My wife made an odd comment last night. When she wears comfortable clothes she’s less productive. Comfort promotes laziness, the logic goes. Intrigued by this, I proposed an idea. I offered to buy her a pair of burlap underwear and sandpaper socks and then measure the resultant productivity.
We had a good laugh, but we both agreed that such discomfort would be counterproductive to her efforts. Uncomfortable clothing sounds like an odd way of enhancing your productivity. It’s hard to be productive when you are distracted by the friction of burlap.
I’ve tried dozens of productivity hacks over the last few years, and a few have even rivaled the idiocy of burlap underwear. I stopped looking for productivity hacks long ago. Most of them are bullshit or unsustainable in the long term.
These are a sample of the ones I’ve tried.
- Too-many-step morning routines
- Painful breathing exercises
- Cold showers
- Snazzy apps
- Oddly expensive music
- … and a few other romps with lunacy that I’m too embarrassed to mention here.
Despite all these failures, I’ve managed to pump out about 400,000 words on my blog and a 130,000 word novel in the past two years, all while working a full-time job, raising a family, commuting and suffering through a neverending kitchen renovation.
Productivity results from staying focused on what matters most, eliminating non-essential activities, eliminating non-essential decisions, and avoiding distractions.
There are simple practices that, when combined, have given me positive results. You don’t need an app or fancy processes and diagrams.
Identify What You Want To Accomplish
I have two personal goals each day. Write five-hundred words for my blog. Write or edit my novel or short story. Both of those activities involve creation. That is what’s most important to me. Everything else is secondary.
I write both of those goals on an index card or a 5x8 notepad. I also write down a third goal for the day. The third goal varies and is always of lesser importance. If I get to it, then great. If not, it doesn’t matter.
Each of my two primary daily goals is a small step in a larger objective. My five-hundred words contribute to my one thousand word post every other day. Writing or editing my novel is part of a larger purpose of eventually publishing it.
Your to-do: Identify your long-term goals or dreams (no more than two). Break them up into daily activities. Each morning, write down these two activities on an index card or notepad and carry it around with you.
Carving Out Time
I get it. You’re busy. You have no time. We’re all pressed for time. Here’s the truth. If you have time to watch television, enslave yourself to Social Media updates, or waste time on gaming, then you have all the time you need. You’re just choosing to use it for non-productive purposes.
I carve out at least one hour a day for each of my two primary goals. On the days I don’t commute, I squeeze in an extra hour. Three changes have allowed me to recover non-productive time from my day.
Cutting out 90% of television — I allow myself two shows per week. I cut out almost all sporting events, specials, news and movies. I’ve recouped at least one hour per day.
Cutting back on social media — My interest in social media had been waning before I decided to cut it loose. I’ve had about five Facebook updates this past year, and I’ve ignored the online “discussions.” They’re a significant time suck. I only look at Twitter or Facebook when I’m on the move and cannot do anything else.
Getting out of bed right after waking up — I’ve never needed an alarm clock. I’ve always been an early riser. I used to lay in bed until the last possible second. Now, I get out of bed as soon as I’m up and squeeze in about fifteen to thirty minutes of solid work. Not a morning person? You might struggle with early rising, but give it a shot anyway.
Minimize the number of decisions you need to make each day. Decisions require you to analyze, agonize and decide. This process requires time and energy. Don’t underestimate the energy expended from making unnecessary choices.
By pre-defining your workspace, routine and activities, you remove several decision-making liabilities. You save the mental energy, and you regain free time.
Do you work better surrounded by people or in isolation? For me, it depends. I usually prefer isolation, but sometimes I like the energy of working in my local coffee shop. Even if you’re a strong isolationist, I suggest you define a public space to work. An occasional change of scenery can help spark your creativity and give you a boost of energy.
Set your defined spaces ahead of time and the conditions on which you’ll utilize them. If you like to work in a park, make sure you have a goto place in case of inclement weather. I hit the coffee shop when I feel lethargic. By default, I use my home office. Again, the idea is to minimize the thinking about where you should work.
Setup a routine to follow. I wake up, start the coffee machine, boot up my computer, pour my coffee, put on my headphones and start work. I stick to it as much as possible. It’s okay to adapt or adjust as necessary but try to avoid deviation from your norm.
Having multiple routines for different situations is okay. I follow different ones for days I commute and days I do not.
Stick To Your List
Remember that list of your two objectives? Pull it out and get to work. Don’t think. Just follow what’s on your list. When you’re done with the first item, cross it off and move onto the second. Do not second guess or change plans midday.
What about music, mushroom teas, meditation, and all the other performance-based products? If they help you or you enjoy them, then go ahead and use them. None of these other hacks have made me more productive or more focused. Give me a strong cup of coffee, and I’ll spend my creative time pumping out plenty of output. Stick to the basics, and you’ll surprise yourself with how much you can accomplish.