The Secret Skill of Productive People

We all yearn to be productive, or at least I do. I want to wake up early in the morning and start working on my tasks immediately and finish them. 18 months ago that was a dream until I listened to a short talk on the Internet by Anthony Robins on mimicking the habits of successful people. So I started reading and tried to see which of their habits I could apply.

Keyword: habit.

To change your life around, you need to develop new habits. Doing a single productive thing today, say waking up early, is not going to change your life if it’s not something you’re willing to do constantly.

How Do You Develop Habits?

You cannot remove old habits. You can only replace them. Say you like to sleep late. And you can’t wake up early. To wake up early, you will need to replace the habit of sleeping late with going to bed early.

21 days. Apparently that’s how long it takes for your brain to start doing this automatically. You will need to willfully force yourself to perform this new task for 21 days. Then your brain will automatically start to understand this routine and your subconscious mind will automatically take over this tasks. And waking up early now becomes a new habit.

You want your subconscious mind to take over the task. This is the key to productivity. This is the secret of successful people.

Your Actions

Your action for today is to list the habits that you would like to acquire. Sort them by priority. Beside each habit, write down why you want it. Studies have shown that you will only form new habits if there is a “pain” in not achieving what you desire. Write down this “pain”. Let this pain drive you.

For example, if losing weight is your pain, write down the things that you can’t do with your current weight. Also write down the consequences of having so much weight.

Make the process of moulding your new habit into a game. Push yourself to see how much weight you can lose within a week. On the contrary to what people say, and I agree with them that your weight fluctuates daily and also during different times in a day, weigh yourself daily at the same time, naked. Yes, naked.  Jot down your weight. You’re in for a big surprise when the week is over.

And spend the next 21 days working on this habit.

Dont screw up this process by working on multiple habits at a go. There are no short cuts in life. Put in the effort and Mother Nature will do her part. Pick up one habit and work on it. Remember, Rome was built in a day and neither will your productivity. Work on this slowly and surely, within a year, you’ll be amazed at how productive you would have become.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The most famous book on habits was written by Dr. Stephen Covey many, many years ago. His book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explains how to change habits by changing your perception of the things you don’t want to do. This is a book you can read in a day. It takes time to read and digest the ideas in this book. My copy of this book has a lot of notes written on the side, underlined passages and it really changed the way I perceived my behaviour and my spouses behaviour.

Another excellent and new book on the power of habits is The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. He mixes facts and stories that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to the sidelines of the NFL and to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

Whatever You Do — Own It!

One of the secrets to a successful career is to take charge of your career — own it.

Stay focused on what you’re doing. Dont get distracted. Decide on what you want and focus on obtaining that. Do the very best in it because you will never know who’s evaluating your work.

Focus on your strengths. Sharpen them. Make the best use of them. If you’re an excellent analytical person, focus on doing analytical things and not waste your energy on things you’re not good at. Don’t blunt yourself by being a Jack of All Trade, Master of None.

Enjoy what you’re doing – whether it’s a success or a failure. If you failed or didn’t deliver something well, ponder on it for a moment – why did you fail – is this something you’re not good at and can’t be delegated to someone else or is it your mistake and if so, have you learnt where you went wrong? Either rectify the mistake of delegate it.

Own your life.
If you don’t, someone will own it for you, to make their lives better — not yours.

Productivity at Work Starts at Home

When I was working in Nigeria, I found it strange in the beginning when my Nigerian colleagues would ask me how my wife was? Until someone else explained to me that a husband is only happy when the wife is happy (oh, don’t we know that) and the wife is happy when the children is happy.

I’ve also seen how the mood and productivity of my colleagues change at work depending on well their lives are getting on. This is a common human behaviour. This was highlighted last night when my wife and I was watching the documentary on the murder of Lloyd Rayney’s wife and the police officer who delivered the news to Mr. Rayney remarked that Mr. Rayney looked calm and composed and was going through his day as usual before he was told that his wife was missing (Mr. Rayney was supposedly the prime suspect in his wife’s murder.) The judge in reading out his judgement noted that if someone actually hurt their spouse, in this case, allegedly murdered his wife during the wee hours of the morning, Mr. Rayney displayed no emotions prior to being informed by the police. And police officers are trained to take note of human facial changes, even when we’re not aware of it.

The first key to productivity in the office – ensure your kingdom at home is at peace.

