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The trick to being productive and happy all at once

The trick to being productive and happy all at once

Productivity has always been a key word in my view of myself. Not in a stakhanovist way where I would try to get an ever increasing amount of work done at any cost: I dropped my I-need-to-impress-my-dad-complex pretty early in life. I mean a more “balanced” productivity, where I would consistently do a certain amount of quality work while keeping enough free time for personal projects.
So about a year ago I set out on a path to achieve both an improved professional performance and a more satisfying personal growth.

Focus on optimising your personal time

I started reading every research and productivity blog that I could find to get up to speed. After some time, I realised that all that literature had one big shortcoming: the bulk of what I found was centered around work environment, its organization, and what individuals can do about it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to your work environment, what you can do on your own has a whole set of limitations. So once you have done everything in your power, you are pretty much left with two paths: looking for solutions at work that would not solely depend on you, or leave it alone and shift on to the second phase of the plan, namely optimising your personal time. I decided to focus on the latter. It was a better call than I could ever have suspected.

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Are you enjoying your free time or simply filling it?

Below is a graph of my “entertainment activities” over the last year acquired through Smarter Time.

Looking closer into its content shows it consists mostly of playing video games and watching TV. The trouble is, I knew outright I often play a game or watch a TV show as a “filler activity”. When we reach a point when we feel we can’t work anymore, we are naturally tempted to go and do any familiar stuff that can help us reboot our brain. But we don’t necessarily get any satisfaction from engaging in activities that are too familiar, don’t exactly relax us but don’t stimulate us properly either.

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A year of fun

    Time to step back and reassess, I thought. What could I do to make my work/life balance feel more productive? How could I get some satisfaction (and I tried)? I already said I wasn’t looking for more work time – after all I can only work so much. What I wanted, I realised, was to extend the feeling of achievement I was getting from work into my personal life.

    After digging a little deeper inside my data, I found a little activity I and many people seem to overlook: “Reading”. I do a lot of things on my smartphone, including almost all of my reading. So I can check very easily how much time I spend on my Kindle app.
    And the results surprised me. Over the past few months, I have been reading on average 45 min/day. A couple of days last year were at a 10h high (must have been the London rain keeping me home), but this is actually the most regular of all my personal activities. It’s one of the very few things I do every day.

    Create something

    However I felt that reading more would not cut it either. I did not want to just engage in another passive activity and make reading into a “TV brain reboot” unsatisfactory thing. I realised that if I wanted to be productive in my personal life, I needed to actually “produce” something.

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    So I decided to turn my reading into its creative counterpart, and I started writing. I won’t list it all here, but I did try my hand at different genres and formats. I may even have a story I really want to finish. Most importantly, I experience a level of fulfilment through that activity that no other stuff I do in my downtime can compete with.

    Mind you, writing is still a tiring, involving activity, and I still need my idle times and brain-dead-TV-moments. But reducing the proportion of those to the strict minimum has only perks. I feel more alert, I can feel myself growing intellectually, and the guilt I felt from wasting time has disappeared because I waste so much less of it! I am more relaxed and less tired. As a side effect, I also feel more productive at work, which leaves me a bit more free time and makes me more satisfied, in some sort of virtuous circle. It’s a win/win situation.

    Do what means something to you

    I am sure for other people the answer would have been different – sports, arts, social time, volunteering, the list of activities that can mean something to someone is never ending and depends entirely on who you are. What matters, though, is that they mean something to you. It makes a world of difference.

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    I set out on a journey to increase my productivity, but I found something more important than that: a balance that brings me happiness. Which brings productivity. And demonstrates the infinite importance of taking the time to properly know yourself.

    Featured photo credit: Flickr, Sc0o via flic.kr

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    Last Updated on September 16, 2019

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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