Many people equate productivity to genetics: you either have it or you don't.
Just like white chocolate baking morsels at Whole Foods — I don't buy it.
Productivity is as much a product of what you do during this day as what you don't do. Too many people believe you are either born productive, disciplined and ambitious or not.
First off — that's a defeatist's mindset and we could draft up another article strictly on that.
Second, I think this is wrong.
Procrastination, lack of discipline and wasting time exist within all of us.
But for some — they can tame and ultimately slay the aforementioned three-headed beast like any fabled knight slays the dragon to rescue the princess trapped in the castle's keep.
The knight in this story doesn't do it in a vacuum, however — he has the right tools and the right strategy in order to get the job done.
That's the same way you're going to get the job done on your end — with the right tools and the right strategy.
Write down your to dos the night before
And maybe for some of you — we need to take a further step back…
Write down your to dos.
Science notes that you get a flood of dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter) in the brain when you complete a goal or task. This practice is essentially chasing the high — only it's a good high and not chasing cocaine or something that can get your life hanging upside down in a hurry.
The writing down of your to dos the night before helps with saving time (and thus remaining productive) so you don't have to remember what tasks you needed to complete when the next morning rolls around.
This happens even on the smallest of scales…
I can't tell you how many times I wake up in the morning and head to the grocery store — when I get there, I have no idea what I was supposed to buy (although I know it isn't white chocolate chip morsels!).
When you're doing the work of the day, there is going to be a place you need to stop, wrap the current task you're working on, and decompress for the rest off the night.
This is the perfect time to set yourself up on a solid platform for the next day.
You already know what needs to be completed seeing as it's fresh and right in front of you.
It's recommended that you keep it simple. think of your must do tasks: the tasks that will help you move forward and help you complete the lesser tasks later on in the day.
“If I have 10 important things to do in a day, it’s 100% certain nothing important will get done that day. On the other hand, I can usually handle one must-do item and block out my lesser behaviors for two to three hours a day.”
— Tim Ferriss
Invest in good coffee or tea
There are two types of people:
- Coffee people
- And tea people
All other people who don't drink either can kiss my a — …
"Wait, Jon! This is a family-friendly article!"
Oh sorry, where was I?
Right — tea or coffee.
I'm definitely a coffee person.
I'm also an advocate for the saying, "you pay for what you get" and when it comes to coffee, nothing could possible ring more true.
I remember back in my caveman days when would purchase Keurig or some other powdered dirt trash and drink it with the hope that it would give me the intravenous energy injection I was looking for to take my productivity to the next level.
Instead, I got the taste of old cardboard.
Since investing in good coffee I have found that my flow states are more fluid and I don't need a lot in order to get that kick in the booty.
What do I drink? Normally whole bean Stumptown prepared with a Chemex. I find that grinding the beans in the morning helps with the ritual and the Chemex helps with making a more robust cup of coffee.
And ritual is key.
The human brain is hardwired to favor routine over novelty — even if the routine is an unhealthy one.
Don't believe me? A psychological study noted that people who were given either stale or fresh popcorn while watching a movie still ate the same amount regardless of the quality of popcorn because they were so conditioned to eating popcorn while moviegoing.
Your brain needs conditioning in order to develop routine. And when you develop routine, it can lead you to more productivity.
"I try to just focus in on being in the same routine every single day."
— Patrick Mahomes
Block out the white noise
I get a lot of flack from my friends.
I'll see someone after some time has passed and I'll be greeted with,
"What the heck, Jon — didn't you see that post I sent you on IG?"
And I'll say,
"Nah, bruh — I ain't got time for your Gatorade-brained games!"
Just kidding, I wish I was cool enough to talk like that.
But the IG part is real.
And you know why I didn't see that post? Because I turned off the notifications from IG (and pretty much every other app besides Bloomberg).
I'm both enthused and terrified with the idea of emerging technology. Sometimes I get paranoid thinking we look at screens too much (coming from the guy who makes a living writing on a computer).
I do think we distract ourselves whenever we stop what we're doing and attend to the whims of the red dots on our iPhone.
Be the master of your phone — not the other way around. You do this by checking the status of your apps when you deem it's appropriate to do so, not when someone from your high school graduating class posted about her baby shower.
Remember that amazing, terrific, and sexy neurotransmitter that we talked about earlier — dopamine?
Well dopamine is also released in the brain when you get a notification. That feel good sensation hits you again, only this time — it's due to something that's taking you away from being productive rather than fostering productivity.
"One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us."
— Daniel Goleman
Choose a form of daily exercise
I find it strange that the human body is actually energized after a workout rather than the opposite.
I used to think that I would be more tired after a workout.
That's why I have to workout in the morning and not at night. I used to get restless leg syndrome and couldn't fall asleep in my bed.
That's because during exercise, you release endorphins and get your heart rate up thus giving you energy. As you continually get your heart rate up, you increase the overall strength and stamina of your heart.
This provides you more energy in your day and helps stay productive over longer stretches.
"Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning."
— Thomas Jefferson
Invest in noise cancelling headphones
I was asked by Joseph Mavericks the other day what my top three most important productivity tools were.
I'm only going to give you number one — my Bose QC35II noise cancelling headphones.
This further helps block out the white noise that can be present when you're trying to get work done.
Listen — 90% of the time I'm using them to listen to a phat bass line and drum sequence that will help me tap into flow.
But I also have to be honest — sometimes I'll turn them on so the noise cancelling is active and I'll just leave them idle. I don't need any music, but I don't want any static noise either.
I can't say enough about investing in a good sound fidelity to help get work done.
Remember — I mentioned earlier that I'm someone who believes you pay for what you get.
I said it with coffee and I meant it.
I'm saying it with sound fidelity and I still mean it.
"Kids and adults alike are having their curiosity drained away by boredom in class or the workplace, and by the unremitting background noise of a dumbed-down pop culture."
— Sal Khan
Find a place to stop
This, I have found, has made the biggest impact on my own productivity.
Again, it seems counterintuitive…
Why wouldn't I reply to an email or scramble to finish a project if it's coming to a point near my cut off time (for me, that's 6pm)?
Because when you don't give yourself a cutoff time — your brain gets confused with resting and regenerating for the next day.
Think if you never gave yourself a rest day with working out. You would probably incur injury.
You need time to wind down in order to get back to full steam the next day.
If you're constantly on, your brain will get confused.
It's okay to stop and rest — in fact, it's important for your own productivity.
This also helps with the first productivity hack that I mentioned earlier: preparing your to do list the night prior. If you are running from task to task and never giving yourself a checkpoint as to where you can pick up again, you'll lose where you are and end up wasting time and productivity.
“If you keep interrupting your evening to check and respond to e-mail, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration. Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.”
— Cal Newport
Productivity isn't a product of the genes you're born with.
It isn't because you are just born a productive person or not.
Many people deal with being productive even though their peers might think it comes easy to them. Perhaps they're just looking at their day with less peripherals and focusing on the more important things that can carry them through their day.
Those important things are:
- Writing down your to do list the night before
- Investing in good coffee (to help with a ritual)
- Blocking out the white noise (turning off notifications)
- Choose a form of daily exercise
- Invest in noise cancelling headphones (to tap into flow)
- Find a place to stop
You'll be amazed when you notice how much more you can get done when you narrow your focus and emphasize what really matters.
Ready to Make More?
If you want to excel and earn more than what you’re currently making by doing what you love, check out my guide.