The Most Productive Change You Can Make In Your Working Habits

In an increasingly interconnected world, finding focus and enabling time to do work is becoming harder and harder. Demands are outstripping our capacity at an alarming rate. It’s time to start thinking about how we work.

Rather than offer a one size fits all productivity system, Jocelyn Glei and her team at 99u interview seasoned thought leaders and creatives — Seth Godin, Stefan Sagmeister, Tony Schwartz, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Ariely, Linda Stone, Steven Pressfield, and others — to share their playbook of ideas to improve productivity.

The result is Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind.

One of the key ideas in the book is using a routine.

It’s time to take responsibility.

It’s time to stop blaming our surroundings and start taking responsibility. While no workplace is perfect, it turns out that our gravest challenges are a lot more primal and personal. Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it. Specifically, it’s our routine (or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather than reactively, and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen.

Routines help set expectations about availability.

Truly great creative achievements require hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work, and we have to make time every single day to put in those hours. Routines help us do this by setting expectations about availability, aligning our workflow with our energy levels, and getting our minds into a regular rhythm of creating. At the end of the day— or, really, from the beginning— building a routine is all about persistence and consistency.

Does this sound like you?

At the beginning of the day, faced with an overflowing inbox, an array of voice mail messages, and the list of next steps from your last meeting, it’s tempting to “clear the decks” before starting your own work. When you’re up-to-date, you tell yourself, it will be easier to focus. The trouble with this approach is it means spending the best part of the day on other people’s priorities.

By the time everything is done it could easily be mid-afternoon. You tell yourself tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow is the same.

So what can you do?

Pay yourself first.

Mark McGuinness argues in Manage Your Day-to-Day:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.

Interestingly, this is what Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett do. It’s the only way I’ve found to move from linear to non-linear results.