There’s just something impressive about people who have the ability to be extremely productive. We look at them, and we feel inspired and shamed in equal measure. Whether they are highflying entrepreneurs, or whether they are artistic types who nonetheless managed to organise their time well.
The thing is, no matter what it is that you want to do with your own life in particular, or in your business for that matter, the ability to be productive will have a tremendous impact on your likelihood of success in any domain of life.
Like it or not, productivity is one of the golden grails of entrepreneurship, business management, personal growth, self-development, and even just what we would call “character”.
That being said, it’s fairly common for people to be chronically unproductive despite their best efforts. For whatever reason, some of us just seem to be doomed, or maybe cursed, to fall into procrastination and other unfortunate, and unproductive behavioural patterns.
It’s important to realise, though, that no matter how convinced you might be that you are just an “unproductive person”, it is always possible to make a change and to head in a better direction.
Here are some tips for becoming productive, when you’ve always been the opposite in your life up until this point.
Take stock of where you are in life, and work out where you want to be
People who are very productive and driven, are often that way because they have a very clear sense of where they want to be in the future, and a very clear sense of what they don’t like about the current circumstances.
If you are living life on “cruise control,” it is highly likely that you will not be a very driven person, which is more or less the same as saying that you will not be a very productive person.
Being productive means doing things like waking up an hour earlier than everyone else is willing to. It means doing things which are difficult, and often quite uncomfortable, because you believe that there is a fundamental benefit, or duty, that will be served by you getting out of bed and doing your thing.
One effective and simple way of increasing productivity, is to take stock of where you are in your life at this particular moment in time, and to then construct a vision of your ideal future. Don’t end there though. To really make this exercise effective, you also need to envision your worst-case scenario if you were to fail to take action to move your life in your preferred direction.
Goals can drive people forward and help them to achieve great things, but even if your goal is strong and compelling, you need that fear in you as well – that it really is possible for you to make a mess of things and to end up in a terrible position in life, because you weren’t diligent enough.
If you have a compelling vision of the future, and an equally compelling vision of a hell-scape you want to avoid, and a good sense of where you are now relative to those two things, you will find it much easier to be productive.
Begin with the basics — regulate the times you wake up, go to bed, and eat meals
Productivity is in the same category of traits as discipline. It’s in the same “box” as punctuality, orderliness, and having structure in your life.
People who chronically struggle to be productive whatsoever, are also more or less invariably the same people who have very little if any structure in their lives as a whole.
If you go to bed whenever you want – meaning, randomly, depending on the day – if you wake up more or less when you want, and if you eat at random intervals, and with no set meal plan, there is a high likelihood that your chaotic lifestyle will influence your ability to be productive, in a negative sense.
If you want to get productive, you should begin by imposing some basic structure in your life. That means, you should begin waking up at the same time each day, going to sleep at the same time each night, and eating meals at the same times each day. These are the basics. These are the most straightforward components of enforcing structure on your day.
It may not feel comfortable at first to impose the kind of structure on yourself, but once you’ve done it for a while, the benefits will be striking.
Commit to building positive habits, or “systems” into your life, bit by bit
The author Charles Duhigg had a lot to say in his book “The Power of Habit”, on the sheer, overwhelming importance of our habits in shaping our lives and destinies.
Many others have written similar things on the same topic. A quote often attributed to Aristotle says: “we are what we repeatedly do, excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”
If you struggle to be productive, one thing this might mean is that your life is ruled by unproductive habits, and that you are simply a victim of their inertia.
Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comics, has made the points before that “systems are for winners, goals are for losers.” There’s a lot to argue about when it comes to his characterisation of goals, but it’d be pretty hard to deny that the systems – in other words, the habits – that we have can make or break us.
The advice given by Charles Duhigg and others, on developing productive habits, is not to just try and implement them wholesale all at once. Instead, Duhigg advises that we should introduce our habits in small scale, chunked down form.
So, for example, if you find it impossible to be productive during the day, don’t set yourself a goal of being productive for six hours right of the bat. Instead, get yourself a timer, and use the Pomodoro method. Set yourself a goal of being productive for just 25 minutes at a time.
Try out different diet and exercise templates to see what works to boost your energy levels, focus, and mood
It may be the case that your productivity troubles have something to do with your diet and exercise. In other words, your mood, energy levels, and mental clarity, may all be affected, for better or for worse, by what you’re eating and how physically active you are.
It’s not exactly a straightforward thing to give nutritional or exercise advice that might work for everyone – although enough people try and do just this. The bottom line is that what works for you might not work for someone else and vice versa. So, you should experiment with different diet and exercise templates in order to see what works for you.
It might be that finding the right “combination” can work wonders in terms of boosting your productivity.
Adopt a task management system you can stick with
Sometimes, the inability to be productive has a lot to do with the fact that we are just not organised enough to really have a clear sense of what we should be doing at any given moment.
If, for example, you are starting up your own business — it’s pretty important that you have a clear sense of what the most important “next task” is for you to be pursuing at any given moment. If you fail to work this out, it’s a foregone conclusion that you will not be very productive, or effective.
Get yourself involved with a task management system. The key thing is that it is a system that works for you, and that you can stick with reliably. You could try David Allen’s famous Getting Things Done method, or you could try the analogue Bullet Journal system. The important thing is that you are able to keep your projects and tasks organised somewhere other than in your own head. Because, as bright as you might be, memory can be fickle.
Figure out where the gaps in your education or understanding are, and begin to fill them in
If you are an ambitiously minded person, you likely don’t struggle very much in coming up with grandiose visions for the future. Even if you’re not a particularly ambitious person, people are generally quite good at imagining themselves in circumstances radically different – and better – than those they currently inhabit.
The thing is, whatever future you might want to move towards, there is a high likelihood that it will require you to learn a lot of things that you currently do not know, deepen your skill set, and essentially “return to education”.
Now, this “return to education” might be a literal one. You may, for example, want to do an MBA online in 2 years. Then again, your “education” might be teaching yourself everything you could learn about SEO and web coding.