I don’t work that hard at all, I really don’t. But I bet I’m more productive than you. You spend more literal hours working than me, but I get more important things done than you.
I’m absent-minded, disorganized, and keeping my apartment clean is like pulling teeth, but because I’m sure of who I am and what I want, I have you beat when it comes to true productivity.
I don’t use Evernote, Trello, or some crazy app. With just my notebook, computer, and my mind, I’ll get more important stuff done in a month than you will in a year.
I work less than you, but probably make more money than you.
Okay, I’m done.
The point isn’t to rub my lifestyle in your face. The point is to understand that you don’t need to be a productivity robot to live a productive and successful life.
You don’t have to be super motivated. You only have to be slightly above average and highly-aligned to the right tasks. To this day, I still consider myself a bit lazy. You don’t need some magic trick, you need productivity superpowers.
They’re superpowers because they’re extremely simple and kill armies of birds with a single stone. Check them out.
Tap Into the Purest Form of Productivity
Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy:
The ability to quickly master hard things.
The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.”
— Cal Newport
How many hours of focused work would you say the average office employee gets done per day? Two? Maybe three? Honestly, probably one.
How many hours of focused work do you get done per day?
If you can develop the ability to do these three things, you’ll become one of the most productive, valuable, and rare people in your field:
- Do deep work. Deep work involves doing something highly creative that requires focus to achieve. Writing is a form of deep work. Doing deep work sets you apart because most people don’t have the attention span to focus and solve problems. Practice deep work and you’ll experience an additional benefit.
- Enter a flow state. A flow state means you’re in the zone. All the noise fades to the background. Flow isn’t just a state of productivity, it’s a way to develop one of the purest forms of satisfaction there is. When I was building my writing career on top of my 9 to 5, those one to two hours of flow per day kept me sane.
- Repeat the process. If you can manage to do one hour of deep work per day, consistently, you’ll rise to the top of your field. Stretch that out to two hours, and the air gets rarer. Most people peak at four hours. Deep work helps you make a remarkable level of progress based on the literal amount of time you spend working.
Most people waste nearly all of their time during work. Instead, focus in for a little while, then treat the rest of your time as house money.
Take This Self-Improvement Cliche Seriously Instead of Just Talking About it
“Those who seize the day become seriously rich.” — Richard Koch
A corollary of the above — you’ll be much more productive by focusing on the things that move the needle most when it comes to your profession, project, field, etc. Like I said before, I don’t do all that much, but the things I do are more than enough.
People have heard of the 80/20 rule, but most people don’t practice it. They treat everything equally because they’ve been trained to think that way, e.g. going to school where the classes were of equal length for no real reason.
When you treat everything equally, you get your shiny ‘busyness badge’ but you’re also susceptible to burning out. Instead, if you focus on the tasks that matter, you move your career forward faster than if you focused on everything at the same time.
Practicing the positive parts of the 80/20 rule is easier than practicing the tough part, which is letting go of what doesn’t matter, saying no, and letting the busy work fall by the wayside.
For most people, the 20 percent involves just getting good at the core skill involved. To become a successful freelancer, create an amazing service to provide. To become a successful business owner, create an amazing core product offering. If you want to become a successful content creator, focus on creating good content. Simple. Hard to execute.
This rule confines you in a good way. Force yourself to concentrate instead of flailing around trying everything. You don’t have the outcomes you want because you’re not good enough to have them yet. Focus on the core, master it, and everything else will fall into place.
Plan Appropriately (Just Enough to Execute)
“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” — John Wooden
You’ve heard of delayed gratification, but there’s more to just delaying your gratification to become successful. You want to learn how to frontload your work.
When you frontload the work, you’re not just putting results off for the future, but you’re putting yourself in a position to reap massive rewards in the future. You do everything the right way, upfront, and prepare for explosive growth in the future. When your operation is small, you set it up to run the same way — regardless of how big it gets.
Some examples include:
- Starting a YouTube channel with SEO researched videos, putting videos out consistently with little to no traffic, promoting the videos, and having an optimized channel set for massive subscriber growth once the algorithm starts to notice you.
- Researching your market and potential product ideas for your eCommerce store, doing a test run of products with ads to see if there’s demand, and setting up an initial product line with plans to expand in the future and manufacturers ready to go when demand increases.
- Finding a workout routine to follow that gradually increases in difficulty over time along with meal plans. You know exactly what to do and when to do it.
- Starting your blog and having an email-list set up with a marketing series ready go to and publishing optimized posts five days per week. Again, the blog reaches a tipping point and you’re set up to interact with your audience as it grows
Frontloading means you put yourself in a position to win in the future by choosing paths with the potential for major growth. You start quickly, but you don’t start completely blind.
Most people fail with projects because they think people should care about them just because they exist. Or, in the case of something like fitness, they expect to just dive in with no routine or method, which of course, fails.
