The most important mental shift you need to increase your productivity

“We all have the power to pull ourselves up to keep going.” — Richard Branson

If productivity were just a series of steps — a paint by numbers exercise — then we’d all be functioning like efficient AI machines. It would be easy to master the course. But we would also feel robotic and unchallenged. Despite productivity experts promising us that it is a science and not an art, that’s not entirely the truth.

You need the routine. The consistency. But most importantly, you need the creativity to help get you unstuck first, in order to propel you in the direction of delivering high-level performance. Creative imagination drives ideas, which lead to thoughts, constructive plans and the ability to develop the framework for a routine.

The intent of this article is not to share the tools and techniques of what makes you successful and productive, as there are plenty of those on the Internet. But rather, to promote the thought leadership required to become more productive. Productivity truly, in its simplest form, should be defined as:

Creativity meets Routine meets Consistency.

Without any of these key components, there is no productivity.

There’s a lot of great articles and literature out there about the routines and productivity rules of many successful entrepreneurs, businesswomen and thought leaders. I’ve profited from these lists, and I have no doubt you have as well. Just know that “checking the box” on a few simple tips won’t cut it. You must coach yourself to make a change in how you see yourself, your work, the management of your time and how you inspire yourself to act.

Getting unstuck

“Stop waiting for perfect conditions to launch a great project. Immediate action fuels a positive feedback loop that drives even more action.” — Robin Sharma

Many of us spend far too much time beating ourselves up about how and why we seem to do things wrong. When we don’t reach our desired goals in a short amount of time, we start soul-searching, looking for a cure for what ails us. We self-examine, we blame ourselves and highlight all our deficiencies.

Now ask yourself this question — What good does the blame-game really do? For one it hurts our self-esteem. It stifles enthusiasm, which is needed to drive creativity and action. The best way to become more productive is to focus on making a behavioral change. That begins in your mind.

Author of the book, Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths, Tim Butler talks about the ways to make a change and how that begins in the mind with understanding our place in the world:

“What impasse requires of us is to realize that our old models, our old ways of thinking about things, our old ways of feeling about things, simply are no longer working. So impasse requires, demands that we stop and say, my way of understanding the world and myself is no longer working. I’ve got to dig deeper. I’ve got to find a new way of understanding the world and my place in it.” — Tim Butler; Source: HBR

You cannot keep going and repeating the same things that haven’t worked and expect new and different outcomes. You surely know the cliche by now: the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You must be the one that drives change. And you must empower yourself to think differently to find new ideas that will lead to a new routine that gets you on the right track.

We need to have a productivity routine that energizes and inspires us each day. Routines don’t have to be boring. And frankly, the moment you do have a boring routine, you’re in trouble. You’re not going to feel motivated to want to keep going. You’ll find less desire to grow, learn and continue fueling your journey and as a result, you’ll be less successful and stagnate.

So essentially we have to get stuck before we can grow. Impasse demands that think deeply in a radically different way. It gives us the opportunity to think of new methods, opportunities, relationships and situations to put ourselves in. This creativity and curiosity inspires productivity. It gets our brains moving and this synergy, before long, helps us to stop feeling sorry about our situation.

Have a plan

I’ve learned through research and working with top executives that productivity is about breaking the pace of what’s not working, then focusing your performance on what will work. To become more productive, determine the root cause of what’s keeping you stuck, while developing a rhythm for repetition and consistency of planning and doing

Author of the book, I Know How She Does It, Laura Vanderkam talks about productivity from a planning standpoint. The way we develop the routine AND consistency is through planning in advance. We must be prepared. We must be concerned with the moment, but always looking ahead to the future. Get ahead by planning the night before or at the beginning of your work day.

Vanderkam says:

“Plot out what you’re going to do when you get to work, that way you can capture that first burst of energy when you show up at work and use it to tackle something important. The best time to do this is Friday afternoon or Sunday evening. Friday afternoon is not the most productive of times as is, so repurpose it as planning time. Or try Sunday night, when you’re already in workweek mode.”

Motion creates emotion! Deep thinking fuels planning. While plans are meant to be modified, it doesn’t diminish the importance of starting somewhere. Planning prevents poor performance, and more importantly protects us from just “jumping in” to situations that we’re ill-equipped to handle. Productivity is always driven by planning.

Breaking the habit

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do to find your productivity breakthrough is to break the habit of what’s not working. In other words — get out of a vicious cycle of repetition to find a stimulating, more effective form of routine. You have to “stop the flood” and use your determination and brainpower to decide to step back, think things through, then game plan for shifting course.

A prime example of this is setting reminders on your smartphone (ironically enough), to stop using your smartphone so much. Using the Pomodoro technique to budget your time more wisely to not waste time. That begins with where you are today. It starts with small changes, as this Harvard Business Review article beautifully articulates:

“ … Becoming more productive is more like losing weight than memorizing the presidents’ names — it is the product of behavior or lifestyle change, not (only) knowledge. As a result, the key to becoming more productive is changing small behaviors (i.e., developing new habits) and sticking with those changes over time.”

So be willing to change. Be a big enough person to embrace change! The change will drive you to a new routine, which can always be modified and re-assessed to determine how well you’re performing. I’ll close with remarks from Mr. Plummer, in the aforementioned HBR article. Make sure you have goals, but have a plan, an open mindset and a willingness to change.

Your productivity depends on it.

“ … Lots of us spend our days developing strategic plans for our own companies, or helping clients do so, and yet fail to take a strategic approach to improving our own productivity. As most of us know, any good strategy involves setting goals, developing a plan for achieving those goals, and tracking progress towards those goals. The same is true for productivity. Yet most of us don’t have sustainable productivity goals, much less a plan for achieving them.”

Keep going

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This article first appeared on Medium.