There isn’t a productivity guide in the world that will solve the problems that pretty much all of us face daily.

I’m the same as you — I face these obstacles to getting stuff done:

  1. Doing busywork, instead of important work.
  2. Going to distractions instead of doing difficult work.
  3. Being tired and not feeling like tackling hard tasks.

These are all really the same problem: when you have important but difficult tasks to do, you run to distractions, or do busywork, or just goof off because you don’t have the energy.

I deal with this every day, and I don’t always solve it. But what if we could dive into this problem, and figure out what was going on? We’d be masters of the universe.

Pause Training

In truth, we face this problem of running from discomfort all the time, but we just don’t normally see it happening. This is why meditation is such a great training ground for the mind — you sit there and have nothing to do but notice the mind running from the discomfort of the present moment. Over and over. And in time, you learn how to work with this.

So I suggest you use your important tasks as meditation training, so that you’ll learn to work with the discomfort that arises.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick one important task you really should get done today.
  2. Clear space in front of you to do this task. Close the browser, or all browser tabs except the one you need to deal with this. Shut off the phone, clear everything else away, focus your mind on this one task.
  3. Sit there and do the task.
  4. Watch your mind want to run.

Now we’re going to do “pause training,” where instead of running from the discomfort, you pause. Breathe. Turn your attention to this discomfort — it might be fear, frustration, uncertainty, self-doubt, tiredness. Drop your story about this discomfort, and just notice how it feels physically, in your body. Where is this feeling of discomfort located? What quality does it have?

You’ll notice that the discomfort actually doesn’t feel that bad, even though you habitually want to run from it. It’s just energy. It’s not actually good or bad, but just energy that’s in your body, which you normally don’t want to have and normally judge as “bad.”

Try this pause training for yourself. It won’t work to just read about it, you have to work with it. Get to know it, become intimate with it.

Unconventional Productivity

Once you’ve started to work with the discomfort, you’ll see that it’s No Big Deal. Nothing to worry about. It’s just a feeling, just energy. You’ll relax a little around it. Try to develop a friendly attitude toward it, instead of being harsh on yourself. Just notice, just smile, just breathe, just be gentle.

How do you turn this No Big Deal into productivity?

Here’s a system to try:

  1. Set your 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) every morning, first thing when you start work. List a few other “should dos” after that, but focus on the MITs first.
  2. Pick one of the MITs, and clear space to do it. Before you check email.
  3. Do some pause training. Notice when you want to run from this task, pause, investigate the physical feeling of discomfort with gentleness, friendliness and curiosity.
  4. Set a heart intention. When you relax into the discomfort, and see it’s not a big deal, set an intention around the task — are you doing it to improve your life, to do something good for someone else, to help the world? Find the heart in your intention — it’s ultimately coming out of love. Say to yourself, “It is my intention to do this task out of love for __” (fill in the blank: yourself, someone else, the world, etc.)
  5. Work with love. Open your heart and do this task with the love that comes out of your intention. Notice when you’re feeling discomfort and want to switch to something else. Relax, do pause training if you need to, and then start again.
  6. Take breaks. Every 10-15 minutes, get up and walk around. Stretch. Drink water. Check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. Then return to the task or pick another MIT.

You won’t be perfect at this, so don’t expect perfection. Just work with it, gently, and you’ll get better and better with practice.

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These Are The Most Unusual Ways to Work Smarter Instead of Harder

Millions of people work really hard. Everyday. But there is always a better or smarter way to accomplish the same things you have to do every week. And you probably have a productive routine that works for you. Most people do. You can still improve it though.

These are two of the most upvoted answers to this question on Quora: What are some uncommon ways to work smarter instead of harder? These ideas have worked for the productivity experts.

Answer by Nela Canovic, productivity hacker, writer, and Silicon Valley entrepreneur

Do your deep work (the hard stuff, the work that requires the most concentration) EARLY.

When exactly?

Many scientists say that the brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after we wake up. If, for example, you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10  a.m.

What are the benefits?

Doing your deep work early in the day allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, less inputs from your environment, and with a lot of  energy that you’ve gained from a restful night. It’s the exact opposite of what can happen if you leave your hardest work for nighttime, after you’re done with all your daily activities and you are exhausted from the day.

How can I get into this habit?

1. For one week, keep a log of what you do during your peak times. Are you focusing on your important mental tasks? Are you learning new material, solving complex problems, reading, or writing? For most people, this time is usually spent commuting to work, checking email, making phone calls, watching or listening to the news.

