We all want to get more out of our day. Most of us have complained that there aren’t enough hours in the day or that time passes by too quickly. But the problem is that even if we had more hours, we’d find ways to waste them. The issue isn’t the amount of time we have but rather the habits we’ve created to waste that time or reduce our productivity.
I’m about to take you through the seven deadly sins of habits, key behaviours that ruin your productivity. None of them are huge; none of them on their own are enough to make you finish that manuscript or finally start that new venture. But each of them represents a choice that you make each day, the choice to waste time, to create excuses for yourself, to not go after your goal with both hands eagerly grabbing.
The best part is that you can stop each of them today if you decide to. You don’t need an investment or anything monetary. You don’t need more time, as they’re all focused on the time already within reach. All you need is to recognise when you’re doing these seven habits and the willingness to stop. As you’re looking at them and feeling tempted to slide back into your comfortable ways, picture your goal and how incredible it will feel once you get it.
In all honesty, this is one habit that I struggle to relate to, and that’s why I’m getting it out there right away. That could mean that I’m less qualified to discuss it, but I think that since I do the opposite, I can promote the advantages of it.
I schedule each day of my life. I don’t do it excessively, such as hour by hour plays, as a lot is based on my mood and mental health that day, but I always have a to-do list for the day. It may include smaller tasks, such as going for a walk or a run, reading for thirty minutes or getting groceries. It will also include writing-focused tasks, such as whether I’ll write two articles or do a certain word count for my manuscript. I make a plan for every single day.
Humans thrive off comfort and knowing what is to come. That’s why we rewatch shows we’ve seen before and why we enjoy the comfort of a familiar book. There is peace to knowing what your day will hold, whether that is a to-do list, a schedule or even a calendar with reminders. When we lack such a focus, we feel lost and will struggle to enter the right state for productivity.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” - Benjamin Franklin.
You need to enter a day with a direction, with the knowledge of where your time will go. Otherwise, that time can easily be lost to meaningless tasks, procrastinating on Youtube or other things that differ from your goal. When we don’t set to-do’s, we’re accepting that we might not achieve them, and procrastination will thrive in this space for failure. Hold yourself accountable with a schedule and a focus for the day. See how much you achieve, and adapt your schedule accordingly.
But on the flip side of not scheduling comes another major flaw, which is when people go to the other extreme and overschedule themselves. It can look like the perfect way to ensure productivity, plan in too many things, and you’ll end up doing most of them, or maybe even all! But the result of overscheduling yourself is that you end up doing far less than you would with a more controlled plan for the day.
Firstly, overscheduling can lead us to dread a day or week. We have an endless to-do list, and it feels like an impossible mountain to climb. How could we possibly write three articles today, as well as go for a long run and clean our entire house? The result is that we’ll put everything off, as humans are either all-in or all-out. The mountain seems too high, and so we don’t bother to start climbing. The thought process behind this is, “Why bother if we’ll never succeed?”.
Secondly, even if you do attempt some of the plentiful tasks you’ve assigned yourself, you miss that sense of gratification. You don’t finish the list, and so despite how much you did manage to achieve, you have still ‘failed’. We miss the reward for our efforts, and so we’re less likely to replicate such efforts. Things never feel worth it.
And then you have the minority of people that will overschedule and actually manage. They can somehow do it all, running through assignments and appointments on little sleep and even less rest. This places you at risk for illness and/or a burnout. You are pushing yourself too hard, and it simply can’t last, as your body cannot keep up with your intentions. You’re sprinting rather than running a marathon, too focused on this short burst to ever be able to keep it up. You’ll write many articles this week and then need a long break from Medium to recover. The work you produce also won’t be your best, as you were rushed and unable to dedicate yourself to them fully.
It may sound crazy, but a schedule with nice gaps, or a shorter to-do list, will actually enhance your productivity and finished products.
I know it is so tempting, and building the willpower not to press snooze is a difficult road. But it is so worth it, and I’ll tell you exactly why that is.
Firstly, I am in no way saying that you should skim on your sleep. Little is more valuable than rest, and you should aim for a minimum of seven hours per night or even ambitiously try for eight. Sleep is vital for productivity and focus, and you’ll never earn back a night of lost sleep.
But to get this sleep, you should aim to construct a routine that accommodates it rather than relying on snooze. Once that initial alarm has woken you up, your sleep cycle has been interrupted, and so any light sleep you manage between consequent alarms will do little to help your brain function. You won’t gather any more benefits from this sleep.
Instead, these light and interrupted bouts of sleep will only serve to make you feel more tired later. You’ll be foggier during the day and struggle to focus on tasks, even though you’ve technically had ‘more’ sleep.
Getting up immediately will allow you to utilise the benefits of the sleep you had and ensure you’re not tempted to snooze and mess that up. Not only will you have more time on your hands, but also better focus to utilise that time.
The trick is to get up, or at least sit up. As soon as you do, you’re far less likely to go back to sleep, as it stops being so tempting. You’re removed from the warmth and comfort, so you can prioritise and recognise that you wanted to get up at this time for a reason. You can check out more tips for avoiding the snooze button.
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Comparison is the thief of joy” and has an excellent point. There are numerous dangers to comparing yourself to others, whether it’s positively or negatively.
You get so distracted by them that you’re not focusing on yourself and your growth. You spend hours watching what they’re doing, trying to mimic that, or getting bothered by it, rather than dedicating that time to achieving your own goals. The time and energy spent on them is wasted and could’ve helped you to get closer, or even past, the point that they’ve reached. I doubt they’re giving you the same amount of thought.
