Blog Post

How to Turn Productivity into a Habit

Let’s face it – we are not web working machines. There are several forces that are going against our productivity.  These include random distractions, illness, noise, and even the fear of getting started. I’m very familiar with this problem, because even if I apply everything I know about productivity and work habits, I sometimes fall short.

So what do we do if we can’t afford to fall into an unproductive day? In this case, prevention is better than cure. We need to develop systems that will prevent unproductive days, weeks, or moments take over our working lives. We may not be productive 100 percent of the time, but there are some things we can do to develop better work habits:

Regular time boxing. I recently finished Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit”, where he recommends trying 30 minutes of uninterrupted work as a way to beat procrastination. After those 30 minutes, you should take a break or reward yourself before punching in another 30 minutes of uninterrupted work.

Perhaps “uninterrupted” is the key word here, since it’s easy to get distracted when you’re working online. If you’re a random web surfing junkie or if you find yourself compulsively clicking that “Stumble!” button, then this especially applies to you.

When trying time boxing, I suggest that you select a timer that will work with your needs. I sometimes use a kitchen timer, which works well since I don’t bill by the hour and I can use it if I’m working away from the computer. OS X users might appreciate 3-2-1, a simple yet handy timer they can place on their dashboards. For those who use a time-based billing system, you can take advantage of FreshBooks’ time tracking feature.

If you’re looking for more time tracking solutions, a previous post by Mike Gunderloy lists different ways you can do this. (Be sure to skim the comments as well, as there are some great  suggestions from WWD readers, too.)

540197_silhouette_technicalMake your schedule support your working style, and not the other way around. Some teleworkers say that they like starting work at 9am and finishing at 5 pm like a regular office employee. That might work for some, but just because it’s the model that traditional businesses use, it doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

Since teleworkers generally have control over their schedule, then why not follow a schedule that is best suited to your working style? The first step is to know your peak working hours, the hours of the day when you’re most productive. Make sure your working schedule includes those hours.

You also have to consider your ideal way of working. Do you work best in long, uninterrupted stretches, or do you find yourself easily distracted after half an hour of work?  By creating a schedule that is tailored to your needs, you won’t feel too forced or pressured to follow a cookie-cutter schedule that doesn’t fit. Instead, you can spend most of your energy on the tasks at hand.

Take advantage of being in “The Zone”.
Even when I’m not working during my peak hours, there are times where I may be doing some gardening or making some coffee and suddenly I get a very, very strong urge to work. I call this “The Zone”, as it puts me in a mental zone where I am so productive and excited to work that I can accomplish so much in a small amount of time. When I’m in this zone, I know that I have to stop what I’m doing and start working.

Why is it important to take advantage of this unexpected urge to work? Well, it’s going to make up for the time when you feel less than inspired to do it.  These “low inspiration” times make work more challenging, so you’re likely to be slower and less passionate about what you’re doing in that moment. If you take advantage of being in “The Zone”, whenever and wherever it happens, then these low inspiration times won’t be as detrimental to your productivity.

Reward yourself.
If you become too productive and spend most of your time working, it’s easier to fall off the wagon and revert to time-wasting habits. Trust me, I’ve been there. Now if you’re rewarding yourself after a time boxing session, or after completing a project milestone, then you subconsciously associate the reward with the satisfaction of getting things done.

Use whatever reward makes sense to you. It could be some time off to watch a DVD, an hour working on your favorite hobbies, or even time for a nap. Whatever reward you choose, it has to be something you’re looking forward to doing after work.

The best way to be truly productive is to make it a habit. By implementing these four techniques, we can set up systems that will work with our individual needs, as well as take advantage of unexpected bursts of creativity.

What do you do to prevent unproductive behavior from throwing you off schedule?

Image by H. Berends from

12 Responses to “How to Turn Productivity into a Habit”

  1. My secret: Work from home and allow my wife to be able to walk into the office whenever she needs to. If I’m caught playing World of Warcraft I’m dead!

    But really, it’s hard not to feel guilty being unproductive when I hear her struggling with 2 kids.

  2. Bob, you make a good point. Email is definitely one of the worst interrupters. In outlook I have set it to only check email every 90 minutes. That keeps me away from most “really not that important” communications and allows me to batch process a little more.

    I still use email A LOT even in my “focus” time, but that is mostly drafting and sending email.

  3. To get to the “Uninterrupted” realm I also quit out of all applications on my computer that are not directly related to the task at hand. Most importantly that includes my email program which I can always relaunch after a couple of hours of good work. I also turn off audible and visual notifications for things like my gmail notifier.

  4. Very good article. The Zone is a place where we all need to spend more time. Unfortunately, as social media becomes more and more of a force, it’s getting difficult to do!

    Turn off the Twitter switch and get to work!


  5. I couldn’t agree more that “uninterrupted” work is a key. I try to do a majority of my work at night, after my husband and kids have gone to bed. Without all the extra ‘noise’ I am so much more productive, and it is much easier to concentrate… which usually makes for better quality work as well!!

    Thanks for the post! :)

  6. Let me recommend the PokeBack feature in TimePoke. Just set up a “PokeBack” with how long you want to work and then batten down the hatches and don’t let anything interrupt you.

    Scary thing is how hard it is to work 30min uninterrupted.

  7. I couldn’t agree with you more… I’ve been teaching my clients this for years.

    We get so wrapped up in the old time management habit of going and cramming non-stop all day long

    The timer is one of my best productivity tools and would be lost without it. You might want to check out this very short video…

    I’ll check Neil’s book out… sounds very interesting.

    Ann Rusnak
    “The Time Diva”

  8. Nice article Celine.

    I especially agree with the part about “The Zone”. Roll with that when it comes up. If I could figure out the combination of sugar/caffeine/mood that puts me in it, I’d bottle it and sell it to others.


    Pete Johnson
    Hewlett-Packard Company
    Marketing and Internet Platform Services IT
    Portals and Applications Chief Architect
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