The Key to Being Productive

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There has been a lot of talk about productivity. There are even sites that are built specifically to tackle the “art of productivity”. It seems a little odd to me that productivity is an entire industry when the heart of productivity is action, or doing it now. There are books called, “Getting Things Done” or “Extreme Productivity” and programs that teach you all of the tools that you need to do something.

I argue that the only way to be productive is to write the first word, play the first note, write the first line of code, or create the first stroke of the paintbrush. Anything other than action is a stalling method.

Why We Don’t Act First

The questions I ask myself are, “why is there a productivity industry?”, “why do we read productivity books or buy overly complex software to manage what we do, when we could just do it?”. I believe it has nothing to do with our desire to get things done. We all want to be productive, we all want to make things, and we all want the internal or intrinsic rewards associated with getting things done.

There are a few factors that make us want to look for ways to be productive rather than just doing the work:

  • We don’t believe in what we’re building enough
  • We’re scared to release something
  • We don’t actually think we’re capable of pulling it off
  • We can’t get over the initial hump of hard work
  • It’s easier to check Facebook
  • Our school system taught us to follow rules, not to make them
  • Our friends and family tell us it’s never going to work
  • We think planning is better than real time feedback
  • We’re stalling because we hate our job
  • We don’t think anyone will appreciate it but we still need to look busy

The Elements of Getting Started

There are a few things that influence our abilities to act, rather than to get better at “the art productivity”. First and foremost, you have to really want it. Any room for doubt, disbelief, or lack of passion, will leave you with time to fill with planning, stalling, and looking for techniques to be productive. If you want it bad enough, you’ll be dying to get started. If not, ask yourself why you’re there thinking about stalling.

I often tell people that happiness is building what you wish existed, the moment the inspiration hits. Find the part of the task that you want the most. If it’s something you truly want to do, you’ll find a way to make sure it gets done as quickly as possible.

Inspiration

Inspiration is the single most powerful form of energy we have as creative people. Webster’s defines inspiration as, “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative”. It is inspiration that gives us what we need to start, but keeping that inspiration is what we need to keep our momentum.

Perpetual Inspiration

Perpetual inspiration, or staying inspired, can be much more difficult that it looks. Getting inspired is a fairly simple thing to do in our industry because there is great work consistently flowing through our twitter streams, blogs, music and books. But staying inspired, now that’s a different story.

We’ve all heard the folklore of projects that were halfway done or the notebooks full of ideas sitting on the shelves. How can we avoid this? How can we get ourselves into a state of perpetual inspiration so that we can see our projects through?

One, I believe it starts with being open and honest with yourself about who you are and what you’re capable of. Secondly, I believe it requires that we establish milestones that are very close together so that we’re constantly shipping and getting peer validation of our work.

This keeps us moving and this gives us the momentum we need to be successful.

Momentum

I’ve been in this game for a hot minute now, and I have to say that momentum is one of the most crucial aspects in deciding whether or not a project succeeds or fails. The momentum is built upon two notions: getting inspired and staying inspired. Accomplish these two things by keeping things moving forward and shipping as quickly and as often as you can until the project is done.

This may mean shipping something ultra-simple and mind-numbingly stripped down at first, but it’s an honest approach that keeps your momentum while allowing your customers to continually be involved in the quick evolution of your product.

That’s how you get things done. That’s true productivity, and it doesn’t even require software to disable your twitter or facebook feeds. Just build it.

Start with the first thing right now.

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Comments

10 comments on “The Key to Being Productive

  1. Great article Josh! In my honest opinion, your book Execute really inspired me to stop day dreaming at work and quit my job to focus on my projects, propel myself towards what I want to do, and become closer to where I want to be in life.

    For the past two years I have been dedicating 3/4 of my time to my current job as a front-end website developer for an event planning agency. Although I love the environment, people, clients, and work flow, I have to leave and build a name for myself. I always seem to be commenting on this blog’s articles with input on various subjects, but I haven’t had the time and inspiration to re-brand my personal website and start posting my thoughts on my own.

    Within the next month I will be leaving my job to explore an infinite amount of knowledge with projects in mind. If I had an any inspiration to make such a choice, it would be Treehouse. The ladies and gentleman over here are very inspirational and knowledgeable… I want to be that and then some.

    Thank you!
    Aaron

    • Wow Aaron! Thank you for the kind words man. Good luck with the transition. We’re all behind you. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. As always, thanks for reading and contributing!!!

  2. Excellent article Josh! This is really going to help me stay motivated at my new job as a web developer. thanks! one thing I did want to note and not to be a stickler but I think you missed the word, “be” in this paragraph in the attached image.

  3. I am truly indebted to this article. As a person who’s suffered from the debilitating affects of inaction for most of his adult life, the simple truth of providing small, frequent deliverables to clients is no small thing. There’s no magic bullet; with some people inaction is deeply rooted in mental health issues, but the advice given in this article was just demonstrated to me a couple of weeks back and served to get me over a critical hump in my life. Looking back I see its effectiveness. This should be required reading for everyone.

  4. GREAT post! Something that a lot of us have struggled with at some point or another. Will definitely be passing it along.