How To Be Productive
‘I want to do something.’
I want to be productive. I want to do things. I have work to do. But, sometimes I just don’t feel like doing anything. I feel I don’t have energy. What can be done about that? Maybe answering the following question will help.
‘Do I know what work to do and how to do it?’
Sometimes, I open my laptop and realize that I don’t have a clear idea of what the work will look like. I need a plan. I start thinking. What should I do to make progress? What is the most important task now? What is holding me back?
I take a piece of paper, or open my favorite editor, and write about it.‘Okay, I probably need to do this. But maybe this is more important. But how do I do that? I should google it. Which app is the best for that?’ And on it goes, I write a block of text about what I want to do and what tools I should use to do it.
Then, I open up Evernote, where I keep my to-do list. I extract to-do items from the text. I put a checkbox next to them and re-order if needed. After that, the task is clear enough to start working on it. I may not have the clearest idea of the exact workflow, but have good enough idea.
‘Okay, let’s do this.’
At this point, my state of mind may be right for the work, but it might not be. Fortunately, I have couple productivity tricks up my sleeve.
At home, I do ‘trigger’ activities that get me into a productive frame of mind. Some of these are: listening to music while lying in bed, reading non-fiction books, listening to The Tim Ferriss Show, and my favorite - cleaning the house with the movie Limitless on the TV. All these can change my state of mind to get things done. What are you trigger activities?
On travels, I go to cafés. Cafés have unique atmospheres. Cleanly designed ones inspire me to do analytically or methodically intense brain work. Cosy, more old fashioned cafés make me feel more imaginative or creative. Whatever the concrete surroundings may be, the novelty of the environment helps. I tell myself: ‘You are here to work’. Also, I do not feel responsible for cleaning and maintaining the place or communicating with other people.
These transition activities and change of surroundings, even virtual ones, help me to flow into doing work. Still, maybe...
‘I don’t feel motivated.’
Fortunately, there are techniques that help.
Imagination and reason. I construct an image of the work done in my mind. I imagine what it will feel like when a task is done. How good will that feel? Why is this activity important? What will finishing this task enable me to do? When the answers to these questions are good enough and the reasons strong enough, determination comes. Imagine how good it will feel and reason yourself into doing things.
When the hammer of imagination and the chisel of reason are not enough to chip away at the onerous task, there is the jackhammer - telling others that you’re going to do something. Tell someone you will do the task. It does not apply only to work. If you tell someone you will get on the fashion show stage, there is no way back. Tell your friends you’ll do something because if you don’t, friends will eagerly remind you at every good opportunity. Or, if pride and fear of disappointing someone are not enough, introduce money into the mix. Make a bet. Make a big bet. If the pain is real, you will do anything.
‘Now, let’s eat a piece of cake.’
Wait... What? I will explain with an example.
I wanted to organize my writing. I made a checklist. One piece of writing organized meant checking a box. However, I wanted to really feel the accomplishment. I wanted to taste the glory of checking a box. So, I got a cake and with each piece of writing organized, I took my fork and as I checked the box, I put a piece of that delicious cake into my mouth. Work never tasted better. In this somewhat primitive way, I’m programming my mind to want to do the work because I also want to eat the cake. Requires a bit of willpower.
One thing that happens with this technique is that the cake sits in front of me as I do something that I don’t consider to be work worthy of a cake. I don’t take a bite because I haven’t done real work yet. The cake is a reminder - I’m there to work.
After a while, I lift my head from my laptop, tired. If I’ve checked off some boxes, it is time to wrap up. I don’t usually get done what I would have liked. That might lead me to not feel that happy. So, when I notice myself thinking along those lines, I interrupt my pattern. I smile and list what I got done. I say to myself ‘Good work today. I made some progress.’ I figuratively pat myself on the shoulder and it makes me feel happier. There is always more work, but that is not a reason to be unhappy about the work you’ve done.
‘Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.’
I hope you approach this with a mindset encapsulated in this quote by Bruce Lee. These tricks are specific to me. What works for me might not work for you. I hope you find it useful.