Oh, sweet productivity
My love for you is deep
Sometimes I think I’ll do something
But then I choose to sleep
In order to make a change, you’ve often got to get to a point of pain that’s so acute, you finally realize the error of your ways. No, scratch that. You already know deep down, in your infinite wisdom, the error of your ways. The question is whether or not you are going to do something about it.
And that’s what productivity ultimately is: doing something about what you already know you should be doing. So, the knowing part is already there. You know what you need to do, but you aren’t sure how much you reallllly know you need to do it. (Ehh just this one last article on Buzzfeed. How are they so witty and hilarious? Who writes this shit?! C’mon, they’re the best…)
Your inner wisdom knows, while your mind plays guessing games. The reason we have the concept of procrastination in the first place is that our minds often win out. We are a society more driven by our minds than anything else. We’ve given them too much reign, and like spoiled kids with no boundaries, we many times let them run rampant against our own better judgment. (Seriously, just one more minute on this Newsfeed… And then just a few minutes to discuss what I saw with my friend…)
So you play around with it like a cat with a string. You see how far you can push the envelope; how many hours you can spend on Twitter or Pinterest or online shopping or Googling Johnny Depp’s tattoos (don’t start– it’s a Pandora’s box of ink and subversively-appealing bodily art. I swear, I’ve never done it. No, really I haven’t… but the funny part is you won’t believe me because I just so convincingly described what we all know the results are apt to be).
Look, let me stop you right here. Because there’s a whole lot of inked-up celebrities whose tattoos I really want to Google right now and instead, I think we should focus on the matter at hand. Because that’s why we’re both here: you need help and I well, I know enough to remind you that you know enough what you need to do. You may not know it yet, but it’s true. (Aren’t you glad my blog doesn’t have ads?). Focus.
I’ve already touched on this before in other posts about time management and the like (and I swear, this is my last one), but if you’re not pushing yourself to make something to ultimately send out into the world like a little secular angel with wings, you are squandering two of your greatest gifts: time and attention, on a bunch of bogus, time-sensitive bullshit.
And by time-sensitive I mean, it’s not timeless. News, celebrity gossip, all those cat and mouse games of media and social networking that are like black holes because they ultimately amount to nothing.
It’s like soda, you can drink a thousand calories of it and not actually feel full. (Okay maybe you’ll feel full for a minute, but you’re gonna be hungry within an hour and trust me, that is not a good nutritional trade off). If the value of what you’re consuming is so precarious that the next day, it’s basically useless facts and trivia, then it isn’t going to get you anywhere you want to be. Unless you wanna be in a van down by the river.
(Okay, now I’m just making shit up. That was just a skit, it’s not like that can actually happen, right.
Not to mention, you’re wasting your talent. I don’t know where it’s going when you’re cruising those sites, and hell I don’t even know what your talent in this life is, but I know you aren’t using it wisely if you’re just consuming… and not creating. Just like your bank account gets in the red when you spend more than you make, your soul flow gets in the red when you consume more than you create. It’s like eating a bunch of McDonald’s and then not shitting for a week. Ya dig?
I just learned this the other day and I think it’s really cool, if not one of the most useful facts to have in your back pocket: the universe is in a constantly expanding outward motion. The entire universe. (I know you won’t believe me, but even the Queen of England falls under this unassailable law. It’s just that boss of a rule.)
So when we are not creating–meaning, expanding outward in a state of creative flow– then we are going against the grain of the universe. How’s that for a call to action?
So that’s why people without jobs, or with really shitty ones that stamp out their creativity or personal gifts, or people without friends or dependents, or other ways in which to output their creative energy, always seem so down on their luck.
Come to think of it, that’s why working-breed dogs without jobs are down on their luck… I gotta pick up some applications tomorrow for Blue.
Because we are meant to create, to experience, to give, and to live life. I know it sounds stupidly obvious, but just think about it for a moment: life is meant to be lived. Meaning, taking action. Moving. Breathing. Doing.
