You’re tapping your pen on the table, looking wistfully out of the window, waiting for the words to flow through your fingers and onto the page. Many of us have experienced the crippling hold of writer’s block and frustration due to a lack of productivity.
For centuries, ancient philosophers have provided us with the knowledge and tools to improve our understanding of politics, religion, and daily life. By delving into the archives, we can discover the teachings of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates to help us maintain a healthy work-life balance and improve productivity.
In this article, we’ll explore how ancient philosophy can improve your productivity and help you produce meaningful work. Here are some valuable tips from the world’s greatest minds.
Break Down Large Tasks
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” – Lao Tzu, Chinese Daoist Philosopher.
Your workload may feel unmanageable when viewed as one project. The hardest part of being productive is sitting down and starting a task. Ancient philosophers such as Lao Tzu believed that dividing a task into smaller pieces could get it done more efficiently. The South African Anglican cleric, Desmond Tutu, famously said “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”
The best way to break down large tasks and maximize productivity is by doing the following:
- Identify the project size and timescale
- Focus on the most important tasks
- Set achievable goals and deadlines
Dividing tasks into smaller pieces can improve productivity, increase mental focus, and create a better workflow.
Permanent Engagement vs Productivity
Being busy does not necessarily mean you are productive. The definition of productivity is the effectiveness of a productive effort. Ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato, discussed various ideas including task management and the logic behind productivity in society.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life,” Socrates, an Ancient Greek philosopher credited as the founder of Western philosophy.
Working yourself to the bone is not the best way to become a productive writer. Managing your workload is a crucial element of overcoming writer’s burnout. Learn to understand the difference between productivity and permanent employment to get the best results from your efforts.
Emphasize Quality Over Quantity
Generating meaningless work in the name of productivity is an unsustainable writing method. Your work will lack spirit and value which could drive your clients away. Emphasizing quality over quantity will reduce your stress levels and allow you to focus on the value of the work you produce.
“It is quality, rather than quantity, that matters,” Seneca the Younger, an Ancient Roman philosopher from mid 1st century CE.
Seneca emphasized that completing a task is about the lessons we learn in the process, rather than the outcome. As an ancient philosopher writing in Latin, many of his teachings have influenced modern theater and helped us understand the meaning of life.
Advice from Seneca and other ancient philosophers can assist productivity by teaching us how to be present and enjoy our work instead of becoming slaves to time.
Apply Stoicism to Your Writing Practices
Many successful writers would argue that including stoic practices in your daily habits can improve your quality of life. A happy, stress–free writer is a productive writer. Analyzing the three principles of Stoicism can give us a better understanding of how these methods can improve productivity.
The three disciplines of Stoicism are:
- Perception and acceptance
- Action and living a life of fulfillment
- Mindfulness and living with our thoughts and reason
The disciplines of stoic practices from ancient philosophy can train a writer to deal with strong emotions and develop self-control, accept our fate, and cultivate a positive mindset toward work.
Balance Your Life
Creating a healthy work-life balance promotes feelings of calm and can improve your mood. Writer’s burnout causes a state of exhaustion that leaves you unable to think or complete tasks. Designing a schedule or timetable for your work is a great place to start if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your work and remain productive.
“There is no path to happiness, happiness is the path,” Gautama Buddha, 500BC.
Professional writers often forget to write for fun. Early stoics and philosophers would write down their ideas as a form of meditation and a method of keeping their thoughts at hand. You could write poetry, and plays, or collect your thoughts by writing a daily journal entry.
Balancing your work with enjoyable tasks is a great method of releasing stress and rewarding yourself for being productive. Finding joy in every task will also help you increase productivity without feeling worn out.
Focus On What You Can Control
It is human nature to try and control our environment. Unfortunately, we cannot influence every single outcome, and this can cause feelings of anxiety and stress.
“My chief task in life is to identify matters which are externals not under my control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own,” Epictetus, Greek stoic philosopher of the 1st and early 2nd centuries CE.
Many writers experience imposter syndrome and begin to doubt their abilities before they have written a single word. Forming healthy rituals and habits along with a positive mindset will encourage you to stay on track and complete tasks.
Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Some simple ways to focus on what you can control include the following:
- Meditation before and after writing
- Creating regular habits and staying organized
- Write a list of tasks you can control including your breath and attitude
- Exercise mindful breathing
Ancient philosophers believed that having power over your mind was the most useful trait for productivity. By understanding what you can control, you can stop worrying about outside events that may influence your writing abilities.
Taking risks is an important part of being a successful writer. You may be avoiding certain tasks out of fear of failure. Understanding that failure is part of the process is an essential part of productivity. Start by adopting positive self-talk and using your mistakes to enhance your skills as a writer.
“Falling is not a failure. Failure comes when you stay where you have fallen,” Socrates, a Greek philosopher from the 5th century BCE.
Ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?” Writing a plan for undesirable outcomes will help you deal with the uncertainty of failure and give you options. Self-discipline is vital if you want to achieve your goals. Use failure as a driving force rather than a looming shadow that hangs over you as you write.
Find Your Motivation
Reminding yourself of the reasoning behind your work is a great way to maintain productivity. You can use interview questions, write a motivation letter, or journal prompts to find out why you are writing and increase your effectiveness. Ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle believed conquering one’s mind was vital for success.
“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul,” Democritus, an ancient Greek philosopher from around 400 BCE.
Whether you are finishing a novel or writing a blog post, sharing your thoughts with close relatives or friends can encourage you to stay productive. Socrates was a big fan of communicating in person and favored conversing with people over writing. You may find that speaking to another person will rekindle your spark for your next task.
Ancient philosophy plays a vital role in modern life. As writers, we can learn a lot from the logic and reason that allowed philosophers to explain life as we know it. Some of the best ancient philosophy tips to improve productivity include the following:
- We only have control over ourselves
- Being busy is not the same as productivity
- Remember why you are writing
Dipping your toe in ancient philosophy is an excellent way to find motivation and inspiration for your writing projects. Reach for the philosophy books next time you’re facing writer’s block.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.