Productivity tips, calendar hacks, & product updates from the Reclaim team.

Top 5 Work Habits to Boost Productivity
September 14, 2021

Everyone wants to be successful, and success is (almost always) something that requires a lot of hard work. Whether you want to get to the next level of your career, or launch an entire company off the ground, there are productive work habits you can adopt to keep yourself motivated and on the right track. And while every career and course is different, there are a few role-agnostic work habits that can benefit your productivity across basically any profession.

So, how do you build new habits? A habit is an action that is repeated so often that it becomes second nature. According to NPR, habits start with a psychological pattern called a ‘habit loop’, which is a three-part process. You have a cue (or trigger), the routine, and then the reward. For example, if you want to have more productive meetings, make a habit of setting 15 minutes aside beforehand to read up on your team members notes (outside of the agenda) to consider how you could add more value to the team projects and priorities. The trigger is wanting to have more productive meetings, 15-minute prep becomes your routine, and you are rewarded with having better meetings and becoming a more meaningful part of the work product.  

Here are the top 5 work habits you should try to boost your productivity. If you’re seeking a promotion, trying to pivot your career, or just simply looking to step your game up in the workplace, this post is for you.

1. Email

Emails can be a distraction, but it is still one of the most common ways to communicate inside and outside of your organization. While absolutely necessary to many people’s daily work, email is a non-stop channel for communication that can seriously pull from your productivity. And even though it may only take you 5 minutes to jump in and reply to an email, the real cost is context switching. Bouncing between active work tasks to check and answer completely unrelated emails prevents you from entering a state of deep work. In fact, it can take 20 minutes to get back into the flow of what you were just doing when you context switch. And at the end of the day, professionals waste up to 9.8 hours/week on unproductive work like checking email, Slack, and browsing their to-do lists.

Compartmentalizing your tasks, removing distractions, and finishing one thing before moving on to the next is a great approach to email. In fact, people who check email 3x a day feel less stressed than those who check it all the time, and actually respond to the same number of emails in 20% less time. So, by only checking your email during certain time blocks, you answer just as many emails, accomplish more tasks with less context switching, and improve your work-life balance by having less stress in your day that you carry home with you after work. 

John Zeratsky over at Make Time says that he has a purpose for each email session. As a solo entrepreneur who receives 50-80 emails a day (each of which requires action), it’s easy for email to quickly overwhelm the workday. To combat the distraction, John sets clear boundaries for scheduled email time - he handles anything time-sensitive right away, then works through clearing his inbox with the time left in that email session. Another awesome tip  for anything you’re not able to accomplish right away: block time for that task on your calendar so you can successfully follow up on it!.

Moral of the story? Set aside 1-3 time blocks on your calendar a day to give your full, undivided focus to your email inbox - morning email time, midday email time, and afternoon email time. By creating a routine for yourself where you set time aside for email, you can get a hold of that distraction and have a more productive day. It will absolutely feel weird at first, and you’ll have a strong urge to pop in quickly to check, but fight the pull so you can stay productive with this healthy work habit!

2. Morning Routine

Another great habit to make time for every day is “morning catch up”. There’s nothing worse than a meeting that starts first thing in the morning when you haven’t even had time to catch up on what’s happened since you logged off the day before. And with many teams collaborating across states, countries and continents, there’s a lot that happens outside of your working hours. Studies also show that 70% of people prefer morning meetings, so unless you defend time to catch up first thing in the morning, it's likely you can find yourself behind all day. 

Not to mention getting all those pebble-size projects off your mind so you don’t have them weighing on you during your important core work and meetings.

By batching all of your “microtasks'' together first-thing, you’re able to get ahead of a ton of distractions that will be competing for your attention as you navigate your day. This is a single-tasking method you can use to stay focused on lengthier, strategic tasks because you’ve set dedicated time aside for the small stuff. It’s also a great way to ease into the day as you’re still waking up and may not be in your most productive or energized state. This way, you’re able to save that max-energy for your important, demanding projects while still getting the sense of accomplishment for taking advantage of your low-cognitive tasks.

So how do you reclaim some morning time to catch up ahead of your day? This is an easy habit to start and keep up with! Simply block 15, 30, 45 minutes, whatever it is you need, on your calendar every morning so your team knows you’re unavailable. By time blocking the early minutes of your working hours, you can use this time to check your messages, respond to project and task notes, get updated on any company announcements, and plan out your work items for the day. This will bring a new level of structure and direction to your workweek. 

3. Weekly Status Reports

Another recurring routine you’ll want to make time for on your calendar is weekly status reports. Writing up the summary of your week, sharing progress and problems, and what you plan to prioritize next week is a valuable habit that can help you make real progress toward your individual and team goals. 

As anyone with a weekly status deadline knows, this is an easy habit to avoid until the last minute, so to do it well, you’ve got to make time for it! Imagine this: it’s Friday afternoon and you’re about to start your weekly status report when you get an email update on a new feature in development that needs your feedback. You of course take the time to respond, but that unfortunately eats up the rest of your day and you never get through your weekly report. Come Monday in your weekly one-on-one with your manager, you remember that you didn’t take the time to reflect, reprioritize, and think deeply about the problems you’re working on. 

