If you’re like me, there is so much you want to do, need to do, and it can be overwhelming. Over the years, I’ve tried numerous productivity “systems” and software programs in the hope that I’d finally achieve that amazing life I knew was waiting for me if I could just get everything done.
I’d use these productivity books, systems, and software for a couple months, before they began gathering dust, because they were too complicated, time consuming, or just plain overwhelming. I didn’t need my to-do list to make me even more stressed me out.
Over the years, I’ve developed my own system of To-Do lists, but when I recently stumbled across Leo Babuta’s Zen To Done, I loved it immediately.
The Productivity Habits
First, he has a brilliant insight: being productive is really about having good productivity habits.
- Using A Simple Trusted System
- Using Routines
- Finding Your Passion
If these 10 behaviors become a habit for you, then knowing what you need to do and doing it will just naturally happen.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Wouldn’t you love to be the sort of person who just gets things done?
Why Habits Matter
Habits are incredibly powerful in your life. Think about it. What time did you wake up this morning? Did you pop right out of bed when the alarm clock went off or did you press snooze? What did you do next when you got out of bed- brush your teeth or put on a pot of coffee? Likely it was the same thing you did you yesterday and the day before that, because for the vast majority of your day, your brain goes into auto-pilot and your habits take over.
Now, this makes sense for the brain. It has other things to work on, to think about, to plan for, to worry about, and sometimes, it’s just being lazy. Relying on habit, frees up your brain for other activities, but it’s a double edged sword. It means that new habits are hard to start and bad habits are hard to break, because you aren’t actually thinking about your actions. You’re just acting. Out of habit.
Fortunately, scientists have been studying habits, and they have a much better understanding of how habits function in our lives. I highly recommend reading “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life And Business” by Charles Duhigg for a thoroughly fascinating and useful look into habits.
If you can crack the habit creation process, and make these 10 behaviors a habit, you will find that you are naturally a more productive person.
Why I Like Zen To Done
Understands Habit Creation
Leo understands that throwing a big productivity system your way isn’t the best way to become a more productive person, because habits are best created in small chunks that you practice often.
You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to wait to be more productive. I need to be more productive right now.” And I totally get it, because I’m also an impatient person. I know what I’m capable of, and I should be doing it right now. Unfortunately, human beings just aren’t wired that way. It takes time. So, you could TRY to implement a pile of productivity habits right now, and you might do great for a week, struggle for a few months, before finally abandoning it. You’re not only back where you started, but you’ve lost the last 6 months.
Or, you could say, “I need to be more productive right now, so, I’m going to be a little more productive each month, so that in 6 months, I’m a getting things done machine!” In Chapter 4, Leo covers 8 principals of habit creation to help you turn these productivity strategies into habits. While it’s a good big picture overview of how to create a new habit, for me, it falls just shy of being really useful. I’d love a check list or some sort of habit creation worksheet. My personal recommendation is to add a daily notification on your calendar or smart phone with the habit you are creating. So, each morning for two weeks, you are reminded to “Collect” your to-do’s.
ZTD asks you to identify your most important tasks and your goals for the week and for the day, so you can direct your time and energy to what’s most important to you. Plus, he suggests reviewing your goals on a weekly basis so that you stay focused throughout the year. The worksheets he provides at the end of the book will help you create that focus.
One of his most powerful tools for focus is the habit of using routines. I love routines! If I know that in the morning, I do these 10 things, then I can do those 10 things without having to spend much time thinking about it, agonizing over it, organizing it etc. I free up all that energy worrying about when it’s going to get done, because I know when it gets done. For me, routines provide structure, predictability, and efficiency. Check out Chapter 13 and the worksheets at the end of the book.
One word of caution, each item you add to a routine is creating a habit. So, if your ideal morning routine includes exercising, meditating, and writing, and you don’t currently do any of those things, choose ONE. Do that until it’s a habit, before you add the next item to your morning routine.
Most productivity systems I’ve come across advise getting everything onto your to-do list, but but what I see when I look around at my friends and family is not people who need more things to do. I see people who have too much to do. More accurately, I see people trying to do too much or doing too much of the unimportant things leaving them with not enough time for the most important things.
Once you’ve established the most important tasks, your big rocks, your goals, Leo advises getting as many of the items that don’t fit into those categories off your plate as possible. Can it be eliminated? Maybe, it’s really just not that important, and it no longer needs to be on your to-do list at all. It could have been important at one time, but now things have changed. Maybe it can be delegated.
I love the focus on simplicity, because it embraces the truth that time is our most finite and scarce resource and that we are a single human being in a big, complicated world. So, we must choose carefully how we spend our time. Not everything needs to be done– at least by you, right now.
If you’ve struggled with productivity systems in the past or are overwhelmed by your current to-do list, I think Zen-To-Done is worth the $9.50 Leo is asking for it. At least I can say that I was happy to pay it, and I learned a few things that made me more productive.
Let me know if you give his system a try and if it works for you!