Developing Productive Habits Requires Productive Action — How to Defeat the Cycle
Have you ever known someone who consistently fails to complete things? Have you ever known someone who always gets the job done on time? I’m sure you have. In fact, I’m sure most people you know fall into one camp or the other. Which one of these two types of people are you?
There’s a reason that 99.9% of people fall into one of these two camps, but not somewhere in between. How many people have you known that are just as likely to get things done as they are to let things slide? Come to think of it, I’ve never met a person like this in my life. It’s because the trend to complete or to procrastinate are not mere fluctuations in our mood or our environment, but habits in and of themselves.
The key to getting things done is to consistently get things done. It is about building a new habit and making it so much a part of you that you don’t have to think about how you’re going to get it done and what you’re going to do to psych yourself up for it; you just sit down and complete it.
Motivation is important, but I’d contend that it’s not a big part of how much you complete. It can certainly affect you on an off day, but if your problem is repeated, regular procrastination, your problem isn’t motivation. It’s bad habits. In my opinion, this is the most fundamental piece of knowledge to changing your productivity patterns.
It’s not about systems. It’s not about hacks. It’s not about the way you feel.
It’s about the way you consciously and subconsciously approach taking action in general. If you’ve got a procrastination problem, you’ve most likely got one that affects getting around to changing a lightbulb at home just as much as tasks at work.
The problem with is getting out of the loop; to form a new habit, you have to consistently complete tasks until it just becomes a part of your personality and attitude. And consistently completing tasks is the problem you’re having in the first place, so how the heck do you get out of the cycle?
Reminds me of the dilemma I face each morning: in order to drink my coffee and become alert, I’ve got to make the coffee, which is fiddly and requires alertness.
(I’m not quitting coffee. Don’t even say it.)
Discipline, which is at the core of building new habits until the associated actions don’t require discipline in order to be executed, is like a muscle. That’s nothing new. I’m sure you’ve heard this said many times before.
What do you do when you’re out of shape and you want to get back in shape? To do this successfully, you start small. Of course, the temptation many people fall for is going for strenuous runs and workouts straight away, but what always happens, happens: they fail and give up.
To build any new habit, you must take small steps and increase the size of these steps only once you have no difficulty with the one you’re on. If you’re doing fifty push-ups in your workout and this becomes easy and unchallenging, you up the number. It’s the same with general personal productivity. You start by assigning yourself small tasks and once you fly through the little, easy items on the list, you step it up a notch and tackle something a bit larger.
Whether you start small or you start big, you’ve got to be consistent. Doing push-ups each day for a week as you try and get back in shape, then forgetting for two weeks and doing it for one more week before you forget again, is not likely to help you out all too much. The progress you’ve made on developing new habits, and improving your fitness, will quickly disappear. Again, it’s the same in the case of learning this “completion attitude” — if you give your productivity muscles a work out infrequently, the time in between will murder any progress you have made.
Fortunately, to assist our lazy and undisciplined minds, we have alarms which you can set on your phone, in iCal or Outlook, or whatever it is you use. Of course, the only problem then is obeying the reminder!
Don’t Be Complacent
The first and most obvious piece of advice that falls under this heading is: start small, but don’t stay small. It’s easy to get comfortable with your progress and not push yourself further. Remember to consistently increase the level of challenge or difficulty, no matter what it is you’re trying to master.
The second, less obvious, but perhaps more important thing is: don’t have an end goal. And by that I don’t mean you shouldn’t set goals and milestones, but don’t have a place where you’ll just stop trying and plateau. Life’s not meant to be lived that way. You can always improve, no matter what it is you are doing. The ability to fly through work so you can get on with life is no different. You can always build and reinforce the good habits that allow you to tackle consecutively larger and larger projects with increasing ease.
If you stay on this road, there will come a day when you’ll want to tackle a project that everyone around you says is too big for you to realistically handle — and you’ll handle it with ease.
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