Given my decade of living overseas and moving around pretty regularly, I didn’t think relocating to Tainan (Taiwan), a city I’ve already lived in for many years, would eat up too much of my productivity time. It only took a day to find an apartment, another day to pick out and order furniture.
What I didn’t count on was the raging typhoon outside, which is making it hard to hear myself think. We also don’t have a fridge (or shelves) yet so there’s nowhere to hoard the snacks I like to have available. My office is a folding chair in an empty room. Luckily I’m not feeling overwhelmed with orders yet (I’ve got about ten right now, most of them I’ve already started), although I don’t like to put things off when I could keep working.
Things should be pretty settled in a few days when the damn rain stops and I finish making my apartment comfortable and conducive to creativity and productivity; but I don’t want to wait that long.
And that’s really what it’s all about.
It’s easy to work when you feel like working; when the excitement of a new project is burning in your veins. But when you get stuck you procrastinate. There’s always a typhoon, or some other minor emergency, or something else distracting going on. Waiting for a sunny day is a recipe for failure.
Being productive means working when you don’t feel like it. Working when it’s not easy. Sticking to a schedule despite interrupts and unexpected occurrences.
Unfortunately motivation is complex, and we as humans are excellent at rationalizing our laziness.
My secrets to successfully putting in the time to accomplish what needs to be done are just about the same as the three steps listed in Mark Wahlberg’s new movie Pain & Gain (2013):
- First, have a goal.
- Second, have a plan.
- Third, get off your ass and do it.
Motivation is impossible if you’re not working towards a goal you desire, and that you believe in.
Productivity is meaningless if you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re trying to achieve.
[Tweet “Productivity is meaningless if you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re trying to achieve.”]
Having clear goals and an actionable plan is essential, and I can’t help you with that. Hopefully you already know what you want.
The third step is where everybody (including myself) sometimes stumbles.
I know what I have to do, what I should do, but I feel like eating a tub of icecream and watching downloaded episodes of Homeland instead.
My personal treasure chest of wisdom
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself and productivity:
I need a comfortable working environment – my own space – with a big desk and a big chair and everything I need nearby.
I need to work on my own personal, big plans first thing (writing books, packages, product development, etc.) This is the stuff nobody is paying me for but the only way I can make real wealth through passive income.
Then I need to work on all client work for a few hours, everything on my to-do list.
Finally, sometime after dinner, I check email, reply to everything I can and finish every request I get (unless it will take a long time, then I put it on to tomorrow’s to-do list).
The other trick I haven’t mastered, is saying “no” to new projects that are obviously going to take up a lot of time.
I’m doing pretty well, but like everyone I go through phases when I just don’t feel like doing anything.
Trying to up my own game, I recently read some excellent books on productivity. I’ve posted some tips below.
Daniel H. Pink
According to Drive, we do things for intrinsic interest. Motivating with external rewards like money causes us to LOSE intrinsic interest. Which means: do what you love, and get paid for it, and you will stop loving it.
Rewards have a negative effect (not on job performance, but on job enjoyment.) If you are doing it for a reward, then you give up some autonomy. It’s no longer you choosing to do something for fun, you’re now doing it for someone else.
[Tweet “Reward someone and they will show short term drive, and long term disinterest.”]
Reward someone and they will show short term drive, and long term disinterest. You’ll ruin them. They’ll never be successful geniuses, just workerbees.
Rewards kill creativity, but they can motivate work when it is clear and easy and routine.
If you run a business and you have employees and the work is easy/straightforward/non-creative, then of course paychecks and rewards/bonuses should work.
And if you’re self-employed, they should also work for short-term motivation on tasks that aren’t creative.
But if you really want to become excellent at anything, they are not enough.
We need autonomy – the free choice to pursue an interest – and the desire to increase our abilities (constant practice, constant challenges).
We want to be better every day. And this won’t happen without a sense of purpose.
