Productivity culture feels like a rainbow unicorn fantasy.
Some would say I’m partly to blame. I love self-help and productivity. It really gets me off, if ya know what I mean, so I write about it.
On a call with Sean Kernan the other day he said “Wow, it’s early over there in Oz. You really do live the self-help life you preach.”
My face went red.
Sean doesn’t know my naughty secret … he caught me on a good day.
Anxiety as forced motivation
I reckon I have some undiagnosed version of OCD. When it comes to cleaning, decorating a house or putting things away, I’m Hitler.
Just ask my wife.
Until recently, the walls of my entire home were bare. I like my walls cold, gloomy, and prison-like. My poor wife. Only in the last few months has she finally been able to convince me to hang a family photo or two.
It felt like watching a cute puppy dog burn in a bonfire.
But I got over it.
When it comes to a to-do list things get a little nuts. Most people assign tasks to other people and allow a few days. I tend to follow up on other people’s tasks a few hours later. This is a bad habit I’m slowly breaking.
This mindset comes from the leftovers that mental illness gifted me. Whether I like it or not, I have some level of anxiety. It’s a healthy form of anxiety because it gives me free motivation.
Anxiety isn’t for everyone though. It can quickly become a debilitating disease that drives everything you do in an unhealthy way. That’s why I monitor mine closely.
These are my nine uncommon productivity shortcuts.
1. Throw an ax at your to-do list
A good productivity nerd has a to-do list.
Even lazy sons of guns have a functioning calendar to help them know what needs to get done every day.
People like us tend to add too many items to our to-do lists. Mine needs a good chop, daily. Yes, we’re somewhat optimistic about life, but that has one huge downside: we think we can achieve everything.
So our to-do lists become a mile long.
A shortcut that works for me is to intentionally cut things off my to-list. I feel great when I do and get a nice dopamine spike.
Sometimes those tasks go in the bin. Other times I add them to a master to-do list that’s out of sight, out of mind. The lie is “one day when I have time I’ll get to these.” Most of the time I never do, although yesterday my “do taxes” forgotten task finally progressed because I had spare time.
But mostly, this master to-do list is a p*rn fantasy. Good. Create one.
2. Never break this rule
I become a Karen if I don’t sleep enough.
(And guess what Timbo … with a baby on the way you ain’t gonna get a good night’s sleep for a few years.)
That’s why I’m about to go off course. The productivity gods with their Seneca tweets are gonna block me. I could become one angry bastard, just warning you. But it’s all for a good cause: my daughter.
Sometimes what you have to give up brings an even greater reward. Oh, and I don’t have a quiet productivity baby either who will read James Clear. She currently uses my wife’s belly as a punching bag. She karate kicks too.
Bruce Lee would be proud.
But this daddy knows she’s going to be a lot to handle. The sexy Apple calendar with even blocks of productive time could get thrown out the window when she arrives and says “hello f*ckers.” Gorgeous.
Sleep hacker Mr Pickle says you must get at least 7 hours sleep. Strokes, diabetes, weight gain, and memory loss can occur if you don’t.
Sleep is a productivity shortcut. Read that again.
It helps you do more. Right now I never break the rule of 8 hours sleep. When my daughter comes along to shake up the world, I plan on sticking to this rule, but spreading the 8 hours across the day.
(Maybe I’m delusional.)
Get 8 hours of sleep or become Karen. Choice is yours.
3. Let your freaking hair down once in a while
Sugar is bad mmmkay.
I’d say sugar is as bad as cigarettes. The other night I watched a video on Youtube called “death by sugar.” Neurologist Dr David Perlmutter explains how inflammation is the cause of many diseases, and sugar is one of the biggest culprits.
At the end I shook my head and went “yep, he’s right mate.”
For the next three days, like a manic-psycho, I ate high-sugar foods. Sometimes I like to let my hair down. In the old days I’d even light up a cigarette as a non-smoker just to prove the point (then cough my fragile lungs out — not cool at all).
Productivity shortcuts are stupid if you always stick to the plan and follow the system. Your perception of time speeds up when routine kicks in. Breaking habit patterns is how you get a healthy balance.
Plus life is meant to be fun. Not a series of factory-worker tasks that feel dull and lifeless.
4. Adopt “no zero days”
I came home the other day to sad news. My father-in-law suffered a massive brain hemorrhage.
I’m still in shock.
He’s a small-time worker overseas. But he builds big-time things — like some of the most iconic bridges in the world that are almost impossible to build. The downside is it comes with a lot of stress.
No one knows for sure but that’s what likely clogged up his brain. The day it happened I didn’t feel like working at all. (After all I am a writer who’s supposed to inspire people. How do you inspire after news like that?)
That’s when I use the “no zero days” technique I learned off ryans01 on Reddit 9 years ago.
“No zero days” is a motto to live by.
The way it works is you do one tiny thing towards your goals.
- Read one chapter
- Write one sentence
- Phone one customer
- Do one minute of exercise
The objective is to stay off zero. One minute is better than no minutes. It keeps the habit running even on days when life feels to have fallen apart.
If no day ever equals zero then it feels like a success. That feeling creates compounding momentum over longer timeframes.
5. Assume everything takes twice as long
As an estimator I’m terrible.
Partly because I failed math badly in high school. Teachers just gave up on my ass. Now when I estimate how long a task takes I simply fail. The solution is to assume everything takes twice as long.
If I allocate one hour in my head, I double it to two hours. Problem solved.
6. Look back on progress to put current progress in perspective
Like a good little productivity guru I’m always tempted to overachieve.
Success is, sometimes, never enough. The shortcut is to look back on your progress so you see how far you’ve come.
The desire to do more fades when massive progress creates a lightbulb idea in your head that says “shut up brain, I do what I want!”
Reflect to gain leverage on your productivity brain. Otherwise you go from half-crazy to full-on crazy, and that’s not cool amigo.
7. Choose one goal a day
The more leverage a goal creates, the more progress you get. That’s how you can be a lazy f*cker like me and still achieve decent results.
8. Batch-complete tiny pains in the asses
The worst emails are questions that google can answer.
These tiny pains in the asses clog up our lives. The temptation is to let them sit and stink out the home. Don’t. Author of “Getting Things Done” David Allen created the 2-minute rule.
If you encounter a task that would take under 2 minutes to complete, just do it now.
The difference is to batch them — otherwise you become a reactive idiot that checks their notifications 5000 times a day. The best time to do tiny pain-in-the-ass tasks is when your energy is lowest. For me, that’s right before bed.
9. Sexy James Clear sums it up beautifully
Let’s end with the master of productivity himself, James Clear.
James is a big believer in the elimination mindset as a shortcut. He says we should:
- Downsize our homes so there are fewer rooms to clean
- Donate clothing you don’t need to charity so there’s less to wash and organize
- Delete or say no to projects so they don’t need to be completed. Fewer projects, more time to think about the ones that matter.
My granny was right about productivity…
Less is more.