What’s the difference between you and a dead man? Now exacerbate that difference to the Nth degree. That’s what you should be doing every day. As much as humanly possible. 🙂
And all the inward flow of graphics, movies, soundbites, information, GIF’s and the like that are constantly bombarding us always threatens to outweigh the amount that we put back out. You’ve got to maintain a balance, and the problem is that we’ve structured our lives around being able to be mostly just consumers. In fact, it takes a supreme amount of focus and determination to get ourselves away from the big, bright, constantly-changing, casino-like draw of all the distractions, particularly on the internet, but with TV and movies and video games, as well.
And, by the way… you might need a little more time toying around with bullshit in which case, no one can help you. You are beyond help at this current juncture. May the force be with you. I’ll leave you to your own devices of wasted hours trickling down the drain of opportunity and success. But if you’re willing to take a lesson from the master of non-productivity, you’ve come to the right place.
You see the thing is, I’m an extremist in the most literal sense. I’m the person who didn’t sleep or eat for like three days straight due to a relatively straightforward move across town (And when I say “across town” I really mean… two miles) because I couldn’t sit down for more than five minutes until the house was perfectly set up. I’d generally rather work than play… Or, I’m just a little nuts. (Must be that I’m just super productive. I’m gonna stick with that.)
Like, theoretically I feel a lot better that I’m finally writing an article versus doing all the other stupid shit I was doing previously today. But that’s just a theoretical example, as surely you perceive.
But on the flip side, once I start doing nothing (and by nothing I mean like, still “things” but not what I actually should be doing, but other things– like sweeping the floor or texting Nancy Neptune), it is really all too easy for me to continue down that path. Which is actually how I end up making a lot of my friends. Moving on…
The point is, I know about doing a whole lotta nothing when I should be doing a whole lotta something. And this is what I’ve learned.
I don’t have a whole lot of tricks up my sleeve for increasing productivity because honestly, it’s a simple problem with a simple answer that Nike monopolized long ago.
But I say we take back the swoosh (to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s “Take Back The Night”, obviously) and Just Do It [Goddamnit].
You insert whatever your “it” is here.
And by the way, if you’re looking for a new tattoo idea, I think a swoosh might be just up your alley (just make sure it’s somewhere you look at a lot, like your boyfriend’s… well, your wrist will do.)
But I won’t leave you completely hanging as far as how to proceed. That is, if you really wanna start kicking ass, taking names, taking care of business, and getting shit done. (Okay, that was really ambitious. Even if you just want to just like, write an email or a few pages in your novel or make that phone call you’ve been putting off for weeks, or light some candles and take a bubble bath, that’d be cool too).
So here are five things that have helped me. They are as follows, in no particular order aside from the first being more important than the last. Just kidding, they are like my children, and hence, I could never presume to pick a favorite (but number three will always have a special place in my heart).
1) Go to a really bad place
(And no, I don’t mean Jersey Shore, but honestly if you hit rock bottom there, you have only to salute the poetic splendor of that scenario).
I alluded to this before but this really is the turning point. In order for most people to make a big change, they’ve got to hit rock bottom. And don’t fool yourself; if you’ve created a lifestyle of these small, ineffective habits, then it’s going to require some conscious effort on your part in order to fix them. But the good news is, it can be done. The better news is, if you’re miserable with your lack of productivity, then there’s no better time than the present!
So you’ve got to actually get to the point where you’re so fed up and disgusted with yourself for how much shit you have not gotten done lately, that you are ready to bolt from your zone of comfort and actually make a change. This is true for any area of your life, and no less so for productivity. You have to want it badly enough to go through the (mostly initial) discomfort of getting it.
And besides, there is something you’ve been getting from all your mucking around. And apparently, up to this point, it’s been working for you.
Maybe you just love misery, or maybe, you love staying in a safe place of ease where you don’t have to take any risks or actually put your talents on the line. Or perhaps you really do just love celebrity gossip that much (Hey, I have a crush on ScarJo too).
