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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.

    More by this author

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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