The time has come where we all make promises to ourselves that we’ll be better, harder, faster, and stronger by the end of the next 365 days. Twelve months is a long time, though, and it can be easy to lose steam over such a long period. What can you do about it?
Our approach: break the year down into months and dedicate each month to a particular change. This method lets you internalize one change at a time before moving onto the next one. Frontloading all of your resolutions together is just a recipe for being overwhelmed.
A common resolution for most working people is to be more productive. In this article, we’ll explore twelve bad habits that you can change — one per month — to drastically improve your workload productivity. If you do it right, by the end of the year you’ll be doing more work in less time!
January’s Bad Habit: Being Anxious
In January, you’re probably feeling a bit anxious. You’re excited about the potential of the upcoming year but you’re also a bit frightened at the prospect of failure. Or perhaps you’re just an anxious person in general. Anxiety can fog up your mind, keep you from being focused, and make you more prone to making mistakes.
Solution: At the start of your day, do something that will put you at ease. Take 5 minutes to forget about the world and just enjoy a moment of peace. I like to listen to Pandora or Songza with a little bit of DoNothingFor2Minutes mixed in for good measure. RainyMoodis also great for relaxation.
February’s Bad Habit: Sleeping Too Little
Common knowledge says that the human body needs 8 hours of sleep to get a good rest during the night. The truth is that each person is different — some people do need 8 hours, but others may only need 6 or 10 hours. You probably know how much sleep your own body needs — the trick is to make sure you get it.
People tend to stay up until they feel sleepy, then go to sleep. The “proper way” to sleep is recognize how much sleep you need, then go to bed for that many hours before you need to wake up. Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s rest. You’ll feel better and your mind will be sharper.
Solution: Go to sleep before you feel tired. Adhere to a regular sleep schedule and stick to it no matter how badly you may want to deviate. SleepyTime is great for finding the right time to fall asleep and wake up to maximize your rest. There are also apps to help you sleep better. TrackThisForMe is good for tracking and visualizing your sleep — the results may surprise you.
March’s Bad Habit: Working Too Long
There are two forms of working too long: 1) working so much that it detracts from your rest and recreation and 2) working over long stretches of time without any breaks. For the most part, there’s nothing you can do about the former since your job is your job, but there’s a lot you can do about the latter.
Solution: Ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Essentially, you divide the work day into 30-minute chunks: 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of break. You can personalize it to your own needs (e.g. 45 minutes of work and 15 minutes of break). The point is that you’ll be more productive working in short bursts than long crawls.
April’s Bad Habit: Not Taking Notes
How much time do you waste trying to decide what you’re going to tackle next? For a lot of folks, deciding what to do can actually take up a good chunk of the day — especially true for those who are more on the indecisive side. Without a clear roadmap of what the day entails, productivity drops through the ground.
Solution: Take notes and take lots of them. Evernote is fantastic for this since it handles notes, to-do lists, syncing across desktop and smartphones, and more. Whenever a new task pops into mind, immediately jot it down in your notes so you don’t forget it.
For optimal to-do list productivity, make your list of tasks for tomorrow at the end of today — that way, you can hop right into tomorrow when morning comes without wasting any time.
May’s Bad Habit: Forgetting to Recharge
If you don’t have energy, you can’t work productively. We already covered physical rest in February; this time I’m talking about mental rest. We often feel like any time spent not working is productivity lost, which leads us to work, work, and work even more at the expense of recreation. This is more detrimental than you might think.
Solution: Keep your work life and personal life separated when you leave the office and take time to pamper yourself for at least an hour every night. Watch Netflix, play some Android games, or pick up a new hobby. Recreation and entertainment are essential for maintaining clarity of mind and preventing burnout.
June’s Bad Habit: Neglecting Exercise
If you’re a white collar worker, you likely spend the majority of your day sitting in a chair. This can wreak havoc on your posture. If you’re frequently working with computers, there are additional risks that you need to keep in check, including computer fatigue. A sedentary lifestyle can have a lot of negative impact on your physical and mental health.
