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Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Inspiration

How to be productive when your life is in chaos

In a perfect world, everything is steady. You can make plans that actually come true 100% of the time. You can anticipate things in advance.

But as you and I both know, that’s not how life works.

In real life, a single random (and unexpected) event can suddenly screw up all your plans, goals, and good intentions to make a change. Think of …

  • A family member who passes away.
  • Getting pregnant.
  • Getting into a car accident.
  • A calamity at work that causes bankruptcy.
  • Falling in love.

Unplanned events can disrupt everything. I’ve experienced that several times in my life. And there’s nothing you can do to prevent unexpected events.

To be clear, when I talk about chaos, I’m not talking about adverse events. Sometimes, good things can also disrupt our focus. Life can be unpredictable.

And despite that unpredictability, we still have to function. We must wake up, treat the people in our lives with respect, do our work, and find inner calm. The way I see it, we have two choices.

  1. We accept that life is chaos and find a way to adapt ourselves.
  2. We refuse to adapt and become miserable because “life is hard.”

To me, it’s a no-brainer. I choose the former. But how do you adapt when life is uncertain? How do you still manage to be productive when you can’t even catch your breath before you have to deal with the next thing?

Here are 3 tips that can help you with those challenges.

1. Stay focused on your tasks

When something important interrupts your life, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision. Before you know it, your whole life can be consumed by something random. Let’s say you fall in love with someone.

And all of a sudden you can’t think of anything else but that person. You can’t focus on your work. You forget about your friends. You don’t go to the gym anymore. You just want to spend time with that person.

Even though it’s great to be in love, there’s more to life.

Sure, enjoying today matters. But we can’t allow ourselves to forget where we are going in life. We can’t neglect our work, family, friends, and health—under any circumstances.

To stay focused and not give up my ideals, I keep reminding myself of why I do what I do. I do that through daily journaling. No matter how hectic your life is, you can always find 10 minutes to sit down and reflect. No excuses.

Plus, I keep looking at my goals almost every day. That reminds me of where I want to go. And when you know where you want to go, you’ll keep going. It’s as simple as that.

Want to hear more tips about staying focused during chaotic times? Listen to my latest podcast episode about it.

2. Work in short bursts

Always be prepared to get work done. Every time you have a moment to yourself, don’t play with your phone, but instead, squeeze in some work. Even if it’s only 8 minutes.

I bring my laptop and notebook with me wherever I go. Those two things are always by my side. When my life lacks structure, I whip out the laptop at any free moment I have.

Doesn’t matter what time it is, where I am, or how long I can work—when I get the chance, I work.

But working in short bursts is not that easy. After all, you can’t truly focus. In a perfect world, you have hours of time blocked for a single important task. That’s how you do deep work.

Working in short bursts only works if you know what you have to do (Step 1).

That’s why I always keep a long list of things that I have to do. So when I work in short bursts, I know that I can’t waste my time browsing the internet or thinking, “What should I do next?”

The process is simple. I grab my laptop, look at my list, and pick one thing that I feel like doing at that time. My list consists of essential tasks. So it doesn’t matter which task gets done first.

For example, this is about the ninth time (I lost count) I’m working on this article. My life has no structure right now. But that’s okay. I still write my articles.

Remember: Your goal is not to work like this forever. When you’ve weathered the storm, get back to your regular routines.

3. Fuel yourself

Life can be demanding. You need proper fuel to handle the physical and mental stress that you endure.

I’m no diet expert. But I am an expert on my personal diet. Usually, I’m not a fan of trial and error. But when it comes to dieting, it’s my go-to strategy.

I’ve tried many different diets and eating patterns. I currently eat mostly protein and unsaturated fat as my first meal, which is around 11:30am. In other words, I skip breakfast.

That’s what they call intermittent fasting these days. There’s nothing new about that. People have been skipping breakfast for ages.

Look, I can’t give you diet recommendations because it’s different for every person. But I can share a few things you should consider:

  • Don’t believe everything you read from the health industry. Everybody has something to sell (I’m not only talking about products but also ideas).
  • Distinguish the difference between eating patterns (when you eat, how often, etc.) and diets (the type of foods you consume like protein, fat, carbs).
  • Be careful with experimentation. Only try things that are NOT harmful to your body (don’t starve yourself, don’t try weird diets like eating red meat only).
  • Keep notes on how you feel after what food you eat. Exclude things from your diet that make you feel bad.

That’s how I’ve found the ideal foods and eating pattern for me. For example, I eat rice every evening. I love it. Without eating rice, I get hungry very quickly and don’t feel as sharp. Should I stop eating rice because some random internet person says so? No, of course not.

Finding structure in chaos

In the past, I hated uncertainty. I think that’s something you learn as you grow up. “Get a safe job!”, is what people say.

But they don’t tell you that a safe job will ultimately make you lazy and weak. Why? Because you’re safe.

Jordan Peterson said it best in 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos:

“Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned.”

On the other hand, uncertainty forces action.

That’s why I’ve grown to love uncertainty. It forces me to find solutions to every challenge I face.

And once you live your life that way, you can’t even function properly without challenges. When you’ve reached that stage, know that you’re actually safe.

This article first appeared on Darius Foroux.

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