You have the usual 'productivity advice': Pomodoro timers, turning notifications off and eliminating distractions. These help you stay focused on an activity. But I believe the hardest part of getting shit done (GSD) is not keeping focused but getting started!
Here are the hacks that slowly conditioned me to get more and more shit done to the point that today my least productive day is what used to be my best performing day 2 years back.
The 2 Minute Rule
If it takes less than 2 minutes to do, do it now. Don't postpone. The mental space it will take to store that to-do will be much more expensive that crossing it off right now.
What am I waiting for? check
I find this particularly useful for cases where I keep postponing making hard decisions. Hard in the sense of: the options are both very close and there is no clear winner OR hard in the sense of: I know that the action following my decision won't be pleasant. For example, "Do I decline the invitation for dinner to have my much needed time alone even though it is my 3rd consecutive time I reject my flatmates?"
For these occasions I try to ask myself: 'what piece of information are you waiting for to make this call?'
Usually the answer is 'nothing' and thus the followup question: 'then how about you make up your mind right now dude?'
PRO Tip: The master procrastinator(✋) will always find 'something' they are missing to enable them to make the decision. For those people(✋), it is worth remembering that 80% of the learning comes after starting. Action invokes new information. Given that most decisions are reversible, when new information becomes harder to get, better to make a decision, act on it, get new information in and then adjust your decision. Otherwise you will be stuck forever.
Mind activation rule
When you feel like you are in a performance slump (see: YouTube rabbit hole), need to break that with a tiny activity that stimulates your brain. Anything that involves you doing something useful and not consuming. Wash the dishes, pick the mail, make some tea, anything to build that initial momentum boost.
Reduce as much as possible the friction in starting the activity. Leave the violin open. Use body lotion with push container. Pre organize your supplements in daily containers. When we are dealing with willpower, even the smallest of friction removals would greatly increase the odds of you gettings started.
PRO TIP: If you want to stop doing something then increase the friction. For example don't store chocolate at the house so that you are not tempted when you have late night cravings and have to isntead walk down to the store to get it.
Repetition: Creative Ritual
Just check this out:
Make the next action super crisply actionable
Cut to small pieces is the usual advice but you can take this piece of advice one step further by having a very clear next step.
'Create a personal website' is not good enough. 'Find freelance developer' is not either. Instead: 'go on https://humans.fyi and find my favourite home page design' or ' go in Upwork and Fiverr and submit call for proposals for the project with limit: geography = asia'
Most people think they lack motivation what they really lack is clarity. — James Clear
Priority List the night before
Not only will you wake up and be ready to kill the day but your brain will spends the entire night subconsciously processing those last few thoughts you had before going to bed, hence mentally preparing for the day ahead.
PRO TIP: Keep it to 5. Sort them by priority. Don't forget the rule above(make it super actionable).
I don't care how strong or disciplined you think you are, the more accumulated novelty you are embarking on (a new habit, a new hobby, meeting a new person, learning a new skill), the smaller the chances are that you will be successful at any of the many new domains.
Countless times have I started a diet + started on my perfect workout plan + implemented the perfect morning routine all at the same time. How naive. Everything combusted into an explosive failure. One.at.a.time is best.
Come up with ten ideas a day? Let’s do it. Track all media consumption? Yes! Write a bunch of evergreen notes? Sign me up. Practice doing a handstand everyday? Sure.
It worked well for a few days, and then I eventually got tired of doing so many things that I had not done before. And so I stopped. In my excitement, I forgot that adding stuff gradually is a much better strategy for the long run, even if in the short run I am not doing everything I want to do.
So now I will be focusing on coming up with ten ideas a day, and then slowly add in everything else later on. — Tiffany Matthe
Better pick one, work on it until you are comfortable with it and only then embark on something new. That way you invest all your 'willpower' to one thing thus increasing the probability of that succeeding. After the first habit sticks, momentum is built, the wheel starts turning faster and faster and each subsequent pursuit becomes easier and easier.
The beginning of a transformation starts with that first win. Not by taking a decision and changing within a split second. That is non-sense. It is all about slow compounding.
Define what is 'good enough'. Forget perfection.
Be conscious to stop at good enough and do not seek perfection. Not even perfection; if you have high standards and aspirations; your work will never be complete.
This 'high standards' problem is a natural consiquence of good taste. It creates this taste-competence differential that is extremely hard to bridge since our taste is always a few steps ahead of our competence level for the majority of our creative journey. But as soon as we are coscious of the fact that our brain will never be happy with our work because our high standards are unachievable, we stop waiting for the time where it is up to standard and start negotiating with ourselves as to what is 'good enough' instead.
Set creative boundaries
The paradox of choice says that the more the options, the harder it is to pick one and the less happy we are with what we picked. In the same way:
- on picking a project: the more awesome projects we have on the burner, the harder it is to pick and finish any of them.
- on setting scope of a project: the more creative directions we have to explore the harder it is to pick one and the less happy we are with the one we picked.
