How to Turn Productivity into a Habit

Let’s face it – we are not web working machines. There are several forces that are going against our productivity.  These include random distractions, illness, noise, and even the fear of getting started. I’m very familiar with this problem, because even if I apply everything I know about productivity and work habits, I sometimes fall short.

So what do we do if we can’t afford to fall into an unproductive day? In this case, prevention is better than cure. We need to develop systems that will prevent unproductive days, weeks, or moments take over our working lives. We may not be productive 100 percent of the time, but there are some things we can do to develop better work habits:

Regular time boxing. I recently finished Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit”, where he recommends trying 30 minutes of uninterrupted work as a way to beat procrastination. After those 30 minutes, you should take a break or reward yourself before punching in another 30 minutes of uninterrupted work.

Perhaps “uninterrupted” is the key word here, since it’s easy to get distracted when you’re working online. If you’re a random web surfing junkie or if you find yourself compulsively clicking that “Stumble!” button, then this especially applies to you.

When trying time boxing, I suggest that you select a timer that will work with your needs. I sometimes use a kitchen timer, which works well since I don’t bill by the hour and I can use it if I’m working away from the computer. OS X users might appreciate 3-2-1, a simple yet handy timer they can place on their dashboards. For those who use a time-based billing system, you can take advantage of FreshBooks’ time tracking feature.

If you’re looking for more time tracking solutions, a previous post by Mike Gunderloy lists different ways you can do this. (Be sure to skim the comments as well, as there are some great  suggestions from WWD readers, too.)

540197_silhouette_technicalMake your schedule support your working style, and not the other way around. Some teleworkers say that they like starting work at 9am and finishing at 5 pm like a regular office employee. That might work for some, but just because it’s the model that traditional businesses use, it doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

Since teleworkers generally have control over their schedule, then why not follow a schedule that is best suited to your working style? The first step is to know your peak working hours, the hours of the day when you’re most productive. Make sure your working schedule includes those hours.

You also have to consider your ideal way of working. Do you work best in long, uninterrupted stretches, or do you find yourself easily distracted after half an hour of work?  By creating a schedule that is tailored to your needs, you won’t feel too forced or pressured to follow a cookie-cutter schedule that doesn’t fit. Instead, you can spend most of your energy on the tasks at hand.

Take advantage of being in “The Zone”.
Even when I’m not working during my peak hours, there are times where I may be doing some gardening or making some coffee and suddenly I get a very, very strong urge to work. I call this “The Zone”, as it puts me in a mental zone where I am so productive and excited to work that I can accomplish so much in a small amount of time. When I’m in this zone, I know that I have to stop what I’m doing and start working.

Why is it important to take advantage of this unexpected urge to work? Well, it’s going to make up for the time when you feel less than inspired to do it.  These “low inspiration” times make work more challenging, so you’re likely to be slower and less passionate about what you’re doing in that moment. If you take advantage of being in “The Zone”, whenever and wherever it happens, then these low inspiration times won’t be as detrimental to your productivity.

Reward yourself.
If you become too productive and spend most of your time working, it’s easier to fall off the wagon and revert to time-wasting habits. Trust me, I’ve been there. Now if you’re rewarding yourself after a time boxing session, or after completing a project milestone, then you subconsciously associate the reward with the satisfaction of getting things done.

Use whatever reward makes sense to you. It could be some time off to watch a DVD, an hour working on your favorite hobbies, or even time for a nap. Whatever reward you choose, it has to be something you’re looking forward to doing after work.

The best way to be truly productive is to make it a habit. By implementing these four techniques, we can set up systems that will work with our individual needs, as well as take advantage of unexpected bursts of creativity.

What do you do to prevent unproductive behavior from throwing you off schedule?

Image by H. Berends from