4 Steps To Greater Productivity And Success

image - Flickr / Arnaud Malon
image – Flickr / Arnaud Malon

I don’t want to live with regret. I don’t want to wake up one morning and say I could have done that. I should have done that. I want to accomplish everything I have ever dreamed of doing and if I don’t, fuck it. It’s ok because I know I gave it my all.

I’m getting ahead of myself here. This all starts with productivity. If you can’t work effectively, you’re already behind. So before you get started on your quest for success, take 5 minutes and give this a read.

Why You Should Read This

I have poured through countless blog articles, science journals, and resources looking for the secret behind productivity. I spent a lot of time reading redundant information and probably wasted a lot of time too – but I had to be sure I figured this out.

I learned that there is a lot of misinformation out there. And I mean a lot. It’s easy to accept information you find online as fact, but remember. Everyone can write. That does not mean everything is worth reading.

If I come across 10 new productivity tips, I like to ask why. If the author explains why his methods work, than I will try them. On multiple occasions, I read advice that is downright obtuse. Maybe the author is just recycling material for the sake of producing more written content. Maybe the author just made a honest mistake during his research. I urge you to ask why – don’t mistake claims for fact.

I soon realized that all the effective productivity tips I’ve come across focus on the same core concepts. Everything revolves around focus, time management, and consistency. It makes sense if you think about it. Asides from our personal differences, our minds function remarkably similarly.

I hope this can save you time and help you on your journey.

STEP 0 – Decide what the task is and set attainable goals.

I call this step 0 because it’s something you must do. It’s a requirement for productivity. Uncertainty is the enemy of productivity. I can’t work effectively if I don’t know what I should be working on. Breakdown whatever you’re working on. If I am writing a paper, I will separate the task into several phases – research, outline, draft, and edit. The key here is to set attainable goals. You can set greater goals later on, but the point is – you must reach the goals you set.

Why does this work?
Uncertainty kills productivity and small goals allow you to see progress. This is a psychological effect that we should take advantage of.

STEP 1 – Time Blocking.

Our time is fragmented. Very rarely do we have a block of 5 hours we can work. What I do is block time, a highly effective method for making my day productive. The following is an example, just so you get a rough idea.

8 AM: Breakfast + Quick jog.
9 AM: Clear Inbox. Respond to all urgent messages.
10 – 2 PM: Classes.
3 PM: Start problem set – understand 2 chapters first.
4 PM: Get laundry done, and go to bank.
6 PM: Grab a bite with Jack – Chipotle
7 PM: Class readings – Don’t read every word. Read for core concepts.
9 PM: Call up a couple friends. Work on problem set. 3 brains are better than 1.

Don’t follow the times precisely. The important thing is for you to see that the tasks you set are being completed. Oh, and a little tip. Overestimate how long things will take.

Why does this work?
Unstructured time is wasted time. It’s easy to go in the office at 9 AM and spend the entire day on email. But, what you just did was neglect everything else and shift all the important work to the next day. Or, have you every been to the library and said, “I’m going to suck it up and finish this assignment today.” Then, you end up getting stuck, not doing what you said you would, and feeling like you didn’t really do anything. It’s a shitty feeling. Avoid that by structuring your day.

Decide on what needs your immediate attention and what requires more work – then make a list of what you are going to do for the day. All it takes is 5 – 10 minutes.

STEP 2 – Laser-Like Focus.

You’ve figured out what you’re supposed to do and you’ve structured your day. Great. Now comes the laser like focus. And I don’t mean the type of focus where you write a sentence and then check Facebook. I mean focus where you really buckle down and strain yourself. Think of your mind as a muscle. If you don’t push yourself, you’re not going to grow.

When’s the last time you did that? Work in short bursts of crazy focus and you’ll see productivity skyrocket.

Why does this work?
Productivity = Time * Intensity

I personally started using the Pomodoro technique – you work for 25 minute bursts and take 5 minute rests. The frequent breaks help refresh your mind and keeps you accountable. It won’t be the best method for everyone but experiment and figure how long you should work.
A final word: Don’t mix work with leisure. Define a task and then, focus. Flip a mental switch and really get something done.

STEP 3 – Consistency.

Speaking of habit, consistency is the most difficult thing to attain. It’s easy to run 10 miles in a single day and then never do that again. It’s hard to run 10 miles every day. Set small milestones and keep reaching them. You’ll be getting things done, and you’ll feel good. Keep it up for 90 days and you’ll be surprised at how easy something really tough can become.

Why does this work?
Habit is underrated. Talent is overrated. Why can LeBron James practice hours a day? His body is used to it. It’s a habit. Why can Elon Musk, the real life Ironman, put in 100 hour work weeks? He’s used to it.

You will only burn out if you push yourself too hard too fast. If you go slow and steady, there’s no limit.

Pavlov’s experiments on classical conditioning has shown us that it’s possible to adjust and become accustomed to anything. Use it to your advantage and you’ll see how easy doing more can be. TC mark

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