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You can read entire books on productivity, dozens of blog posts, and implement half a dozen different productivity systems. But at the end of the day, you’d have gotten nothing important done.
The truth is, productivity is fairly simple, in theory. Even if you have an overwhelming amount to do, the steps aren’t hard to figure out:
- Pick something important to work on (a task from your most important project, perhaps). What you pick doesn’t really matter, because you’ll get the rest soon.
- Focus exclusively on that task for a bit, finishing it if you can.
- Pick another important task after that, and repeat.
And of course, take breaks. Walk around. Do some yoga. Meditate. Eat something healthy. Socialize. But when you’re going to work, focus on something important, and try to get it done. You might think you have too much to do, but in truth, all you can really do is focus on one thing at a time.
So if it’s so simple, what’s getting in the way? Fear.
Some of the fears that get in the way of executive the productivity steps above: fear of failure, uncertainty, incompetence, discomfort, not having control control.
In fact, we fear only one thing really: not having control, certainty, security, comfort. Those are really all the same thing (certainty). All of our fears come from that.
We don’t like to feel these fears. So we avoid them, trying to seek control, certainty, comfort by going to distractions, news sites, social media, cat videos, email, text messages. We try to get control by running from the important but uncertain tasks and tidying up, doing errands, organizing, making a new productivity system. Anything to avoid the uncertainty.
So now we get down to my Most Important Productivity Method. It’s diving into the uncertainty.
- Start by setting yourself an important task. Any one will do. When you notice yourself getting lost in distractions or busywork, take a step back, and set yourself an important task.
- Focus on that task, and only that task. Try to finish it, or at least work for 10-15 uninterrupted minutes.
- When you notice yourself trying to go to distractions or busywork, pause. Notice the fear of uncertainty. Breathe.
- Explore the feeling. See how it feels in your body. Stay with this physical feeling for a minute, and learn that you are OK despite this fear of uncertainty. There is a basic goodness in your heart that will always be there, even if you don’t know how this task or any moment will turn out.
- Dive into the task, even with this feeling of fear in you. It’s OK to be aware of the fear, and still do your important task.
That’s it. Be aware of the fear, don’t let yourself act on it, explore it with curiosity, and do your important work anyway.
You’ll let yourself run from the fear, go to distraction, over and over. But it’s in that moment when you decide not to run that you really develop the skill that will change your life.
p.s. Read Chelsea’s post, The Single Most Important Thing to do to be Massively Productive
My Most Important Productivity Method was first published on Zen Habits on 3/18/16.