The world-famous martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee once said, “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." That's never been more true than today when we are all constantly staring into a screen and downloading more information than we can successfully absorb. This time-consuming process can cause severe anxiety, fracture your concentration, and more importantly steal away your time. Time, you see, is one of the most valuable business resources but it's the one we spend the least amount of time thinking about (probably because we're too busy answering email, taking that phone call, looking at Facebook and generally being a tired, frustrated overclocked worker bee). There's also a reason why certain people are successful, whether they are captains of industry, technological innovators, or world-class athletes. It's because those people have constructed rigorous, ritualistic behaviors that help them maintain their focus. These few tips might only save you a few minutes each day, but when you add them up you will realize that small changes in behavior can actually make a huge impact on your productivity.
- Download your to-do list. There are two big catalysts for distraction. The first is multi-tasking. The practice became fashionable some time back as people loaded up on more programs, apps and devices and people claimed a preternatural ability to do more than one thing at once. They're wrong. Researchers have discovered that not only does multi-tasking kill your performance, but it might even damage your brain. But the other big troublemaker when it comes to distraction is carrying around too much in your head. If you can offload the swarm of tasks you need to get accomplished, it will help you be more clear-minded and focused. Take ten minutes at the end of your work day to write up your to-do list and you'll sleep better at night. You can even get all geeky and use a handy app like Todoist or Any.do to get things off your chest. Now put your phone away and go for a walk, for Pete's sake.
- Email is not the boss of you. In some ways, email was an insidious invention. Your phone or computer chimes in and it inspires some kind of compulsive primal urge to click on it, shift focus to the content of the email, and resolve whatever issue it brought up. Email eats up huge chunks of time that could be better spent focusing on a single project, even for a half-hour or so. Truly heroic people set even stricter limits on their email time, checking their mail only three times a day, at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. That leaves spans of several hours at a time that can be used to produce rather than respond.
- Give your productivity a spring cleaning. Much like staff retreats or strategy session, sometimes you need time away from your day-to-day duties in order to make a plan for success. This totally applies to making a personal productivity plan. Take time a few times a year to clear your schedule for half a day or a day and make your plan. Write down what rituals or behaviors you could potentially work on to make your life easier, whether it's getting up earlier, creating time to exercise, or making that to-do list at the end of the day. Explore Lifehacker's “How I Work" series to get ideas for how to work smarter, not harder. This step also applies to technology—more apps are not the answer, and there is always going to be some shiny new gizmo that promises to fix your life. Instead, think about how technology can be used to make your work easier or shave minutes off your schedule and leave all the other toys by the wayside
- Find your stuff easier. Did you know that up to 30 percent of wasted time is spent looking for things? This is a broad step that can be applied across all aspects of your life. Like having a bowl for your keys at home, creating maps of your most essential documents, schedules and lists can help you naturally know how to access these important items organically instead of scrambling to find them.