How to be Productive

productivity

You want to know how to be productive? Start. Get going and don’t stop moving. Ironically, in the process of trying to craft this blog post about the keys to productivity, I have already eaten ten jelly beans, drank two cups of water, shifted location three times, cracked my knuckles in the classic “alright-let’s-do-this” style four times, and marveled at the authentic-looking fake plants in the office. All while not producing a single word. I proceeded to spend the next ten minutes staring at the screen, wracking my brains for the perfect intro to this post. I realized that all of this planning was going to get me nowhere and that I simply needed to begin.

Once I started, the ideas would just come, doors revealing themselves to me showing where my work could go. That brings us back to the beginning of this paragraph. Start. Given any task, any project, any assignment, the best way to maximize productivity is simply to begin.

Many of us suffer from ____ block. Writer’s block, blogger’s block, etc. You feel like you simply can’t conjure any ideas worth using, and it’s a paralyzing feeling. Our brains then forbid us from beginning until we have conjured a worthy proposition. Here’s where we need to be counterintuitive. No matter how lacking you feel you are in motivation or ideas, it’s time to begin. Start writing that essay, work on that problem set, build that house–whatever your project may be. Many times we also avoid starting to avoid making mistakes. You will make mistakes. It’s okay. That’s how you learn. See? We’re well on our way already. That’s key number one.

Woohoo! That’s probably how you feel at this stage. You’ve begun, and you’re starting to pick up momentum. Being productive is pretty easy after all. About an hour or two later, ‘Woohoo!” has probably become ‘Hmm I’m getting a little tired’ or ‘I wonder what’s going on on Facebook.’ Here is where key number two comes in.

Your focus and your energy are both limited resources. The average individual can only focus and produce good work on a high level for two hour intervals (speculation based on personal experience). Therefore it’s critical to take breaks. And I dont mean walking to the water fountain and back, or opening a different window on your computer. I mean a good 20-30 minute period of pure goofing off. Go wild. This time is for you to refresh yourself and recharge your batteries. The law of diminishing returns definitely applies to your work. The longer you work for, the less motivated and focused you become, and the quality of your work suffers.

Imagine if you were a farmer and you made your cattle plow the fields for hours without breaks. After a while, your cattle probably wouldn’t be performing on their usual superstar level, and they’d probably get pretty irritated.  Actually, your cattle probably wouldn’t care. They’d just plow on. They’re cattle. But you’re not. Take breaks. That’s key number two.

Let’s rewind briefly to before all of this for key number three. If you’re going to be working, its crucial that you’re comfortable. Clothing, environment, etc. You’re not going to be nearly as productive if you’re trying to write an essay while in a greenhouse wearing chain mail. You’re far more likely to produce superstar work if you’re in your favorite study spot, sporting sweats and a baggy tee. This is pretty common sense, but some people still forget. Consider this a reminder. That”s key number three. Now moving on!

Key number four? Be your own personal cheerleader. Yes, I want you to put on a cheerleading outfit, hoist up the pom-poms, and look yourself in the eye while you yell corny phrases in a high pitched voice. No, what? That’s ridiculous. You’re being silly.

What I mean by this is that mentally you need to be your strongest supporter. It’s hard to work when you’re tired. It’s even harder to work when you’re tired and your brain is telling you how uncomfortable you are, how you should probably go to sleep, and generally opposing any attempt to do good work. Thoughts become reality, so if your brain is constantly bombarding your body with messages like “I can’t do this right now,” or “I give up,” it would take a Herculean effort to accomplish anything. On the other hand, if your brain is sending a steady stream of encouragement to the body, you’d be surprised how far you can take yourself. You are the master of this ship. Don’t let it go down.

Last but not least, don’t forget to not take yourself so seriously. Sure it might be the most critical project of your life, but your life is more than work. Take off that pressure to perform and you’ll feel like a weight is lifted off of your shoulders, and you’ll soar. Productivity and creativity flourish in an environment of freedom. Pressure limits the mind and causes people to shy away from taking risks, the lifeblood of creativity. So don’t sweat it.

 

What do you think of these productivity tips? What helps you be productive? Let me know what works for you in the comments below!

-Eric