The Secret Strategy to Insane Productivity
The poster child for insane productivity is Elon Musk. I’m willing to bet that almost everyone is slightly jealous of Elon Musk. I know I am.
I greatly admire his legendary work ethic. Due to his insane ability to push himself to work far harder than the average person can even dream of, Elon has made himself a living legend.
He has revolutionized multiple industries and made himself and his companies incredibly valuable. This is the man who wants to send us to Mars – and he will most likely succeed!
Do you ever read about the achievements of people like Musk and think that they must be superhuman?
Do their achievements and incredible levels of productivity make them seem like geniuses, leaving you wondering whether it is possible for you to achieve similar levels of productivity?
Well, here’s the thing – being highly productive is not a function of genius, neither do you need to be superhuman to reach such levels of productivity.
Achieving insane levels of productivity is all about being hardworking, organized, and highly focused, and the good thing is that anyone can achieve high levels of productivity.
Okay, you might not exactly get to Elon Musk’s level, but it’s definitely possible for you to operate at your highest level of productivity and achieve incredible accomplishments in your career.
PRODUCTIVITY IN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY
In business, productivity is a term that was traditionally used to define the level of output an employee provides.
For instance, in a doll-making factory, the productivity of each worker is a measure of the number of dolls made by each worker per day.
In businesses which involve making tangible things, productivity is easy to measure and ascertain. The problem is in companies based in the knowledge economy.
It is not always possible to gauge someone’s productivity in the knowledge economy.
You see in the past, companies put emphasis on production (output).
However, the knowledge economy has shifted employee goals towards result-based performance.
Put simply, the impact of your work is now more important than merely completing batches of work.
The knowledge economy and the adoption of technology has brought tremendous advantages to work culture.
With mechanical tasks increasingly being automated, workers now have the chance to do work that they actually enjoy, work which enables them to express their creativity.
However, the knowledge economy and technology have also brought certain disadvantages to the workplace.
Today, a lot of work is done on computers, smartphones, and on the internet.
The problem is that these tools of work are also rife with distractions. It is very much possible for an employee to sit at their desk accomplishing nothing.
In the past, it was possible for a supervisor to look across the factory floor and immediately tell who was working and who wasn’t.
Today, a supervisor looking across the office cannot tell who is actually working and who is liking memes on Facebook. You have probably experienced such scenarios.
You come to work with plans to get done with that report you have been working on. 30 minutes into your work, an email notification pops up on your screen. You decide to check it quickly and go back to your work.
You open the email and find that your friend from the marketing department has sent you a link to this hilarious video on YouTube.
Before you realize it, you have spent an hour watching stupid videos on YouTube instead of working on the report.
Freelancers are especially prone to such distractions because they have no one looking over their shoulder.
As a result, if a freelancer fails to instill self-discipline on himself, he or she can easily find himself zoning out on the internet, procrastinating endlessly, taking frequent breaks to get a snack, or jumping back and forth between tasks without achieving much.
With such distractions, many people take an inventory at the end of the day and realize that they have hardly accomplished what they set out to do at the beginning of the day.
Out of about seven or eight hours set for work per day, most people hardly work half of those hours. Somehow, much of their time is lost on non-work activities.
Why does this happen? Why is it so hard to just sit down and focus on your work for several hours until it is done? And most importantly, what can be done about it?
Is it really possible to do in one hour what normally takes you three or four hours? Is it possible to increase the quality of your work while working fewer hours?
Yes, it is possible to get more work done in less time, and it all boils down to being intentional and highly focused with your work.
But how do you become intentional and highly focused?
This can be narrowed down to five key points.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” – Ben Franklin
One of the main reasons people fail to reach their optimum productivity is the feeling of being overwhelmed and drowning in tasks.
If you have too many things on your plate, they eat away at your attention and drain your will.
You feel so overwhelmed that you don’t even know where to start, and even when you get started, you can’t pay enough attention to the task at hand. This problem has a simple remedy. Plan!
Create a schedule. It is crucial that you know exactly what you are supposed to be doing at every hour of your day.
When activities are structured according to a set schedule, it focuses your attention and willpower on the one thing you are supposed to be doing at that particular moment.
Another advantage of having a schedule is that you can batch secondary tasks in a set period of time so that when you start working on the primary/essential tasks, you will have no distractions and can give them all your concentration.
Take emails, for instance. The average employee spends over 11 hours per week on emails alone. What is the first thing you do when you get to the office? If you are like most people, you probably check your emails.
This is not necessarily bad.
The problem is when you go down that rabbit hole and find yourself spending too much time answering emails.
Before you know it, you have drained a big chunk of your morning energy on what is urgent (emails) rather than what is important (valuable, productive work).
