I Analyzed 352 Articles and Videos on How To Increase Productivity. Here’s What I Learned
I’ve read more than 300 random articles and basically wired my brain to YouTube to watch videos about how to increase productivity and to answer the following questions: What’s the best way to increase productivity and get more shit done? What are the best not BS proven strategies to boost productivity at work? Why do we procrastinate and put things off knowing that we shouldn’t?
Here’s a summary of my key findings:
You absolutely don’t have to read 300+ articles to become more productive;
Every moment you’re spending reading about productivity you’re basically unproductive;
The shorter your to-do list the better;
The reason we procrastinate – the opposite of productivity – can be described as a formula;
Procrastination leads to increasing stress both on your workplace and in your personal life;
You don’t have to be a genius to be more productive;
Being rich is tightly related to being productive – but you also have to be smart;
Making complicated to-do lists; Attending conferences; Reading a ton of books about productivity usually only wastes your time;
You probably already know what you should be doing but for some reason, you’re not doing it;
Imagining that you’re a machine might actually help you become more productive and finally stop searching for a solution online;
I have to warn you, this is a long post. Still, I did my best to keep it bullshit free, advertisement free, on point and as unboring as possible. My key idea here is to give you all the information you need on becoming better at doing more things in less time. Or in other words, become better at getting off your lazy ass and getting more shit done.
If you’re down for learning how to do useful work in less time let’s start with:
Why The Hell We Procrastinate?
How often you feel like this: You’re procrastinating on working on your assignments by watching a video on procrastination?
Often, right? Why we don’t just do the stuff we know we should do? Why don’t we just finish the task we should and then go crazy online, watching videos and stuff?
Actually, the answer is not that complicated.
We procrastinate for a lot of reasons but the main one is boredom. Our assignments, projects, the online course we’re trying to create, our work duties in our job, all these things often feel boring, unsexy, monotonous. So, we start looking for other things to nudge us towards feeling better. Since the human brain, by default, strives to feel good, it’s always looking for ways to skip the tedious work and feel waves of joy.
But why do we want to feel good all the time?
Well, this has something to do with our ancestors: Our grand, grand, grand… parents living 10,000 years BC. They cared less about what will happen after a few months. The top things in their daily to-do list were: find food; find water; find shelter; cuddle with the wife. All of these things as soon as possible. More food meant more energy, thus higher chances to live longer.1 So basically, our brain is kind of hardwired for short-term rewards. You see food > You eat > You feel good > You want more of the same things.
A lot has changed since we last hunted for food but our preferences are kind of the same with one tiny difference: There are now hundreds of things around us that make us feel good. Which is cool and all. I mean, you don’t have to actually kill a cow to eat a burger. But that’s the main reason we postpone working on our assignment and we always do everything last minute. Because we’re hungry for more: more food, more fun activities, more thing to see online, more things that make us feel nice, even seeking for more productivity apps that will somehow magically solve our problems.
A way to handle this constant desire for more is by wanting less stuff and increasing your motivation factor. The next step…
Key Takeaway: Our brain is hardwired for short-term rewards and it’s always looking for more.
Increasing Your Motivational Factor Will Increase Your Productivity
Since motivation is tightly related to productivity, I found an interesting theory about what motivates: Temporal motivation theory. This theory suggests that the person’s motivation to complete a task or an assignment can be represented by an equation. That equation is the following:
Associating procrastination and productivity to a mathematical equation might sound absurd and out of the question but the theory developed by Piers Steel and Cornelius J. König really do help to explain the reason we fail at doing things.2
So, let’s break down the formula:
Motivation is our desire for a particular outcome and your key to higher productivity;
Expectancy is your belief in completing the task and the likelihood of this task to be successful;
Value is the rewards associated with the outcome. The ones you get after completing the task;
The Impulsiveness factor means how susceptible you are to distractions;
Delay is the amount of time between now and the moment you’ll actually get, taste the reward for completing the task.
