This is part 3 of our 4 part series on productivity. To read the rest of the articles click the links below:
Part 3: Lifestyle (this article)
Part 4: Psyche
There are different factors that influence your productivity. In previous articles we’ve discussed the effect your environment has on your productivity: the physical space, the social environment and the tools at your disposal. We also looked at planning and how to do it effectively by utilising targets, tasks and time. The next topic we’ll be discussing is your lifestyle: how you consistently behave and who you consistently interact with.
Keep reading to find out how you can achieve your goals on auto-pilot by living a productive lifestyle.
What is a productive lifestyle?
We define a lifestyle as: ‘’the sum of consistently occurring behaviours and social interactions of an individual’’. Henceforth, when looking to make your lifestyle more productive you’re trying to influence your behaviour and your social interactions in a way that contributes to achieving your goals.
Opposite of what you might think, we live most of our lives on auto-pilot. Daniel Kahneman elaborates extensively on how this occurs (cognitively) in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and slow’. He speaks of two cognitive systems: System 1, which is a primal, almost reflex-based way of thinking and interpreting stimuli & System 2, a conscious and deliberate way of interpreting stimuli. In the book it becomes painfully clear that we spend most of our lives in system 1, acting based on routine and reflex - not on deliberate consideration.
Knowing that we spend most of our lives on auto-pilot, you might start to wonder: is there a way I can make my auto-pilot more useful and productive? In this article we will be targeting this problem by looking at the three important elements that make up your lifestyle:
Modifying these elements has the ability to unlock a gigantic vault of energy, discipline, motivation and happiness that you can utilise to achieve your ambitious goals. This article will give you the insight you need to start influencing your lifestyle for the better.
Let’s start off with habits.
Building good habits
Many books have been written on lifestyle, and in particular about habits. The book ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg, which was published in 2012, is one of these books. In the book Duhigg explains that habit forming -and unlearning- can be made much easier if you just know how habits work. He proposes a 3 step cycle that habits always go through- and gives you ways to influence each one of them: Cue, Craving and Reward. Break (or utilise) this cycle effectively and, as the author convincingly portrays, you will see that you can make positive changes to your habits.
The book became a major best-seller and millions of people across the world ordered it, implemented the advice and saw their lives change for the better.
But, for one man this wasn’t enough. Productivity- and Lifestyle blogger James Clear was convinced that there was much more to be learned about habits. First off, he thought there should be a fourth step in the model. Second, there were a lot of other neat tricks that could help you implement productive habits (and unlearn destructive ones). His new proposed model would be Cue, Craving, Response, Reward. In 2018 Clear published his book ‘Atomic Habits’, in which he shared these findings.
Another bestseller: millions of copies sold and countless people saw their lives improve by implementing the principles from the book.
The reason that both authors put a large focus on habit forming -and unlearning- is because there are immense benefits to be reaped, even with minor changes. This is because (in essence) the rule of compound interest applies to minor habit change. The figure below illustrates this principle.
As you can see, the benefit of improving by 1% every day is not linear: the growth is exponential! Vice versa for a 1% decline every day.
In numeric form the impact of 1% daily improvement vs 1% daily decline on a yearly basis also becomes painfully clear. If we take 1 as our starting point and factor in the 1% on a yearly basis we get the following:
1.01^365 = 37.78
0.99^365 = 0.03
Knowing that positively changing your habits can play a significant role in your productivity is a good starting point to look at some concrete tips and tricks. The first being a habit tracker.
‘’We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’’ — Aristotle
A habit tracker is a way of visualising the progress that you are making on a habit. It has been shown in research that having a visual reminder can both help you remember what it is you should be doing and facilitate your willpower to stay consistent.
It works as follows:
Write down the habit that you want to start or stop doing on the template.
Each box in the template represents a (consecutive) day
If you’ve completed your (lack of) habit on a day, fill in the box
If you don’t succeed, leave the box empty.
The mere act of having the tactile stimulation and reward of filling in the boxes can provide some people with enough determination to stay consistent. Another way this helps is because for a lot of people it is very uncomfortable to ‘break the chain’ of filled in boxes.
Your days are already filled with habits, even if you’re not aware of them. One technique to make learning a new habit easier is to ‘stack’ the new habit with something you’re already doing. This makes it much easier to remember and execute on your new habit.
To give an example: say you need to start taking a prescribed medication every day. Instead of trying to remember taking them (and forgetting half of the time), couple taking your meds with something you already do- like brushing your teeth. This way you anchor your new habit in something that you already do on a daily basis.
Another example might be that you want to start flossing. Instead of trying to floss when you remember you should, couple it to something you already do: like eating breakfast!
It’s a simple, yet powerful, technique.
After positively changing your habits it’s time to go a layer deeper: your rituals.
If habits are what you do, rituals are how you do them. To give an example: you are in the habit of meditating for 15 minutes every morning. Your ritual is to do the following:
Grab a cup of coffee
Sit down to drink it
Spend 10-20 minutes watching memes
Put down your meditation pillow
Put on a 15 minute timer
Approaching a habit in this way lets you unveil what you’re actually doing in a much more precise manner. You are basically dissecting a habit into it’s step by step procedure- the protocol that you follow to execute on the habit.
