How to be more productive without forcing yourself
Imagine you could work more and be wildly productive. And the best thing about it? You wouldn’t need to force yourself to work.
There are people exactly like that who sit down and work without pushing themselves to do it. They even look forward to working. The good news is that you can learn to do it too.
Let’s get to it.
Most people have a negative mindset about work. They think work sucks in comparison to fun. People see work as an annoyance that keeps them from doing whatever they really want to do. They also think that resting and having nothing to do is an ideal state they’d like to be in forever. This leads to thinking that you need to push yourself to work. You need to use willpower to get yourself to do it.
It’s simple to understand where this attitude comes from:
- People usually want things they don’t have and think that grass is greener on the other side.
- Everyone talks about how work is hard.
- In comparison to dead-end or corporate jobs without impact or freedom, neverending leisure looks like paradise.
In reality, most people who try to be in this nothing-to-do state for a long time become unhappy, depressed, and bored. Rich people who “made it” report how soon they become restless again. People who game all the time realize how empty it feels. Too much leisure isn’t satisfying for long.
On the other hand, there is a certain group of people who work a lot and enjoy it. Let’s call this group producers. By this, we don’t mean workaholics who escape from their whole life by working all the time. Producers have a healthy work-life balance. So what do they do that people who hate work don’t?
First, they tend to think about work differently.
For them, work is a virtuous cycle of positive feedback loops. Producers see work as a source of meaning and satisfaction. They see work as something that allows them to savor deserved leisure. They see rest as something that increases their life happiness and fuels their motivation towards work.
Second, their work is usually:
If you check at least 1 or 2 boxes somehow, something magical happens:
You don’t have to push yourself towards work anymore.
Well-defined, meaningful, and especially interesting work is easy to look forward to.
Non-producers often think that these producers are lucky because they stumbled upon work like this. In reality, producers often go a long way to make their work fun.
How to make work more interesting
This is the crucial factor in whether work gets done.
You don’t have to see any meaning in your work for it to be interesting.
Even if the task is totally undefined, complex, and difficult, curiosity can carry you to its completion.
So how can you develop this curiosity towards work?
You have to give the work a chance to become interesting. How? By combining these 3 steps:
1. Have less exposure towards super fun things
Video games, surfing the internet, porn, alcohol, and drugs etc. make work significantly more difficult. Why?
They establish a certain standard of mental stimulation. Anything that’s not super fun will seem boring.
Unfortunately, work often falls in the “feels bad” category. In comparison to games or social media, work can feel uninteresting or annoying.
You might argue that there are people who work just fine even while drinking alcohol, playing video games etc.
However, consider that there are two types of people: ones who can moderate their consumption and others who can’t. The latter society often describes as addicts.
Basically, if you’re addicted to any of the high-dopamine, low-effort activity, please quit it. At least temporarily so you can reestablish a healthy relationship to work. The more experienced we’re about the topic, the more obvious this is. There is no other way than to temporarily quit the addiction. If your vice is gaming, we’ve covered video gaming addiction here.
Some can have a healthy relationship with, for example, gaming.
However, for some people gaming is kryptonite. Here are some signs that super-fun activities have a detrimental effect on your work:
- You rush and half-ass everything else in order to get to your super-fun activity. When I (Mat) was addicted to gaming, everything during the day was half-assed so I could finally start playing.
- You keep postponing or forgetting everything that isn’t urgent in order to get to your super fun activity. You have this book that you want to read but you never get to actually reading it.
- Your orderliness suffers once you start with the super fun activity. Most people who come back to gaming report how their sense of orderliness starts to depreciate rather quickly. Their room gets messy, they start skipping workouts, stop meal-prepping, start eating more junk food, stop organizing their days.
If the points above describe you, it might be time to quit your super fun activity. At least for a while.
Once your brain is not constantly hyper-stimulated, it’s easier to find mundane activities like work or tidying more interesting.
2. Get bored more often
When you get bored, everything else becomes more interesting.
Don’t believe us? Try this little experiment. Turn everything off. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Sit on a chair and stare at a wall. Don’t move. Don’t consume any information. Don’t talk. Don’t write anything down. Just stare at the wall.
Except for zen masters, most of us will become restless after a few minutes. Often, our brain starts dreaming and imagining things. For the first few minutes, you might feel alright, thinking about your day. However, after 5 or 10 minutes, you’ll be itching to do something, anything really. Suddenly, creating a website, writing an article, or drawing a picture sounds like more interesting, more fun.
