If you're looking to increase your productivity, there's no shortage of advice out there. Sir Richard Branson thinks you should wake up at 5am every day. Or maybe try journaling. Others swear by meditation or even making your bed.
There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these practices (your mom will no doubt be thrilled if you finally start tidying up your bed every day), but as productivity expert and author Charles Duhigg pointed out in a thought-provoking Quora answer, there is a big flaw with most of the articles and posts offering this sort of advice (I've written tons of them myself).
"The academic literature shows that there is no single specific habit that is guaranteed to help everyone become more productive," Duhigg writes. "For some people, those daily habits will work. And for other people, they'll be total wastes of time."
People are wildly different, so the productivity habits that will help them differ wildly too. Getting up before dawn might be the magic bullet for one person, and a crippling attempt to fight inborn biorhythms for another, for instance.
The one productivity tip that applies to everyone
OK great, you might respond. But I still want to optimize my productivity. Am I doomed to muddle through crafting a daily routine without expert advice then Thankfully, no. While specific practices are often contingent on individual character and preferences, Duhigg insists there is one productivity tip that applies to everyone.
"There is, however, an approach to building habits that has been shown to SIGNIFICANTLY improve productivity, and that's experimenting with different routines until you find one that helps you think, just half an inch more deeply, about the behaviors that we know are related to productivity, such as choosing the right goals, or directing your focus, or making better decisions," claims Duhigg.
What does that mean in practice? In short, you need to play around with your day to find whatever trick or action that pushes you to think more deeply about what you want to accomplish and how to go about doing that. The goal is to become more "contemplative," in Duhigg's words.
For some, he continues, that might be meditation (though Duhigg confesses that, personally, meditation just bores him silly). For others than might be creating a list of "stretch goals" and regularly pondering whether your actions line up with these aims.
Here's Duhigg's bottom line conclusion: "The most productive people take their daily habits and routines and they try to imbue them with aspects that encourage them to think more deeply. And then rotate through various routines ('This week I'll try meditating, and next week I'll try exercising, and the week after that I'll write down my stretch goal each morning...') until they find something that works. And then they stick with it."
Have you built habits that encourage you to think deeply into your daily routine? What are they?