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Why It’s Necessary to Learn the Rules Before You Break Them

Why It’s Necessary to Learn the Rules Before You Break Them
Breaking the Rules
    Breaking the Rules by Before the Coffee

    Productivity is often seen as a rigid fun-free word that many people shy away from. Some say it’s the antithesis of creativity; maybe it’s because of this that so many creative types have chaotic tendencies.

    For others, productivity is necessary in order for creativity to thrive.

    I’m part of the latter group, productivity has been my savior. It has been the gap between stress and calm, the link between dreams and action and the catalyst that helped convert mediocre to successful.

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    Do we have to follow the rules?

    Learning to be more productive can be a chore — it can be daunting to try and adopt a new way of working. Stepping outside your comfort zone is never fun. But why do productivity systems have to be so restrictive and have so many rules attached to them?

    Many people ask me, “Can I not just pick and choose parts of different systems to suit my own life and way of thinking?” The answer is, “Yes, you can.” But to be able to choose the bits to use and the parts to leave behind, it is necessary to first learn the rules before you go breaking them.

    Getting Things Done

    Most people interested in productivity or reading this blog will be familiar with GTD (David Allen’s Getting Things Done system). GTD is a productivity system with a lot of detail and many rules. It is a system that works; it has been tried and tested by millions of worldwide users. When I started teaching GTD, I had no intention of using it myself. The detail was not for me; I thought I knew how to get things done! I believed the system would be great for people who liked detail and organization — I didn’t.

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    As I learned more and more, it started to rein me in. I saw the advantages first hand and for every block or barrier I came up against, GTD appeared to have the answer. For about two years I used the system religiously. I did my weekly reviews and my life got better by the day. After a while I started to try out different productivity apps and systems, and finally I adjusted my life and my work around a couple of systems and apps which work for me. I created habits and routines that work.

    I now have my own system, but GTD helped me to get to a different level of success in my life. I believe that without it, I would never have achieved all the things I have achieved over the last couple of years.

    Toss Productivity Out

    Some time ago, Leo Baubauta of Zen Habits wrote an article entitled “Toss Productivity Out”, advocating that there was no longer a need for rules, for setting goals, or for productivity systems. His approach can work — but I believe it depends on where you are in your life, what you have achieved and what you want to achieve.

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    If your life is chaotic, it is going to need some control, new habits and routines.

    I agree with Leo that we should all try and live more in the flow and not be totally dependent on structures, routines and systems. But there are stages one must go through for life to work effortlessly.

    Productivity is the stepping stone, a facilitator of achievement, a creator of space and time. Just like diets and eating programs such as Weight Watchers and Unislim (or training programs in the gym), you don’t necessarily have to follow them for life but they enable you to create positive habits which will the driving force for your success.

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    So go on and create the positive habit of productivity. And then toss it out, break the rules, have some fun, and live in the flow.

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    Ciara Conlon

    Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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    Last Updated on January 2, 2020

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

    Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

    But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

    Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

    Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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    Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

    It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

    They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

    To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

    2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

    Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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    Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

    3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

    Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

    Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

    4. Be Who You Are

    It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

    You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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    You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

    Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

    5. Slow Down and Let Go

    Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

    Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

    Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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    So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

    When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

    The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

    Final Thoughts

    What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

    To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

    If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

    More About Stepping Out of Comfort Zone

    Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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