I've worked for myself for over a decade, and it hasn't always been easy. I've wasted lots of time procrastinating and worrying about procrastinating.
I've also put many resources into figuring out how to do more and create more. Not for the sake of it, but to create with purpose. To create, ultimately, so I can have a greater impact on the people I want to help.
Here are some habits I've learned from the best that help me the most:
Do one thing at a time.
It can be easy to overcomplicate things with all the advice from gurus and content creators. Strategies overlap, making you more confused and even less productive than when you started. If I'm overwhelmed, I always return to this: one thing at a time. It's a lesson I learned from my dad. It's so simple, but it changes everything. There is no past and there is no future here to worry about. You just do, and you do without distraction. To add another layer to this, do it with enjoyment. This is a life hack. You don't wait for enjoyment to show up like a clown at a birthday. You choose to enjoy. You find a way in. Enjoyable, present work is productive work.
Prioritize leverage over busyness.
Most people who think they're productive are running around like lost ferrets, busy and taking tons of action. But they're just busy. They're not effective. Because productivity is about doing more of the right things better. So truly productive people are always conscious of the answer to this question: 'How do I get more juice for every squeeze?' In other words, they look for ways to leverage and scale the output with less effort. They focus on what works. They triple down on their strengths and delete or outsource the rest.
They keep physically moving.
You can't expect to be productive if you're sitting on your butt all day. Even shimmying to the other room to lie down is better than being sedentary. Productivity is about optimizing your energy, and you will grow stagnant like an old pond if you don't move. Those with insane levels of output have a secret: they move around all day. They keep the blood flowing and oxygenate their brains. They walk. They do squats between writing sprints. They train their bodies in the gym in service to their work, not in parallel to the work. Get moving.
Plan 3 steps ahead.
If we're most productive in the zone and present and doing one thing at a time, what is secondary to that? Knowing what you're doing next. You could just do whatever strikes you as necessary, and that's ok. But we can often get lost in unnecessary 'busywork' if we just keep knocking things off our to-do lists. We need to take moments where we can step back and reflect and connect our longer-term goals to our shorter-term tasks. Take your to-do list and make a 'next three steps' list. This list takes the highest priority items from your long to-do list. This smaller list reflects a new commitment. A commitment to clear, defined, focused action on the stuff that matters. Know what matters, and throw yourself into each task without second-guessing yourself.
Fuel their bodies properly.
Productive people are not only aware of the need to move their bodies throughout the day, they know the vital significance of two things:
- Consuming things that slow us down.
- Consuming things that energize us.
With awareness of the elements in both groups, they organize their lives in such a way that they avoid consuming the bad stuff and consume more of the good stuff. For most people, this is a case of reducing the garbage we take in, whether it's smoking or eating junk food. If you're genuinely committed to productive output, you must also be committed to treating your body right. Your body and that spongy thing attached called a brain must be regarded as your most prized asset in the work you do.
Here's a secret few productivity gurus talk about. The ones who seem to possess a crazy unfair advantage in how they seem to find ways to stay motivated use their inner guidance systems more effectively. What do I mean by this? We all have an innate intelligence flowing through us. It's the same stuff that takes an acorn and turns it into an oak tree. It's the same stuff that holds the moon up in space. Most of us only tap into our personal thinking and allow it to spiral out of control via overthinking. We bypass this inner creative intelligence. But you'll know it's there because you had the best ideas ever while out for a walk, not even trying to think. Right? This is pure creative flow, unimpeded by stressful 'try hard' thinking. It just appears. That's innate intelligence at play; you can access it when you allow your mind to still.
They aim to do it the best it can be done.
I learned this from Gary Keller in his book The One Thing. He spoke about how the greats don't stop––like most people––at “doing their best.” Doing your best at whatever task isn't exactly exciting. Why? Because you don't tend to see significant successes in the lukewarm zone of “pretty good.” Instead, shoot for the extraordinary.
A subtle shift in intention to not only doing your best but doing it the best it can be done (even if it's washing the dishes), changes the entire experience. Suddenly you are taking part in a new game, where you are setting trends. You are in mastery. You are aiming to be the best at what you do. This is the kind of mindset that inspired greats like Michael Jordan and Tony Hawk to continually expand and exceed expectations. This is exciting. This speaks to your soul because your soul knows more than your frightened and limited thinking. Make a commitment today to be the best. I'm serious. Go there. Notice how your energy rises. Now you're playing the way the world needs you to play.
This is what we want from you.