The Process Is Mechanical
You might not want to hold yourself up as ambitious, but if you’re reading this article, then you’re probably camped somewhere by the self-improvement aisle. It doesn’t matter how lofty or realistic your targets are, the desire to become something better is the essence of ambition.
Ambition itself only lays down the goalposts for change, it doesn’t drive the process. It’s an emotion, and emotions are fleeting and unreliable. They consume us one minute, then relinquish their hold, fading back into the subconscious. Ambition might persuade you to drop 20 pounds by August, but it won’t be of much use as you take on the thousands of menial tasks that get you there. Ambition might decide you need to double your salary, but it won’t give you the roadmap by which to do it.
The process of self-improvement is mechanical, not emotional. You do your research, draft your plan of attack, then start ticking off boxes. This underlines the approach to any goal you’ve set out in front of you. Relentless productivity is the commitment of both workrate and talent to the process. People often resort to using just the one, and that results in them coming up short.
Workrate – Burning the midnight oil to finish an assignment can make you tired and error-prone, lowering the potency of the final piece. Quantity can’t replace quality.
Talent – Relying on hot spells throws off any potential for sustained momentum, and you end up taking far too much time to finish. Quality still needs to be backed by quantity.
Uncompromising effort isn’t enough, neither is innate ability. You can cover the yards, but you stop short of your potential. But if you were to fuse the two together, you get the dream product. Relentless productivity is the mechanical pursuit of emotional goals. Each day you rock up to the starting blocks, take care of business, and get ready to do it all over again.
The following five rules will illustrate just how you can make the process mechanical and settle into a winning rhythm.
Start With Discipline
Passion is the holy grail that drives a project across to reach its full potential. But it doesn’t tend to show up at the beginning. Passion is a few rungs up the emotional ladder. Say you decided to get a gym membership for the first time in five years, in an attempt to get back the body of your early twenties. At that point, you’ve successfully moved from inspired to motivated. The wistful thoughts have been made tangible by action. But there are a couple of moves you still need to make to reach passion.
- Inspiration – Feel the urge
- Motivation – Act on the inspiration
- Discipline – Commit to the routine
- Passion – Fall in love with the routine
In those four steps, the game is typically won or lost with just the one. The move from motivation, to discipline. Create the perfect average day that brings you another step closer to your overarching goal. A checklist of items dedicated to both workrate and recovery. Then start ticking them off, one at a time, regardless of what your mojo feels like on the day. With enough repetition, those actions become ingrained in the brain’s circuitry, and motivation is no longer a prerequisite for getting the job done. Mojo is made irrelevant. That’s discipline.
Pursue The Flow State
The flow state is the magical setting where the brain slips into a complete state of immersion, and time fades into the background. Work becomes effortless, and you forget about the discomforts that were plaguing you a moment ago.
The flow state could arise in all manner of environments. A jazz musician seamlessly switching through notes in perfect tune with the rest of the orchestra. It could be a kayaker carefully cutting through a stretch of whitewater. The thing that connects them is a specific current of brain activity. They harness a potent cocktail of neurotransmitters that coincides with the deactivation of cognitive control functions, and the activation of all sensory areas. Inhibitions are off, decisions come effortlessly, and the end-product gets an upgrade. This is peak productivity.
However, you can’t always be in flow. It’s unpredictable, lasting in spells from minutes to hours. Regardless of how doggedly you seek it out, flow can remain elusive, only appearing in brief and unexpected spurts. But this isn’t a win or bust situation. The pursuit of flow is an end in itself. Just look at the accepted prerequisites for entering this state.
- Complete concentration in the present moment
- Immediate feedback
- Clear goals
- A difficult but not impossible challenge / skill ratio
Have these dialled in, and your chances of reaching zen mode go up exponentially. And what if you still feel bored and irritable? You’re still priming your environment for productivity. It’s a net positive whichever way you skin it.
A Distraction-Free Environment
Along with being one of the established prerequisites to the flow state, a focused setting is pivotal for settling into sustained spells of productivity. If you’re writing up an article, you don’t want your eyes getting pulled away every few minutes by another buzz from the phone. Neither do you want to continually field the urge to click across tabs to check your facebook feed. Even if you resist those primal impulses, your train of thought is being incessantly derailed.
Keep the phone on flight mode, tucked away out of sight. Whenever it’s suitable, turn off the wifi on your computer. Consider using a browser extension that cuts you off the websites that usually tempt you. In my case, I always use a chrome extension that hides the related video section on youtube. When I want to spice things up even more, I use notepad to block the entirety of that site.
