that being busy isn’t the goal, anyone can be busy. You can be busy running around an office or answering emails all day without achieving anything.
I remember an old manager of mine, complimenting me on my work ethic because I emailed her updates every hour. Despite NOT producing more, she saw it as working hard because there was something to talk about.
In my eyes, productive is about managing time and resources properly, to achieve the best possible outcome. Productivity needs to be managed as it’s easy to get swept up with working mad hard on something, when a simpler outcome could be faster.
Effectiveness is prioritising the biggest impact tasks over the smaller ones, and making sure they get done. This is often the least understood trait of productivity, as it sometimes looks like you haven’t “earned” the outcome. So therefor you must suffer and toil before achieving a result.
Efficiency is doing what you can with the least input possible. While efficiency is highly prized, it can be confused with doing the least amount with the least available. Even if there are better options available. Teenagers are brilliant at efficiency. They’ll do the least work needed to achieve the best result possible. Even if they could exponentially increase their output if they tried.
So with that, I have 5 highly productive, yet incredibly counter-intuitive methods for increasing my output, time and work load.
1. Take a nap
Yep. Up at 6 am and in bed by midnight is my schedule. But, sometimes, I’ll gladly and proudly take a nap.
I take short 30 minute sleep breaks (naps) when I feel I’m too close to something. If I’m working on something over and over, that task can turn into a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees.
“You can’t see the wood for the trees” or “you can’t see the forest for the trees”.
This means you’re spending so much time up close to the trees, you can see the bark, lichen, bugs, moss and branches, But you can’t scale your sight to see the entire woods, or forest. You’re missing the big picture. It’s like trying to stare harder at the one tree in front of you, to get a better understanding of the entire terrain.
Taking a nap helps me get perspective on something. I’ll make sure I drink a big glass of water before I head off and I’ll find a quiet spot to put my head down.
I’ve occasionally done it in my office. Or I might head to my car. Other times I’ll nap in my chair or head to my coach. I tend to not nap in bed as it makes it harder to get up again.
Napping isn’t a case of being tired or catching up on sleep for me. It’s a way to let my subconscious work. It lets my brain work unhindered at the problem and provide me with clarity.
I don’t use an alarm, but you can if you’d like. I tend to find my natural sleep patterns wake me up in 25 – 35 minutes. As soon as I’m awake, I’ll take another drink of water (naps have a habit of dehydrating you) and I’ll make my way back to the desk.
I feel refreshed, more alert and happier to work on the same problem. This works particularly we’ll for tasks that are repetitive or don’t require much mental stimulus too. Such as creating content, building pages etc.
Try taking a nap when you LEAST feel like you should. There’s almost a guilty feeling associated with taking a nap, but it’s probably more common than you think.
You have a nap as a child during the day. Many parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle-East take a siesta as a way to conserve energy. It’s not every day I take one, but I will let myself follow my instincts if I need one.
2. Ignore my obligations
We all have daily and monthly obligations which can’t be ignored. Customer support, supplier invoices, partnership deals, emails, texts.
The list goes on.
Everyone and their dog feels they have an entitlement to your time. When really, the most important person in your day is yourself.
Interestingly, the more likely someone is to kick up a fuss about not responding to them, the less constructive their relationship is with you.
Obviously, if you’ve been ignoring a customer for days and week and you decide to ignore them further, that’s not great. But taking a day off from emails, meetings and other obligations can do wonders to your workload.
“The hardest thing is the world is to spend leisure time wisely”
I’m 99% positive this is Bruce Lee quote
I’ve chosen this quote because as soon as we “have” free time, it sometimes can be tempting to start slacking off. I do it, everyone does it.
A cancelled meeting, missed call. No more emails for the day. It can seem almost too intoxicating to ignore the call of couch time, Facebook and gossip.
But what you should do instead, is ask yourself “what would I do if I didn’t have to answer calls today?”
Whatever you think about, start doing that immediately. Like, right then and there. Don’t worry about changing you schedule or calendar. Few things are so set in stone that you must meet them.
When you DO strip back your obligations, let people know. Or don’t. It’s up to you.
I sometimes like to send a company wide email explaining that I’ll be ignoring emails and texts for the next day. I’ll pick out a few things that day (or even that week) that I need to avoid in order to get my work done.
I’ve never had anyone get angry at me for prioritising like this. Even at home, my partner Liv is more than happy to accommodate me when I have to cloister myself away for a few days at a time.
Of course, this doesn’t happen all the time. Maybe once every few months?
Obviously, if someone is taking the time to call or meet with me, I’ll do everything I can to meet that obligation. Which is why meetings and calls fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. That way I know I can guarantee people the time they deserve.
3. Take the day off
I’ve written before about how the most productive thing you can sometimes do, is take the day off entirely.
First, it give you clarity on what should have been done. There are no such things as emergencies, no fires to fight. If your disappearance for a day causes millions of dollars in losses, you should probably have an assistant.
Taking the day off will show you what should have been done. Just ignore everything for a day, leave it. Tell people you can’t take calls and walk away from all your tasks.
When you come back the next day, take a look at everything that SHOULD have been done. That’s your list of things that need to be automated, or added to your weekly routine.
