If you’re tired of being a foul bachelor frog, read on to learn the top five ways I’ve improved my own productivity.
1. Sleep Consistently
The modern world can make it pretty hard to maintain a stable sleep schedule. Even a small amount of artificial light is enough to disrupt your circadian rhythm, and the street lamp outside your window is far brighter than anything our ancestors ever saw after sunset. Once the sun set for them, it was so dark they got tired automatically, and self-discipline wasn’t a prerequisite to having a normal bed time.
If you can’t eliminate artificial light in all forms, and go to bed between 10-12 at night, then opt for the next best thing, which is consistency. Its not the worst thing in the world if you are going to bed at 4am, as long as you are consistently going to bed at 4am and waking up at the same time. If you fall asleep one night at 4am, the next night at 6am, the next at 2am, etc., then your body doesn’t know when its supposed to release the hormones to make you sleep, or the hormones to wake you up, and so you have this general kind of grogginess during the day. Also, its difficult to plan your day if you don’t know what time you’ll wake up.
Tim Ferriss himself, master of productivity, says he is most productive as a writer between 1-5am. So, its possible to be productive even with a “late to bed-late to rise” schedule, as long as you are consistent with it and don’t let your bed time drift.
The most effective way I’ve found for maintaining sleep consistency is to set a wake-time that I wont deviate from. If you know without a doubt that you have to wake up at 11am the next day, you’ll be much less likely to stay up till 5am browsing reddit. Having a job that holds you to a specific wake-time is equally effective.
2. Plan Out Your Day
When you aren’t sure of what you should be doing at any given time throughout the day, your default will be to do nothing. This is because humans have a finite amount of willpower, and each little decision you have to make is a drain on that precious willpower, and a drain on your time.
With this fact in mind, you should design your day in a way that puts your decision making faculties on autopilot. Rather than having to endlessly deliberate about meals, chores, etc., plan all of these things ahead of time, down to the minute, so that you can invest time in projects that will yield much higher long-term dividends, i.e your passions and goals.
Some hyper-successful people, like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, went so far as to wear the same outfit every day because it was one less decision they had to make. This level of pragmatism may seem strange, but once you realize that time is your most precious resource, you view wasting it as a cardinal sin.
3. Be Consistent
One of the biggest destroyers of productivity is a lack of consistency. Most people can get themselves really hyped about a project or goal, only to quickly fizzle out and let the goal fall by the wayside. These people are usually not in it to succeed, but to enjoy the temporary gratification they get from THINKING about being successful.
Real success is about action, not goal setting, and consistency is about getting yourself to consistently take action. This is much harder than you would think, and requires infinite patience. Success is a marathon, not a race, and in order to build sustainable success, you need to be the tortoise, and not the hare.
When most people stop mentally masturbating on their goals and finally decide to take action, they take action that is FAR beyond what they are capable of sustaining for any meaningful period of time, and quickly burn out. So, you have to choose an action that you are capable of performing day in and day out, and an action that is relevant to your ultimate goal.
If you want to become a master pianist, start by practicing five minutes a day. If you can sustain 5 minutes a day for a week, do 10 minutes the next week, then 15, then 20, etc. Most people will balk at those numbers, thinking they’ll never achieve success at such a slow pace. Remember, you are the tortoise, and success is a marathon. Do you want to be the tree that grows too fast and thin, and then snaps under its own weight, or the tree that grows slow and strong and weathers hurricanes? Have patience, and understand that the world of instant gratification you’ve been raised in has very little to do with creating real world success.
4. Balance Your Life
Work is only one part of your life, and often your output in work has a lot to do with how you handle the other parts. Having friends and socializing, eating a healthy diet, getting outside, and all of the other cliches of living a balanced life are actually necessary in order to do your best work.
You need to approach every aspect of your life like a Zen monk, cultivating a lifestyle of discipline and focus where you put just as much energy into how you eat as you do into how you work. Success isn’t becoming a burned out miser who has mountains of cash and no one to share it with, or a morbidly obese computer nerd who can’t take vacations because he can’t fit in an airplane seat. Success should well-rounded.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go as hard as you possibly can in your endeavors, or that you won’t lose a lot of sleep on the road to becoming great. It just means that the more you can keep things in balance, the better your life will tend to be.
5. Take Action
The most important, and final productivity principle is that of Taking Action. Without this final principle, all of the other principles will fail to work. You need to take massive action on a regular basis to keep yourself grounded in reality. Its one thing to daydream and imagine what could be, to make goals and plans for the future, but its another thing entirely to take action.
Consistent action will get you further than all of the previous principles put together, so don’t allow yourself to slip into the state of passive non-action in which so many people spend the majority of their lives. Force yourself to take action immediately, in some small way, on whatever it is you choose to do.
Don’t rationalize, don’t debate, simply replace all thoughts of doubt or confusion in your head with the thought ACT NOW. Sure, you might fail, or be humiliated, or have to start over again from scratch, but this is MUCH preferable to a life spent in the purgatory of non-action. By acting, you learn the reality of things rather than dwelling in the non-reality you’ve conceived in your mind.
So, again, even if its 5 minutes spent working on your new novel, or 10 pushups, or one healthy meal, do it now. Make the word “ACT” your mantra, and every time you get caught up in thoughts of what-if, repeat the mantra in your head until it drowns out all the bullshit. Then, take action.