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Patrik Edblad

How to Be Productive: The 5 Essential Habits

in Tips

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
– Bruce Lee

It’s easy to forget that time is a finite resource. Most stuff you mess up can be corrected down the line but a wasted day will never come back.

That’s why being productive is so hugely important. It allows you to make the most of the present moment while freeing up more time for you to spend on doing what you love.

So how do you do it? That’s what I asked productivity expert Michael Sliwinski. He came through with some really awesome advice in the form of five essential habits. Take it away, Michael! 🙂

1. Write things down

Whatever new commitment, thought, idea appears, write it down right away. Add it either to your calendar or to your to-do list, or scribble it on a piece of paper and later put it in your inbox (or use your smartphone’s “voice memos” app to record it).

Always define four key specs: what? when? where? why/what for?

You speak to your boss and he mentions that he would like to meet with you and the other guy to discuss a project. If you don’t jot it down immediately, your mind will start playing tricks on you.

You will be thinking about it and you won’t be able to focus on the conversation and you might miss something important.

Why? Because subconsciously, you’ll be trying to remember about the meeting and worrying what happens if you forget. So instead, you say: “hold on, sir/madam” and within 30 seconds you open your to-do list for today and write:

“Schedule the meeting with the boss and ‘the other guy’ to discuss Project A – Next week, afternoon at the Office”

If your boss has specified the actual meeting time, you’ll obviously open your calendar instead of the to-do list and write the exact time and goal of the meeting.

It doesn’t cost you anything and you win on three levels:

  • A person you talk to sees that you actually care and that you are reliable.
  • You unload your memory and free your creativity.
  • You don’t risk scheduling another meeting or action on the same date.

2. Don’t wait for motivation. Decide.

You are a human being who can make rational decisions and take reasoned actions. Forget the whole motivation thing. If you want to do something:

a. plan how to do it – define specific steps
b. prepare all the necessary tools and resources
c. specify when you are going to make it

…and then, start doing it.

Take it from Nike slogan: “Never give up, just do it.

If you really want to do it, you’ll do it. If you don’t do the thing in the scheduled time, it means that step a, b or c has failed. Get back to them and see which one it is.

Be honest with yourself and strictly look for a flaw. Don’t look for excuses. Don’t allocate the control to the external world. It is you who decide.

Somewhere I read a quote by a famous writer: “I only write when I’m inspired. Luckily my inspiration strikes me exactly at 9am in the morning every day when I decide to sit at the desk to write.”


OHIO stands for “only handle it once.” This is something that I keep trying to engrain in my child by saying: “Don’t leave things unfinished” or “If you start a drawing – finish it and put the crayons away.”

Did you know that for some people it can take up to 21 minutes to regain their focus? And the “return-to tasks” usually requires more time and effort. The OHIO strategy works for all kinds of tasks and actions, including managing your e-mail inbox, writing articles/blog posts/reports or writing code for the new feature of your application.

If something can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then (according to David Allen’s two-minute rule). If something is more time-consuming, see point 1. and 2. of this article 🙂

Think how much time you’ll need to complete the task, put it down in your calendar and when the time comes – have all the tools and resources ready. Obviously breaks are allowed. These should be a planned, relaxing breaks and not distractions. And then that’s it – it’s done and handled.

4. Have evening and morning routines

Ensure that some things get done almost automatically by unloading your memory and focus. While you can’t always control what goes on in the middle of a day, you usually can say how to begin and end your day.

Examples of practical evening routines:

  • Pick out your clothes for the next day
  • Wash the dishes and clean the kitchen in order not to be terrified and depressed when you walk in the next day
  • Fill a glass with water and place it next to your bed
  • Read the news and social media feeds in order not to be tempted by that in the morning
  • Plan the next day and write down three key tasks to do first thing
  • Think of what you are going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day.

Morning routines:

  • Get up instantly after you hear the alarm and then think of something really nice and funny, do three deep squats and three bends
  • Exercise for 20-30 minutes
  • Drink two glasses of water
  • Wash the dishes after breakfast
  • Make sure you have your phone, laptop, important documents and wallet on you
  • Do something really important to get closer to your dream goal. If it is to write a novel – write for 30 minutes before you go to work/school. If your goal is to learn a foreign language, work on your vocabulary or grammar. Perhaps your goal is to drop five kilos? Go jogging.

5. Keep it tidy

This last habit is really simple and obvious, yet very useful. Have you ever wondered how much time you have wasted looking for things? There is a solution.

Decide once and forever where you are going to put your: flat/car keys, mobile phone, tablet/mobile charger, wallet, glasses/sun glasses. You should put these items away in their designated places routinely and you’ll always be sure to find them.

These habits aren’t difficult to form and instill. If you see that any of them can actually help you, don’t wait – think of how you can implement it to your life style.

michael-sliwinskiMichael Sliwinski is the editor of the Productive! Magazine, the founder of Nozbe.com (a time and project management application for busy professionals), and the best-selling author of the #iPadOnly book.

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