What I find is that many of my day-to-day tasks are done, simply because I want them done. They don’t need to be repeated, but I just want them off my plate.
Therefor, with tasks like that, should I be doing them at all? If it’s worth doing once, it’s worth doing it a 1000 times.
Over time, I’ve managed to batch many tasks together so they’re done in bulk, rather than one by one. Eventually, those tasks are automated.
“Mike, this is suicide. I have deadlines! I can’t just walk away!”
The shame in this thinking is that you’re trapped in the same confines of working for someone else. The whole POINT of working for yourself is that you can pick and choose your hours.
As I write this, it’s 10:47 am on a Monday. I decided to sleep in today because I wanted to look after my sickly girlfriend (just don’t tell the Wife – Hiyo!).
I understand how scary this sounds. But it’s just a barrier, and barriers are designed to be broken.
4. I don’t answer emails
Email michael [at] sellyourservice.co.uk right now and tell me what happens.
That’s right – you get an automated response telling you I won’t get back to you.
An out of office is for life, not just for Christmas.
Don’t just use OOOs as something to use on holidays. They’re a method of managing your time and letting people know your priorities.
I literally don’t open my emails until 12 pm. I never check emails, I only process them.
If my emails are open, I’ll read, organise and answer or action them. That’s all it’s used for.
Anything else is ignored or deleted.
Email is just that. It’s mail. It’s post.
Unless you’re my cousin Ricky, who after a grain silo explosion, waits by the post box every day to tear open the post, you don’t need to answer it immediately.
The same goes for messenger, Slack, WhatsApp, texts and anything else that sucks my attention. It can wait. It’s mail and can be dealt with when I have the time available.
5. Read fiction
Reading fiction is the biggest impact I’ve had on my life in 2017. We all value and rate business and self help books (read my list here), but reading fiction has been vital to my health and productivity in 2017.
Nothing compares to reading a decent book. Not a non-fiction book, not Viz. I mean a real actual story book.
First, it’s the best way to fall asleep. We’re a heavily medicated and stimulated society. There’s a hideous paradox being formed in our lives, as we take more stimulants during the morning and day to keep us up. Then we medicate ourselves more in the evening to sleep.
Netflix and TV and YouTube are great. But choosing a great story and reading until you fall asleep?? Magic. I promise you.
Reading is like any other habit. You have to commit to it and get over the hump before you see the benefits.
I also hear people say “I don’t read fiction”. Bullshit. What’s your favourite TV show? Film? Whatever stories you like to hear, you’ll find in book form. Maybe not the same exact story, but whatever gets you excited, will be there.
I find that if I read business or self help books, I get so fired up with ideas I can’t sleep. Which is why I read them in the morning.
Some of my favourite fiction books-
- Sabriel by Garth Nix
- The Witcher Series by Andrzej Sapkowski
- Wool by Hugh Howey
- The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- Life Of Pi by Yann Martel (10000000000 times better than the film)
- Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (not as heavy as LOTR)
- Slow Horses by Mick Herron (brilliant old school spy novel)
- 1984 by George Orwell
I know that some fiction books are better than others, but it really has been the biggest change in my lifestyle in 2017. I sleep better and give my brain time to unwind. TV and Netflix ARE stimulants. Screens aren’t good for you. I do read on my Kindle, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.
But reading fiction has opened me up to new ideas, better writing styles, new stories and characters. I’ve connected with some amazing people on a business level, by first talking about books.
6. Educate myself
Finally, this might sound obvious and a bit derivative. Educating yourself isn’t exactly counter-intuitive. But how often do you REALLY carve time out of your week to learn something?
That’s what I thought.
I’m the same. It can seem like spending a couple of hours on a webinar is a bad use of time. Especially when there’s so much to get done!
Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, Warren Buffet, David J. Schwartz. They all say the same thing.
“The wisest investment you can ever make, is in yourself”
Investing in yourself and education, is a mindset of sacrificing an hour today, to get back 10x that time tomorrow.
Fish for a man and he feeds himself for a day. Teach a man to phish, and he’ll set up a $10 million fraud empire in Lagos.
We all have courses, programs, workbooks and webinars on our to-do list. There is an incredible underground hack that lets you get through them ALL and use them.
Write down the titles of the courses you’ve bought, then every Tuesday at 9 am to 11 am, take part of that course.
Yes, at the time, the course will take up valuable time. Yes, it’ll seem like a waste. Yes, it’s a hard habit to get into.
But over time, your learning journey will pay dividends as you use the knowledge you’ve acquired. It’s not a massive investment. 2 hours a week. But it will stack up over time and become the biggest investment you’ve ever made.
Stick with it and you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.
“But Mike, I don’t have time for all this!”
I understand that and I hear it a lot. But what I’ve found is that if you can’t find the time for these activities, then you’ll never find the time for anything else.
Did you know on average, we watch over 4 hours of TV a day? “Not me” I hear you say. You’d be surprised. Netflix, YouTube, Facebook. All that shit counts.
Don’t get me wrong. This is NOT a holier than thou look at TV. I’d do nothing BUT watch Completed It Mate and Idubbbz on YouTube if I could. But you can find the time if you start giving up that sugar-water content.
What are some of your favourite anti-productivity hacks? Are you going to try for a nap today? Let me know in the comments below.