Some people are what we call high performers. They are exceptionally focused, insanely organised and (therefore) incredibly productive. They are detail oriented, remember things well, are good with deadlines, and usually get out of bed before their alarm clock.
Others are… well, not. I happen to fall into the “not” category. Some of us (including me) are big performers. I say “big” because they think Big. They have Big dreams, Big goals and usually Big personalities. More than anything else, they are exceptionally skilled at seeing the Big Picture. These people are good at ideas. They are fantastic at coming up with great concepts and understanding how those concepts will play out. Unfortunately, they’re not detailed oriented, forget stuff and often finish projects just before the deadline – or just after it. And, of course, they hit snooze a few times before getting out of bed.
But people with big ideas want to bring those ideas to life – they just need help being more productive. And so, hoping for that, I undertook a quest to achieve better productivity for myself. Along the way, I compiled a list of five rules to increase productivity. The best part is, these rules can be applied to any job, any field of study and, in fact, any area of your life.
Write It Down
This should have been one of the easier habits to adopt, but I wasn’t able to make it “stick” till later. Writing things down is something I recommend in a lot of instances, and since I’m an intense planner when it comes to diet and training, it makes a lot of sense to me. You see, putting something down in black and white gives it something it lacked previously: tangibility.
Writing takes things from ideas to plans. In my case, the way I am doing things now is to have working to-do lists. I simply make a list each night of all of the stuff I want to do the next day, listed in either order of importance or the chronological order that I want to finish them (you’ll have to play around to see what works best for you). By doing this, I am immediately able to get started on my day in a productive way.
This is surprisingly effective. Even writing down “walk for at least 25 minutes” seems to have an impact on the weight of that task, and I’m a lot less likely to skip out halfway through. Going further than to-do lists, I now write down nearly everything in my phone, any idea that comes to mind that I’d like to write about.
The pocket notebook has long been a tool for some of the most productive people in history – Thomas Jefferson carried one made of ivory leaves that he used to record everything from quotes to the migrations of birds. Other famous bad-asses are known for pocket notebooks, including Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, and Ludwig Van Beethoven.
To put things back in the fitness context and give you something actionable, I suggest you start recording both your meals and your training sessions. Ideally, you will plan them out beforehand and then record them during, to see how closely you can match your plan. In the case of my coaching clients, both training and diet are planned for them, and the client has to follow the plan. Life is a lot easier and more productive when these things are handled in advance (or simply done for you).
Another cool diet tip is to use your cell phone camera to take a picture of every meal. Taking a picture serves as a pattern interrupt and forces you to think about what you’re eating. While you don’t have to post the pictures on Facebook or Instagram, try to look at your meals through that lens. If you’re trying to lose fat, each meal should take you closer to that goal. If you wouldn’t want your friends to know what you’re eating, you probably aren’t making the right choices. So write it down!
Wake Up Earlier
Yeah, I know. Pretty basic. I’ll go further and say it’s not just important to wake up early (or earlier), but that it’s important to wake up at the same time every day. One aspect of working from home that is simultaneously a blessing and a curse is that my days aren’t always the same. There are days when I train clients and days when the only thing I have on my agenda is writing and content. Which means that at least 50% of the time I don’t have a set schedule. This is certainly the dream for a lot of people: the freedom to do what you want, when you want and at your leisure. Currently, I am getting up at 5:30 a.m., 6 days a week.
Given that this article is all about productivity, I have come to realize that I do my best creative writing between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. That means that if I get to bed immediately after (and I don’t have difficulty falling asleep), I can still get 5-6 hours, which is good for me. This is something that’s important to me. If I’m not working on a project that involves a high level of creativity, I can go to bed earlier.
Bringing it back to fitness, something as simple as getting up earlier and making sure you do your stretching or even a full workout is an easy way to ensure that you actually get it done. My point is that by mastering your time and understanding your “rhythms”, you can become exponentially more productive. I would estimate that in the 60 minutes I spend active that I previously spent sleeping, I get about three to four times as much work done as any other point of the day.
To touch on some great thinkers, Benjamin Franklin was quoted as to say, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I don’t doubt that. Thomas Jefferson was also a dedicated early riser.
Create A “No-Think” System
This is one of my favorite tips, because it is applicable to nearly any aspect of life. So many times we simply let our brains get in the way – we over-think things. Well, if you can avoid that, chances are you’ll make more progress. In the fitness context, this happens to a lot of guys. You sit and look at all the incredible options you have for training programs, and you finally decide on one. Then you’re not getting the results you want after three whole days (omg!), and you decide that the one you read about this morning sounds better, so you try that. We call this “program hopping.” And if you couldn’t guess, it’s terrible.
Then, blunder of blunders, you start trying to mix and match and combine aspects of each, and in the end you wind up doing an amalgamation of training protocols that isn’t just useless but often counterproductive. You’re now no longer a program hopper; you’re a hacker. And most of the time, the failure of this method is monumentally epic. So stop thinking. Put your head down. Trust in the sources you believe in. Just DO the program for 8 weeks. Sure, listen to your body, but give it some time to respond. This is one reason that hiring coaches is so effective. They do the thinking for you. You just have to put in the work.
Along the same lines, I like for people to have several “no think” programs to fall back on. For example, whenever I’m traveling, I have three separate bodyweight workouts that I bring with me. Why? Because if I don’t have a gym, I have a program.
In terms of nutrition, find 1-3 meals you can make in 5-10 minutes that are tasty and in line with your goals, and make sure you eat one of them each day. It takes thinking completely out of the equation, and makes time management a breeze. I can cook a steak in seven minutes (I like it medium-rare) while listening to music. I can make an omelet while still in my post-workout, near-vomit euphoria. My body is on autopilot. No thinking. Just doing.
In terms of time-management, I have a no-think system, as well. I spend exactly one hour each day answering no-think emails. I don’t think. I just take care of it. It’s easy and monotonous, and I just do it. I do this the same hour of every day, and that’s it. The more pieces you have in place that are done for you, the more successful you’ll be.
•Look out for part 2 next week.