Improve These Three Bad Productivity Habits to Increase Focus
Steve Jobs said, “focus is about saying no to many good ideas” and that means improving bad productivity habits to increase focus.
What separates the successful from the lot is their ability to say no. We have so many distractions today and multitasking has become such a norm for most people.
But studies show multitasking is not only ineffective but also distracts us from the tasks that matter.
I’m a progressive person but when it comes to working, I am of the philosophy that “one thing at a time” is generally better than doing many things at once.
Some of us don’t get this luxury especially if you’re working in a smaller company and must wear many hats. Multitasking becomes not just a professional “skillset” but starts becoming a habit.
That’s what’s happened to me.
Doing the NOBNOM challenge, I became more aware of myself and my bad habits.
I found three bad habits I’ve started to take actionable steps against:
Eating in Front of Screens
This is probably one of the most common bad habits especially with how many screens we have: smartphones, computer monitors, television. The list goes on.
Eating is one of our basic human needs and living in developed nations, it’s often the one we take the most for granted. Even foodies can be guilty of swapping bites for bytes as they head to Instagram or Snapchat to take photos of their meals.
But what this does is create a bad habit where eating by itself isn’t satisfying anymore. It also distracts us from eating. It makes us eat longer than intended, lowers our metabolic rate, and leads to more bad habits.
I had a bad habit of going through social media while eating. I end up chatting with people or watching videos. When in front of the TV, I channel surf.
The next thing I know, my food is cold, and I must reheat it.
I’ve also lost my appetite and lost track of time.
Not only did I not fully enjoy my meal, but I wasted time and effort “entertaining” myself as well as some electricity having to nuke my half-eaten food.
Actionable Step: I started a “no screen on dinner tables” policy (that I find myself breaking occasionally); this includes anything from a smartphone to a tablet to a laptop. I avoid using the remote to turn on the TV and just eat in complete silence.
Results: I started eating faster and enjoyed my food more. Eating and finishing my food actually felt more satisfying and energized me.
Compulsively Checking Social Media
This is my worst habit and if you’re one of 2 of every 5 millennials (aged 18 to 34), it's the first thing you do when you wake up.
Social media paired with smartphones is a deadly one-two punch. It has a lot of benefits but has plenty of side effects including shortening people’s attention spans to the point everyone’s constantly on it.
But to beat this addiction, I had to find out why I’m constantly on social media and I found three reasons and developed three solutions for each:
When hitting writer’s block:
Since I’m almost always in front of a monitor writing, the temptation to go on social media is intense. It usually happens when I have trouble writing.
I instinctively go to Facebook or twitter to write there and maybe the flow will come to me. It’s a slippery slope because I end up spending more time than I intended.
What I did instead: I’d stop writing if I hit a block but not for long periods. I adapted the writing bursts tip: write in bursts of 10-15 minutes then take a five-minute break.
Alternatively, I set time limits. This added pressure can jolt creativity and get you going.
Result: I feel less drained writing and I became more efficient; instead of going through my timeline, my eyes get a much-needed rest from the screen and that’s beneficial to my health as a bonus.
When waiting for something:
This seems like the most excusable way to use social A lot of waiting happens in life particularly in my case because I don’t drive. I have to ride the train, the bus, and wait in line often times.
Going on social media seems like a solid way to pass the time. But it’s not the only way.
What I did instead: I read. Going back to Stephen King’s advice, read whenever and wherever possible. If there’s a long line at the grocery, I use Amazon Kindle or downloaded PDFs to read.
Result: it passes the time just as effectively and refreshes my perspective. I learn more things and get to make progress on my reading lists.
To avoid awkward silences
This happens in public or in parties; I’m a shy extrovert, which means I’m no better than an introvert.
As much as I enjoy meeting new people, I’m not entirely sold on my social skills.
Going on my phone has been a panic button in case I find myself in situations where I don’t know anyone and don’t want to look like a total wallflower just standing there.
What I did instead: I either left the party or talked to someone. There is no point in being in a “party” if I’m just going to stick my face in my phone for the duration. I either learn to be a part of the group or I leave.
Result: I developed my social skills and now feel more comfortable conversing with people. It’s still a work in progress and I have taken the first route a lot more. But it also helps me spend my time wisely and helps me say “no” if I feel I won’t be having a fun time.
Putting off Projects
I try not to procrastinate but it happens a lot.
It took me several months to get this website up in its current format and it’s still not 100%. It took me a while to start publishing on Medium. And don’t even get me started on my other projects that are drying up in red font on Asana task manager.
Most of us procrastinate. Even the most iron-willed busy bee will put off certain tasks. Perceiving a task to be difficult is the main reason.
A study suggests the less confident we are, the more likely we are to procrastinate.
It’s like studying for a major exam. The “keeners” will be on it from the get-go but procrastinators will likely wait until the final hours to cram everything.
Procrastinating only prevents us from accomplishing our goals. It kills our sense of urgency and leads to even more procrastination.
When you put off one thing, you’ll put off another until you have an accumulation of tasks to complete and you never get to doing it because you’ve built a mountain.
Actionable Step: break apart the project into smaller pieces. This is called “chunking” and has been psychologically proven to make it easier into getting work done.
Once I started dividing projects into smaller tasks, it became simpler to complete each. And completing tasks has a similar effect as procrastinating but in a good way: you build momentum.
Results: I started working on my projects almost immediately. There was little procrastination and I felt more accomplished with each task I completed, no matter how small.
The momentum helped me complete even more tasks. Soon, I was rolling and getting things done.
Focus is About the Small Things
To achieve goals, we have to keep our eyes on the prize. That’s focus.
When it comes to big dreams, the little things matter. Our daily habits make or break whether we succeed or not.
Those who consistently improve their habits have the focus necessary to achieve their goals.
Since I’ve started improving on these, I’ve become more focused. And because I’ve become more focused, I’ve become more productive. And because I’ve become more productive, I’ve become…
You get the picture.
Bad habits can lead to more bad habits and if we don’t control them, we’ll be in their power. Soon, we could be in an unhealthy cycle filled with distractions that only hinder us from what truly matters.
But good productivity habits also lead to more good habits.
Improving bad habits and maintaining focus is an ongoing process. This is also called discipline.
I sometimes still falter and go back to doing the same bad habits. Just a few days ago I started eating in front of my tablet again. I’ve been binging on social media. And I’ve procrastinated.
Nobody’s perfect. But failing is a part of the process.
Keep in mind your bad habits and your solutions for them. Write them down and take notes. If you relapse and start doing them again, find out why.
A lot of our habits are deeply connected to something inside of us. The sooner you understand why you keep doing these bad productivity habits, the sooner you can find the correct solution.
Once you’ve mastered your bad habits, it will be easier to focus. And once you’re focused, the path to your goals only becomes clearer.