11 Things I Learned from Reflecting on Last Month’s Productivity Challenge

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This past month was an amazing whirlwind of work, promotion and finally taking the first steps to realize our dream. The soft-launch of the Liftree Community finally saw us through turning a pipe dream into something concrete that we could share with our friends, family and co-workers.
Its been a long road to get here, juggle personal commitments and still stay productive and churn out quality work in a regular basis. So we kicked off the first month with our August Productivity Challenge – and here’s what we learned about being productive:
  1. Productivity needs structure
  2. Productivity cannot be planned
  3. Productivity needs faith and reverence
  4. Sometimes you need a drill sergeant
  5. Productivity needs controlled doses of stress
  6. Productivity thrives on variety
  7. Productivity is both an art and a science
  8. Productivity needs singular focus
  9. Life will always get in the way
  10. There are no shortcuts to productivity
  11. Get in the best shape of your life (BONUS)


Productivity needs structure

You have no hope in hell of achieving your dreams and working productively if you don’t even have a road map for where you are going.  Here’s a simple idea: create some structure in your workday. No, not the OCD kind with 50 post-it notes accounting for every moment of your day. More like a subway map that shows you the direction and redirects you if you miss your stop. With no plan you will be as productive as a chicken trying to find a kernel of corn in the dark it’s impossible.


Productivity cannot be planned

For all the talk about productivity and planning, the simple truth remains – productivity cannot be planned. you can train yourself over time , maybe . to be honest, it did get easier to work and get in the zone faster towards the end of the month, but there are still days when the enthusiasm falters, the work is boring as hell and we just lose our mojo. The concept that was the most difficult to wrap our head around was this: Some days you will sit down to work and realize that its just not happening. If you falter, don’t get upset and beat yourself up about it. stressing about productivity actually makes you *surprise* less productive. On the particularly bad days, it is easier to just step away form the rat race and enjoy the beautiful chaos of ordinary everyday life.


Productivity needs faith and reverence

Your work is important – like life and death important. If you can’t find a single cell in your body that believes this down to its cytoplasm, then quietly hand in your resignation, shut down your business and walk away. Find work that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out, murder your co-workers and clients. Work that you actually enjoy. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you don’t like.
When I worked as a resource nurse, we rotated around different hospital units on different days. Some places were great, the work was exciting and the pace challenging yet fun. Some places on the other hand, I literally dragged my feet to. When I started realizing that I was actually dreading going to work on some days, I switched to a job I enjoyed more. I’d seen too many old and bitter nurses angry for having wasted their lives in a field they didn’t love – and guess what – their patients, colleagues and managers didn’t enjoy having them around much either because they were always complaining. So if you dread going to work everyday, go find yourself new work that inspires you.
That is not to say that work should be enjoyable every moment of the day otherwise its not worth doing. Obviously, anything of value takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build. However, the difference between toiling to build something you aspire to and something that you do for the sake of doing lies in the amount of engagement that you experience while working.
If you’re just there for the money, sooner or later you will burnout. You may even start to hate yourself and your job because you know that is not where you belong. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in the healthcare arena.
When you know you don’t like what you are doing, perhaps, you even know deep down inside that you’re not doing a particularly good job either, it creates a cognitive dissonance that will leave you restless. You risk becoming a bitter and resentful machine.
Find something to look forward to in your work day. If you can’t, then get out as fast as you can. There is better work elsewhere that desperately needs your skills and enthusiasm.


