We’ve all been there: we want to be productive with our time. But somehow, we can’t manage to get ourselves off the couch.
There seems to be nothing stopping us. Yet, we are actually facing significant mental barriers that prevent us from taking action.
If we understand these barriers, we can develop a strategy for tearing them down and finding unprecedented productivity within ourselves.
Many people enjoy (or at least, tolerate) their work once they start it. The real issue for them is getting started.
It seems strange, struggling to start something that we enjoy. Yet, work necessitates a different mindset than leisure. It’s the transition that gets people stuck.
It is easy to be mentally prepared for a regular routine with powerful incentives. Most people won’t no-show their regular jobs just because they aren’t in the mood. But when there are no such incentives or routines, we need to be responsible for establishing our own.
If the transition we face involves a hard, abrupt leap from leisure to work, we will always struggle.
The answer is to make the transition smoother, and more incremental.
Some people may need to implement an intermediary stage; something that is not leisure, not work, but in between. This intermediary stage is much easier to commit to than work.
An example would be to simply turn off all distractions and sit quietly until we are ready to accomplish our goals. This gives our mind a chance to prepare, so that we may gradually switch to a productive mindset without interruption.
Another strategy is a self-imposed deadline; as it approaches, we begin to shift our mindset so that we are ready once it comes.
Any strategy could be effective, as long as it provides us a better opportunity to mentally prepare for the task at hand.
Riding the Wave
We can see that these strategies can help us throughout the course of the day. But in fact, it is even possible to maintain our momentum over a course of weeks, months, and years.
In this scope, all the conventional advice applies. Choose meaningful goals, set a schedule, and stay organized. Establish a routine. When we do, we may find that our efforts persist, accumulating like compound interest.
When Momentum Runs Out
Of course, this paradise of productivity isn’t the whole picture. When momentum inevitably runs out, we need to be prepared.
Even productivity itself has diminishing returns. When we spend a long time working, the return on our efforts begins to decrease. A tired mind is less fruitful.
Taking a break may interrupt our momentum, but it also makes our productivity sustainable in the long-term. Nevertheless, there is nuance in deciding how much of a break is productive.
Waiting until we “feel rested” to end our break is not always effective. Just as before, this strategy is confounded by the difficulty of transitioning back into work. If we simply wait until we feel ready to return to work, we may find ourselves waiting far too long.
If our incentives are strong, there won’t be a problem. But if we are responsible for our own motivation, our efforts may taper off. This is why a vacation is more likely to interrupt our workout plans, compared to our regular 9-5 jobs.
If we struggle to sustain our long-term goals, we should take a long, hard look at them. We need to reevaluate our incentives, reminding ourselves of what will happen if we succeed, and what will happen if we fail.
We also need to ask ourselves whether we have any alternatives, and whether we can adapt our goals to make them more palatable and sustainable.
A clear appraisal of our own incentives will directly increase our sense of drive towards our tasks. We become resilient to those times when our momentum is broken.
Supply & Demand
Productivity means getting a big return on our efforts. This means that productivity starts before we begin work; we must choose our goals carefully, adapt them when we need to, and commit to them with the correct mindset. This will reduce our demand for momentum and energy.
We may need to transition into our work smoothly. Once we do, we should find the most efficient use of our energy supply. This means making the best possible use of our momentum, which can extend over the long term.
So, to get the best return on our efforts, we must:
- Choose rewarding goals
- Know our incentives
- “Warm up” our mindset to the task at hand
- Make good use of our momentum
- Take a break when momentum runs dry
- Know when to end the break
When these steps are accomplished, work seems less like work and more like routine. Productivity comes naturally, and results are sure to follow.