7 Tips for Greater Productivity
The following tips are from the introduction to
Time Tracker 2-Year Productivity Log
Copyright 2014 by Mark Walters
Tracker Book LLC
1. Claim Project Time
In the next few sections, we will consider some of the deeper reasons why one may put off projects and allow talents to lie unused, but in the beginning, let’s be practical. No matter what the cause for our inaction, it is reassuring to know that all it takes to get started is the simple press of a button on a timer. The mere act of starting is one of the most powerful components to a project, the initial burst of energy that will set in motion the momentum to carry us through the entire endeavor. So this could be the timer’s primary benefit: it gives us permission to begin and signals that we are "on the clock" and actively engaged in a productive task.
At our jobs and at school, clocks tell us when it is time to start working or switch to our next class. We should openly embrace this effective tool at home to help us carve out a portion of our available hours for use on projects. The timer also adds a sense of purpose and meaning to our work. An athlete may train for countless hours, but if there is no starting pistol telling her when to start running, that training lacks purpose and direction.
Some may fear that the timer will cause anxiety from all those seconds ticking away, or perhaps partition our free time into regimented portions. But the timer actually provides a sense of calm reassurance. One favorite guided meditation CD, Letting Go of Stress, begins: “This is your time now. There’s no place you need to go and nothing that you have to do for the next 20 minutes." By actively claiming a segment of time, we can focus simply on the present moment, knowing that the time is ours free from distraction.
2. Activate Momentum
Our aim may be to get our mental and creative forces going to break through psychological barriers to projects, but our initial step towards activating this energy should come from basic physical motion. We don’t have to stretch our imagination too far to think of examples of how lack of physical activity can significantly impact the higher functions of the mind, including our determination, creativity, and focus. Extended periods of non-productivity sitting on the couch in front of the TV come to mind.
It is vital, therefore, that we stay in motion through regular physical activity. Any type of exercise is beneficial, whether light, moderate, or strenuous, so long as we leave enough stamina to work on our projects. Light-intensity warm-up exercises such as walking or tai chi can become a regular part of our project routine, and it may have the added benefit of boosting our motivation to sit down at projects if we know we will first feel the positive mood-enhancing endorphins that come from exercise.
If we need further justification for keeping physically active, we should remember the link between optimism and activity. Numerous studies have found that those who engage in regular physical activity tend to have a more positive frame of mind, and that, as we shall see in the next section, is a vital factor for helping us feel good about our current work and persevering with our projects.
3. Hold Unwavering Optimism
A successful project requires a wellspring of courage to be summoned, for we know we are accepting a challenge and committing the hours and effort needed to complete it. We need to be reminded in our technological age, when we have become accustomed to immediate gratification and an instant delivery of information, that worthwhile projects still call for many hours of devoted work and persistence. We acknowledge, too, that what we will be working on is no easy task, for any creative project requires us to activate our minds to their highest level.
The critical roles that drive and determination play in our personal success is captured in Napoleon Hill’s influential Think and Grow Rich, which despite the title lays forth the blueprints for us to not only obtain personal wealth but to be successful in our personal endeavors. After carefully studying and interviewing some of the most successful individuals of his day, Mr. Hill discovered some common character traits vital for success. These traits include, among others, holding to an unwavering persistence and courage in our endeavors and not fearing the stinging criticisms from others. In fact, most successful people reached their stations in life just after they were about to give up but instead mustered the courage to continue.
We can help build a sense of persistence and importance into our project by dedicating it to another person or a higher power. Our projects are certainly meaningful to us, but if we dedicate them to a loved one or, for the religious, to God, it will inspire us to complete our tasks and make them extraordinary.
4. Set the Conditions
Rather than passively waiting around for inspiration to arrive, we should instead work to actively cultivate positive conditions so that we can go about beginning our work, and by doing this, make our creative space that much more inviting to divine inspiration. We can do this by setting the specific conditions required to best prepare our personal space and our minds to engage in our projects. Some may call this a ritual, routine, or procedure, but in any regard it is a way to help cue our subconscious mind that the time has come to set about our task.