But for whatever reason it is that you’ve become stuck, you’ve been choosing things that aren’t that important to the greater picture of your life, over things that are. Or, I suppose it is in fact possible that your love affair with online shopping is the seed of inspiration for your next business move– but even then, at some point you’ve got to stop consuming and start creating and putting your own plan into motion.
So what we’ve got on our hands is a case of mistaken priority. And you just may have to get to a really bad place, like your business is failing or your relationships aren’t going so well, your grades aren’t what you know they could be, or you realize with a streak of dread that your dream-book isn’t writing itself, for you to sit your ass upon the proverbial grindstone (in my case, that sometimes is my bed, which well, ends up having many uses of productivity).
That’s okay. If you’re already there, then you’ve completed the first step. (Nice job, you productive little imp, you!) Which means you’re ready for step number two, which is…
2) Break it into chunks
I always do this when it comes to writing, as well as just about every other task I encounter in life. Blame it on the A-A-A-A-ADD. I don’t like to do things straight through; I like to work on them in bits and pieces. Particularly for writing, there’s this thing one of my first English professors taught, called “Shitty First Drafts”, or SFD’s. I wanted to call them “Shitty Theoretical Drafts” and I still don’t understand why he refused to change it…
Anyway, it’s when you just get something, anything down, on paper. Just do the first draft so that you have something to edit later on. This is kind of how I do all my writing now, because you’re too inhibited when you’ve got the final product in mind at the very beginning, and so freeing yourself from the idea of perfect, or even pass ability, is a great way to trick yourself into that ever-elusive commencement.
When you have all you can do to do something… just do anything. Just get it down on paper. Just start something. Take the first step, whatever it is. Even if you have to have “the talk” with your partner, spit it out. If you want to start running and you’re completely out of shape, go for a power walk. Or just go for a general walk. The idea is just to take action, no matter how sloppy you are at first. The point is action, not perfection, at this stage of the game.
For me with writing, I just write things in a very haphazard manner (not that this ever shows in my finished work, of course). Whenever I have a moment to get it down, even if it means running into some branches while I type away on my phone– often it’s in bits and pieces on the notes app (I was really pleased with the aesthetic upgrade with iOS 7… Okay now I’m just showing off.)– I try to at least be dedicated in doing a lot of really small writes. Then I go back and edit it later.
To make it proper, I’d likely just have to get an entire brain transplant, so I do the best I can with what I’ve been given. But I do all my writing in at least two phases, often more. This takes the pressure off and makes it all around more-enjoyable in the process. And way less pressure.
Plus, the more go-throughs I have, the better finished product (theoretically). Looking at your project with a fresh set of eyes and new clarity and focus can only increase its value in the end. This applies to any creative endeavor in which your specific attention is required– and I use the word “creative” loosely– it can be a business plan, architectural design, or toilet paper engineering (yes, they exist, I met one and he was very nice).
And while I’m at it, I should add that this is a mighty fine way to get yourself motivated to clean the house. I’ll start on one room, end up in another, and ping-pong back and forth until the house is clean. (Alright, this is mostly just in theory. But I know it has the potential to work. I’ve seen it done in movies.)
And it seriously does help for people who think they may have ADD. I think I have quarter-life onset. And that’s assuming I live to be a centurion, which, based on my natal astrological chart, I kinda doubt, so I should perhaps call it semi-half-life onset.
When you do it in pieces, it’s like a built-in parachute for when you inevitably need to pee/get a drink/make some food/let the dog out/ahh fuck it, take the dog for a walk/stop at the library/talk to a stranger/call a friend/send some pics of the dog on Instagram/wait, where’d my night go? I just got up to pee…
3) Set timers
I saved the best for second-runner-up. (The beauty pageants do it all the time.)
This is magical. This is like Disney On Ice, on Ecstasy, with whipped cream on top and a sleeping puppy snuggled on your lap (one that is unable to fart). It’s like, the craziest thing and it makes me feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs (okay, I know he didn’t use a timer, but it’s way too similar not to feel a smidgen of shame; one that is quickly remedied by the fact that this retardedly simple tactic actually allows me to get shit done).
