The hard part about writing about personal productivity is just that—productivity is personal. Since we are all wired differently, no one piece of productivity advice will work the same for everybody. There are a few exceptions to this rule—for example, most people are not good at multitasking, and we all have more energy when we get ample sleep and exercise.
There aren’t many productivity tactics that work for everyone, but I’d include “thinking back” among those that do.
As an example, there are a ton of books out there about how to become happier. Instead of reading about happiness in a book, it can be more valuable to look back to when you were insanely happy recently.
Similarly, there are lots of books (and blogs!) about productivity. But it’s just as important to ask yourself: “When was the last time I was crazy-productive and accomplished a colossal amount in an afternoon?” Then think about what conditions made that possible.
I don’t end many posts on this site with a challenge, but I’ll end this one that way. Today, I challenge you to think back to the last time you were:
- The most productive
- Incredibly happy
- Engaged with your work
- In a “flow” state; that feeling when you’re completely engrossed in your work, and time doesn’t seem to exist at all
I’ve also found it helpful to flip this idea around, and think about the last time I was the least productive, happy, and focused.
What conditions made it possible? Think about everything.
A few ideas:
- Where were you? At the office? In the park? At a cafe? At home?
- What exactly were you doing?
- What time of the day was it?
- How many distractions and interruptions did you have to tend to?
- How did you start your morning?
- Were there people around, or were you by yourself?
- Did you work out that morning?
- What good habits did you have at the time?
- Was your office/home messy, or organized?
- Did you plan out your day, or jump right in?
I could go on, but you probably get the point. While it’s not always possible to remember exactly what you did right or wrong, sometimes thinking back is just as helpful as asking a friend for advice, or picking up a book—if not more so.
Turning to other people and books for advice can be helpful. But you’ve got plenty of data points yourself.