Has anyone ever told you that you, “Have the same amount of hours in a day as [insert name of celebrity]?” Typically, the implication is that as long as we muster the motivation to work as hard as Steve Jobs, for example, success is just beyond the horizon.
While it’s true that we all, technically, have the same scarce hours — thank you, rotational inertia and humanity’s arbitrary concept of time— most of us laypeople don’t have a staff to run our errands and manage loose ends. Instead, here are some tips and secrets for productivity so that you can achieve success by “working smart, not hard” and eventually, hire your own people to do the grunt work.
1. Understand that productivity is not just willpower.
Relying solely on willpower to complete tasks is draining. AsapSCIENCE’s video “The Science of Productivity,” explains the concept of “ego depletion,” in which willpower is a source that can be easily used up. Forcing yourself to simply try harder without a concrete plan often leads nowhere and gives rise to feelings of inadequacy when you fail to meet your expectations, thus further depressing your motivation.
2. Change the way you think about approaching deadlines.
Which sounds more foreboding: a deadline two weeks away or a deadline fourteen days away? If you’re anything like me (I called myself a natural at procrastinating; others called me sad), the latter choice incites more of that uneasy last-minute panic with which we’re all so familiar. That panic is what gets things done— you’re just tricking it into arriving sooner rather than later.
3. Strategically place visual cues.
Sometimes we get so good at shoving important tasks to the back of our minds that we manage to forget about them altogether until the last minute. This step is where the shame comes in.
Need to write an essay about lemurs? Leave objects that remind you of lemurs (ex. stuffed animals, sticky notes with crudely drawn lemurs) in places that you frequent when procrastinating, like in the pantry or above your laptop or on the center of your living room carpet. I often find that the more bizarre the object the better— the more thought you put into recalling why you placed the object there, the more your mind will fixate on the subject of the essay you should be writing.
4. Don’t ever “keep watching.”
The amount of T.V. you watch correlates inversely with your productivity but positively with T.V. networks’ profits. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they try their best to sucker you into watching more and more, usually by automatically rolling previews to hook you into staying for the next episode. Quickly turn off the T.V. before the inevitable temptation.
5. If you listen to music, double check to ensure it’s helping you.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the beloved Harry Potter series, revealed in an interview with Stephen Fry that she, “...never [listens] to music,” and finds it, “...much too distracting.” Personally, I always assumed listening to music bolstered my productivity because that was how my classmates persuaded our teachers to allow headphones. But after some experimenting, I found that music is actually incredibly distracting to me — I start focusing on lyrics or melodies rather than the task at hand.
6. Make a to-do list. Or, better yet, get a planner.
Personally, I love creating TDLs, if only because checking items off a list gives me a rush like no other. That, and I can’t remember squat if I don’t write myself a reminder. I recommend getting a physical planner— I’ve got a bad habit of writing things down wherever most convenient at the moment, on sticky notes or the digital Notepad or my iPhone Reminders list, and they’re all hard to keep track of. At the very least, stay consistent.
7. Make the right kind of to-do list.
Anna Akana, a YouTuber (with over a million subscribers) who uploads regular videos and has produced several short films in less than a year, has more helpful TDL advice in “How to Level Up Your Productivity.” She emphasizes the importance of only including imperative steps on TDLs. Including easy steps like “update Facebook” and “Tweet” just to feel good about checking them off the list is merely simulating real work and not helping you progress. Akana also mentions that some people find to-not-do lists (ex: don’t check what’s trending on Twitter until 1 p.m.) helpful in retaining focus.
8. Effectively evaluate your progress.
Lilly Singh (iiSuperwomanii), another successful YouTuber with millions of subscribers, churns out bi-weekly videos while tackling side projects. Her suggestion in, "5 Real Ways to Get Your Work Done," create two TDLs (one short-term, one long-term), and cross out but do not erase completed tasks. This way, you will be able to evaluate your progress more objectively. Another method of seeing what you have and have not accomplished: accountability charts (further discussed in Akana's “How to Level Up Your Productivity,” linked in Step 7.)
While I, of course, cannot promise you that following these tips will instantly catapult you to the likes of Steve Jobs, I can promise you that they work, albeit on a much smaller scale than instigating a technological revolution. Proof? The very existence of this article is Exhibit A.
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