As you might understand, there are many different ways to do one thing, some more productive than others. By looking at the rituals you apply to your habits, you can figure out where there is still room for improvement. In the example above you might decide to eliminate the meme-watching. You might also decide to still do it, but only after you’ve finished meditation.
Give this a go for yourself by doing the following:
Write down the habits you’re doing on a daily basis that you would like to optimise
Make a step-by-step analysis of what your ritual is (try to get at least 6 steps)
Mark areas of improvement in red
Mark areas of excellence in green
Write down a new protocol with improvements
Start implementing your improvement
Once you’ve got your habits and your rituals down, it’s time to move on to another crucial aspect of a productive lifestyle: the people that you spend time with consistently.
In our first article we discussed how to make your environment more productive. We touched on the technique of having an accountability partner: someone that holds you accountable for delivering on your goals. This can make it easier to get things done, as you now have an external source of motivation and focus.
This simple method shows that having people around you that support you in achieving your goals and being productive can be of tremendous help. Knowing that, it might be no surprise that the opposite can be just as true: people in your close circle that don’t support your ambitions can make it considerably more difficult to remain productive and ambitious.
If you’re looking to increase the productive utility of the people around you there are a couple questions you need to ask yourself:
How do I remove myself from relationships that affect my goals/ambitions negatively?
How do I get more from existing/new positive relationships?
Below we’ll discuss some knowledge and methods that can help you in this process.
How to get rid of toxic friends
We’ve all had them, and will have them in the future: friends that seemed to have your best interest at heart but that turned out to cause you more discomfort than joy. This could have a host of reasons: they’ve changed, you’ve changed, they fell in love or any other thing you could think of. You feel uncomfortable when with them, you don’t feel like you can be yourself and you might even be afraid of what they might do when you address their negative influence.
Of course, every friendship can go through rough times. This section is not meant to encourage you to sever all ties to friends that have ever done anything that upset you. However, if you’re spending time with people that consistently have a negative influence on your wellbeing, your ambitions and/or your goals, it’s time to start questioning if that’s really worth it to you.
To figure out if someone is negatively influencing you, you can ask yourself the following questions:
Are you the one that is initiating most of the contact?
Do you feel like you have to behave differently when they’re around?
Do they disregard or ridicule your goals/ambitions?
Do they expect you to be flexible, while they’re not?
Has spending time with them become more routine than voluntary?
Do you often wonder why you still spend time with them?
If you’ve answered yes to (most of) the questions above, it’s time to take a hard look inward and figure out if it’s time to either have a good talk with them or, if things don’t improve, to remove this person from your life.
It’s not easy, but in the end you’ll be happy you took action.
Cultivate positive relationships
Removing -or improving- toxic relationships is one side of the coin of making your network more productive. The other side is cultivating (new) positive relationships so you are surrounded by people that contribute to your goals and ambitions. To help you cultivate these positive relationships there are two questions you might ask yourself:
How do I foster my existing positive relationships?
How do I meet more people that I could build a positive relationship with?
Fostering existing positive relationships is incredibly important. There are many different ways you can approach this. Below we’ll list some general rules of thumb that you can keep in mind
Make sure that spending time together is being initiated by both parties
Try to listen intently when the other party is talking
Utilise (random) gifts as a token of appreciation for the friendship
Spend time together doing fun things so you can build memories
There is much more to be discussed about friendship (or professional acquaintance) than you’ll find in this article. However, we hope the tips above might prove useful.
But what if you feel like you don’t have many people around you that have a positive influence on you? How do you go about finding people that you can build a positive relationship with? Again, there are many different ways of approaching this. Depending on your character (which we’ll discuss in the following article) your approach might vary; some are very extraverted and thrive on high-paced contact with lots of people; some are more introverted and thrive on deep connection with fewer people. Below are some tips that you might find useful, regardless of your character.
Try to formulate your goals so you know what it is you want to achieve (see effective planning article)
Visualize the people that are working towards the same goal or that might have already achieved it
Ask yourself the question: where might these people spend their time? Where could I meet them? (Networking Event, Library, Co-working space, Competitions)
Figure out a way to start spending time in the same places as these people
Push yourself into striking up more conversations with people (do take not that quality > quantity!)
Think like the people you would like to meet and you might have a better idea of where to find them. Spend time in the same places and the law of attraction will make the odds much higher that you meet like-minded people.
Your lifestyle is of significant value when trying to become more productive. Your lifestyle consists of your habits, your rituals and your network; the things you consistently do and the people you consistently spend time with. Some techniques you might utilise to improve upon these areas are habit stacking, a habit tracker, optimising rituals, removing toxic relationships and cultivating positive ones.
If you manage to influence these elements for the better, it is like rewiring your autopilot to start steering you towards your goals in a more productive way.