Sometimes you need a drill sergeant

Sometimes, despite loving your work, you cant seem to actually sit down and get the work done. At some point, you might have to admit to yourself that without external motivation you probably wont get anything done. That’s why crazy apps like WriteorDie; Zombies, Run and even Fitsby are so popular.
While apps are great, having a real, live person to hold you accountable is unbeatable. Having someone check in with you can be as pressure laden as you want it to be- or not. I used to hate having to report to someone or be told what to do until I quit my job.
When we first started Liftree, I began to realize how motivating it can be to have someone breathing down your neck. In fact, I missed that external motivation so much, I actually considered appointing my mom as the drill-sergeant in residence! Don’t worry, I chickened out before I actually did that.
If you don’t want to appoint a parent of spouse whose reminders can grate at you real quick, pick a friend or a colleague. Make a group, if you can gather enough people.
If you can’t find people, be your own drill sergeant. This one is more difficult though unless you’re super disciplined. When push comes to shove, you will have find it within yourself to start working and keep yourself going.
Inspiration comes and goes but productivity is something you can control,measure and improve. In order to maintain a successful and regular practice, consistency is key. Pick a time slot everyday to work on your craft whether you feel like it or not. Writers use this technique a lot. As do Yoga practitioners. Even on days where you do not feel inspired at all to sit down at your desk, coffee table or balcony – wherever it is that you sit down to work (Check out this post about ditching your desk), you still sit down consistently, and devote yourself to the practice with the faith that you will get something valuable accomplished. Over time, you will.
In work and in life, people seldom get anywhere without constantly pushing themselves to their limits and beyond. We were juggling other full-time commitments when we started working on this website. In fact, we still are. I am currently raising a two year old, living in a house with nine people, travelling frequently and writing for local publications as a columnist. Finding time to work on this website while juggling personal, professional and social commitments takes that extra mile every single day. Every single day.


Productivity thrives on variety

In order to keep yourself interested, you need to keep the novelty factor up. The only way to keep things interesting is to pepper your work with a variety of tasks and approaches. If you’re a writer, sketch out your story board by hand one day. If you’re  graphic artist, try listening to music for inspiration the next time you sit down to design a logo. Slaving through a day’s work doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself. Using a variety of approaches can help you stay interested and inspired.


Productivity is both an art and a science

Many of us think we work better under pressure. The truth is, we work better when we have clear, quantifiable, relatively-rigid deadlines. Why does productivity come so easily to us when we have a looming deadline? When our short-lived, limited dose of stress over-rides our internal critical editor, we’re able to mentally climb out of the box and work freely (check out our earlier post about working under pressure). The art of working under pressure entails knowing how to get yourself into the zone by shutting out your internal editor. The science involves knowing and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses well enough that you don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t with and you don’t end up being as productive as you expected to be. Its a fine balance – and one that we often overlook in our zeal to work like a ninja warrior.


Maintain singular focus

In today’s arena of social media and new media distractions, we tend to lose focus because we are trying to engage in multiple activities at one time. We end up doing even less and being less productive even though we were involved in various busy-making tasks all day. We think we are getting lots done, but when we look back at our day and realize how little we’ve struck off our to-do lists, we get mad at ourselves. The most notorious of these is internet ‘research’. A close second is running a social media campaign. Beware of tasks that make you feel like you’re doing valuable research, but in reality, just lead out of one internet rabbit hole and down another. Pick a task and run with it until it is completed. Set a timer if you have to. You’ll be surprised at how fast this old-fashioned method gets you off your behind to do some serious work.


Life will always get in the way

Sad but true. Even last month, when we were setting up the beta-version of this website, you’d think that we had the time to focus and be free of distractions. Not true. Something or the other always came up that seemed more urgent, more important, that took us away from the work that needed to be done. Sometimes, its okay (even desirable) to accept that life happens and just take setbacks in stride. It is more about finding a workable balance between the work you want to do and the other important priorities in your life than about blazing through the work like a maniac and burning yourself out. For me, I ended up dividing my time between family (whom I was visiting) and working on the website. I realized that I did not want to work exclusively on the website at the cost of missing out on precious time with my old folks.


There are no shortcuts to productivity

When all is said and done, there is no substitute for hard work. At the end of the day, the work is not going to materialize out of nowhere. it will take a lot of toiling, frustrations, working and elbow grease to build something valuable and profitable. If you work for someone, you will have to show some real initiative and effort before people start to recognize your skill and ability. No matter what your field of work is, you will need to log some serious hours in order to become an expert at it and succeed.


Bonus: Get in the best shape of your life

Good health makes other areas of your life function more smoothly. When you are well-fed, well-rested, well-hydrated and active. Your alertness, quality of life and ability to work brilliantly, creatively and efficiently all depend on having an agile body and mind.  How well you work is directly proportional to the physical, mental emotional shape you are in. Focusing on your health will help you clear the cobwebs from your mind, shed emotional baggage, get rid of fatigue and completely focus on the dreams that you want so badly to achieve.