Teaching others to improve their personal productivity is big business: Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey, David Allen… they and others have turned improving individual productivity into a massive industry.
At least for today, forget them.
If you want to finish a major project, knock out a task you’ve been putting off, or just complete a lot of work in a relatively short period of time, there’s an easier way.
And it’s free.
Say you need to complete a task you estimate will take 10 to 12 hours. Here’s how to pull it off in one day:
1. Tell everyone what you’re doing.
This step is an absolute since interruptions are productivity killers. So is the, “How much longer do you have to work?” guilt trip family members sometimes can’t help but lay on you. (Of course they want you at home. They love you.)
At a minimum tell coworkers and family, but consider letting certain clients know as well. Send a brief email a few days ahead of time explaining you will be tied up that day and will respond to calls, emails, etc. first thing the next day. A few customers might get with you ahead of time; most will make a mental note you can’t be reached.
Either way, you’re good.
Plus you get an additional benefit: People important to you know what you intend to accomplish… and they’ll know if you don’t succeed.
Peer pressure can be a great motivator. Use it.
2. Decide how long you will work.
Don’t go into the day thinking, “Well, I will work as long as I can,” or “I’ll work as long as I feel productive.” Set a specific target. Commit to working 12 or 14 or however many hours you choose.
Then something cool happens: The longer the time frame you set, the quicker the early hours seem to go by.
When I worked in a factory we normally worked 8-hour shifts; the hour before lunch dragged and the last couple of hours always seemed like death.
Yet when we worked 12-hour shifts the mornings seemed to fly by. Something about knowing you will be working for a long time allows you to stop checking the clock; it’s like you naturally find your Zen (work)place.
Try it—it works.
3. Start really early—or really late.
Have you ever taken a long car trip and left at 3 or 4 a.m.? Those first few hours on the road flew by because you stepped outside your norm.
The same trick works with accomplishing a major goal. Start at 4 a.m. Or indulge your inner night owl and start at 6 p.m. and work through the night.
An extreme productivity day is not a normal day, so it shouldn’t feel like one. Set the stage by breaking free of your normal routine.
4. Withhold the fun for a while.
Say you like to listen to music while you work. If that’s how you “treat” yourself when you’re working, don’t, at least for the first few hours.
Then when your motivation starts to flag your playlist will provide a powerful boost.
However you treat yourself, remember that each treat is like a personal productivity bullet; shoot too early, too often, and nothing is left when you really need some motivational ammunition.
Whatever you typically use to carry you through your workday, hold off on it for a while. Delayed gratification is motivating gratification.
5. Recharge early.
If you wait to drink until you’re thirsty when you exercise, it’s often too late.
The same is true when you work. Any time you allow yourself to feel discomfort your overall motivation and resolve weakens. Plan to snack or eat a little earlier than normal. If you sit while you work, stand before your butt gets numb. If you stand, sit before your legs start to ache.
And plan meals wisely. Prepare food you can eat quickly without lots of preparation or mess.
The key is to refuel and keep rolling: As Isaac Newton said, an extreme personal productivity body in motion tends to stay in motion. (Or something like that.)
Refuel, recharge, and keep yours in motion.
6. Take productive breaks, not rest breaks.
Again, momentum is everything. When you take a break don’t watch a little TV or check your social media feeds. You definitely need breaks, but every break you take should reinforce your sense of activity and accomplishment.
Pick a few productive tasks you like to perform–and gain a sense of accomplishment when you complete–and use those for your breaks.
Spending even a few minutes in the land of inactivity weakens your resolve.
7. When you start to feel overwhelmed, stop thinking.
Some projects or tasks can seem so daunting, so overwhelming, so, “No way am I ever going to finish this,” that it’s almost paralyzing.
I saw an extremely overweight man working with a personal trainer. As he was trudging up some stadium steps the man broke down emotionally. The thought of having to lose a couple hundred pounds, of needing to diet for years, of having to exercise every day until every muscle ached… the immensity of his challenge crashed down on him.
He sank to his knees and closed his eyes and started crying. “I should just quit. I’ll never be able to do this,” he sobbed.
“I know it’s tough,” the trainer said. “I know it feels impossible right now.” He put a hand on the man’s shoulder.
“But right now–right now–is not about trying to lose all that weight. Right now is just about walking. The only thing you have to think about is making it up the next step. That’s it. Don’t think about tomorrow or next month or next year. Just think about walking up one more step.
“That’s all you have to do. I know you can do that.”
And he did.
When you start to feel overwhelmed, stop thinking and just do whatever you need to do next. Then think about what comes immediately after that.
Every journey, no matter how long, is just a series of steps. When you feel overwhelmed… just think about the next step.
8. Don’t quit until you’re done—even if finishing takes longer than expected.
Stopping short is habit forming: If you quit this time what will keep you from quitting the next time?
Success is also habit forming, so make sure your first extreme personal productivity day marks the start of a great new habit.
Besides the fact you completed a huge task, there’s another benefit to knocking out an extreme personal productivity day. We all unconsciously set internal limits on our output: A voice inside says, “I’ve done enough,” or, “That’s all I can do today,” or, I’m whipped–no way I can do more,” and we stop.
But our internal limiters lie to us: With the right motivation, under the right circumstances, we can do more–a lot more.
An extreme personal productivity day automatically ratchets your internal limits a little higher.
After a few extreme productivity days you’ll perform better every “normal” day too–because you will have unconsciously raised your own bar.
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