This Is the Ultimate Productivity Hack

A particular post caught my eye as I browsed through one of the online communities I’m a member of last week. I stopped skimming and started reading.

Someone wanted to gather tips and advice for a story they planned to pitch to a major business and entrepreneurship website. They asked for freelancers who found that traditional productivity methods didn’t work for them to share what did work.

The request caught my attention because I catch myself always on the lookout for the ultimate productivity hack, the thing that is going to empower me to reach new heights of efficiency and effectiveness to exponentially increase my creative output. And the reason I constantly seek new productivity hacks is because I also constantly ignore what I know to be the truth.

See, I already know the key to productivity. I just always hope I can avoid it.

The Ultimate Productivity Hack for Creative Workers Revealed

In fact, I might guess that you already know the key, the ultimate hack, too. But just in case you don’t, let me reveal the secret and unlock a world of productivity in which you spend your day in a flurry of energized activity, happily pouring forth work and producing results.


Here it is: sit your ass down and do the work.

That’s it. Sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting something grand or complex. The truth is, taking action is the ultimate productivity hack and there’s nothing that works better.

If you’ve tried a million different methods for productivity and none of them worked, I can tell you why. There is no tool, no app, no program, no technique that sits your tail down in a chair and makes you work. The only thing that will do that for you is you.

Do your job. Show up, do the work you need or want to do, and then repeat the next day and the day after that.

You don’t need to do anything else. You don’t need to worry about what other people think. You don’t even need to worry about what you think — about whether what you’re doing looks good or will be well received or if it will make you rich or famous.

But Is It That Simple?

Now, before you get too miffed by what is admittedly a blunt way to put this (hack: ass in chair, do work), understand that I do get it. This is easy to say. It’s nearly impossible to do.

The reality of the ultimate productivity hack drives me up a wall all the time because even though I know it’s the truth — even though I know the secret! — I still procrastinate. I still fail to be as productive as I know I’m capable of being. I still end up with mountains of to-dos piled up in an exhausted heap beside me, wearily looking over at me with an expression that clearly says, “we know you’re never going to pay any attention to us.”

I know it’s downright annoying to have questions about how to be more productive with an answer that begins and ends with do the work.

Of course, you say. Of course I need to do the work, I know that, but that doesn’t solve my problem! If that was the solution I’d be the most productive person on the planet. I know I need to do my work. I just don’t know how to get it done!

This is what we tell ourselves, anyway. It’s easier to make up that story, easier to tell ourselves we’re stuck because we can’t answer “how” that the far simpler truth. To be productive, we sit down and we do the work.

So what’s really going on here? Why do you and I struggle with productivity, and why are we constantly hoping the next productivity hack or trick we hear about will deliver us from a state of little output and small results with our work?

A New Theory to Explain Why You’re Not Productive

I have a theory as to why productivity eludes most of us, myself included. It’s a theory, but it’s a good one and I suggest you read the rest of this with an open mind. Just try on these ideas. Consider that this could be what’s happening — and stopping — you, too.

I know it’s what stops me.

We tend to resist explanations of why something in our lives isn’t working, because if we understand the solution we could actually resolve the problem. And that might be hard or difficult or take away our fodder for whining and complaining and that’s no fun.

So again, I invite you to try this on and see if it fits. If you’re willing to take responsibility for yourself and acknowledge that the problem begins with you, that problem can also end with you. It’s your decision — that’s the power you have.

Ready to understand why you’re not productive, and start doing something about it that actually works?

The Real Reason Behind a Lack of Productivity

When I fail to be productive, I do anything but sit my ass down and do work. Anything. I will scrub my toilet and get down on my hands and knees to clean the baseboards and under furniture and find it more pleasant than sitting down at my desk to produce results.

This is because a lack of productivity is one of the ways that I self-sabotage around my work.

Here’s what typically happens: I’ll enjoy one or two days of high productivity. I’ll produce a great quantity of work. I’ll complete tasks, finish projects, and tackle extra work that I usually don’t have time for. I’ll feel energized, excited, and most importantly, capable and successful.

