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The Daily Grind: A Matter of Momentum

The Daily Grind: A Matter of Momentum

momentum

    If you want to understand personal productivity, you’ve got to understand the concept of momentum. For all the organizing systems in the world and early rising skills in your time zone, you’ll only ever get so much done without bringing momentum into play.

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    Some people say the purpose of productivity is to give yourself more free time to spend relaxing, not working. I disagree. The purpose of productivity is to give yourself more time, whatever you choose to do with it. You should definitely have downtime regularly, but one thing momentum allows you to do is work faster and faster with each completed task throughout the day. In this case, we’re talking about being productive so that you’re even more productive in the hours following.

    The Big Difference: Productivity With and Without Momentum

    You start the day with a coffee and by making a list of the tasks you need to get done. At nine in the morning, you start working, slowly picking off the tasks on your list as and when you feel like it, so long as they’re completed by the time you have to clock off. It doesn’t matter if you do them in a slow and relaxed manner, it just matters that you don’t have to stay back late. This determines your maximum working speed.

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    On the other hand, you could start with a list you prepared at the previous day. This helps with one thing in particular: it removes any obstacles to getting started and building momentum. You start with the first task on the list and set a timer. You’ve set a dash: you’re going to work furiously and unwaveringly for ten minutes, and then reward yourself with a two minute break. If at any point in that ten-minute period your concentration wavers, you start from scratch and delay your break. There’s incentive to work not just quickly, but without distractions.

    You set the timer again for your break, but unlike most people you don’t take the whole two minutes having a cigarette or looking up jokes; you give yourself one minute to stretch your legs and one minute to review your tasks, mentally preparing for the next dash — which is going to be twice as long, but with a twice as long break.

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    This is just one method for keeping yourself focused, on-task, and working pretty quickly. The key point is that it gets you working a little longer, a little harder each time, and you only get to reward yourself if you succeed at working hard.

    Why Momentum Matters

    If you’re in an employment situation, there might not be much incentive for you to work as hard as possible and build momentum throughout the day. If I could offer one good reason to train yourself in working harder and faster as the day progresses, it’s that one day you might find yourself self-employed and you’ll discover that time is money.

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    For every minute you’re slacking off, you’re not earning money, and let me tell you: the habits you built working for someone else will persist even when you work for yourself.
    There can be a staggering amount of work to do in this situation, whether you’re building a business (whether as a freelancer or as a company) or maintaining one. I know of way too many freelancers who start working before most people are awake and don’t clock off until nine or ten at night.

    Many of these people are working at full-blast all day, but the truth is that most people who work insane hours could probably work a lot less if they just applied the concept of momentum-building to their work day. If you’re well-organized already, it’s easy to begin. If not, you need to get started with a system like Getting Things Done, because if your next actions are not known to you before the start of your work day, you will spend time figuring out what to do next and losing any and all momentum.

    Get Prepared the Day Before

    If you don’t do anything else, do this one thing: map out your tasks the day before. Before you finish up work each day, make it your final task to set up a to-do list for the next day. There are so many benefits to working this way: anything tasks you need to complete from that day are still fresh in your mind, you give your mind twelve hours to mentally prepare for the next day at work, and you remove the biggest obstacle to being productive, and that’s not knowing where to start.

    My preferred system is to use Things on the computer for planning projects and capturing tasks, and then transferring daily task lists to a paper-only format to aid in focus.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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