Productivity is a Habit [Audio]

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Aaron: Hey guys, Today we are going to talk about productivity. Specifically about productivity as a habit and something to be formed over time.

Thanh: One of the key things about productivity is that you have habits built around them. So what you want to do is build a habit where you become more productive.

Aaron: Productivity is really the amount of time that you spend doing things that are directed towards your goals. I think we borrowed that definition from Dan Kennedy, or a friend. It’s the best definition we’ve come across and it’s also very true. If you spend all day watching reruns of Lost, that’s not very productive — maybe it is if you’re in film school. But as a general rule, the more time you spend doing things that advance your life forwards in the way that you want it to go, the more productive you are.

Thanh: It is a lot about creating value every single day. You can compare someone with doing 25 things and getting them all done, compare that to someone who gets maybe 5 things done the whole day. Now that doesn’t mean that the person who gets 25 things done is necessarily more productive than the guy who gets 5 things done. It’s about the value that you create using your time, because everyone has the same amount of time. But everyone is kind of different in the way they create value for themselves. Because, you see, that person might have a long list of chores to do, whereas the other guy might be working towards his big goals in life. I would say that the guy who does 5 things working towards his goal is more productive than the guy who just does 25 things.

Aaron: Human beings are creatures of habit. We may think that we have free will and choice in all the things we do, but at any given moment in time, how we see the world around us and how we react to it, or how we act is really determined by our habits that we picked up earlier on in our lives. You probably have a certain way of say, preparing food, of cooking, a certain way for brushing your teeth, to sitting on the left or on the right. These aren’t things that we consciously determine to choose, it’s just… they’re things that we have learned in our past and they just happen to repeat themselves over time. Now this isn’t to say that this is bad or insidious or anything, it’s just that – it’s just the way things are.

Thanh: What we want to show you is how to get the habits that make you more productive. Because, just because you do something a certain way today, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a productive habit. For example, if you watch television every single day for 4 hours, sure it will give you, you know, pleasure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will make you more productive. So we want to figure out what are our habits in one single day. So, you know, what you can do is write down and figure out what you do every single day, then look at it after a week and see, ‘Okay, you know, one day I do this and this and this. On Tuesday, I do this and this and this.’ And after a week, you’ll see what your habits are.

Aaron: It’s surprising the amount of habits that we have that we’re not consciously aware of. I guess another way that I like to think about this is, if you take a corporate organization, companies didn’t want to fall really into a position where they can let things run on bad habits and bad practices. I guess, in the corporate world, they have to put things in place to prevent bad occurrences or bad practices from occurring and in the corporate world this involves systems. So the way you can think about habits is they’re sort of your personal systems, they’re little patterns of behavior that you adopt into your life to make it more productive and more efficient.

Thanh: So from our experience, it takes about 30 days to build a new habit. Now the thing is, in order to build a new habit, you have to break your old habit first. Because, let’s say, you wake up every single day at 11:00am, and you want to become more productive by waking up earlier. Obviously you have to break the old habit first of waking up at 11:00am, and then building your new habit to where you wake up at, let’s say, 6:00am. In order to build a new habit, you have to break an old habit first.

Aaron: Yeah, I mean habits occur both ways, there are positive habits, and there are negative habits. Usually they’re the exact opposites of each other. The waking up example, is a perfect example of that. If you don’t follow the new positive habit, you will follow the old negative habit. And that 30 day period of time compounds right away, you need to 1) start the new habit today, and 2) you know, follow through for all 30 days. Now if you miss a day, you have to go back to Day 1. There are no skipping days in between, just because you don’t feel like it. The actual idea is called, Don’t Break the Chain. It’s where the 30 day rule comes from. And the most famous example is comedian Jerry Seinfeld, used to say that, in order to come up with good material he would write every single day. And every day that he wrote his material he would put a giant red ‘X’ on his wall calendar. And looking back over months and months at a time, he became very motivated for he could see that habit of writing material every single day.

Thanh: Yeah, because the problem with building your habits, is that motivation comes and goes. Like you will wake up some days and you are all motivated to go out and do the things you want to do. Some days you wake up, like maybe after a party, and you’re just like, ‘Oh, no’ and like you don’t feel like doing anything. The power of habits is that if you can do them consistently they become a part of you, of who you are. Just like, you don’t think about brushing your teeth. If you build up a new habit and do that consistently, this becomes a part of you where you don’t have to think about doing it. And the key thing to that is, when you have a habit that is part of you, you don’t waste as much energy on it. One of the things they say in the book, The Power of Full Engagement, managing your energy is really, really important in becoming more productive. Because if you are tired, well guess what, you’re not going to get any work done anyway, even if you do this, this and this.

Aaron: Having strong habits is really the key to productivity. Because the more you practice them, the easier they become, the less energy you expend on them, and the more that frees up you time and your energy, and your ability to think, to direct more to all of the things that are more important to you.

Thanh: Yes, so it gives you a lot of consistency. I’d say if you do it every single day, guess what, you’re going to wake up every single morning productive.

Aaron: The thing about habits is that the short term effects of them and the long term effects of them are usually different, if not completely opposite. The example we like to use is food. If you’re hungry, and then worst of all most of the time you go out and buy a burger and fries and probably a Coke as well. Now, in the short term that may seem extremely gratifying and just the thing that you need. In the long term we know that eating that kind of food consistently over time, it isn’t the best for you. It’s too rich and causes problems. On the other hand, deciding to go get a bowl of granola and a couple of pieces of fruit, when you’re hungry that doesn’t really feel like the best thing to do. But if you eat that kind of diet consistently over time, you’re going to remain healthier for longer. So the short term and the long term effects are something that are usually completely opposite, and the same is true of habits and how they lead to productivity. The short term effects of watching 2 hours of Lost is extremely gratifying, but the long term effects aren’t that great for you and they don’t make you productive.

Thanh: If one habit takes about 30 days to build up, you need to or you can build up twelve new habits every single year. So just to wrap things up, it takes about 30 days to build a new habit.

Aaron: So get started today and don’t stop for 30 days. And that’s Productivity as a Habit. Take care guys.

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About

I grew up in The Netherlands, went to university in Los Angeles and now I'm living in different places every couple months. When I'm not writing about personal productivity or time management, I'm probably trying out a new restaurant in the city I'm in (I love food!). One of my specialties is time management for organizations, executives and employees. The reason I started this blog with Aaron is that I love sharing my knowledge with people and helping them become a better person. This blog is a footprint I want to leave behind and I hope you get a lot of value out of my articles. Feel free to get in touch with me anytime!

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