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Rethinking Productivity: Why Your Brain May Be Keeping You from Getting Things Done

Rethinking Productivity: Why Your Brain May Be Keeping You from Getting Things Done

(Editor’s Note: We’re starting a new series this week featuring new Lifehack contributor Kirsten Simmons called “Rethinking Productivity”. The hope is our readers will ask Kirsten questions about productivity, organization, and time management so that she can provide answers that will make people take a step back and “rethink” productivity. Enjoy.)

    Dear Kirsten,

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    I’m about ready to scream.  Everywhere I look there’s “Five Steps to Inbox Nirvana” or “The ONE Secret to Productivity Flow.”  I swear I’ve tried it all and none of it works.  Sometimes I look at the systems and think, there’s no way in hell.  Other times I can see potential and I jump into it with both feet and a rush of enthusiasm, only to crash and burn within a week.  I have so much that I *want* to do, and yet I find myself jumping from this deadline to that emergency, and my projects rarely take form in the way I want.  I’m skeptical that you’ll have any ideas I haven’t tried, but I figured it was worth a shot… do I have a change to someday finishing everything, or should I just let it go as a dream and focus on the day-to-day?

    Signed,
    Gaaaa!

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    Dear Gaaaa!,

    Oh, honey, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Letters like yours make me want to give you a giant hug and then step out to do battle with the ego-centered productivity industry where everyone believes that their system is the key to endless productivity and happiness. I may well be tilting at windmills, but a gal’s got to try, right?

    First off, there are a few ideas that I’d like you to internalize, 100%.

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    1. You are totally capable of finishing everything. BUT, everything is a slippery target because it’s constantly growing. If you had an extra 24 hours in the day, you’d be able to fill it in a heartbeat. Every time you finish something, another project comes up that is just as enticing as the previous. You won’t stop expanding until the day you die.
    2. Your projects may not take form in the way you want, but they are taking form! No one is able to realize fully the visions we have in our heads. I went to a reading with Neil Gaiman last year, and he commented that he had hated the initial edits for American Gods, so he jumped at the chance to do an “author’s definitive edition” a few years later. But then as he continued to tour and do readings, he found even more places he wanted to change, and he had the opportunity to do so when the 10th anniversary edition came out.  But even then, in the months between the time the book went to press and the day I saw him, he had found more that he would have liked to have tweaked.  But, as he put it, you can’t put out the “author’s definitive definitive edition.”  There is a time when you must let your projects go.  To quote The Cult of Done Manifesto, “Laugh at perfection.  It’s boring and keeps you from being done… Done is the engine of more.”
    3. Productivity in isolation is useless. All of those steps and tips and secrets do absolutely nothing for you if you can’t place them in context. And what is the context, you might ask? Simple. Your productivity fits within the ecosystem of you – your goals, your commitments, your habits and your personality. Trying to apply tips and tricks is like treating symptoms without trying to understand the cause of the illness. Every system you consider must work with your needs and serve to move you toward your goals. Your personality may not be conducive to maintaining a system like Getting Things Done. In fact, most people’s personalities aren’t! If you don’t know your personality type and you’re not putting productivity systems in the context of your goals, commitments and habits, no wonder you’re crashing! All the pieces have to work together. When they don’t, you struggle with overwhelm, burnout and frustration.

    You are not at all flawed or wrong because you don’t fit into society’s narrow definition of a “productive” person. You are capable of achieving every goal you’ve ever dreamed about, and a good deal more that you can’t even conceive of yet. We just have to bring your ecosystem back into balance by putting your productivity in context. So here’s what I want you to do. Write me back with an example of the last trick, tip or system you jumped into with enthusiasm, and recount for me all the painful details of your crash and burn. It’s not going to be fun, but I can start to pull your personality type from the story, and from there we can move forward to put your productivity in perspective.

    With love,
    Kirsten

    Now it’s your turn! Please leave a comment and tell me about your most recent crash and burn with a new productivity system.

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    Featured photo credit: Thinker via Shutterstock and inline photo by Andrew Mason via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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