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Best Tips For Living A Simple, Productive Life

Best Tips For Living A Simple, Productive Life
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Do you lack productivity despite finishing numerous tasks on a daily basis?

Maybe you’re doing the easy things first and are putting off hard work. Difficult tasks can weigh you down, making you feel like you didn’t accomplish anything at the end of the day.

Leo Babauta explains this predicament in his latest blog post about productivity.

He uses the example of high intensity exercises versus long, light workouts that are ineffective. From another perspective, one should invest in completing the hard stuff in his or her to-do list first due to the nature of such tasks.

Avoiding them can lead to anxiety and pressure.

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Prioritizing hard work does not mean you’ll finish it faster. However, it can give you peace of mind and relief for the rest of the day or week.

This advice is applicable in other aspects of life including business growth, relationships and finances.

The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most | Leo Babauta

The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most

I’ve tried a lot of types of exercise, but by far the most effective exercise in terms of results for time spent is heavy barbell lifts.

For 10-15 minutes of lifting a barbell laden with weights, I get a better physique, improved health, more strength and muscle, less bodyfat.

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I’ve spent hours running, doing bodyweight exercises, doing Crossfit, playing sports, biking, swimming, and generally doing the craziest kinds of exercises possible. They’re all very good, but for the time that I’ve invested in them, weights are the ones that matter most.

I’ve found the barbell method — lifting the heavy stuff but for short periods — works for lots of things in life. From productivity to relationships to finances to losing bodyfat to business growth.

The hard stuff really matters.

I’ll get to the productivity/finances/relationships stuff in a second, but first let me clarify: I’m talking about very simple, heavy barbell lifts for few reps and sets (3 sets of 4-7 reps). And do them with good form, or you might get injured. Start out light, get the form right, progressively add weight each week. The most important lifts are things like deadlifts and squats (best two), bench press, shoulder press, rows. Add some chinups and you’re done. With rest days in between. And yes, women should do these lifts too. Yes, runners should do them too. Yes, vegans can lift heavy too.

These lifts are hard, and so people avoid them. But they work better than anything else, for the time invested.

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I’ve learned that in lots of other areas, the hard stuff that people avoid is what matters most. It’s what’s most effective.

I’ll give you some examples:

  • Productivity: If you have a long list of tasks to do, you could waste time checking a bunch of sites, processing your emails, getting lots of easier tasks done, running around from one meeting to another … and most people do that. But on that list, there are probably about 3 really hard things that you’re avoiding. Those are possibly the most important things on the list, and if you put everything else off for a bit to focus on one of those, and then the next one, you’re going to see a world of difference. You’ll be doing fewer things but you’ll be much more effective. The hard tasks that you avoid are usually the ones that matter.
  • Fat loss: People do a lot of crap to lose weight. Tons of diets, the weirdest workouts, shakes and salads and and elliptical machines and kickboxing dance classes and calorie counting. And yes, if you can stick to some of these, they will probably work. But really, only a couple things matter, and by far the most important one is to eat a diet that’s lower in calories. And the best way to stick to that is to eat a bunch of mostly whole foods (calculate calories to make sure you’re in a deficit) like lean protein (I like tempeh, seitan, tofu), non-starchy veggies, a small amount of whole grains. Pile up the protein & veggies for three meals a day, don’t add other snacks and calorie-rich drinks (lattes) and you’ll probably see weight loss. I’d add some heavy strength training so you don’t lose muscle. So it’s pretty simple, but people don’t do it, because sticking to a healthy, calorie-deficit diet is hard. It means skipping the snacks and binge eating and work party food and all the other sweet and fried treats you’re used to indulging in. It means finding other ways to comfort yourself other than food and drinks. But it works.
  • Relationships: Building relationships isn’t always easy, because while it’s fun to hang out with people when things are going well, it’s much harder when there’s conflict. So while spending time with someone is important when it comes to relationships, having difficult conversations is often the most important thing you can do in that time. And that’s hard, because it’s uncomfortable, so people avoid it. This only makes things worse. Do the hard work, and have the difficult conversation. But try not to do it so that you’re right or so that you “win” … it should be finding a solution you’re both happy with. I recommend reading Difficult Conversations.
  • Business growth: There are lots of things you can do to grow a business (or your career), but usually there’s one or two things you can do that are hard but effective. For me, that’s writing useful articles that help change people’s lives. For my 14-year-old daughter’s cupcake business, that’s spending time perfecting her recipes until they’re to-die-for. Those things take hard work, and so we avoid them. We do all the smaller things and think we’re helping our businesses. But actually, we’d be better spending our time on the hard, effective, important things.
  • Finances: How do you improve your finances? Spend less, earn more, invest. Pay your bills on time to avoid paying fees and interest, but that can be automated. Those are the most important things, and they’re not always easy. So people put them off. But if you spend an hour finding ways to reduce your spending (stop shopping or spending on entertainment), you’d make a big difference. If you spent 20 minutes setting up automatic savings (or investment in an index fund), you’d make a big difference. If you spent 30 minutes paying your bills and automating them for the future, you’d save a lot of headaches.
  • Mindfulness: Lots of people want to live a more mindful life, and I encourage it, because developing mindfulness is one of the best things I do. But they don’t want to meditate. And yet, a few minutes a day (working up to 10 or 20 minutes) meditating makes such a huge difference.

Now imagine you took your day, which has limited time, and stopped doing all the little things.

Imagine you focused on the hard, effective things. You could spend 10 minutes meditating, an hour doing the hard important tasks that improved your career or business. Another 20 minutes having a difficult conversation, another 20 improving your finances. Another 30 doing two heavy barbell lifts. Another 30 minutes preparing whole foods for your day’s meals.

That’s less than 3 hours of your day, but you’d improve productivity, your business, your finances, your relationship, mindfulness, your health and appearance.

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You’d have plenty of time for the other stuff, but focus on this stuff first, and see huge rewards.

A Few Tips for Doing Hard Stuff

People avoid the hard things, even if it’s the most important, because it’s hard.

So what are we to do?

Here are some things that work for me:

  1. Take time to figure out what hard stuff you need to do. This takes a few minutes of sitting there and thinking, rather than procrastinating and checking stuff online to avoid this thinking. But it’s necessary. After awhile, you won’t need to think about it because you’ll know.
  2. Take a moment to commit yourself to doing one hard thing. It could be a bout of writing, a hard short workout, paying some bills. One thing, not all of them. Commit yourself for the next 10, 20 or 30 minutes.
  3. Clear away everything. Bookmark all your tabs for later, make notes on a task list for things you need to do later, and then close all tabs, all windows, all notifications. Just you and this one difficult tasks.
  4. Don’t let yourself run. Your mind will want to run from the hard thing, because you have an ideal in your head that life will be comfortable and easy and pleasant. This ideal obviously isn’t reality, because putting off the hard things by focusing on the easy and pleasant only makes your life harder and more uncomfortable over time. So focus on the hard thing, see your mind wanting to run, then don’t run.
  5. Enjoy it. Lifting a heavy barbell is super hard. I love it. It feels like I’m super strong, like I’m accomplishing something great, like I can conquer the world. You can get the same kinds of feelings from any hard task — instead of thinking about how it sucks, think about how amazing it is that you can move something so heavy. And be grateful when you can.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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