To avoid this, start your day by writing down a to-do list, outlining exactly what you wish to accomplish that day.
Even better, you can create your to-do list in the evenings before you go to sleep, so when you wake up the next day you already know what you are going to do.
Though this may not be possible with all workplaces, it is also important to indicate in your to-do list what time you will be undertaking each task.
It doesn’t have to be specific.
Just having a timeline and flow gives you a soothing sense of direction and purpose. It makes you feel calm and in control, and that goes a long way in helping you mow through your to-do list with energy and focus.
When planning your day, isolate three big tasks which you are determined to get done before the day is over. It is easy to lose track of your to-do list while chasing the day-to-day emergencies that tend to crop up.
Having three large goals in your to-do list ensures that no matter what happens in the course of the day, you will have accomplished at least have three important tasks.
We are probably the most distracted generation to ever exist.
Thanks to smart phones, computers, and the internet, we are inundated with a hundred distractions.
At every second of the day, we are bombarded with social media notifications, incoming emails, text messages, phone calls, app update requests… the list is endless.
We are addicted to our phones.
The last thing most of us look at when we go to sleep is our phones. They are also the first thing we look at when we wake up in the morning.
When we are in a queue and start to feel bored, we automatically reach for our phones.
We have forgotten what boredom feels like. The moment we begin to feel a little discomfort as boredom starts to creep in, we find something to fill our time. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to entertainment.
Chatting on social media, videos on You Tube, questions and answers on Quora, topic-specific chats on Reddit, music on SoundCloud, computer games and game apps, you name it.
Unfortunately, our smartphone addiction has extended into our workplaces. Employees will often cut short their work to laugh at funny videos or read about the latest trending topic on BuzzFeed.
We are living in the attention economy. Attention is one of the most valuable resources in the world today. If you can grab people’s attention, you can build an empire.
This is the secret behind the success of companies such as Facebook, BuzzFeed, YouTube, and Reddit. It also explains the success of YouTube personalities, Instagram models, and the famous Kadarshian family.
Attention attracts advertising dollars. Websites and apps like Facebook are deliberately engineered to grab and hold your attention for as long as possible.
As a result, what seems like a harmless pastime has become a dangerous addiction, and it is seriously affecting our productivity.
Workers in the knowledge economy find themselves increasingly unable to maintain focus when working.
This has become a very common scenario.
You are on the internet doing some research for a work project.
An interesting link catches your eye and you click on it. One link leads to another and you fall down the rabbit hole.
Three hours later you find yourself feeling terrible, filled with self-loathing because you have wasted your entire afternoon with nothing to show for it.
Does that sound like you? If it does, the solution to your problem is both easy and hard. All you have to do is get rid of all your favorite distractions.
Delete the apps that waste your time. Install an app-blocker on your phone or a website-blocker plugin in your computer’s browser that will help you block your favorite addictions for specific periods of time.
When working, turn off your smartphone notifications.
Turn off cookies for sites like You Tube to ensure they don’t provide a tailored homepage that contains all your favorite topics/videos.
You can even go to extreme lengths by switching your phone off when you start working.
Simply identify your main distractors and bear hard on them. Yes, leave nothing to chance. Your productivity will thank you for it.
“Procrastination is a thief of time.”
It began when you were in school. You would put off assignments until the night before the deadline.
Others who were more diligent would start their work early and work on it at a leisurely pace.
They had time to do research, think, experiment, and work on producing a great report.
On the night before the deadline, fear roused you from your lethargy and you would start working on the assignment at a feverish pace.
You practically plagiarized information from the internet or from the books you were reading because you did not have the time to digest the information and present it in your own words.
You almost didn’t finish on time. In fact, you were positive that there were some things you left out. You knew you did a poor job.
You still pass though, somehow. You got average marks for average work, though you were more naturally intelligent than many of your diligent classmates who got top marks.
You didn’t think it was such a big deal. Unfortunately this shadow has followed you all your life. It followed you to the workplace.
You always do your work at the last minute, and you have been reprimanded for it one or two times.
If this describes you, your problem is procrastination. You put off things to the last minute. Procrastination is a classic act of self-sabotage.
Serial procrastinators never achieve much, no matter how talented, intelligent, or skilled they are.
Sooner or later, everyone gets fed up with them: their bosses, clients, colleagues, friends, even their family.
In his book The War of Art, writer Steven Pressfield narrates his lifelong struggle with procrastination, how it ruined his life, and how he eventually became a proactive, productive, and highly successful writer, with screenplays, novels, and non-fiction titles under his belt.