Basically, if you feel confident in what you’re doing (high Expectancy) + what you’re getting after the task is complete is valuable (high Value) you’ll get your hands dirty at this moment and start writing the book, the poem, the screenplay you’re always talking about. However, if the sum between your lack of control, meaning, you’re not able to resist that sudden urge to go check Instagram or play video games (high Impulsiveness) + you will have to wait a lot till you get the reward for working on the current task (high Delay). If these two are larger than the previous total you’ll put off doing what you’re doing and you won’t be productive.
In short, this is the secret to ultimate productivity:
High Expectancy + High Value/ low Impulsiveness + low Delay = High motivation and productivity
Key Takeaway: Build confidence in what you’re doing; Break down the big goal into shorter tasks to feel like the reward is closer + Increase your impulsiveness factor by mindfully avoiding short-term distractions.
Automate the Unimportant Tasks to Have More Time Doing The Important Ones
Even though I don’t quite adore Facebook, the company Mark Zuckerberg is running, I admire some of his daily routines. Actually, one in particular. If you haven’t noticed, he wears the same gray t-shirt all the time.3
You might be wondering, “Why the hell he’s wearing the same grey t-shirt all the time? He’s filthy rich, he can wear expensive suits all the time. Why the hell he’s doesn’t?”
Well, the answer to this question is similar to what Barack Obama said a couple of years ago in an interview: “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”4
Of course, he’s damn right. Since he is the president, he already has enough on his mind. Making a ton of decisions on a daily basis for a whole country is quite daunting. You need to be self-disciplined and to routinize yourself in order to have enough time for everything. So, automating the unimportant tasks to make room for the important ones is the obvious choice.
And since the former president of the United States of Amerika and the CEO of the largest online platform online are wearing the same clothes, guess what, it might be a good idea to trim down your wardrobe and make room in your life only for what truly matters. This doesn’t include only clothes. This also means stop giving a shit about things that don’t add any real value in your life.5 Things like, wondering how many times you should update your social media status, playing email ping-pong, walking slowly in front of others while you’re wearing your newest skirt thinking you’re in the Matrix and that everybody is breathless.
Imagine how much more time you’ll have if you don’t think about what to wear and what to eat?
Key Takeaway: Create a uniform that you adore. This will give you more time to think about the more important matters in your life, like your finances, business strategy or personal development.
There is something called GDP per capita.6 Economist look at this indicator to measure the economic activity of a country. The higher the GDP per capita index, the higher the living standards in the country, which is also related to the overall happiness of the individuals living in this country. Even though money and fame don’t bring happiness per-se, higher living standard means better stability, healthcare, better education, environment for living.
But how do you raise GDP per capita?
Simple. By automating processes, investing in equipment, finding new engineering solutions, basically everything that will increase the productivity of the nation.
The same applies to individuals. If you’re more productive, you’ll increase your gross domestic product production, thus have more stock to sell. But there is a catch here. Even if you produce goods like a maniac. Take drugs; Overwork yourself; Hustle like a wild animal. If these products are low-cost merch, like mugs made of clay. This won’t add commas to your bank account. You need to produce higher value products to make a good profit and worry about your next vacation. For example, software solutions that save time, tech gadgets that are cool-looking, a combination of a donut and a burger for the extra hungry people.
Key Takeaway: In order to make more money you need to increase your productivity and create high-value products.
Don’t Rely So Much On Goals, Build Good Habits and Routines To Increase Productivity For Good
Being effective is tightly connected to habits. Increasing your production requires repetitive actions and consistency. I mean, productivity is not something you do once and you’re done. It’s a way of living, a habit. Either you’re are a productive person or you are not.
So, the only way to become less lazy and more productive is to form good habits and break the bad ones. In short, do more focused work and less social media marathoning, where you try to reach the end of the posts inside your feed.7
And even though setting goals is the favorite expression of the self-help industry gurus, it’s not the key factor for achieving success, and it’s not the most important thing.
Setting goals will give you a direction, yes. It will guide you towards where you want to go and it’s not particularly bad advice. However, if you really want to kick-ass you need to focus more on adopting good habits.
