I’ve been more productive lately than ever before. As I mentioned in my most recent post, life has been pretty crazy lately, and that’s forced me to think really hard about how I can keep up with the things I care about. Without something to help us keep track of our goals, something to remind ourselves what is important vs. what is immediate, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Work, friends, writing, blogging, reading, traveling, going to the gym… What comes first? Some of these things are only possible at certain times: you can get some writing or reading done at 4 in the morning, but you’d be hard pressed to find a big group of friends to hang out with (if you can, good for you).
I’ve tried several different ways to keep my life organized. I’ve tried to-do lists, calendaring, turning off my phone for days at a time, working out in the morning vs. the afternoon, taking a break in the middle of the workday to write. I’ve also tried different productivity hacks, like creating a different workspace for each of my projects, or the Pomodoro technique.
What’s worked the best for me, though, has come down to 2 things.
- Boiling all of my goals and dreams down into 3 or 4 actions that I can take every day to get myself closer to achieving them
On the first point, it’s incredibly important to understand what you want and what will get you there. If you’re an aspiring writer and want to get published, you want to write great books, and what will get you there is writing, reading, and studying the craft of it all. Those are three actions right there. Maybe you also like to exercise, so add that to the list, and you might also maintain a blog, which brings us to five actions.
That second point, momentum, is what makes the first point really click.
When most people say momentum, what they’re really referring to is Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
Long story short is: if you write every day, you will continue to write every day. If you break that streak, though, you’re much more likely to have that streak remain broken. A podcast I was listening to the other day touched on why it’s so hard for writers to write, and how they can easily overcome that barrier. Here’s the gist of it (I’m paraphrasing):
Writers have immense difficulty writing on a consistent basis because they’re so preoccupied with creating quality work. They obsess over finding the perfect writing conditions and convince themselves that if those conditions don’t exist, everything they will produce will be crap, and they would be better off writing nothing at all. Runners, on the other hand, know that they need to stick to their training schedule no matter the conditions, because if they miss a run they set themselves back several days. They need to get out and run, even if it’s raining, even if they run their worst time. Their goal should be to get out and run, not necessarily to always run the fastest they ever have. The same is true for writers; instead of telling themselves they need to produce two pages of mind-blowing fiction per day, they should tell themselves they need to produce two pages of crappy writing per day. That’s not scary at all. Anything on top of that, or better than that, is a bonus.
That really resonated with me, and I’ve been twice as likely to keep my writing streak going because of it.
It’s also important to be able to visualize your success, because if you’re tracking your habits you’re much more likely to keep going with them. For that, I use an awesome app, aptly named Momentum. It lets you check off and track your habits, setting weekly goals (like going to the gym five times a week, or writing six days a week).
The satisfaction of marking a box green is often enough to keep me going even on the busiest of days. If you’re wondering, the habits I personally track are Gym (5 times a week), Write (6 times a week), Cardio (2 times a week), and Blog (1 time a week).
You can choose whatever habits mean the most to you, but I know that if I’m successful at keeping up with those four, I’m doing everything I need to be doing.
And that’s pretty much it – I’ve figured out what I want, distilled that down into the habits that will get me there, and started tracking those habits to make sure I keep up my momentum. I hope that you have your own way (or use this one) to do the same, because if we consistently work towards what we want, there’s nothing that can stop us from getting there.
What do you think? How do you make sure you’re staying on track with your projects, whatever they may be? Do you track your habits? What motivates you?