The Secret to Productivity

Well, the secret to productivity is a lot of things, but for me, in all my pain and distress and inability to pay attention to things, discipline is the one. So hear me out:
You’ve heard it time and time again that the first step is the hardest one. That the real barrier to getting something done is even starting. It’s activation energy. And that, my friends, is super dang true.
So how do you start something? Honestly, it’s cliche, and you want there to be another answer because it’s hard, but you just have to do it. You have to start. And every time you do, rather than waiting until tomorrow with the false assumption that somehow you will magically get better at not procrastinating between now and then, you get better at starting anything. You are building discipline.
Now, it’s true that things are often way more overwhelming than that sounds, and the words “just start” are about as useful as “just fly to the moon,” and that sucks. So here’s some advice for that situation:
Every problem can be broken down. Every single one. If you face a problem or project that seems way too big to “just start” on, you need to break it down into something more manageable. If you need to write a paper, well ask yourself, what kind of paper? A research paper? What do I need to research? Where do I find that? Who is my audience? Do I know the set of words they use that most clearly communicates my idea? Where do I find it?
Is there anyone who knows more than I do, who would be willing to help?And so on. It’s a real rabbit hole once you start asking questions, but that’s how you learn, and that’s how you find the right place to “just start.”
And every time you break something down, and you find the discipline in yourself to get working, you get better at doing just that. The next time, it will be easier, and faster. And the next time. And the time after that. And you’ll just keep getting better and better at thinking and identifying and “just starting” until you are an unstoppable machine, and suddenly people are saying “Wow, there’s no way I could ever be like that.” But that’s what we all think before we actually try the thing that works.
But there’s more to it than that.
Eventually, you’ll get to a point when, damn, you just have no trouble at all “just starting” on something, and your limiting factor is now that you are unbelievably tired. But effort has gotten you this far, so effort is what will keep you going from now on right? No need for sleep, there’s work to be done, and you have the willpower!
But no, you do need the sleep. Just because you can now keep pushing yourself forward at your limits, doesn’t mean you should. Now you need to use your discipline to take care of yourself. And if you’ve asked yourself the right questions, you may have already realized this. Here’s how it looked for me:
How do I be the most efficient person I can be?
How do I have the most efficient body and brain?
How do I take care of myself?
How do I get myself regular sleep, food, water, and exercise?
How do I stay positive and motivated?
Do I have positive relationships?
How do I maintain those positive relationships?
How do I be a good person, the kind that people want around?
And, well, that last one led to a hoard of pretty damning moral questions. But that’s a post for a later date. The point is, I have seen so many people struggle to be disciplined in the first place, and even when they figure that out, they struggle to keep their momentum going. And that’s largely because they “forget” to take care of themselves. Listen, guys. There is no way you can keep running on empty and pushing yourself and still succeed, without at least suffering enormous personal consequences. You will burn out. There is no trying harder. There is only being smarter, and realizing that while you may be an unstoppable machine, you are still just a machine. Machines need maintenance. You need maintenance. You need to take care of yourself if you want to keep going. There is no other (good) way.
So think on that, young Padawans. The secret to productivity is more than just discipline. It’s the secret to being the best human you can possibly be. It’s asking yourself the right questions.
I hope this helps, because, well, the other secret is that you just have to trust on blind faith that you’re asking yourself the right questions. You’re going to end up on the wrong path a lot, and when that happens, it’s probably a good idea to try asking other people some questions too ;)
Yours, as always,
Charlie

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