3 Mental Tricks to Boost Productivity

Dramatic posing pre-performance

For the first time in my life, I was onstage. The 5 minutes we performed felt like 5 seconds. The hours leading up to our slot had been an admixture of illuminating and nerve-racking. I totally get why people do this.

I started practicing dance when I was 29, so barely any of it comes naturally. I spend a lot of time trying to get the footwork into my brain first, into my body second, and then figuring out how my arms factor in — all of this slowly, and step-by-step. I pause a lot, which causes me to forget the subtle, highly useful transitions that are sandwiched between bigger, more memorable moves.

However, a series of movements in dance is called a phrase for a reason: the individual steps are all connected to each other by momentum to deliver a flash of meaning, much like verbal phrase. A big lesson that comes up again and again for me in class is: Let momentum carry you through.

You want to be truly productive — not just busy, but accomplishing things that you value and enjoy. This list can include creating something, building relationships, or acquiring skills, for starters. But you also have a list of things that simply need to get checked off. You absolutely can get it all done, with some new perspective and discipline.

  1. Visualize your day as one breathing, moving life form. I had a lightbulb moment recently: My Google Calendar has conditioned me to think about my days, weeks, and months in pieces. I consult it in the morning, and then mechanically go through the steps of my schedule, forgetting that there is a flow and momentum that underlies my day. Compartmentalizing chunks of time means a lot of starting and stopping, which kills momentum and requires you to rebuild it again too many times. Drains, bro. Your day is a choreographed dance: a flowing system of interplay that relies on momentum.
  2. Adopt a morning routine that is cunningly designed to build momentum gradually. Going from standstill to movement is the biggest challenge, and needs to be done at a moderate pace. I think a lot of frustration around finding the right morning routine is due to either revving up too fast and feeling fried by mid-day, or poking along too slowly in the morning and then feeling like you’re walking through mud all day long.
  3. Take breaks. Momentum isn’t just about moving all the time! Some pauses and stillness help you launch into the next move.

Over the years, I’ve carved, chiseled, and sanded my morning ritual into one that hums. Obviously, I’m human so sometimes things fall through the cracks. But most days do start right and I can power through, thanks to key design strategies. I’ll go into the design of my morning routine in detail next time; until then, I encourage you this week to retool and write down your morning routine starting with action words (e.g. “Eat breakfast” rather than “Breakfast”), so that you are always moving, whether dynamically or subtly!

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