If it is not, dont deny that nothing is wrong. Acknowledge that there is a conflict. And communicate with your spouse to resolve it. Being silent or moody isnt going to help anyone. You may resort to being silent, thinking everything will be okay but it may have adverse effects on your spouse.

Communicate civilly. Raising voices or throwing tantrums will not resolve the issue. Put yourself in your spouses shoes, how would you want yourself to act? Is what he/she saying hold water?

Never ever think that the relationship is not worth it. Some people think they can easily walk out of a relationship. Always remember that your spouse and you are having a disagreement on something, not a disagreement on each other. Your relationship is more important than your ego, so being “right” can go out the window.

Force yourself to listen to your partner. Really listen to what he/she is trying to say. Pay attention. Grasp their message.

Sometimes the time isn’t right to come up with a solution. It’s all right to agree to hold the solution until the both of you are in a better frame of mind.

Once a solution has been found, never bring up this problem again to remind your partner about their weakness. Once a problem has been solved and both parties have learnt their lesson, bury the problem and never speak of it again.

A peaceful life at home makes a wonderfully productive person at work or in business.

Everything in life is connected.

Make the best of it.


Simplify Your Life With This 2-Minute Rule with Google Timer

This is a recent technique made famous by David Allen that has helped many get a little productive.

If something takes less than 2-minutes to do it, then just do it! Usually these are tasks that you can do but you’re just procrastinating. That’s what we’re trying to eliminate – our self procrastination.

When you start finishing 2-minute tasks, you’ll soon realise that it’s quite easy to continue. So if you dread writing that report, just aim to work on it for 2 minutes.

And here’s a trick. If your computer has dual monitors, then open Google in you Chrome browser in one window and type in the following:

set timer to 2 minutes

This will set a time in Google and Google will play a sound when the time is up. Now you have no excuse not to try this 2-minute rule.

You’ll soon realise that you can go more than 2 minutes once you start a task you dislike.

This is what Isaac Newton said when he said Objects are rest will tend to stay at rest, objects in motion will tend to stay in motion. He’s no productivity expert but he just explained a universal law that applies to everything in nature.

So I sincerely hope you’ll try this technique to help be more productive.



How to Stop Email Overload

Unsubscribe and handle it only once.

A friend of mine paid a consultant $500 just to tell him that. Obviously the consultant helped my friend weed through his email but that was the crux of it.

If you’re subscribed to a newsletter, ask yourself when was the last time you read it. If you havent read it in 2 weeks, you’ll never read it. And while it pains you to hit the unsubscribe button, think of the freedom it will bring you if you have fewer emails in your mailbox.

You want an Inbox that you can manage.

You want an Inbox thats helps you capture the important issues.

Having a cluttered email is like having a cluttered mind. You have hundreds of thoughts that are running through your mind and you don’t know which to pay attention to. Unsubscribe. It’s easy to do. Click the Unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email and confirm the unsubscription.

Handle each email only once. Read it and decide if you need to do something about it or just bin it or archive it. This is hard to do in the beginning but apparently this is one of secrets of the ultra successful people. And I’ve been practising it myself. Nowadays I’ll do my best to handle and email only once. If the email requires extra attention, then I will make it Unread in my Inbox and proceed the clearing the rest. After that, I will return to my Unread emails and work on sorting them out.

Stop Sending Out So Many Emails

Email out = email in.

Stop sending so many emails out. Try and gather all your queries in one email. Even if you get a couple of email on related project questions, reply to them in one email. This helps you and the recipient to be organised.

Set Time Limits

Give yourself a time at the start, during lunch and at the end of the day to go through your emails. Your inbox should be closed at all other times.

I found the little email notification icon that Outlook puts in your task bar as very distracting. So I had that removed. Then I found myself constantly thinking if there were emails waiting for me in my Inbox. This was even more distracting in the beginning. I was so used to checking emails whenever they come in that I was going nuts when I started this technique. But like everything, after the first week, I could hold on a big longer and then my power of resistance increased. I can now fully focus on my work and only check my emails during my allocated break times.


Changing a habit requires a lot of will power and determination. But more importantly, it requires a reason for the change. Or else you’ll return to your old habits. I wanted to change because I wanted more time in my life. I wanted to stop running through my day at breakneck speed, coming home late and then repeating this whole cycle again.

I wanted time. And I’ve managed to get back close to an hour of my time back. Not from checking my emails 3 times a day but from being able to focus solely on my work without being distracted by email.