Set a timer. Start small. Do it for like 20 minutes. (How do you think I started writing this article? Oh yeah. It was a mother elfin timer. Oh, yes it was… Similar to the one my mom used to use to give me a time-out, except now way more technologically advanced, and blessedly, this time-out will actually be productive.)
You see, earlier this fine day, I was having this semi-meltdown about the fact that I hadn’t written anything in days, was strung out on no sleep (by no sleep I mean like six hours, which is really the equivalent of two to a normal person… perhaps it’s more like four, but I just wanted to say “two to”) and my dog needs me to take him for a really long suicide walk (as in, he’ll be dead tired when we return home). But instead of wallowing in excuses and texting Nancy Neptune (okay, I did do that for a little) I set a timer.
It is amazing. [Seriously. Just do it… Did Nike just get paid for that?]
I am really skeptical about putting things into practice (like, my favorite part of yoga is shavasana, I’m totally cool with like… doing nothing, as long as it’s cozy). But this actually works. I know it’s hard to believe that something so simplistic would actually help you with such a deep-seated issue, but slap my ass and call me Sally… because it does.
I think it’s something to do with the fact that you create some sort of faux-imminent apocalyptic scenario that gives you this sense of urgency. And if you struggle with commitments, it’s also great because twenty minutes is like, not a very long time. (Unless that’s how long a baby is crying or nails are going down a chalkboard, in which case, my hair is standing on end just thinking about it. But let’s not go there.)
I set my timer for twenty minutes and worse case, I just work for twenty minutes and then I get up and do something else. This is also very appealing to you ADD-types out there (who lets just say, are my close of kin, as in, we share the same DNA). You don’t feel like you’re committing yourself to anything you can’t handle.
And as studies have shown, and I’m sure your life has proven to you already, we all know it’s just the getting started part that is the most difficult to overcome. Once you’re actually doing it, it’s like… well I was going to say something either really cliche or really inappropriate and instead I think I’ll just settle on one less metaphor in this post. But you get the idea.
In fact, today I’m quite proud to proclaim, I actually reset the twenty minute timer twice and then I realized I was actually doing work of my own accord, so I finally struck out bravely on my own, sans timer. (Then I got up to go for a walk… and the rest is history.)
Even if you’re totally overwhelmed, twenty minutes of just about anything is manageable. A lot of the problem is that we can’t see an end in sight when we even imagine beginning a project. And then whatever part of men’s brains makes them fear commitment kicks in with all of us (regardless of gender) and we get afraid of never getting to the end, before we ever make it to the beginning. It’s this weird, illogical thing, to which I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation but I that am happy to chalk up to a charmingly annoying idiosyncracy of mankind.
And while we’re talking mankind, it brings me to my next point…
4) Use tools (Alright, that was a weak lead-in but now I’ve got ya!)
Another great tool that has to do with keeping time which I’ve found particularly helpful for um… “social media sites” is this
It is so great. Even though I renewed my three-minute timer setting three times, at least it reminded me how much time I was wasting. And the best part? When it gets down to zero it literally kicks your ass off! It’s CRAAAAZY. (It’s like for those girls who love 50 Shades of Gray because they want to be dominated, but a website version that doesn’t “technically” involve any rope or sailor’s knots. Okay, I didn’t read the book but I can surmise it was about a lot of shades of gray, and probably a painter who likes putting a misbehaving girl in her place.)
Setting a timer is great because it takes you back to those days where you got M&M’s for doing number two on the toilet. Well, look I don’t even know if that happened to me, or if I got the raw end of the stick in the parenting department, but I know it’s all the rage with parents nowadays. And maybe my parents actually owe me a crap load of M&M’s (pun intended, obviously). Okay, now I’m gonna have to figure that out… But don’t worry. I’ll finish this piece first.
5) Come unplugged (Yes I wrote about this already)
Let’s be real: the internet is like the single worst enemy to productivity. It just is. Don’t ask questions.
