Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
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There are plenty of great articles circling the web on how to be productive. Set goals. Break your goals into do-able action items for the day. Meditate in the morning to clear your head. Wake up early. Tackle the hardest items first. All of these are great tools.
I’m not here to promote or criticize any of them, though, because when you boil things down, to make use of any tool, you need willpower. Without it, even the best system in the world will fail anyone. It’s not that something is wrong with the tools, it’s just a lack of willpower.
So the simple truth of being productive? The one tool you need in your belt before all else? Willpower.
With enough willpower, you can put any productivity scheme into action, and there are enough great ones out there, many on this site, in fact, that you are bound to become extremely productive. Without it, you might as well be staring at the computer screen hoping it magically does your task for you. Motivation is also key, of course. But sometimes motivation fails you. You need to do something but you are completely unmotivated.
This is where willpower kicks in. It’s the base of your productivity tower that keeps it from falling over. With a wide enough base, that building can reach unfathomable heights.
It might be obvious, then, that the question I want to answer is how does one increase their willpower? Like most things, there’s a certain amount of natural ability, but you need to practice your skill to become truly great at it. Without practice, even the most gifted of us will end up with atrophy. Willpower is no different. You need some simple techniques to exercise your will, and then you do as many reps as you can, like you were at the gym. Over time, you flex your willpower and everyone gasps.
Pick something small and fairly easy to do, but for whatever reason you just can’t seem to “find the time” to do it. Maybe it’s exercising 20 minutes a day. Or, meditating for 10 minutes a day. Maybe it’s keeping the kitchen sink clean. Perhaps you want to watch less TV, play fewer video games, or read more. Whatever you choose, pick something that you can’t seem to get done regularly. For now, it can be something you truly would like to do, but you don’t seem to have the motivation to keep up. This is where your willpower should kick in, but for some reason it isn’t strong enough (yet!).
Start by picking 3 days of the week where you will do your chosen task. Write it down, and post it on your fridge. After you succeed in doing your task 3 times in a week, increase it to 5, then to 7. If you fail one week, drop a level and keep going. Rome wasn’t built-in a day.
If you can’t seem to do it 3 times, you’ve picked something too hard to start. We want to start small. When you start going to the gym, you don’t bench your max. You ease in so you don’t injure yourself.
Increase the Weight
To use the gym metaphor, yet again, we are going to “increase the weight”. You can choose to do this in one of two ways.
Either pick something you find even harder to do than your “start small” task, or take on another “start small” task. Whichever one seems daunting to you, but not overly. This time, I want you to reach your ideal rate (number of times per week) in at most 2 weeks. So if you’re looking to do something every other day, start with twice a week and increase to 3 in the second week. If you’re looking to do something every day, start with 5 times a week, and increase to 7.
As a tip, I would pick things that will improve your health to start, assuming you have a problem doing those types of things in the first place. This will not only help you exercise your willpower, it will make you healthier, which will make you happier and increase your level of motivation. Another option is to pick things that will simplify your life. These typically need lots of willpower to execute reliably, and will make great positive changes to your life.
Just like working out, doing more than one rep is a necessity. You also have to keep going to the gym.
But, that’s really all there is to it. Keep picking tasks that are gradually more difficult, until you get used to exercising your willpower. Watch an hour less of TV a day. Exercise daily. Eat healthy. Make your lunches every day. After you’ve done the simple things, you start to work towards bigger things. Get up early every day. Write 3-4 daily goals. Accomplish 2 of them. Then, carry out the 2 hardest. Then, the 3 hardest. Pretty soon, regardless of your motivation, you’ll have that extra tool in your pocket to see you through.
Now, I hope that you are motivated in what you do. And finding motivation is something that you can and should always strive to do. Willpower is simply the best tool for overcoming a lack of motivation. And just to reiterate, it is not fixed, it is a skill that you can master with time. Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Treat it like exercise.
Track your progress
Keep a “willpower journal,” where you outline what you want to accomplish, and what tasks you hope to use as exercise to get you there. The first task I’m giving you is to actually start the process.
Think about and write down 3 “start small” tasks. Good luck!
This guest post was contributed by David Loker. David is a father, husband, singer, actor, writer and PhD student, who writes personal development articles on topics such as simplicity, success, and happiness at Great Living Now. Follow @GreatLivingNow on Twitter.
Photo by left-hand