The Secret to Productivity is Not What You Think

Spoiler alert: It has nothing to do with morning routines.

When I am writing about something really important to me, or trying to create something that has the possibility of truly affecting my life — I fall asleep. My body’s response to doing work that is meaningful is, “Hey Cat, I think you should take a nap.” I tell myself I must need the sleep, and go back to bed. If I’m on the verge of creating or writing something particularly meaningful, I tend to get sleepy or hungry. It’s my body’s way of distracting myself from the responsibility of doing something I actually care about. There are subconscious ways our bodies and minds respond to change that we may not even realize. Most of the little tips and tricks about being productive or how to stop procrastinating are boring or ask us to buy apps and productivity planners and make lists, but I don’t want to buy anything and I already make lists! I just don’t do what’s on them. Training your mind to focus takes time, patience and understanding, and those things can’t be bought online. The number one thing I tell myself when I’m trying to be more productive is this:

Something’s got to go.

Being productive is actually about not doing things. It’s about staying true to the most important task on your list and letting go of everything else. It may sound too easy to believe, or too vague to implement, but it can be done. Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work says to cut off all distractions like phones, emails, social media, etc in order to be productive. David M. Levy’s Mindful Tech recommends checking in with your physical, mental and emotional feelings while you are doing activities such as checking your email, scrolling online, or working. This all sounds so simple but we like to make things hard. It’s too hard to cut off technology. It’s too hard to notice my breathing while I’m working — why would I even do that? Which brings me to the second thing I tell myself when I’m trying to be more productive:

Understand why something’s got to go.

Here is a play by play of what my mind typically goes through when I’m trying to get sh*t done:

1.) Figure out the number one thing I need to get done.

2.) Cut something off forever (or for now) and don’t even think about doing it until that one thing is done.

3.) Understand why I am cutting it off so I don’t fall back.

Here’s an example from my life right now:

What I want to get done:

Have a month’s worth of blog posts written and ready to post every week.

What I am taking off my list in order to do this:

1.) Watching Sex and the City and The Mindy Project.

2.) Limiting myself to ONE nap a day, because yes, sometimes I take two.

3.) Not adding any classes to my teaching schedule or overcommitting myself to outside projects.

Why am I doing this:

1.) I could watch Sex and the City for hours (I’ve never seen the whole series!) and whenever I need a break from Carrie’s annoying communication issues and fabulous clothes, I switch to The Mindy Project.

2.) In my mind, naps and sleeping are “good for me,” so it always seems like a good idea. But no, naps are like my metaphorical cigarettes. I think I need them, they give me a little buzz when I’m done, but afterwards, I feel a little bit bad about myself and have a headache. Naps kill my time like cigarettes kill my lungs. So for now, one nap a day only please.

3.) I love teaching yoga and it’s so hard for me to say no to picking up new classes or a private client, but I need to focus on writing. If I pick up more classes, my time will be consumed in commuting and coordinating my schedule.

Procrastination is a matter of the mind. It’s a way of protecting yourself from hard work or meaningful change ahead. Notice your physical and mental responses to work or stress. Difficulty focusing feels so “real” but it’s not, we have the power to change our minds whenever we want. It just takes little time and practice. Be nice to yourselves, you’ll get it done!

Originally published at on February 12, 2016.