My hypothesis: if you have a job and are working for a paycheck, or are a student working for grades and graduation, you’re going to have trouble with “motivation” and “productivity.” All the key elements are missing from the start.
Unless you love your job or studies, have a clear path to your dream career, know what it takes to get there, and are confident that it’s what you want. On the other hand, if you’re an entrepreneur, working on your own businesses, projects and goals, have a clear vision of what you’re creating and where you want to be, motivation won’t be much of a problem for you.
In other words, if you aren’t motivated, you’re not spending your time on a worthwhile activity.
If you choose security, comfort and routine over passion, and keep a job you don’t love, that’s your choice, and you will also feel like you’re forcing yourself to get things done. It’s scary doing something else, especially if there is little chance of financial remuneration.
I’ve worked on paintings for free that never sold, and I love it. And I did get better. But I far prefer making a lot of money by using my artistic skills to make things people want. Autonomy and purpose can be focused on a path that generates income, rather than a purely creative path that is disconnected from the business maxim, “find out what people need, and give it to them.”
Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierny
Willpower is a fascinating subject, and this book really opened my eyes about some controversial topics.
Amazingly, you have a finite amount of willpower that gets depleted when you use it; using willpower depletes glucose levels, which will make it harder to resist temptations.
The authors introduce research showing that impaired glucose tolerance has been linked with self control/violent crimes; and that diabetics are more impulsive, more likely to get distracted, or have problems with alcohol abuse, anxiety, and depression.
No glucose = no willpower.
The authors also claim that PMS is not one specific problem, but a failure of self-control brought on by low sugar levels. During PMS women are more likely to spend money and smoke, drink or abuse drugs, or have affairs.
The solution to will-power, therefore, is to keep your blood level even by eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, cheese, fish, meat, olive oil and ‘good’ fats (slow burn foods). Avoid white rice, white bread and potatoes.
The dieter Catch 22
1) in order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.
2) in order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.
Being sick also depletes glucose levels, so when you’re sick, don’t drive or do mental tasks.
What to put on your to-do list
Willpower suggests, rather than having too many specific goals, you make a broad monthly plan (“fuzzy, not fussy”).
Focus on the next action you need to take, rather than the overall goal.
Example: “finishing a painting” isn’t a good goal if I don’t have the supplies and materials I need, or if I’m unsure of the subject. The next goal should be, “go buy materials” or “research subject.”
However: deciding, making lots of decisions, saps your will power.
Judges let people out on parole early in the day, or after a snack, 65% of the time more than they do late in day, when they make the safe, easy decision to keep them locked up. Which means: do the hard, creative thinking, decision making, goal-planning stuff early in the day. Then coast through the rest of the day doing the less difficult tasks like answering emails.
Self-Awareness is critical
It’s easy to lose track of your time and money and splurge/waste time without noticing – luckily technology is making self-awareness easier with tracking programs like the following:
Paying attention to where your time and money goes will let you identify your patterns and be more aware of whether your actions are in line with your goals.
There are also sites to give yourself rewards or punishments, like StickK.com
How to increase willpower
Make goals you can actually meet, and celebrate them.
Self control is a muscle that can be improved with practice.
For example, standing up straight (being aware of your posture) is an easy yet challenging near constant experience in self-vigilance.
Use self-control to form a daily habit: it doesn’t matter so much what you do, so long as you carve out time in your schedule and say “I’m going to sit here for this time and do This or Nothing.” Develop the habit first. Put in the time.
Focus on lofty thoughts – the why.
I’m unsure of this one, but the authors claim that getting on your knees and asking God for help works, even if you don’t believe in God. Religious people have more self control (?) live longer, are less likely to have bad habits. This is due to increased monitoring and willpower.
The next 12 months are going to be life-changing for me, and for you too I hope. Good luck to us all in finishing our projects, creating something brilliant, and reaping success!
What are your motivation and productivity tips? Please share!
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.