This is not only causing creative paralysis paralysis but disatisfaction with the work as a whole which then increases the chances of us dropping it half way or never publishing.
Unltimate creative freedom sounds amazing but is a huge trap. Eliminate choice. Focus.
Create rituals combining tasks
Habits have been all the hype. But instead of forming habits in isolation, better create chains of habits. Once you start the chain, the rest have very little resistance. Compare that with 3 isolated habits, each having their own resistance to begin with.
PRO Tip: Combine some pleasant activities with some that have resistance. My Wednesday evening ritual: Work → Podcast on bike → Wakeboarding session → Blue Gatorade → Cheesy Roti. No wakeboarding, no gatorade and no roti.
Bulk similar/same activities together and do an intense longer sprint instead of shorter bursts spread along the day.
Instead of checking 10 emails every hour, check 100 once a day.
Instead of writing a blog every 2 days, take an entire day to write all the articles of the week.
Will remove context switching, help take advantage of built momentum (snowball) and help with mental clarity.
Separate Maker(deep) and Manager(shallow) work
A mistake I made early in my career was mixing a manager and maker schedule.
I would code, take a meeting, code, take a phone call, code, and so on. It was emotionally draining in a way that I didn’t even recognize. When you’re on a maker schedule, context switching is painful. The biggest improvement came when I started designating days as either maker or manager days, and I’d block off the whole day for either 100% emails, meetings, calls, or 100% coding and other deep work activities. Right now, I have Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as manager days, and Tuesday, Thursday, and weekends as maker days.
It’s been a game-changer for my personal productivity.
Sam Corcos via The Proof
As an extension to batching, I try to remember that the maker mode and the manager mode are not to be mixed.
Agin, the mode switching cost is way too high to go from manager to creative (not the vv). That is why it is wise, to not only batch same activities together (one big cooking session for all the meals of the next 4 days) but to also batch activities of the manager or maker nature together.
For example: Here's my manager's schedule: I try to answer all emails, DMs, comments in two big sessions a day. Then I move to creating tickets for tasks to be done by myself or my team, I read the articles of the day and then I have any meetings and call my parents. But after that, it is headphones and focus mode. No managerial, admin-y, social tasks at all. I try to write, take a course, do my daily challenges etc.
Have an accountability partner
Letting yourself down is trivial. Letting your lifting buddy hanging at the gym or missing your weekly practice session with your drawing learning buddy is another ball game. The added pressure is enough to nudge us to action. If you don't have a peer to do this with, you can try Focusmate or consider paying for one: see a coach/teacher/trainer.
Stay with your parents/gf/bf/friends
This is quite an interesting one but hear me out...
Assuming your parents/girlfriend/boyfriend/friend respects the fact that it is important for you to GSD, they can not only act as accountability partners but most importantly they can take some tasks off your plate like laundry, cleaning, cooking, paying the bills getting the parcels from the PO, ordering delivery etc.
PRO TIP: The expenses are also shared. So you save time and bonus: save money.
You know.. they say that if there is one thing you cannot buy, it is time. I call bullshit on that. Ofcourse you can buy time in many ways but here's the most straight forward way: buy other people's time.
Decide how much is your hourly rate and if you have the funds available consider getting a cleaner, purchasing a meal subscription, getting a professional video editor, paying a professional designer to design your website, paying a travel agent to organize your family trip, an editor to finalise your blogpost.
Pick the activities you do not enjoy or the ones that you do not want to learn, set your hourly price and get somebody to help you at the budget.
Upwork, freelancer, fiverr, 99designs are all fantastic options to find any kind of freelancers that will be very happy to help you.
I have previously used these platforms for finding web devs to help me with customising this blog, web devs to help me build one of my little side-projects and a data analyst to help me collate and analyze information for one article.
PRO TIP: There will be some trial and error but hang in there. Once you hit gold, and find partners you can communicate, rely upon and that produce quality work, you will realise what a huge lifehack this is.
Link spaces with modes
Program your mind to get into modes according to you environment. Your parents house is to relax. The local library is to work etc.
Unfortunately if you have already associated your bedroom with YouTube and Insta scrolling, or the living room with social activities, chances are, you won't link it with peak productivity mode. You have to pick a brand new spot and make it your peak focus spot.
PRO TIP: Pick one cafe that will be your productive sanctuary. Make it a point to ONLY do work there for the first 3 times you visit. Nothing else. Your mind will start associating the space with GST time and every-time becomes easier.
Let your subcoscious do the work
End the day thinking of a problem you are trying to solve, your brain will tend to work on it while you sleep. Wake up and work on it first thing in the morning. Your brain works best at the beginning of the day. Use that power.
Don't break the chain
The inertia of starting is super hard to overcome. But once you get the ball rolling it gets easier and easier to jump on the grind. In order to preserve and build more and more momentum we need consistency.
Eventually, with consistency, the snowball becomes so big that it is unstoppable. You won't need to employ discipline no more to get started, it will just happen.
So keep that in mind: the beginning is tough but stick to it and it will only get easier.
Once you are on the wave, don't jump off, ride the wave.