Solution: Exercise. Most New Year resolutions that involve exercise start in January and tend to fizzle out by February. I believe the dreary weather is a big factor. By starting in June, you’re setting yourself up for success since you’ll already be in the habit when the next winter rolls around.
Use RunKeeper to track your exercise goals and check out these exercise YouTube channels for training and motivation.
July’s Bad Habit: Multitasking
Remember those notes that you started taking in April? One downside of to-do lists and notepads is that you’ll start to build up a huge list of tasks that can seem insurmountable. You may feel compelled to work on multiple tasks at once in order to resolve them at a faster rate.
Unfortunately, multitasking not only reduces productivity but results in work that isn’t your best effort due to divided attention. It’s better to focus on one task a time.
Solution: Revisit your notes and lists from April and go through them again, assigning various priority levels to each task. Start by tackling the most difficult tasks and get them out of the way. It’s easier to be productive when your day gets simpler as it progresses, not when it gets more difficult.
August’s Bad Habit: Distractions
Since you’re here at MakeUseOf, I assume you use the Internet on a regular basis. That means you understand how distracting it can be with all of the social networks, community forums, and news websites that vie 24/7 for your attention. You could open Facebook and lose an hour of your life in the blink of an eye. What a productivity killer.
Solution: There are browser plugins that will help you fend off such distractions by limiting the sites you can visit according to the time of day. StayFocusd is great for Chrome while LeechBlock is great for Firefox. It only takes a few minutes to set up and you’ll earn back a lot of lost time in the end.
September’s Bad Habit: Novelty Addiction
Smartphone addiction is a real thing. Internet addiction is a real thing. Video game addiction is a real thing. What do these three have in common? They are all forms of novelty addiction. If you ever feel an irresistible and compulsive urge to check your phone, hop on the Internet, or play a video game, then you probably suffer from it too.
Solution: The three articles linked above contain tips and steps that you can take to overcome these specific types of novelty addictions.
Breaking an addiction is tough and it’ll most likely take more than one month for success. You’ll fail and fail and fail, but one day you’ll break free from novelty addiction and find that you have so much more time in your day. In addition, your mind will be clearer since it won’t constantly be seeking another dopamine fix.
October’s Bad Habit: Bad Email Management
Is your email inbox cluttered? Perhaps you get spammed constantly. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by the dozens, hundreds, or thousands of emails that you need to address every day. If you dread opening up your email then you may suffer from poor email management, which is an issue that can sneakily drain a lot of your time.
Solution: Learn to email like a pro using tools like Gmail’s Filters and Canned Responses. Make sure your inbox is cleared at the end of the day. Move tasks to your notes or to-do lists if you must. Also, turn off email notifications and only check on your email at certain times of the day, e.g. in the morning, during lunch, and after dinner.
November’s Bad Habit: Disorganized Files
By now it’s November and you’ve probably collected a lot of clutter on your computer over the course of the year. Clutter is bad for productivity since it increases the time it takes to find files and folders. It can also slow down your computer and make you run out of hard drive space. Plus, clutter just isn’t that great for clarity.
Solution: Use a tool to delete duplicate files and free up space on your computer. Everything is a lightning fast alternative to Windows desktop search which allows you to search and find files and folders in an instant. And, of course, a bit of elbow grease to manually organize your folders can go a long way.
December’s Bad Habit: Not Using RSS
As we near the end of the year, you’ve already built up an impressive list of new habits that positively impact your productivity. In fact, you’d be a happy productivity machine if you applied January through November to your everyday life. The last bit of time that you can save in your daily routine comes from efficiently keeping up with news sites.
Solution: Use an RSS reader. For those who don’t know, check out our quick RSS guide. With the discontinuation of Google Reader and the controversies surrounding Feedly, I’d highly recommend Digg Reader, AOL Reader, or an Android RSS app for portability.
You have an entire year ahead of you. Even if you internalize only a few of these habits into your life, you will see a noticeable improvement to your productivity. Let us know in the comments if you have any other (good) habits that have helped you with being more productive.