Do you know the joke where the doctor asks the stressed patient, “What fits your busy schedule better, working out one hour a day – or being dead 24 hours a day?”
Admittedly, this isn’t much of a joke. But the doctor’s question is worth a thought.
Ask yourself this:
What did you achieve yesterday? Was it productive and meaningful — or did you already forget what you did?
Most people fail to register if they are busy with things that are productive or trivial. Being busy is not a badge of honor, although it seems to be the default answer today, no matter who you ask.
Busy creates stress. Stress turns into overwhelm. And overwhelm becomes anxiety. And there you have it; life is riding you like a horse. Stay put if you want to be the rider instead of the stallion.
Read on, and you’ll learn how to increase productivity and:
- Reduce stress, overwhelm, and anxiety
- Free up time and mental capacity for meaningful work or activities
- Find clarity in decision-making and staying in control of your day
These skills are essential to master if you want to claim control of your life while enjoying more fulfillment and peace of mind.
Here’s the first of six ways to increase productivity and reduce stress:
1. Take control of your morning routine
A study by Deloitte shows that 3 out of 5 people look at their phones within 15 minutes of waking up.
Regretfully, I was there myself. Before rolling out of bed, I was already knee-deep in email, social media, weather forecasts, and the latest news. The toll on my attention and energy levels was immense. I felt overwhelmed.
“Control your bookends,” advises Darren Hardy in The Compound Effect. After reading this, I decided to get rid of my wake-up habit. The first bookend – your morning routine – determines much of your success for the rest of the day. Never start your day in a reactive mode.
When other people are asleep, get up, and do your morning routine
Design a “Power Hour” where you stretch, workout, meditate, journal, reflect, write – whatever you value, as long as you make sure to spend your time on something productive.
My Morning Power Hour consists of this routine: I get up. Immediately, I drink two glasses of ice-cold water to rehydrate my body. Then a quick 10-minute workout before brewing a cup of coffee while I think of my three most important goals for today. Now I’m ready for 35-45 minutes of writing.
I complete all of these activities before my family is awake. No matter what life throws at me on any given day, I have already accomplished something important.
You can do this, too. Don’t line up excuses about not having the time because of hectic mornings with kids, breakfast, clothing, bathing, traffic, and the likes. All you need to know is this “mighty secret”:
Go to sleep an hour earlier.
Wake up an hour earlier.
2. Limit choice and decide faster
Consider this: If choice is good, is more choice, then, better?
Not at all.
Choice is overwhelming. It requires work, and it’s hard on your attention.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz warns that too much choice does not only limit your freedom; it can lead to clinical depression. Too much choice does not make you happier nor productive.
Just think of supermarket aisles with endless numbers of different toothpaste or cereal. You probably choose the same brands to avoid the hassle of actually stopping to consider your options.
You should employ the same supermarket tactics in other areas of life and limit your choice wherever you can.
Most things serve a functional purpose, like your clothes or what you eat. But you can also make default choices in other parts of life, for example, decide beforehand which topics you participate in and which to avoid. Quick tip here – stay within your circle of competence. Save your precious attention units for things that matter.
Now, choice and decision-making are closely related. There are two things you need to know:
- Accept that you will never have fewer decisions
- Make decisions instead of avoiding them (procrastination)
It’s not the number of decisions; it’s how much time you spend to ponder them. For difficult decisions, always set a deadline. Procrastination is bad for your happiness, and delayed decisions will cloud your day until you make up your mind.
There’s an easy way to figure out if a decision is important or not and whether or not it deserves much time. Just ask yourself this: Will this choice impact my life 3 years from now?
So relax. Your choice of shampoo, hotel room, or party attire is not going to haunt you in the retirement home even if they seem important in the moment.
Pro tips to make faster decisions (especially the hard ones):
- Set a time limit.
- Can you reverse the decision later? If yes, then speed up.
- Work out if there’s a pattern to past experiences.
- Think through more options instead of just “yes” and “no.”
- Test the idea on others, if you can, or say it out loud.
- Always check if your decision is consistent with your values.
3. Habit stacking (and avoiding bad routines)
People are creatures of habit. Sometimes, we adopt poor practices that lead to more stress or even addiction.
Take media habits. According to a study by Nielsen, people in the U.S. spend an average of just under 6 hours watching video. Not per week, but …
To add insult to injury, an other British survey found that 6 out of 10 adults would “be lost” without TV.
If you also happen to suffer from terminal “screen addiction” or anything just as unproductive, don’t analyze why you binge so much. Instead, identify your feelings right before you start a screen marathon. Most likely, you are habit stacking two bad routines consecutively.
Let me explain with an example. When I binge-watch tv shows, I notice the same patterns: anxious, bored, or a little stressed. In reality, watching tv is an escape path from the real world.
Enter Habit Stacking
Today, when I sense these feelings, I start to write or read a great book. These are much more productive and even better stress-relievers.
When one routine leads to another, you are habit stacking — a term coined by James Clear in Atomic Habits.
Here are a few examples where habit stacking automatically creates progress:
- When I get bored, I
watch the newsread the book on my night table
- When I feel stressed or anxious, I stop to
drink vodkatake five deep breaths
- After I go to bed at night, I
check emailthink of today’s most important accomplishment
- When I see my water bottle is half empty, I
rush for coffeerefill the bottle
- After I get home from work, I hit