While you need to make time for scattered tasks and random updates, it’s critical that you don’t let these overrun your workweek as they can easily make you lose sight of your real priorities. Setting aside time for your weekly report will keep you prepared and confident that you’re focused on the right things. And though these may feel like an obligation you have to do for your manager, it’s really quite the opposite. Weekly status reports are 25% for managers, and 75% for the direct report. Your manager does want to know what's up and where you need help, but ultimately they want you to have the time to reflect and focus.

And it’s not just communication, it’s communicating the right things around your priorities that will make all the difference in the progress you make toward your goals. 75% of employees feel they can easily approach their manager to ask for help, but with close to 46% of team leaders saying that hitting project deadlines is their biggest problem, there’s a clear disconnect between communication and priority planning. 

So, in order to avoid situations like these, it becomes a matter of simply getting into the habit of building out your weekly status reports ahead of time so you’re no longer scrambling five minutes before the deadline. Setting aside dedicated time to tackle this habit a day or two before it’s due will always end up being more rewarding and sustainable than planning last-minute. If you make time to get the bulk of it in order the day before, your recent hours should be easy to update before you send it off.

4. Reading

Reading doesn’t guarantee you’ll be successful, but it’s widely known that successful people read. And while over 1/3rd of Americans want to make more time for reading, it’s all too easy to keep saying you’ll start tomorrow. But each day you delay is a disservice to yourself! Reading is incredibly good for your brain - it can help you experience more sensations, increase your empathy, and provide much appreciated mental stimulation for your brain which can slow down progressive brain diseases like Alzheimers and Dementia.

Exercising your memory with reading can also help you remember dates, names, and key events which make you an even more productive employee as you’re less likely to drop the ball on a project or opportunity. In fact, reading has many advantages that can help you become more successful across the board, like increasing your verbal intelligence, reducing stress, and even making you a better leader. 

And, not all work habits need to be in service of your workplace specifically - you can read anything, even if it's not a "professional" piece of writing. But if it's a topic that's surrounding your work, it will only make you a more formidable force at your workplace. So pick your topic! What do you want to learn, where do you want to grow? Whether it’s learning a new language, developing a new skill, or reading up on an adjacent job role to increase your understanding of how you can better collaborate and support your team, reading will help make a difference in your career. 

Establishing reading as a habit is simple, you just have to make time for it. You can start by setting a daily (or weekly) reading goal for yourself. Once you have your number, set aside the time on your calendar! Life is busy, and something as simple as reading is an awesome addition to your calendar if you want to seriously commit. If setting aside time by yourself isn’t enough, try joining a book club. This will help you hold yourself accountable and make this habit more than just a personal task  - it also turns into a social habit. 

5. Networking

Networking: the dreaded activity basically every introvert secretly fears. But good news -- networking no longer has to be shuffling around an awkward social function forcing conversation! You can network from basically anywhere, and find people with shared interests easier than ever before. 

First, why should you make networking a habit? It’s a great way to make connections, even new friends, and scale or pivot your career. Networkings isn’t just for sales or marketing folks, it can help anyone seeking to expand their professional network.

The future of work has built a pretty incredible virtual or remote future for networking too. Whether you’re working remotely, or just prefer to connect online, there are endless networking opportunities available. Virtual networking allows you to find people from anywhere around the world with shared interests. Here are the most popular virtual networking channels to explore:

Because you're no longer limited to your location, networking has really become a global opportunity to find like minded people who are passionate about the same topics and interests as you. For example, you can connect with an open source developer from the other side of the world who's working on a cool plugin, and simply send them a note to learn more about their work and opportunities to collaborate. Or, join a webinar across the country on a new topic you want to try out at your company. Networking is also now asynchronous: you don't have to have a live conversation, you can engage someone in a comment, through a message, email, tweet, (really anything!) and build relationships on a convenient schedule.

This isn’t to say that in-person isn’t a great way to network - things are definitely kicking back into gear across trade shows, conferences, local meetups, career fairs, and company-sponsored events, presenting new opportunities for face-to-face networking once again. Connecting in person gives you the chance to stand out, build a strong personal connection, and really make a great lasting impression. Even with 83% of employees working remotely, 85% of positions are still filled through networking, 49% of people prefer in-person communications, and 78% feel in-person communications allow for better discussions. And even if you’re networking in person, you’re going to want to follow up through some form of online communication. Make sure to grab a business card from them, or at least their name and company, so you can find them on LinkedIn, Twitter, or wherever your network connects! 

So set a goal for yourself - spend 30 minutes networking twice a week online and see what interesting connections you can find! And if you’re comfortable, try to set a goal for an in-person networking event once a quarter to put yourself out there and meet new people in your area.

Forming habits are hard, but if you choose to make time for them, these goals can become your regular routine in no time. If you’re wondering where and how to get started, check out Habits by Just tell Reclaim what habit you want to make time for, how often and for how long, and automatically find the best time blocks for that routine on your calendar. Let’s see how you can advance your professional career by developing some awesome work habits.

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