Take a look at how Beethoven spent his day:
Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care—he determined that there should be 60 beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Then, he sat at his desk and worked until 2 or 3, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity.
Beethoven basically spent eight hours a day composing, plus a few hours walking in the afternoons.
Rock solid productivity. Compare that to your average person’s day today:
- Two to three hours of real work (That’s what you get after factoring in non-work activities like social media, meaningless breaks, or inbox cleaning)
- 20 minutes of reading (compared to Warren Buffet, who reads for over six hours)
- Two hours on social media
- Five hours watching TV
You have to give the man credit—he worked hard.
Sometimes, the right answers are the obvious ones: If you aren’t getting the results you want, in work or life, maybe you simply aren’t working hard enough.
Over the years, I’ve developed a simple method for 1) identifying my productivity “blind spots” and 2) replacing them with something better. Here’s how it works:
1. Track Your Time
Our memories are flawed, which means we tend to put a positive spin on everything. That’s a great way to stay optimistic, but a terrible way to figure out just how much time you waste.
The only way to stay honest is to actually track your time. For a week, jot down everything that you do and for how long.
Some options you can use for tracking:
- RescueTime to automate the process
- Toggl for manual, digital tracking
- Spreadsheets for old schoolers
- Pen and paper—my personal favorite
After you track your time for a week, review your records and ask yourself:
- What activities had the worst outcomes?
- What did I spend the most time on?
You might notice a pattern: The time you waste will be spent on the same few activities.
We can’t tackle everything at once. Instead, you should pick the one to two most damaging activities and tackle those next.
3. Rewire Your Bad Habits
Bad habits are addictive. So instead of trying to quit cold, you can rewire them into good ones:
- Find a trigger—for example, having your browser up signals to go to Facebook or check your email.
- Then, build a replacement trigger—for example, turn off WiFi when you have important work to do.
It also helps to write down your replacement triggers or say them out loud to affirm them (“I will not go on social media while [writing an article/filling out a report/attending meetings]”).
Rewiring your actions takes time, so even if you’re not perfect at switching to good habits right away, give yourself the space to learn and adjust.
4. Reflect and Repeat
This is the step most people miss—but it’s the most important one.
After your rewiring phase, pause and reflect. Did you succeed in replacing your bad habits? If not, why? Did you lack self control? Were there too many distractions? Did you choose the wrong trigger?
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions—that’s the only way to learn.
If all this went well, you’re probably a better and more productive version of you than before—how easy was that?
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person on computer courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.