My best productivity advice is not going to inspire you.
You have to get fucking mean.
I wish I was a productivity hacker. That’d be awesome. I wish I had a thousand systems, and processes, and tiny little hacks in place that would allow me to get 48 hours’ work done in 24. Sometimes, I think if I just tried, if I read the right blogs or purchased the right eBooks, I’d be able to make it.
My past history isn’t too encouraging on that. I’ve done Pomodoro time management, and it worked for about 3 days before my brain decided to sabotage the fuck out of me and built up a resistance to the technique. I did bullet journaling for a while, which was awesome…
…but I’d been using a notebook that was the same size, shape and color as my passport and I happened to put it on the bookshelf next to my passport (don’t ask me how) and wound up carrying my passport around for 3 days instead. That broke the pattern, and I was done.
I’ve done course after course, and worked through plan after plan. But it’s the same as my morning routine:
I am incapable of hacking my way to post-human status. The best I can ever manage from my life is to turn it into a relatively productive, wild dash to the finish line, fighting a losing fucking round against my to-do list. I can be cruel, and ruthless and harsh with myself and my task list, and that’s what works.
And if you were honest with yourself, you’d probably say the same thing.
So here’s my one piece of productivity advice. I’ve said it to a lot of people, and most of them probably thought I was unhelpful. One guy called me an asshole after he emailed me for advice and felt my response was quote-unquote pointless. I didn’t particularly give a shit. I stand by the advice.
It’s advice that works when there’s stuff that must happen, when there are tasks that your business relies on in order to keep functioning, when you are accountable and your ass is on the line.
Get mean. Get mean with yourself, get mean with your loved ones, get mean with your tasks.
No matter what fancy methodology you’ve found, being productive will always come down to managing three areas of your life.
The first is yourself.
Because you’re kind of an asshole, and you don’t do the shit that must be done, and you forget important tasks, and sometimes you watch Spongebob Squarepants marathons while drinking 40 year old scotch and falling asleep on the couch. Or maybe that’s specifically me.
When you can’t pull yourself into line, your productivity will be fucked. You have to be able to force yourself to do some mean shit, in order to make yourself keep in line. Let me give you an example. If I had a bunch of tasks that had to get done, and I didn’t do them. I played Tomb Raider.
So, I got mean. I shoved my only controller into a box and mailed it to myself. It took 4 days to show up again. In that time, I couldn’t play Tomb Raider, and it sucked, and it made me get stuff done.
Give yourself some consequences and stick to them. Treat yourself like an employee and recognize that if you’re employees acted the way you do from time to time, you’d fire their asses. Get mean.
The second is your loved ones.
I had 2 people contact me about this today. They’re going through some tough stuff right now because the people they love aren’t supporting them when they’re desperately trying to work on their dreams.
It sucks when it happens, because you rely on those support networks to push you through and help you do what must be done. And sometimes, they don’t respect your time or your energy or the goals you’re shooting for.
At its best, this looks like your best friend getting pissed at you for not being able to make her dinner party. At its worst, it’s your relatives refusing to speak to you because you had to fly out for a meeting instead of attending your second cousin’s birthday party.
I know there’s some advice floating around about cutting out negative influences, and people who don’t add value to your life, but that’s not always realistic. There are some people we can cauterize and abandon (I’ve done it more than once), but there are others who are a part of us and we can’t just walk away from ‘em.
So what do you do? Tell them you have to make a call between your business and them right now, and they still matter, and you love them, but You’ve Got A Thing. And here’s where it gets easy, and gets mean. You’re giving them a choice to accept you and what you’re working on, and prove that they care enough about you to stick around, or reject you and put their needs over yours, in which case you’re well shot of them.
I know that doesn’t sound fun, and it’s not. You can’t have it all, and some people will never understand that. And you have to get mean.
The third is your tasks.
Not everything is going to get done. I know, this week you were going to get back to the gym, and call all your clients, and start work on your side project, and learn to bake cookies, and take a guitar lesson, and meditate, and I’ll bet 80% of that crap didn’t happen. It will never happen.
We task overload all the time, we do it because writing big task lists releases a feeling of awesome productivity. And then we make it to halfway through the week and realize we don’t have a snowball in hell’s chance of blasting that list.
So do we highlight one or two key things and focus on them? Most of the time, no. We throw the list out with total abandon, hate ourselves briefly and get back to whatever we wanted to do.
You have to get mean with your tasks. Only do the ones, only plan to do the ones that really matter. I know it’d be nice to bake some cookies and do some yoga, but those are non-essentials.
Working on your side project is essential.
I know, you love cookies and yoga, and you love them being a part of your life…but if you’re on a deadline and you’re running out of time and something has to give, then tough. Get mean, get ruthless, and stop trying to plan a thousand tasks when you need to do just 4 or 5.
I’m not saying you have to give up those other items, I’m just saying that shoving them all on a big list won’t make you productive, you have to exercise a lot of strict restraint and just make yourself do what really has to be done. If you find time at the end of it all to do the other stuff, that’s great. But if you don’t, that’s life. And as my great Grandmother used to say, “Life sucks, and then you die.”
I think being productive is this weird idea we’ve all consumed, that real entrepreneurs and writers and creatives have to be living these insane lives with no time wasted and nothing falling through the cracks. It’s just not true. To my mind, being productive just means getting-the-shit-done-that-must-be-done. GSD-MBD.
Getting mean just means being strict and firm about it. It means setting boundaries, setting the right tasks, enforcing what you have to do and not letting yourself or anyone else walk all over your priorities. It’s not fun, and it’s not super inspiring, because hard work never really is.
I get mean because if I don’t, I know my life’s going to go nowhere. I’d rather goof off, and eat crap, and play video games, but I get mean and set limits and stop myself before it gets out of control. I’d rather go hang out at a bar on a Monday night and do tequila shots, but I get mean and say no and occasionally lose a friend over it. I’d rather have a huge list of things to do and feel like a magical fairy dipping a wand at the tasks and ticking them off with happy little thoughts, but I get mean and get shit done.
So don’t get bogged down in productivity hacks. If some of them work for you, that’s great, and if they don’t, that’s great too. Don’t get caught up in it all. Don’t get cosmic.