If you feel like you never stop scrolling and consume content all the time, schedule a 15 minute boredom window for tomorrow right before you want to start working. Use boredom strategically.
3. Dive deep into a topic
It’s fun when we can connect the dots. When we can draw new connections between ideas, we get a rush. Oh, I can see how this historical event contributed to an uprising…
The more connections we can draw within a topic, the more interested we become. This is what curiosity is all about.
If you take the time to watch a documentary related to what you’re working on, read a book about it, or find a couple relevant articles, you’ll collect more dots to connect. You’ll see how everything fits together.
When you do feel like watching something or have a free evening, instead of watching random videos or reruns of old TV shows, steer your attention to something related to what you need to do.
Give yourself time to develop an interest.
How to make work more meaningful
It's hard to feel motivated when you don't have a personal reason to do something.
However, “meaningful work” has become something of a buzzword.
Everyone is trying to find meaning in their work. This can be wasted energy, especially if you work in a corporate or a dead-end job. We say this so you don’t dwell on it and don’t feel frustrated because you can’t figure out how to save the world by doing what you do.
In any case, whatever your work is, you can make it meaningful enough to start.
Let’s say you have to study for an exam. You don’t find this particular class enjoyable. If you remind yourself why you chose to take the class and why studying is important for you, you will have an easier time persuading yourself to push through.
The fact is that some things simply need to be done. It's better if you find a compelling and personal reason to do them and get them over with as soon as possible, instead of putting them off forever.
When something is boring, ask yourself: Why do I need to do this? Find and reinforce the why behind the work.
How to make work well-defined
If you have a recipe that tells you step-by-step how to cook a meal, it is usually quite easy to follow. You know exactly where to start and how.
In today’s creative work, this often isn’t the case. There are no recipes for the work we need to do, or they don’t make the work any easier because the recipe would be too complex to understand.
Additionally, we often hamper our enthusiasm towards work by ourselves. How often do you find yourself with vague and unhelpful to-dos like “write the essay” or “make a video.”
There are so many steps in “make a video” that this vague task definition only causes anxiety and procrastination.
We always say that it’s more difficult to start working than to keep working. Therefore we should make starting easier by defining well how to begin and what to begin with.
The better you can define how to start working, the easier it’ll be to actually do it.
Basically, you do this in 3 steps:
1. Always define exactly where you’ll start
This means you write down the next physical action to take.
Do you need to write an essay?
The next physical action is: Open the scientific study and start reading
Or: Create a document → Create a rough draft in the next 15 minutes
Do you want to start learning coding?
The next physical action should be: Open freecodecamp.org → Start solving the first challenge
It might sound silly to define the next physical action, but it isn’t. Finding it is easy, and you can do it immediately.
What’s the next physical action you need to take?
2. Start with only having to work for 5/15 minutes
You probably don't feel like creating a 20 slide presentation right now from scratch, and then presenting it in 2 hours.
You don't feel like writing a whole final thesis on a topic you barely know.
You don't feel like running a marathon.
But you might feel like looking up a couple pictures or articles for the presentation.
Or feel like writing a paragraph or two before lunch break.
Or feel like taking a 1km walk.
Those are the small steps along the longer journey.
We often underestimate the power of small steps, but they are essential because they help us get into the right routine.
If you start running a couple miles every other day, you'll get familiar with the routine and then you'll naturally want to start increasing the distance. And eventually, you might get to running a full marathon.
The small steps, while they may seem tiny at the moment, are what will gradually lead to completing the longer journey.
If you have a daunting task, try doing it for 5 or 15 minutes. Everyone can survive that.
3. Your first draft can be sloppy - no expectations
You might have high expectations of your finished work.
You want to write a great book, not just a good one. Or create a stellar artwork, or start a great business.
All those expectations can put more pressure on you than you can bear. More pressure often equals more procrastination.
Instead, you can escape those expectations by starting deliberately badly.
Write a chapter of a book by hand, without editing anything - you know that's not going to get published.
Start designing a poster with a sharpie, instead of the latest high-tech illustrating program.
Create a bad first prototype for a product that you'd never ship to anyone else.
When you know that you don't have to make the greatest thing ever right from the start, it's much easier to start. And then it's easier to continue.
If you combine these tips, working will become much easier to do. You might even start looking forward to it.
- If you want to find work more interesting, cut super fun distractions, get bored more often, and give yourself time to develop an interest.
- If possible, look for a meaning in your work. You don’t need to save the world, just think of a couple personal reasons to do what you need to do.
- Define exactly how you’ll start. What’s the next physical action you need to take?
Apply this today.