Here’s another take on how to be more productive, one that’s the opposite of the “5 minute egg-timer approach” we’ve been advocating.  But it might work for you!

By Jeff Haden | June 28, 2011 in

Increasing personal productivity is big business:  Stephen Covey, David Allen, Tony Robbins, 43folders… those and countless others have combined to turn improving individual productivity into a massive industry.

Forget them. 

If you want to complete a major project, tackle a task you’ve been putting off, or just knock out a lot of work in a relatively short period of time, there’s an easier way.

And it’s free.

Say you need to complete a task you estimate will take, oh, 10 to 12 hours.  Here’s how to pull it off in one day:
  1. Tell everyone your plan. This step is an absolute must since interruptions are productivity killers.  So is the, “How much longer do you have to work?” guilt trip family members sometimes can’t help but lay on you.  At a minimum tell coworkers and family, but consider letting important clients know as well.  Send a quick email a day or two before explaining you will be tied up on Thursday and will respond to calls, emails, etc. first thing Friday morning.  Some customers will contact you before Thursday; others will  mentally note you can’t be reached.  Either way it’s all good.  And you get an additional benefit from telling others your plan: People important to you know what you intend to accomplish — and will know if you don’t succeed.  Peer pressure can be a great motivator.  Use it.
  2. Decide how long you will work. Don’t plan based on, “I’ll work as long as I can,” or “I’ll work as long as I feel productive.”  Set a concrete target.  Commit to working 12 hours or whatever period of time you choose.  Then the longer the time frame, the quicker the early hours seem to go by.  When I worked in a factory we typically worked 8-hour shifts; time before lunch dragged and the last couple hours always seemed like death. During busy periods when we worked 12-hour shifts the mornings seemed to fly by.  Something about knowing you’ll be working for a long time allows you to stop checking the clock; it’s like you naturally find your Zen (work)place.  When you know you’re in for a long haul your mind automatically adapts.  Trust me — it works.
  3. Start really early — or extremely late. Have you ever taken a long car trip and left really early in the morning?  Like at 3 or 4 a.m.?  Those first few hours on the road fly by because you’ve stepped outside your norm.  The same trick works with accomplishing a major goal.  Start at 4 a.m. or indulge your inner night owl and start at 6 p.m. to work through the night.  An extreme productivity day is not a normal day; set the stage by breaking free of your normal routine.
  4. Withhold the fun, at least for a while. Some people like to listen to music while they work, others keep an eye on news.  If you like to “treat” yourself when you’re working, don’t, at least in the early hours.  When your motivation starts to flag that’s when a little music can provide a needed boost.  Each treat is like a personal productivity bullet; shoot too early and nothing is left when you really need ammunition.  Whatever typically carries you through your workday, hold off on it for awhile.  Delayed gratification is always better gratification.
  5. Recharge early. When you exercise, if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink it’s too late.  The same is true when you work.  Plan to eat or snack a little earlier than normal.  If you sit while you work, stand before your butt gets numb.  If you stand, sit before your legs start to ache.  Any time you allow yourself to feel discomfort your motivation and resolve weakens.  And speaking of food, plan meals wisely.  Don’t take an hour lunch break:  Prepare food you can eat quickly without lots of preparation or mess.  The key is to refuel and keep rolling.
  6. Take productive breaks, not rest breaks. Momentum is everything.  Don’t take a walk, or watch a little TV, or goof around on the Internet.  You will need breaks, but breaks should reinforce your sense of activity and accomplishment.  Pick a few productive tasks you like to perform — and gain a sense of accomplishment when you complete — and use those for your breaks.  Spending even a few minutes in the land of inactivity weakens your resolve.
  7. Don’t quit until you’re done — even if finishing takes longer than expected. Stopping short is habit-forming.  If you stop this time what will keep you from stopping next time?  Success can be a habit, so make sure your first extreme personal productivity day is the start of a great new habit.
A great side benefit of an extreme personal productivity day: We unconsciously set internal limits on our output.  A voice inside says, “I’ve done enough,” or, “That’s all I can do today,” or, I’m whipped — no way I can do more,”  and we stop.  But our internal limiters lie to us:  With the right motivation, under the right circumstances, we can do more.

An extreme personal productivity day automatically ratchets your limits higher.  After a few extreme productivity days you’ll perform better every “normal” day too — because you will have unconsciously raised your own bar.

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