When using the gym, a great idea would be leave the phone in the lockers, or just keep it on flight mode till 5-10 minutes after the session’s been wrapped up. Let the body calm down first before risking the potential panic attack.
Much of this may sound like a challenge beyond your means, but if anything, all this is setup to make work easier. And as a component of discipline, the more often you can commit to such a militant routine, the easier it’ll become in the future. To crown it off, taking time off social media will invariably end up making you feel better. Once again, it’s all profit.
Low Inflammation Diet
I might as well tag on ‘low carb / carnivore’ to this one. Food is an underrated component for ensuring optimal brain function, but not necessarily in the way people think. Which would typically involve puzzling over which foods spike the brain the best. In one sense, providing the body with adequate nutrition will certainly help when you’re coming in with deficiencies. Particularly if those deficiencies involve the following.
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
All of which are critical for brain health. But if you’re already making a habit of eating red meat, you won’t be leaking many points here. The real trick that makes the brain go supernova, is the neglect of foods.
Trigger foods – Anything that causes an adverse reaction in the gut, often leading to some downtime for the brain.
Carbs – By curbing cortisol and increasing serotonin, sugar is very effective at sending you to sleep. Not so good if you’d rather be alert and dialled in on the mission at hand.
High volume foods – Filling up the gut diverts more blood flow to the stomach, restricting supply to the brain. By that logic, sometimes you’re better off just not eating.
A carnivore diet is wrapped in tantalizing promises for anyone on a time crunch. It barely takes up any space in the gut, blends seamlessly with a fasting schedule, and is devoid of inflammatory reactions. So even for those who have no stakes in physique change, the brain game might be worth the price of admission.
A Steady Sleep Regime
Productivity tends to bottom out when you’re spending too much time leaning on the gas pedal. Whether it’s grunting through heavy loads in the gym, or puzzling over books with furrowed brows, you’re expending effort. That needs to be balanced by dedicated recovery, and sleep is what largely dictates your ability to take on stress, and come back stronger.
In fact, much of the learning process takes place during that shuteye. Burning the midnight oil tends to lead to more harm than good. If you’re suffering from deprived or poor-quality sleep, you’re dropping into the next day at a significant disadvantage.
- Cravings go up – Providing more scope for persistent distractions
- Cognitive capacity plummets – Increasing the amount of errors you make
- Memory is compromised – Making a lot of your work the previous day, a little pointless
Sleep is an essential piece that can’t be neglected, especially if you’re happy to admit to being stress-sensitive. So how do you go about fixing that? It’s a tough nut to crack, but there’s one simple rule that always stands out. Stick to the routine.
If you’re intending to be up at 6, make sure you’re in bed by 10. But you don’t have to leave it at that. Throw in a few extra time-dependent habits. Turn your phone off by 9. Switch the overhead lights off by 9:30. Keep the phone on flight mode till 6:30. Keep nailing those actions till the brain starts to clock on to the fact that there’s a system in place.
That’s going to result in at least three major improvements to your bedtime prowess.
- Improved sleep latency – The body learns to wind down at the appropriate time, reducing the time it takes to go from lying in bed, to sleeping in bed.
- Deeper sleep – The quality of that shuteye also goes up a notch, thanks to the predictable pattern.
- Improved morning energy – The morning cortisol pulse syncs up nicely with your wakeup time, ensuring you feel wide awake and ready to blitz through the morning schedule.
So to keep things brief, the golden rule of sleep is simply to stick to the same bed and wake up time. If that’s a struggle, consider finding a new job or starting a new family.
Sama’s Quest For Productivity
Funnily enough, I started writing this article somewhere back in March. But much of what drives this blog has been me dealing with my own drawbacks, and attempting to come up with scientifically sound strategies to paper the cracks. It’s been unbelievably fun, and I’m all for continuing that trend. Writing has been a great avenue for levelling up my discipline, avoiding workplace clutter, and seeking out the holy flow state.
When I sit down to add to an article, and my fingers freeze midway through the first sentence, I know I need to dial up the focus. Most of the time, things eventually free up. The initial feeling of impotence can be incredibly uncomfortable, and that’s exactly where growth happens. The struggle makes us stronger.
Relentless productivity is effectively a skill, and one that blends together various winning habits of an active lifestyle. Once you take the time to harness it, you’ve nabbed yourself a superpower that can be honed in whatever target peaks your interest. The floor’s yours.