In the book, Pressfield calls procrastination “resistance”. Like all great wisdom that tells us how to live our best life, the trick that Pressfield discovered about overcoming resistance is both very easy and very hard. It is easy to understand and hard to implement.
The key to winning the war against resistance, Pressfield reveals, is simply to work. It is to sit down every day at your desk and do the work you are supposed to be doing. All you have to do is start.
Besides, when you actually think about it, you will realize that you have nothing to lose. Just start working on that project. Start writing that novel. Start doing that research. Make that first phone call.
Type that first sentence. Just start. You have nothing to lose. On the other hand, you have everything to lose if you don’t put in the work.
Start working and keep going.
The first two minutes or even five minutes may be difficult.
After a while, though, the resistance fades away.
You hit your stride and you cruise on the momentum you have developed.
Continue working until you complete the job or hit your quota for the day.
If you are struggling with developing a good work ethic and increasing not only your productivity in terms of quantity of work done, but also the quality, you might gain a few insights from Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Deep work, Newport claims, is the most valuable skill in the 21st century, particularly for knowledge workers.
He defines deep work it as the ability to starve your distractions and focus intensely on a task that is cognitively demanding.
Deep work enables you to internalize complicated information or skills quickly.
Those who master the art of deep work not only become extremely valuable in their line of work, but they also become happier as they develop the sense of true fulfillment that comes from producing something worthwhile and completing your tasks in time.
In the highly competitive workplace environment of the 21st century, deep work is practically a superpower.
Those who channel their energies into deep work are able to achieve 10X productivity while others are barely struggling to be average, what with all the distractions weighing them down.
Another advantage of deep work is that enables us to live our most fulfilling lives. If you develop a skill that is rare and valuable in your field, you will command high rates, which means you can define your own work schedule.
The same is true if you develop the habit of completing your tasks in time: it opens up your time, so you can spend more of it doing the things that you love.
A lifestyle dedicated to deep work is the polar opposite of the lives most of us are living today.
Thanks to smartphones and the limitless plethora of entertainment available to us, many of us have dedicated our lives to distraction.
The deep work lifestyle avoids distraction and doubles down on the work that really matters.
Cal Newport provides a number of tips to help you get in the deep work groove.
Here are a few of them:
- Avoid social media – Newport argues that we don’t actually need Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the other social media sites, though it often feels as if we can’t do without them. He provides case studies of people who have succeeded enormously without having to “build a brand”. If you can’t delete your social media accounts, at least limit the time you spend on them. Install plugins or apps that block these sites during your work hours.
- Focus on the wildly important tasks.
- Track yourself, so as to keep yourself honest about how much time you are spending on the priority project.
- Avoid shallow work – Things like checking email or filling in a spreadsheet. These are tasks that are not cognitively demanding, which you can perform while distracted.
To summarize, focus first on the valuable, cognitively-demanding tasks, don’t multi-task, and avoid distractions.
That way, you will complete your projects in no time and also guarantee quality.
When it comes to increasing their productivity, most people focus on tools and techniques and focus on the most important thing – actual work. In truth, all the productivity tools and techniques mean nothing if you don’t put in the work.
That project won’t do itself.
It takes effort and time, and you have to put in both of these.
It doesn’t matter what productivity tools you use to plan your day and cut out distractions.
If you don’t actually put in the work, you will accomplish nothing at the end of the day.
This is the sweat-factor of productivity. It’s the easiest thing to understand and one of the hardest thing to implement. In her bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth calls it “grit”.
According to Angela, the secret to outstanding accomplishment in any field is not talent, but rather a blend of persistence and passion, which is what she calls “grit.”
This persistence is also expressed by Cal Newport when he observes that in his experience, the most common trait that he has consistently observed in achievers is “an obsession with completion”.
He explains that for this type of people, when a project falls into their lap, they are filled with an almost compulsive drive to finish it.
On one side, productivity is about being organized and planning how you spend your time.
On the other side, productivity is also about putting in the work and persisting for extended periods of time to complete a task or project. This is what is referred to as grit.
Grit is a rare quality nowadays. The ability to push yourself to do hard things in a word that is rife on distractions will make you stand out in a crowd.
It is impossible to engage in deep work without grit. Grit is a state of mind, it is an attitude.
Develop it and your days of procrastinating and underperforming at work or school will be over.
High achievers do not attain their lofty peaks because of their innate genius or talent.
It helps, sure, but the world is full of destitute geniuses and wasted talents. Some of the most successful and productive people you know are probably less smarter or talented than you are.
What matters when it comes to productivity is planning ahead, never postponing work, eliminating distractions, and immersing yourself in a task and persisting at it until you complete it.
Follow these guidelines and you will certainly be able to achieve insane levels of productivity.
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