And then on that third day, it’s like I run into a brick wall. I don’t want to do anything. I waste time, I procrastinate, I avoid my work altogether. Then I’ll get behind on my tasks, my projects will start falling apart, and I’ll feel like a failure who lacks talent and skills and is a complete fraud.

Why? Because subconsciously I’ve hit what Gay Hendricks calls an “upper limit.” I’m used to operating within certain realms. I have areas where I feel competent and areas where I feel my work is excellent.

Anytime a task in my area of competence starts rising up and starts looking like excellent work, my default response is to self-sabotage. I bat that thing back to where it usually operates, and that feels more comfortable. The other option is to take a leap and push forward from competence to excellence.

But that’s scary and I’m wired to avoid things that spark fear. So I self-sabotage, even though I may know that’s not good for me and even though I may want to improve. It’s like machinery that’s running things. It’s automatic and doesn’t usually ask my rational opinion.

The same thing happens when I do excellent work. When things start flowing and I start soaring to a realm above excellent — a realm like genius-level goodness — some sort of internal alarm gets triggered. I do something to yank myself back down to the plane I’m accustomed to operating within.

Being Unproductive Is an Upper Limit Problem

If this all sounds weird, take a moment to identify where you may experience upper limits in your life. Look at the last time something really great happened. Maybe you enjoyed a career success. Or you had a wonderful experience within your relationship. Or you made a breakthrough in an area of your life that’s important to you.

What happened shortly after? If you’re human like most of us, you probably did something silly or downright destructive.

You broke through an upper limit, soared a little too high, and subconsciously felt exposed and unsafe. Then you did something to drop back down to the area you’re used to, where you’re more comfortable.

If you saw a success with work, you may lose a client the next week and feel like your business is crumbling around you. If you had a great time with your partner, you may get into an argument over nothing the next day (and feel like you have no idea how it started).

You know you’re on the verge of pulling yourself back down — or in a great position to make a leap to the next level, if you notice you’re doing things like:

  • Worrying or feeling anxious
  • Criticizing or blaming yourself or others for things that happen
  • Starting arguments
  • Noticing cycles of great experiences or achievements followed closely by thing that seem to just go all wrong

Break Free and Get Back to Work

These are “upper limit problems” and we all have our own versions. They show up in different ways and in various areas of life.

A lack of productivity is a sign I’m pushing up against an upper limit with work. I hit a self-imposed ceiling that prevents progress, growth, and improvement. Our upper limits are designed to keep us safe and comfortable because that feels nice.

I push myself down by not doing my work.

But if we want that progress and growth and improvement, we have to do what Hendricks discusses in his book of the same title: we need to take The Big Leap.

It’s still a work in progress, but here’s what I do when I catch myself being unproductive:

  • I smile. Here’s an upper limit problem at work! I know what’s going on. I don’t get angry or upset with myself for dealing with this problem.
  • I acknowledge what’s happening. I’m avoiding my work, and failing to be productive, because I’m holding myself down. There’s something a little scary about improving and doing better and better work, and feeling better and better in life in general. It feels vulnerable.
  • I also acknowledge all this is just human nature. We’re wired this way. The intentions are good: I’m trying to protect myself.
  • I recommit to feeling good all the time, to doing good work all the time, to having my life go well all the time.
  • I sit down and I do my work.

Today, I want you to ask yourself a few questions. Where in your life are things not going as well as you want? Where are you failing to produce results and enjoy productivity with your work? And what happens when you’re being unproductive?

Once you have an idea, ask yourself if you’re willing to commit to having things go well, to feeling good, more of the time. Are you willing to increase your productivity?

If you are, it’s time for you to leap to the next level, get over your productivity block, and sit down to do your work.

You won’t need any more productivity hacks. There’s no need for tricks. The key is understanding where your upper limits are — and being dedicated to breaking through them so you can continue soaring to greater levels of success.

Originally published at on June 6, 2016.

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