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Productivity for Humans

How to Get Shit Done Without Losing Your Mind

I don’t know about you, but I can be messy, complicated, and neurotic. I also make plenty of mistakes.

I stay up just a little too late watching Netflix or playing video games, I sometimes snack just a little too much for no apparent reason, and I don’t work out nearly as often as I should (especially when it’s this freaking cold outside).

Duh, what else would you watch?

I’m sure you can probably relate to at least one of these. After all, we’re humans, not robots. In my mind, these things tend to impact my professional life even more because I work for myself and don’t have anyone else telling me what to do and when to do it.

Like many other humans out there, I have another bad habit that tends to creep into my day-to-day: I waste a little too much time reading about productivity instead of actually being productive. From what I can tell, this is the standard, not the exception.

With so many people writing about such a controversial topic, it’s hard to wade through all of the articles, separating the bullshit from the occasional diamonds in the rough.

For all of you who aren’t Buddhist monks, pre-programmed with abs of steel or Adderall-induced hyperfocus, I figured I would offer my two cents, one human to another. Here is a simple framework for remaining productive while still living your own life.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem.

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For some strange reason, this seems to be the hardest step for most of us. We’re so wrapped up in our own lives, we forget acknowledging the problem is the obvious first task on any road to recovery.

I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have a problem! I just have, like, so much going on!” I hate to break it to you, but you suffer from the same sickness we all do:

IBS— Irrational Busy-ness Syndrome

Before you start arguing with me on Twitter, stop and think. When was the last time the word “busy” came out of your mouth? If it hasn’t today, I can almost guarantee it did yesterday. Or the day before.

Don’t feel bad; remember, you’re only human. And just like the rest of us (at least in the US), you’ve been brainwashed to believe urgent equals important. Now, I’m no mathematician, but if you ask me, this equation is utter bullshit and it’s the root of this very real problem.

Once we acknowledge this equation is wrong, we can cut the crap, address the issue head-on, and move towards the next step in actual productivity.

Step 2: Slow the fuck down.

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Thanks to self-preservation, stopping long enough to take a breath is harder than it sounds. Back when we still lived in caves and finger painted with our own feces, slowing down could mean death by a saber-toothed tiger or wooly mammoth. In today’s world, our threats look a little different and typically range from obesity brought on by fast food to getting hit by an asshole who’s texting while driving.

As you can probably tell, many of these challenges are self-inflicted. If we took a second to consider the consequences of our decisions, do you think we would really be stupid enough to check Facebook while driving 70 miles per hour down Highway 40? Probably not.

Once we know the challenge that looms ahead, we need to respect it by giving it the time and attention it deserves. This means taking a look inside, cutting through all of the noise, and figuring out what really matters most.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on anyone else to give us the answers we seek. Our friends won’t know, our significant others won’t be of any help, even our parents will be clueless. We have to put on our big boy/girl pants and find out for ourselves.

Step 3: Ask yourself the hard questions.

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This is where we turn into that annoying kid you knew back in elementary school who constantly nagged the teacher, asking, “Why?” until, after countless rounds of badgering, the teacher gave up and admitted, “I don’t know!”

If you haven’t tried meditating, journaling, or any other type of introspection, this will probably be a little uncomfortable. I imagine it’s similar to the first meeting someone has with a new therapist.

You sit there, wondering if this was a good idea, while a complete stranger asks you some of the most penetrating questions you’ve ever been asked.

In this scenario, you are both the therapist and the patient. You are responsible for asking and processing the right questions as well as providing real, honest answers.

I’ll admit; for me, this exercise has become second nature, probably because I journal every morning. I also pride myself on asking hard questions whenever I get the chance. At this point, most of my friends can expect a little poking and prodding whenever we meet up.

Once you’re able to slow down and sit in silence, you’ll be surprised at how quickly these questions can come. You’ll start asking yourself questions like:

  • What would make me truly happy?
  • How do I spend my time when I’m not working?
  • Do I really care about making more money?
  • What would I do if I had 3 months left to live?

Admittedly, these can start to get a little dark, especially when death enters the picture. If you ask me, this is extremely helpful when taking a real look inside.

For me, it’s hard to look ahead to the end without also thinking about the beginning. When thinking about the future, I sometimes reminisce back to when I was a child.

Growing up, I was a little weird — who wasn’t? I would always get lost in my own little worlds, playing with action figures and reading comics for hours on end. Using this time as inspiration, I couldn’t help but weave my own stories, drawing comics to visually communicate each and every detail.

This foundation led me to pursue design. After all, how else was I supposed to apply my love for storytelling while combining words and visuals?

I wouldn’t have reached this conclusion if I hadn’t started asking myself tough questions.

Step 4: Start small.

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Once you give yourself enough time to process the questions you’re asking yourself, you’ll start to find some answers.

  • What would make me truly happy? Traveling to places I’ve never been with people I care about.
  • How do I spend my time when I’m not working? I usually end up doodling or writing.
  • Do I really care about making more money? Not really. It just gives me more peace of mind.
  • What would I do if I had 3 months left to live? I would quit my job, travel, and write about my newfound experiences.

Your inner dialogue may look very different, and that’s OK. Everyone should have their own definition of success. Otherwise, you’ll always be chasing someone else’s ill-fitting dream for the rest of your life.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to dive right in as soon as these answers become clearer. Don’t do it!

Instead, focus in on one of these answers — I know, it’s going to be tough. This is where it pays to listen to your gut. Which of the above answers excites/scares you the most?

In my case, my first answer — traveling to places I’ve never been with people I care about— fills me with the most anticipation.

After realizing this, it’s time to make the first, actionable step. When it comes to traveling, this tends to be booking a flight. Purchasing tickets is the first action that commits you to the trip. Otherwise, you can procrastinate and waste time by “planning” until you eventually talk yourself out of it.

Once I book the flights, I can then focus on other necessary actions like finding lodging, transportation, places to see, etc.

Step 5: Go full steam ahead.

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Remember when I said start small? Well, once you have committed to the first step, forget that and go all-in.

To make this a little more tangible, let me share the first part of my morning routine.

Once I have a cup of coffee, I sit down and journal for roughly five minutes. After word-vomiting my thoughts onto the page, I will then write down three actionable steps that will move the needle forward.

These aren’t tasks like respond to email or attend meeting; these are three actions that will move me closer to accomplishing my long-term goals. Currently, these three daily actions usually relate to building my company, writing, and traveling.

Step 6: Don’t forget to check in.

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When your tasks are clear and you’re going full steam ahead, it’s easy to keep your head down and work. Do this for too long, and you risk veering off course.

Typically, I try to check in every few months (at the very least). This allows me to pinpoint the tasks that are moving me in the right direction, eliminate those that aren’t related to my goals, and course-correct if needed.

Productive thinking is just as important as productive action. It’s easy to dismiss this time, but if you ask me, it’s one of the most crucial steps to following through and remaining productive.

Well, there you have it! Yet another article about how to be productive. Hopefully, you didn’t waste too much time reading and even took away a few tips for focusing on what really matters.

As always, I would love to know what you think. Do you find this helpful? Am I full of shit (which is entirely possible)? Is there anything you would add?

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