Internal motivation is an essential requirement for success. External motivators, such as others’ approval or comparing yourself to them, will never get you far enough. Internal motivation is what gets you up early in the morning; it’s what keeps you working when everyone else logs off. It is your drive, your passion and your path to success. Using others as goalposts will never give you the satisfaction and motivation you need to achieve your goals.
Break out of the habit of comparing yourself to others through identifying and avoiding your triggers, as well as many other tools. Kick this envious steak to ensure that you are giving all of your energy to your own success.
Sometimes we can grow too focused on internal habits, such as comparison or scheduling ourselves, that we forget about external habits and their role in our success. That’s why the rest of these habits to kick list will fixate on such external habits. Because your outside feeds directly into your insides, the mind-body connection is so palpable and feeds into your every decision and drive.
I am not the tidiest person around, and I’m happy to admit that. I hate folding clothes, so I jumble them all into my cupboard, which drives my partner mad. I do the same with Tupperware, intricately towering them until they collapse. When I’m cooking, I tend to go a bit wild and take over the entire kitchen. I like to think this is a by-product of being a creative, but either way, mess follows close behind me a lot of the time.
The exception to this is my workspace. I use a small room as my home office, so small it couldn’t even fit the length of a bed. The only furniture there is a desk, a desk chair and a bookcase. I spend hours here every day, so it’s easy to feel my messy habits accumulate. Notebooks and pens sprawled across, woebegone sticky notes and empty cups of coffee. But this is where I resist that urge; this is where I focus on the clean persona buried within me. I keep my workspace tidy and as empty as possible. Every evening, before closing up for the day, I clean my desk. I remove any coffee cups or water glasses, and I tidy everything away into drawers. I ensure that my desk is ready so that tomorrow morning I can immediately start writing.
A messy space feeds into your mind; clutter creates clutter. We can get away with this in personal areas, but we need to provide a clean slate with which to work when it comes to our workspace. Enough is going on in your head when you’re writing, working or researching, so don’t add an untidy environment to that.
Working in a mess has been shown to increase stress levels, leading you to feel anxious, overwhelmed or helpless. You can’t give your sole focus to a task, and you’ll get stressed out by minor things more frequently. You also get distracted too easily, which is why you need to aim for an empty desk approach. The only things within reach should be items you use daily. If they’re unused for more than two days, put them away. You know where to find them once you need them again. Build this habit up simply by doing a desk clean each evening and questioning the purpose of everything in your workspace.
If you don’t have a dedicated workspace, then it’s an additional challenge, and you need to apply this principle to your personal living areas.
We all know that water is good for us. More than good, it is vital to our functioning. Human bodies are up to 60% composed of water, and so a day where you drink endless mugs of coffee and little to no water is sure to do damage. But when we think of the effects of dehydration, we consider headaches, dark coloured urine and dry skin. These are all dehydration factors, but you should also consider the effects of it on your productivity.
Dehydration can cause a rapid heartbeat or rapid breathing, mimicking symptoms of anxiety. This is not the best state to work in and will cause you to feel restless and unable to focus on a task. Dehydration also leads to a lack of energy and even confusion, which will cause you to procrastinate and struggle to finish a task.
We all know that water is good for us, yet approximately 43% of adults don’t drink enough water every day. We know the consequences, we feel the effects, yet we consistently turn to other drinks instead of healing water.
How can we incorporate more water into our diet? Well, there are several tricks to do this, as building a habit can be difficult.
A few more glasses of water per day gets items ticked off your to-do list! Or imagine a better saying to this effect.
Now, I know there are a few activities other than sleep that require your bed… and those are certainly permitted! I’m talking about using your phone, laptop or tablet in bed. Those are not welcome in the bedroom, and here’s why.
By using electronics in bed, such as to watch a movie or message someone, you stop associating your bed to a place that’s for sleep. Instead, it’s a place where you often stay awake, you get excited or scared watching a movie; you focus on the wrong things. When it comes to going to sleep, your body doesn’t have the instinct required when lying down. It struggles to recognise if you’re going to sleep or do something else.
Furthermore, the blue light of electronics can halt the production of sleep-inducing hormones, like melatonin, therefore making you feel more alert. How does this impact your productivity? Well, the lack of sleep at night causes you to struggle with focus the next day; you may also end up snoozing or not building a good rhythm. Additionally, the imbalance of melatonin may cause you to start feeling sleepy in the afternoons rather than evenings, further worsening your productivity.
Does this mean that you have to lie down and immediately try to sleep? No, we all need a bit of wind down in bed. But there are other ways to do this than watching a show. I watch TV in the evening in my living room, and when I go to bed, it’s to read a book. This allows me to do more reading, calmly turn off from the day I’ve had, and gradually grow tired. I read for a minimum of ten minutes each evening, and I sleep so soundly afterwards.
If you don’t want to read, you could listen to a podcast or music or try meditation, such as through a guided app. As long as you’re not looking at your phone or actively using it, you should be fine to wind down for the night.
Many of us are guilty of at least one of these habits, and they can feel harmless. Often, they are, as we all have off-days or guilty pleasures. But compound the effect of one day after day, and you are losing out on crucial moments of productivity. Factor in more than one habit, as they often come in groups, and you’re moving even slower towards your goals.
Habits aren’t easy to break, and building one can be even more difficult. They say it can take an average of sixty-six days for a new behaviour to become automatic. That may sound like a long time, and it could even sound out of reach. But it isn’t, as you shouldn’t focus on that considerable number, but rather the day ahead of you. And the day after that, and then you go to the one after that. Focus on right now; what you can do to kick these productivity-eating habits. Could you clear your desk or make a realistic to-do list for today? Could you grab a glass of water before bed or avoid the snooze button tomorrow morning?
Don’t pretend that habits like these are out of your control; you’re the one that built them, and you have the power to kick them out.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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