It was the best of times for productivity. It was the worst of times for productivity.
Despite an endless stream of upbeat self-help books and articles, the great majority of us simply can’t change our lives completely overnight. Gradual change is harder, but as always, necessary. There are no shortcuts, we are always told, but this is only partly true.
The algorithms that run our lives – from ingrained habits and routines to Google searches and our Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn feeds – have all been optimized and tinkered with by someone else. Remember when you had no email, Facebook or the news to check first thing when you woke up?
On top of the time wasted, there is always guilt and shame – and often awful stress – over procrastination, both at work and home. That’s how decision-making and our productivity become so warped and clouded by reaction, not proactive thinking.
Before I got my act together in my twenties, I drifted for a good long while until the status quo became impossible to keep. I had to get my act together or risk losing what I had. The chaos had become impossible to manage. I started meditating everyday and taking better care of health, took pains to understand and learn to manage my finances. I broke the vicious cycle of perfectionism and disappointment over unfinished projects.
Here are the strategies I used to turn my negative emotions into high performance:
1) Lower the barriers to making decisions easily and gaining the habits to get things done
Each night, I would prepare my lunch and work clothes and the tools and conditions I needed for my mediation. This took away the need to make decisions in the morning, so I could get things done (eat better, meditate, get to work on time, etc.). This took the guilt and shame out of the equation.
2) Turn my guilt about letting others down into the habit of waking up early to meditate
I would be exhausted from the night before, but because I felt guilty about letting down the other guys in the synagogue that needed me to make 10 for morning services, I would drag myself up and go to pray with them each morning.
The fear of bad appearance meant maintaining an “expensive” look on a very limited budget. This turned into a Negotiation Mindset backed by budgeting, seeking better prices and negotiating big purchases. This forced me to overcome a fear of negotiation and led to multiple raises and better benefits at work, among many other financial and other rewards.
3) Make myself accountable to someone else, using the shame of disappointment as a force for productivity
Before I met my wife, I was writing my first novel on and off for 5 years without much progress. When she told me, “finish or I’m out of here,” it got done within a few months. My second novel was finished in 7 months because of a fellowship deadline.
4) Use my guilt about not eating well consistently or following through to create simple good habits for my diet.
I set easy and clear conditions for myself. If I wanted to eat breakfast, first I’d have to pray/meditate. Then, in order to get to breakfast, I’d have to drink water first to start my digestion. Then, it turned into a glass of water before every meal and eventually other small, but critical changes for better digestion.
5) Channel my procrastination on Facebook and LinkedIn into set time windows during the day to reading useful information
Guilt over procrastination never diminished the amount of time I spent on social media. So, I filtered my news feeds to get rid of distracting, annoying and useless posts from “friends.” I “liked” the FB and LinkedIn pages of publications and people and companies I actually wanted to read and left out all the rest. This way, when I would go in by habit, I would spend my time wisely and improve my life tangibly, even while “wasting time.”
6) Automate as many things as I can relating to good habits of health, personal finance and productivity
This meant leaving my phone in another room when having dinner with family and overnight, to get me awake and out of bed irreversibly. I automated 401(k) contributions to maximize the company match, my student loan payments (getting back a quarter point in interest charges) and monthly transfers into savings (Digit.co and my bank app), as well as credit card payments to take advantage of “you won’t spend it if you don’t see it,” of credit card points and frequent flyer miles, cash back and other card perks.
I started using apps (Asana, Mint, Credit Karma) to check in each week to see my full professional and financial pictures. Most of all, I automated my Negotiation Mindset during purchases to save a lot of money and think more creatively about my partnerships with people and derive more benefit for family, my boss and others in my business and professional contexts.
7) Train my fear of appearing to be a hypocrite into making sure I was always on time, presentable and prepared
Since I hate it when people waste my time when they are late, unprepared, un-presentable, off-message, long-winded and unhelpful to me in any way, it made only perfect sense that I take care of all these things myself first.
8) Channel my laziness into eating more healthy food during the week
Since I started being more religiously observant, I had to do a washing and prayer ritual before eating bread and then again after. Since I was too lazy to do this, I effectively eliminated bread from my diet during the week.
Now go and turn your fears into success! Start your journey up and forward today. Time’s a wasting.
Featured photo credit: Nathan Walker via ci5.googleusercontent.com