Being consistently productive is really, really hard. It’s relatively easy to be super productive for a day or two, but then bad habits often kick in again and you lose momentum. This guide aims to share some of my learnings around achieving consistent levels of high productivity.
The key principles that help me maintain consistent levels of high productivity are:
- Meaning: I know why I choose to work hard
- Low friction: I’ve made productive habits easy
- Pre-commitment: I’ve set myself up in such a way to force my future self into smart decisions
Here are some of the steps I take to enforce these principles.
I’ve come up with a mantra that helps remind me why I want to be productive
I’ve found that when I’m tired and ‘over it’, my brain plays tricks on me, and it becomes harder to justify trying hard. I always regret slacking off in retrospect, but it’s often very hard to focus in the moment when I don’t feel my best.
Having an explicated reason why I want to try hard, helps me to commit in the moment.
I often revisit this mantra when I’m feeling tired:
I am wired to minimise energy expenditure in the short term
< However >
My goals require me to think and act for the long term
< Therefore >
I choose discomforts over comfort
I choose action over rest
I choose fear over safety
I choose short-term sacrifice for long-term gain
I try harder, work longer and continually push my limits
Yours will be different, but I’ve definitely found having a well thought-through and externalised – i.e. written down – reason for trying hard helps when things get tough.
I have an established routine
I found that having a daily routine that I can follow makes a huge difference. I try and tick off a few set things each day:
I often break my routine, especially when things start going crazy, but having it defined so I have something to strive towards helps a lot.
I’ve set up my workstation to work for me
My work setup at home is comfortable and makes productive working easily accessible. The aim is to lower the friction to working productively.
Here’s what my desk looks like:
The key things I have on my desk are:
- Multiple screens: Depending on your personal preference, multiple screens could be more distracting than useful. I personally get a lot from it.
- External keyboard and mouse: I have the exact same keyboard and mouse setup at home and at the office, so I don’t have to slow down to adjust to differences when I change work environments.
- A printer: I find it useful to quickly print out things and make notes on actual paper. Your mileage may vary.
- Spare charger: So I can quickly plug in my laptop and get going.
- Pens and paper: So I don’t have to pack/unpack things to get started with work.
- No other distractions: My table is empty of anything else that could distract me.
I only buy healthy food to make eating badly hard
I’ve found that eating healthily is one of the biggests boosts to my productivity.
It took me a while to realise that just choosing to eat healthily doesn’t work – I need to buy healthy food.
It’s very tiring trying to avoid chocolate or whatever in the moment when I get home from work and I’m exhausted and still have more work to do. In these moments, I eat whatever is available, so I need to tweak what’s available.
Thinking about this, I’ve started differentiating between ‘eating because I need food’ and ‘eating because it’s meaningful and a social thing’.
- When I’m just eating because I need to, I eat a very simple and repeated list of things. This includes Jungle Oats with nut butter for breakfast, and alternating between yoghurt and fruit, spaghetti with tuna and sauce, and salad and fish for supper.
- When I’m eating because it’s a social thing, I go out and buy whatever ingredients I need to cook specifically for that meal if I’m hosting it.
Following this routine means I only buy – and stock – a certain combination of healthy (or at least semi-healthy) food in my house. Doing this makes it really hard to eat unhealthily because I need to physically go out to a shop before I can eat something unhealthy.
I find it much easier to exercise control over my purchasing, than over my consumption.
I make exercise accessible
For me, being fit seems to be more about easy access to exercise than about will power. So, very similarly to eating healthily, I try to make exercising the easy option.
I like climbing, but really struggle to find time to go to a climbing gym. To help with this, I put up a campus board above my door in my office.
This means any time I walk to my office, there’s an opportunity to do a few pull-ups or hangs. It’s made a huge difference in maintaining my climbing strength, even if I don’t get to a climbing gym for months.
I am also a big believer in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). You can look up all the studies on it yourself, but in summary, it’s the fastest way to get and stay fit.
To make doing this type of exercise accessible to me, I have a bodyweight training app loaded on my phone. This means I can get a proper workout done at home, or at a guesthouse or hotel if I’m travelling.
Pro tip: If you can, set aside a dedicated, open area in your home that’s big enough to do whatever exercise works for you. I’ve found that if you don’t need to move things around to exercise, it helps lower the friction that crucial bit.
We’re living in a “new normal” now, which means that productivity hacks can go a long way in helping us adapt. If you have any tips that have helped set you up to win, please feel free to share them!