Out of all the New Year’s Resolutions out there, it’s safe to say that being more productive is one of the most desirable. Who doesn’t want to get more things done so they can focus their time on the finer things in life? However, don’t feel discouraged if you’re already finding yourself struggling in keeping this productivity resolution. The best way to boost your productivity is to reset your views on the subject.
Improving productivity isn’t a switch that can be flipped on, even if the productivity hack is described as “instant.” Instead, boosting productivity is more like training for an endurance race. If you’ve ever decided to take up running for the first time or after a long hiatus, you know exactly what happens. This new activity is absolutely brutal at the start. Beginner runners are winded and frustrated as they watch more experienced runners getting by with relative ease. The body and the mind have trouble coping with the challenge ahead.
However, over time things get much easier. What was once impossible become easy. It’s almost hard to believe that just a few months ago the runner was struggling with just a short distance.
Productivity functions in a similar way. You can’t just hope to be more productive in a short amount of time. You also can’t burn yourself out in a week by making unsustainable behavioural changes. Instead, progress in productivity needs to be cyclical. Cycles both big and small play a huge part in improving productivity.
The Cycles of the Seasons
Committing to a lifetime of change is a daunting task. Even trying to make a change that lasts just a year is a challenge, as only 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions. The odds of significantly changing deeply ingrained behaviour are against you—unless you think cyclically.
Research shows that people severely underestimate how much they change over the years. The things you’re doing now will likely stick with you for years in the future. Instead of trying to commit to a long-term period of change, try to change for just a season. Telling yourself that you’ll be more productive for the next 3 months is a lot more sustainable.
Set a goal—whether it’s cutting back on time-wasters or honing skills—and commit to that for just a few months. With the finish line in sight, it’s much easier to stick to a plan. By the time the cycle comes to an end, this behaviour will become a part of your routine. For the next cycle, add something else to the mix while retaining your achievements. Stacking these positive behaviours on top of each other is easier than you think once the time period is broken down to bite-sized chunks.
Go for the Small Win
Let’s go back to that running analogy going once more. Beginner runners struggle greatly with relatively short distances. Improvement happens relatively quickly, but it’s important not to stop. Even when progress clearly made, it’s possible to be discouraged. Why is my progress so slow? Why am I so far behind despite all my hard work?
That’s why it’s extremely beneficial to think incrementally. If your goal is to run a 26.2-mile marathon and you’re barely able to eke out a mile, disappointment is inevitable. But if you set a smaller goal of just two miles, and then four miles, and then six, and so on, then the progress is much more tangible.
This is similar to the cyclical approach of goal setting, but there’s a big-picture view involved. Before that finish line is reached, however, it’s best to break down the goal into attainable segments. Consciously trying to achieve consistent behaviour for a full-week is an incremental goal. After that week, try for two.
Each small win feels great. Psychologists say that this approach can work both on a small scale and on a national level. Society’s many woes, such as poverty and unemployment, could be tackled with incremental progress.
Even with the best intentions, making permanent improvements in productivity doesn’t happen as consistently as we’d like. Trying new things and getting rid of previous habits is exhausting. It feels unnatural to change things up, especially when we’ve become completely set in our ways.
Essentially, it all comes to having the energy to make a change. Low energy leads to bad habits. When exhausted, we fall back on what’s easy instead of what’s best for us.
Research has shown that most people start feeling sleepy at around 4:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. That’s probably not too surprising, as it’s hard to stay enthused at the end of the work day or just before bed. However, most people also feel tired every 90 minutes during the morning hours.
What does that mean? Essentially, it’s best to work in 90-minute cycles in the first half of the day. Once that sleepiness starts to set in, take a break and recharge. Grab a coffee or a snack. Get up for a short walk. All of those things will help get your mind back on track.
Cycles, whether they last for months or simply for hours, are the key to making lasting improvements to productivity. Break down your personal goals into small, attainable pieces. You’ll succeed sooner than you think when you take this approach.