We all struggle with productivity in one way or another. Perhaps we find it hard to tackle certain tasks that nevertheless need to be done. Possibly you've put off important decisions that seem difficult. Or maybe you feel that for all that you feel you're doing, you aren't accomplishing as much as you would like. We've all been guilty of not working up to our abilities in one way or another, and as much as we want to change it, we find ourselves stuck in old habits that can exacerbate these tendencies.
I recently finished the book Smarter Better Faster by Charles Duhigg, and more than any other book I've read on the broader topics of productivity or self-improvement in general, I was struck by how much I could relate to the specific shortcomings of those individuals and institutions described throughout. As with so many things, we aren't aware of the full extent of our faults until it is laid out in front of us by others. Fortunately, there are a few steps that you can take to help create a more productive environment for you and your team.
Who hasn't struggled with motivation, especially after a long day or week at the office or home? It can be hard to tackle chores or tasks, personal or professional, when you know there's plenty more waiting on the other side. In the book, Duhigg highlights the importance of the "locus of control" when it comes to motivation; we are more motivated when we feel in control of our situation. Taking an action that gives you that sense of control can boost your motivation. Additionally, reminding yourself of the "why" of what you're doing can help keep you going when your motivation starts to flag. Even if the task might seem insignificant, remembering why you're doing it and what it helps to achieve can help prevent further procrastination.
Anyone who has set goals has likely run into the problem of setting target that are either too grandiose or too minor to ultimately prove useful. Aim too high and it can be difficult to start thinking about how to achieve it; aim too low and you risk falling into the trap of simply trying to achieve goals for the sake of achievement. If you're looking to tackle a big project or an overarching goal, you have to be able to break that goal down into sub-goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and have a timeline. Having both a big, ambitious goal, paired with smaller, actionable targets, will help you stay on target.
It's easy to lose sight of what you want to do and accomplish when the future seems to be a blank canvas in front of you. The unexpected can throw us off kilter and distractions can make us lose focus on what had previously planned to work on. to steel yourself against such inevitable intrusions, try to formulate a model in your mind of how you want your day to proceed, and try to envision potential obstacles that are most likely to crop up. Having an idea in your head of how things should go, and determining which interruptions you can ignore and which you should attend to, simplifies your decisions as to where your attentions should be and offers a plan to adhere to.
Along the same lines of mapping out how your day might proceed, trying to envision potential futures can help you make smarter decisions. Thinking about how decisions might play out over time can help you in both making that decision and guiding events that play out after; by understanding what the potential pitfalls are you can make secondary choices to help steer clear of them. And thinking about potential futures in a probabilistic manner can help guide your decisions towards outcomes with the greater chance of success. For example, while you might be considering one project that has the potential for a huge payoff, what are the realistic odds of that outcome? And are those odds better or worse than other projects that you're looking at? With more consideration and more information, you can make better decisions.
Many of us look at creativity as a sort of divine inspiration that in its purest form shouldn't be hard work, but the truth is that new ideas are rarely that new, and always take hard work to bring into reality. Most innovations are just a rearrangement or different applications of other ideas, so don't fret if what you've come up with isn't 100% original. And creativity and insight can come from a place of stress and desperation, so it isn't always necessary to steer away from those things. Perhaps most importantly, it's crucial to maintain a certain perspective on what you've created thus far. It's easy to get attached to an idea after you've spent a lot of time with it; being able to step back and reexamine what you're doing, or bringing in a fresh set of eyes, can help you to think critically.