Each individual’s set of ideal conditions will be unique, but there are a number of routines that have traditionally proven useful in helping create an optimal work environment. Such actions as going for a walk, performing yoga or tai chi, making tea, playing an energetic mix of music, visiting our favorite nature area, meditating, or for the religious, saying a prayer can all provide focus and invite divine inspiration.
5. Visualize the End Product
It is important to possess the motivation and drive to get started on projects, to not procrastinate further or waste away any more precious time, but that does not mean we should plunge immediately into tasks without first giving careful thought to what it is we ultimately want to accomplish. Before beginning, let us take the time to imagine our project in its future, finished state, picturing it in our minds with as much detail as we can. This step can be challenging, because, like goal-setting, we must imagine a vision of ourselves or our completed project in the future.
Creating this concept of our product is essential because it gives us direction to follow on the path towards completion. This is the road map that will lead us to our destination, and without it we simply wander around aimlessly wasting energy. A good role model to follow are teachers, who are instructed how to plan out the future learning of their students during the semester. Using a method called backward-design process, teachers help map out the course their students will travel as they progress toward key benchmarks and higher stages of learning.
The strategy works like this: instead of planning the course chronologically from day one, teachers plan the course backward, starting with the end of the semester. By imagining what learning the students possess on their last day of the term, teachers can then chart out the course that will guide the students on the right path toward reaching that level of learning. In a similar way, if we can envision our project in a completed state, then all we need to do is walk the path that we have set for ourselves. To be sure, we will make some diversions and changes along the route, but our overall course has been set.
6. Outline the Stages
In a contradictory way, however, this larger vision will remain but an unrealized fantasy unless we begin mapping things out in more concrete form. Creating an outline of the different stages of our larger idea provides a more detailed map for us to follow as we work towards the end product. As psychologists and neuroscientists tell us, our minds are a complex web of billions of neurons, of thoughts arising, disappearing, and resurfacing. We can organize our ideas and make better sense of our overall vision when we map out our plan into a series of stages.
By dividing our project into smaller sections, it allows us to better concentrate on the immediate tasks at hand. It also helps make our project seem less intimidating and more within reach, for we get to focus simply on completing one individual stage at a time. The ancient adage, “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step” reminds us to not be paralyzed by fear when faced with a major project, for no matter how large, it is really just made up of a series of smaller steps that can easily be completed.
7. Abandon Perfectionism
If we dare to delve deeper into our psychological depths and work to untangle the more complicated mental roots that threaten to stifle our growth, creativity, and will to get started, then we may uncover the insidious problem of perfectionism is to blame for holding us back. Let’s not mistake perfectionism for a drive to devote long hours into making something better and more refined. That is a sign of diligent and conscientious effort. Perfectionism is failing to start a task altogether because one has already set an impossibly high standard to meet. It’s as though a graduate student, after studying all the literary greats, fails to take up her own pen in fear she cannot reach that same exalted level and so ought not to even try.
There are a few mental tricks we can use to help cure this debilitating mental condition and go about getting on with our work. First, we should be more keenly aware of our own creative process so we have accurate expectations as we enter the various phases of the project. What flows immediately from our figurative pen is not an instant masterpiece before the ink is even dry. First attempts at something, after all, are called “rough” drafts for a reason. In fact, let us think of our project like a huge, rough piece of stone, and it is our job to continue chipping away at the stone, polishing and refining and sanding, until at last after many hours of devoted work, a beautiful and complete sculpture is unveiled.
Perfectionists can be stubborn, so if there is any doubt remaining, let’s remember that whenever we refrain from working on projects or from creating because of this fear, we deprive others from experiencing something beautiful and unique we created, which will tragically remain bottled up and never shared.
Shawn Achor. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. New York: Crown Business, 2010.
Napoleon Hill. Think and Grow Rich: The Landmark Bestseller—Now Revised and Updated for the 21st Century. Revised and expanded by Dr. Arthur R. Pell. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005.
Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.
Emmett Miller and Steven Halpern. Letting Go of Stress. Open Channel Sound Company (BMI), 2002. CD.
Shelley E. Taylor. Positive Illusions: Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind. New York: Basic Books, 1991.
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