Let me explain the relationship between habits and goals with the following simple example:
Tesla goal for last year quarter was to produce between 50,000 and 55,000 Model 3 sedans (goal). They exceeded the goal thanks to their automated robots, well design factories, continuous work (habits).
Without the Gigafactory and the hyper-automation, Elon Musk could not reach his goal. So, even though setting bold goals is a good starting place, what you need is habits and a well-designed environment that will prompt you to act. Without them, your goal is just an overly ambitious statement which you probably can’t pull off if you don’t have good habits in place.
If you think about it, everyone can set a sexy goal and share it online. If we open Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin we might think that everyone is a millionaire and that everyone is living the time of his life. In reality, most of them are still living with their parents. Basically, setting goals is completely useless if you’re not doing the work daily.
So, even though you don’t have to build your own Gigafactory and hire robots to increase your productivity, even though it will be helpful, what you should do is create daily routines that will serve you for a long period of time. By repeating the same tasks, daily, you’re condemned to success.
Key takeaway: Define a goal to have a direction but focus more on creating good systems – daily routines – in your life.
Enough fooling around. Let me give you a couple of practical advice which you can implement in your sorry ass life today and finally start making progress with your project, assignment, or whatever it is you’re trying to do but for some reason you’re still choosing to neglect:
Plan your day the day before: If you don’t know what you should do when you wake up, you’ll most probably procrastinate and don’t do anything. Write your top goal for the next day before you go to bed.
Have short to-do list: Pilling up your to-do list with a bunch of things might seem heroic but it’s usually a wrong step. The longer the list the greater the chance to feel overwhelmed and play video games instead of doing the job. So, write just a few things down. The idea is to have a direction.
Start small: There is a method called Eat the Frog. Eating the frog means to do the important task first. Otherwise, you’ll end up procrastinating it the whole day. But since sometimes the frog (task) is scary (too big), it’s best to cut it into smaller pieces so you can start from the smallest piece. Additionally, since you’ll have smaller tasks, this will mean that you get small rewards after completing them. And small rewards will keep you pushing.
Designate a working area: Our mind associated places with certain actions. For instance, the club is for dancing, the library is for being quiet, the restaurant is for eating. If you designate a place in your home for working, only, you’ll wire your brain to want to work when you’re there. So, call your desk, a chair, your basement, it doesn’t matter, your HQ. Put a sign if you must. Now, every time you go there you’ll crave for working.
Remove the obstacles from your way: Your environment really matters. If you have a lot of things laying around. Like toys, books, magazines, it will be easier for you to reach out and “read.” Unfortunately, books and magazines are your least worry. Nowadays you just open a tab and you type Facebook without even looking. Ten minutes later you forgot what you were doing. So, it’s of great importance to ditch everything when you’re working. Lock down your environment by cutting the internet or throwing away your TV.8
Create good routines: Daily repeated actions are the key to productivity. Imagine a machine. A machine has no emotions and will do whatever you program it to do. It won’t get distracted by the noise around and it won’t feel a sudden urge to share something completely useless online. Yet, don’t strive to be a machine – emotionless. But do strive to spare time each day to perform deep work.
Give yourself a break: There should be a limit on the amount of time you work. Allow yourself to have some fun. If you’re constantly working and you’re never doing something fun, your willingness to work on the task will get lower and lower till it finally feels like talking to your mother in law. So, have some fun from time to time. This will recharge your battery and help you come back stronger.
Some Closing Thoughts
For an ending, I want to say this: You don’t need to read a ton of books, pay to 5 different online gurus, print productivity infographics, watch gazillion of YouTube videos on productivity to finally start doing the job you should be doing. You probably already know what you should be doing but for some reason, you’re not doing it.
Probably you don’t have good habits, you’re lazy, you don’t know what you should be doing, or you’re constantly distracted by social media. And, maybe, just maybe, you’re constantly distracted by social media because your nervous about what others think about you and that’s why you refresh your newsfeed like a maniac. Whatever it is, it’s something personal and something you need to figure out on your own and for the love of God, finally fix.