The Secret to Productivity

One of my goals in the past few months has been to become more productive, as this blog certainly shows (I’ve also put Loreshaper Games on steemit which I’ve been doing another daily post for over the last couple days).

There are a few things that I noticed about myself before I got serious about productivity. I had a hard time keeping up on projects, really working in fits and starts more than any disciplined manner. If I didn’t work in the way I planned, I just sort of gave up for the day (I still struggle with this a little). I had given up on my old habit of just turning off my internet for 50 minutes (I don’t do a whole hour on the timer, because I’ll typically pause the timer and go have a cup of water or the like and do a little head-clearing exercise, which brings me to a whole hour).

The fundamental problem, however, is that I was lazy.

And I knew it.

And I excoriated myself for it, but never held myself accountable to action.

What does it mean to be accountable to action?

Well, to borrow Jordan Peterson’s phrase, it means cleaning your room (my room is actually not ideal, but it’s at least an orderly mess, with everything just slightly out of its place). You find something simple to do, then you do it. You do your best at it, too, not just take a low-hanging fruit and say “There, I did it!”

Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t little things that you can do. I’m on Habitica, which serves both as a reminder for the things I haven’t yet converted to habit and helps me see where I’m at in my day. I have a bunch of little things, some as simple as going to get a cup of water, on Habitica, which serves as a way to see when I’ve done it (and give myself rewards, though I’ve only started using Habitica recently enough that I’m still more invested in the game side of it than the self-reward side).

But setting a big goal means that you’ll have an opportunity to succeed. There’s an important part to that, however, which involves having meaningful milestones. Stephen King suggests that aspiring writers write 2000 words a day, which I’m pretty much hitting every day now, barring special circumstances (and I hope to be even better about in the future).

If you set your goal as writing a novel, you might not succeed immediately, and you can lose sight of your goal. I’ve written several novellas, and never published any (because they sucked), but I know that by keeping at the rate of productivity I am at I will eventually actually finish one. I’ve published a couple games (one of which really sucked, the other of which seems to be going strong), and it’s definitely a process. I used to use Trello, but my method is such that simply defining a few goals for the week in very broad terms works better than having specific things planned, at least at the start of a project.

Having the ability to set milestones is the first step to productivity, because it wards against giving up. I make my milestones super easy. I don’t set a quality metric to them, because I feel that I’m generally enough of a perfectionist that I don’t need to worry about the quality (except when I’m starting out at something and practicing, in which case my stuff does need work but I know that and I account for it by working more on quantity) of most of the things that I write. Yes, there will be little issues, but they can be fixed later, and doing is important.

Doing something, even when it’s not particularly great, is better than doing nothing. Putting actions into practice builds a positive relationship with those tasks, and failing to put those actions into practice builds a toxic self-image and self-doubt.

So start small. Write something witty on Twitter. Make a Facebook post that affirms a friend or someone who has helped you in the past. Write a poem, even if it’s bad. Especially if it’s bad. You’re doing it to improve. A lot of people spend time sort of wandering aimlessly to “find themselves”, but the best way to find yourself is through doing things that you feel are important.

It’s like an old Tom & Jerry cartoon in which a tiny snowball grows to be a massive avalanche; doing a little thing starts the motion. You can exercise the good character traits that you have always wanted: industry, gratitude, integrity, charity, hope, or other virtues can all stem from small positive actions taken in stride.

As I have been undergoing a process of transforming my life to be a better model for my students and a better person for my future wife (still single; I’m playing the long game) I’ve noticed that people notice the changes I’ve been making. I don’t go out and shout them in the streets (well, I do here, but “homoeoteleuton” has such a ring to it, eh?) but they can tell that I’ve become more confident, more self-reliant, more trustworthy as a support to their endeavors.

And I think that this is where a lot of the motivation that helps people achieve their goals comes from. The inner transformation, while valuable, is only a part of the picture.

It is when you change the world and see it blossom that you find your true reward. Just as the hero in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth returns to his world to change it, by engaging in a journey of self-improvement you are doing something incredibly selfless; you are enabling yourself to make a better world.

There is nothing more worthy, nothing more sacrificial, nothing more holy than that process of coming closer to the Truth and the Purpose for life. We all suffer tragedies beyond our control, but our success is a choice: a choice to ignore our fear.


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