The Unsexiest But Most Effective Productivity Technique of All Time
“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” — Isaac Newton
If you can build momentum by practicing something on a daily or near-daily basis, e.g. you workout 3–5 times per week, you’ll have a level of consistency and momentum most people don’t have.
The bar is low. I’d guess less than one percent of all bloggers, aspiring and active, write daily. The secret to my blogging success? I never stopped. That’s it. You get much better in the last 20 percent of your path. Your skills and outcomes jump dramatically.
But you have to get there.
When you stop and start all the time, you move further away from your goal. Look at yo-yo dieters. They gain more weight each time. Inconsistent bloggers assure they’ll fail at making it a career because facing the page keeps getting tougher.
I don’t know many successful bloggers who didn’t make consistency a habit pretty fast. If you started an online blog and you worked at it one hour per day for years, you’d get rich doing so.
This all sounds simple and cliche, not exactly some magical superpower, but the truth is that doing basic things causes success.
How do you reach the point where you just… go? You need to have whatever conversation you need to have with yourself to cut the BS.
Realize you’re lying to yourself by looking for these magical pills. Stop asking your in-shape friend how they got in shape. You know how they did it. Stop picking my brain for writing advice. You know how I became a successful blogger.
You know the answer to any goal you have. Work on it on a routine basis and never stop. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
Manage Your Most Important Asset
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” — Nikola Tesla
Time management is mostly BS — no need for all those fancy productivity routines.
Energy management, though, can help you maximize your productivity during the time you have available. Do you consciously think about your energy levels? Do you focus on your most difficult tasks when you have the most energy? How about your diet? Do you consider how that affects your routines?
Start thinking in terms of when, how, and where you direct your energy throughout the day and build habits that match your goals:
- Do important work when you have the energy. I worked on my writing career by waking up at 5 a.m. before my full-time job. Why? Because my day job sapped my energy.
- Focus on your diet and physical fitness. I intermittently fast, not because I’m super into it, but because I tend to do creative work better on an empty stomach. When I do eat, I don’t eat hefty carb-heavy meals. I usually save my big meal for when I’m totally done working for the day.
- Manage your stress and mental clarity. I meditate and do yoga because I know having a bunch of cortisol running through my body won’t help me build a better business.
- Don’t fall for hustle porn culture. You don’t have to work 12 to 14 hour days. Once your energy levels are sapped, stop working.
- Sleep. 7 to 9 hours per day. The research is out. Just do it.
Your end goal? Move throughout your day as seamlessly as possible, utilizing different levels of energy at different times.
By the end of the day, you should feel that healthy kind of tired where falling to sleep is easy because you’ve had a productive day — not burnt-out tired because you mismanaged your energy all day.
Understand What Productivity Means
“When you ship, you silence the lizard brain. You beat the resistance and your ideas get out in the world.” — Seth Godin
I look at the root word of productivity, produce, and use it to guide my productivity philosophy.
You’re productive if you produce something tangible. If you’re a writer, that means publishing your work, not just writing it. If you have a business with a product, that means putting your product out for sale, not just developing it.
Activity and productivity are two totally different things. Many people are active, but they’re not productive. People who plan too much will produce counterproductive outcomes.
For example, any time I see a brand new creator with outstanding production quality but an inconsistent frequency of putting their content out, I know they’re done for. You do want to frontload the work, but the goal is to have a minimum viable solution or product you can put out consistently.
Planning stops at about the 20 to 30 percent mark. You should have a rough outline for what you want to accomplish and have systems in place, but you’ll have to refine your projects over time as new information comes in.
You can’t know everything in advance, so just go. Stop using your plans as a form of procrastination.
Understand That Work-Life Balance is for Losers
“A balanced life is a lie … Extraordinary results require focused attention and time.” — Gary Keller
Having an integrated lifestyle, where you’re doing things you enjoy throughout most of your day, makes productivity a normal part of your life.
Most people need work-life balance because they don’t like the work they do. Most people burnout because they’re chasing the wrong goals, usually money and status, instead of chasing contentment with their work. I’ve never ‘burnt out’ on writing. Why? Because, um, I like it.
Why all this gritting your teeth to get things done?
If you focused on aligning your natural talents and strengths to your lifestyle, you’d be more productive because you’re not forcing yourself to live a certain way. You’re compelled to live that way.
Then, once you knock that major domino over, everything else falls into place. I love writing and that became my keystone habit. A bunch of other habits spawned to support the main one — reading to feed my mind, exercise to keep my energy levels up for writing, mediation to stay clear-headed and lucid.
From the start of my day until the end of it, I’m either producing something, learning, or taking care of my body. I barely watch T.V, not because I’m forcing myself not to, but it just fell super low on my priority list because I enjoy the things I do more.
The same will happen to you.
You’ll find a vague mission to focus on and as you move forward, your vision will become crystal clear. All the sudden noise will fade away from your life without you actively trying to reduce it.
The way you live your life, with just a few more hours of focused time than the average human being, will look wildly productive to everyone on the outside looking in.
This article first appeared on Medium.