Over the course of this year, many of our professional lives have changed dramatically. Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs, and countless others who are still employed are now required to work from home. For many of us, working remotely has been a silver lining to this dumpster fire of a year. For others, however, returning to an office can’t happen soon enough. But regardless of which camp you fall into, the transition to working from home has likely impacted your productivity habits.
Productivity During the Pandemic
Prior to this year, it seemed like most employers opposed remote work, fearing it would negatively impact employee productivity. But now, six months after many of us started working from home full-time, 94% of executives report that remote work has had a negligible impact on the effectiveness of their employees. It’s not all good news, though, because there’s more to these findings than meets the eye.
A recent study regarding employee performance during lockdown found that overall productivity levels are indeed similar to where they were before the pandemic. However, a closer look at the numbers indicates that this is largely due to a select group of superachievers who are working longer and harder now than they did during the Before Times. These superachievers account for roughly one-third of workers, which means that two-thirds of us are actually less productive than we were previously.
If you’ve had trouble staying productive while working from home, Blinkist’s library includes dozens of books about how to increase your efficiency. And while these titles are brimming with useful advice, reading them won’t necessarily transform you into a productivity powerhouse overnight. Truly becoming a more productive person requires more than merely learning a new approach to your projects. It involves making productivity a habit that you embrace every day.
The Power of Habits
In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, journalist Charles Duhigg details how habits form and how we can harness them to our advantage. He explains that habits begin with a cue, or a trigger to act. In terms of productivity, this could be an incoming email or a new assignment added to your to-do list. Next comes a routine, which includes whatever’s typically involved in completing your task. And the final step in the process, and the end goal of every habit, is the reward — crossing the item off your task list and taking a well-deserved break.
This cue-routine-reward cycle is at the heart of every habit, whether it’s personal or professional, positive or negative. And according to Duhigg, when it comes to adopting better productivity habits, the trick is to replace inefficient routines while keeping the cue and the reward the same. That’s easier said than done, but when you understand that the key to developing better habits is willpower, change becomes attainable. It’s up to us as individuals to identify the bad habits that stand in the way of our productivity and accept that we each bear the responsibility to change our behavior.
How to Harness Habits
From the moment we wake up each day till the time we fall asleep, our lives are governed by our habits. In fact, as author Stephen Guise notes in Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, roughly 45% of our behavior is habitual. Furthermore, as Guise explains, we’re especially prone to fall back on bad habits when we’re stressed out. That’s because stress arises when we struggle to make decisions, and habits are so ingrained in us that we resort to them without even thinking.
Making productivity a habit that sticks involves first identifying a bad habit, then using your willpower to overcome the obstacle that prevents you from getting things done. According to Guise, the secret is to start small by setting incredibly easy goals. For instance, say your productivity suffers because you allow yourself to be distracted by your smartphone. Instead of saying you won’t look at your phone for eight hours straight, set a goal of not looking at it for one hour. Keep track of your success and slowly increase your goal day by day and week by week. Soon enough, such “mini-habits” will become second nature.
Breaking Bad Habits
Before you can build new habits, you need to break old ones. In Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, journalist James Clear describes how changing habits requires patience and confidence. You need to be patient because new habits take time to develop. And you need to be confident in knowing that your burgeoning habits are helping you, even if you don’t see immediate results. It’s important to focus on your long-term trajectory instead of a day-to-day difference.
In Atomic Habits, the author introduces several techniques to help readers break bad habits. One of the most effective methods he proposes is to create friction between yourself and the habit you wish to get rid of. For instance, if you frequently get distracted by your television during your workday, unplug your TV before you go to bed at night or take the batteries out of your remote and put them in a different room. By making it more difficult to turn on your TV in the first place, you’re more likely to stay on track with your tasks, while watching television becomes a rewarding treat at the end of your day.
Popular Approaches to Productivity
So what are the best approaches to productivity? While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for everyone, these seven books offer effective methods that have proven to stand the test of time.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
Detailing the famous productivity system that helps millions of people confidently manage multiple projects, Getting Things Done offers clear instructions about how to complete tasks of all shapes and sizes. By following this step-by-step approach to productivity, you’ll establish control and avoid stress while achieving each of your goals.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Learn the Habits of Those Who Achieved Everything by Stephen R. Covey
Among the bestselling productivity books of all time, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People highlights the habits shared by people who deal particularly well with the world around them. It explains how by adopting a set of seven principles, you can separate yourself from the pack and increase your odds of achieving greatness.
Bursting with advice on how to make the most of your time, Eat that Frog! illustrates how only two of any 10 tasks on your to-do list will actually move the needle. By focusing on those “frogs” first, rather than working on smaller, less consequential efforts, you’ll leap past lower-value tasks and accomplish meaningful objectives that bring you closer to your goal.
The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore
Perpetual procrastination is a problem that plagues many people in today’s workforce, but fortunately, there is a cure. In The Now Habit, the author explains the origins of this phenomenon and presents a set of tools to help anyone overcome the tendency to put off work perpetually.
Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by Jocelyn K. Glei
This anthology of advice from well-known creatives offers valuable insights into maintaining focus and developing effective routines. Manage Your Day-to-Day also reveals that by acknowledging our natural rhythms, we can concentrate on our priorities and engage in less challenging activities when they’re more in-sync with our energy.
The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo
See your productivity skyrocket when you chop your tasks into uninterrupted, 25-minute chunks followed by short, mandatory breaks. Known as the Pomodoro Technique, this method involves splitting your to-dos into two lists — one for today and one for the future. By abiding by this technique and committing to consistent bursts of productivity, you’ll find your workload much more manageable.
Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry
If you’re up to your eyeballs with work, the best way to see the forest for the trees is by visually plotting out everything you seek to accomplish. Personal Kanban explains how you can use sticky notes, a whiteboard, or a project management app to track your progress to finalize projects in a fraction of the time.
Clearly, there are many paths to productivity, and a method that works for one person, might not work at all for another. If you’re not sure which of these approaches is the best match for you, this helpful quiz (created by the team behind the task management app Todoist) can point you in the right direction.
Making Productivity a Habit
Productivity isn’t a skill that some people are born with while others aren’t. Rather, it’s like a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. And much in the same way that you can’t expect to lose 20 pounds by going on a single 20-minute jog, you can’t expect to overhaul your approach to productivity in just one day. The best habits for productivity take time to develop, and if you stick with them long enough, they’ll eventually become effortless.
If you’re interested in learning more about any of these books or the techniques they teach, launch the Blinkist app today to dive deeper.