It’s a great tool, but like a gun, in the wrong hands at the wrong time, it’s a disaster. And if you’re like me, any time you put even the slightest amount of meaningful, productive pressure on yourself, you want to run away. Straight into the arms of another drink or website or some slow-motion-train-wreck-type text to your ex. (I’m still working on an app for that.)
It’s like this: have you ever tried to fish an eggshell out of a glop of cracked egg? You know how every time you get close, it slides right out of your finger’s ability to pin it against the side of the bowl? (Fucking egg… The vegans are laughing at us from their broccoli throne in heaven, which I sometimes hang out on but not all the time.)
Well, anyway, that’s how I get under pressure (and off track…but I digress). Even while I’m writing this article that I truly want to write, half of me knows it would be like a total release to just go cruise out on over to my good friend Perez’s shindig and see what Miley’s up to these days and what crap Hilary Zone has said to me about my obsession with my dog. But the fact is, you never get anything done if you don’t subject yourself to a little pressure.
Oh great, now I have that song “Under Pressure” stuck in my head. Aaaand now you do too. (You’re welcome.)
Not to be confused with the heart-stabbing pressure of sitting at a job you hate day after day for the next thirty five years or listening to Kidz Bop on repeat (or at all). But the kind where you know that it’s worth it, to take care of your stuff, despite the minor current discomfort… And that if you don’t, you’re gonna be really pissed at yourself someday (in other words, tomorrow you’ll regret the action you don’t take today).
Very similar to going to the gym. Sometimes, in order to get there, you’ve got to take the pizza out of your left hand with your right, lace up your shoes (preferably after wiping the pizza grease on your gym shorts), and just head out the door.
Throw caution to the wind. Put your cell phone away. Turn off the TV. Stop checking your stocks and your texts and your weather reports. It’s like the Wild, Wild, West when you are actually forced to confront real life. You never know what you’re gonna find! And it might not even require batteries!
I think almost all of us have a bit of ADD from being so consistently and thoroughly distracted, from even our distractions (while you’re watching TV they now ask you to be texting and Tweeting along too), that now it is not only extremely difficult and rare to become unplugged, it is ultimately vital to getting anything of worth or beauty accomplished in this increasingly nutty world.
And especially when it comes to getting things done when those things you hold near and dear happen at the computer, you’ve got to simply (not easily, but simply) log out of everything. I saw a quote somewhere where a writer once said something to the effect of (is this vague enough for you yet?) “A writer isn’t writing if his writing device has internet.”
I know what he means. He was write. I mean right. (Sorry, I was distracted…)
Anything with a light up screen and things that can move, change color, or otherwise distract you during your scared time of creativity and production, banish with a vengeance. It’s like your brain knows you’re about to do something awesome, and it pulls out all the stops. It increases the resistance to such a level you would have thighs of steel if it was your stair master. That’s why you’ve got to override it with your smooth debonair intelligence, and plug yourself the heck -unned.
Don’t have your mail open so you see every time a little red message pops up; don’t have your Facebook page loaded in Safari (especially if you’re friends with me, but that’s a post for another day). Turn the phone on silent (or my personal extremist favorite, Airplane Mode). Completely disconnect.
Use the timer method above, and promise yourself you will not go on any of that crap until you’ve done some serious work to the tune of twenty minutes or more. Obviously I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But if you already know it, why aren’t you doing it? 🙂 (I know you are but what am I.)
Sometimes, you’ve gotta tough-love yourself, and coming unplugged is one of the toughest and loviest things I do for myself every day.
By the way, did I mention that just like procrastination can be addictive, so too, can productivity? It’s true! (I swear it.)
You’ll see this when you start, and you probably have even a little muscle memory from the last time you got something done (was it ’88?) so this won’t be an entirely foreign concept to you. But the truth is, the more you get done, the less resistance you will feel about getting things done. It’s this crazy win-win situation you could have scarcely imagined from that place you occupied on the couch in pathetic agony twenty minutes ago.
Productivity is addictive. Pass it on.
Got it? Now set a timer and get to work.
Is this thing off? Good. I’ve got to make some calls regarding a certain large sum of M&M’s…