2. Re-prioritize your peak brain performance time. Think of ways you could rearrange the things you do early that are less important to your personal and professional development. Like to stay on top of the latest news? Save this activity for your lunch break or right after lunch.

Emails are waiting in your inbox? Be careful of how much time checking email takes; it can seriously impact your day. Choose 2 blocks of time to go over your emails, one mid-afternoon and one closer to the end of your workday. It’s better to be proactive early (by doing your important work) and reactive later (responding to questions, providing input on discussions, etc.).

3. Create more space and time to your day by implementing a morning routine that can help you be productive. The benefit of a morning routine is that you jump start your day; you complete several tasks before moving on to work, school, or other responsibilities; you are more productive with your time; you feel more successful in what you do. I wrote a few ideas on developing a morning routine here.

Answer by Akash Sehrawat, Practices Kaizen ( act of continuous improvement ) daily

Here are 17 uncommon ways to work smarter instead of harder.

1) Find your passion: Life becomes much easier in the long run.

Sure, when you start out there will be doubts! No one will believe in what you are doing, but you need to keep moving no matter how much criticism you face!

All this doesn’t matter. What TRULY matter is the believe in yourself. Related post: Akash Sehrawat’s answer to How do you know if you’ve discovered your passion?

2) Passion is not enough. Find a purpose: Doing something which you are passionate is good. But is selfish. Nothing wrong with that. Now take a step forward and find a purpose.

For example: I am passionate about building muscle and becoming healthier. Good. Purpose: My mission is to help a million skinny guys gain muscle, and be healthy. Great!

3) Once you find your passion, and a purpose, Profits will come:

Passion: Baba Ramdev is passionate about Yog and Ayurveda.

Purpose: He propagated Yog on TV, through books and DVD and now through his company Patanjali he is providing natural ayurvedic products at reasonable prices! Patanjali’s Predicted Revenues by March 2017= INR 10,000 Crores.

Profits will come eventually. Just focus on helping lot of people.

4) Create, Consume, Communicate, in this order: Creating is the highest form of intelligence.

Here are few things you can create:

-A life that you want.

-Write a blog post on things that you are passionate about.

-Paint.

-Create a company.

-Create Products and Services that will make people’s life easier and so on and so forth.

Consume: While you are reading this article you are consuming. Reading fiction, non fiction, watching TV, etc are all forms of consuming.

Firstly, majority of us consume too much, just too much. But librarians are not smart or rich!

Idea is to consume the right stuff. It is to consume something which will help you reach towards your goals.

Consume biographies, consume awesome posts by great bloggers.

Secondly we consume mostly entertainment and not educative stuff.

We love watching Cricket, our favourite comedy shows, and reality TV. These things provide immediate pleasure or gratification but don’t provide any long term value.

I am not asking you to cut out completely on entertainment, limit it to 10-20% of the things that you consume.

And Lastly communicate: God has given us 2 ears and one mouth. HE wants us to speak less and listen more. In this age of wats up and Facebook, there is too much noise and mindless chatter going on! Just too many opinions about anyone and everyone!

My advice: Talk less, listen more and do more:)

5) Do something important: Before venturing into Tesla, SpaceX Elon Musk knew his odds to succeed were very less.

To this one interviewer asked him why did he still went ahead with it? His answer: “Coz its important and is the right thing to do”

6) Measure how much time you waste everyday, and then aim to reduce it: Watching TV, gossiping over the phone, chilling with friends, late night-outs, spending excessive time on Facebook are all time wasters and usually don’t provide any educative value. First step is to become aware about how much you are actually wasting on these activities everyday, every week. Then aim to reduce by 10% and then by 20% and then move upto 50%.

Just imagine the awesome things you can do with these many hours saved: like spending more time with your family, starting a blog part time along side your job, devoting more time to your hobby and so on and so forth.

7) Walk and burn: Do yourself a favour and buy a fitness band.

And set the target to 10,000 steps daily. This will help you burn roughly 500 calories daily which is equivalent to 3500 calories in a week or 1 lbs of fat loss a week, or 4 lbs a month, or 48lbs a year (21.8kg). Most of you don’t even need to lose this much in the first place!

8) Lift heavy weights: Weight training is concentrated work! Working out just few hours a week can provide you with immense benefits. Learn more.

9) Wake up early: Sure some people do their best work between 11pm to 3am. I was one of them long time back, until I become a morning person. I realised I am much more alert working early mornings. Usually after an undisturbed night sleep I can really focus and focus hard.

Whereas working at night was always erratic. Usually something or the other used to come up. Friends birthdays, family get togethers, movie etc. Majority of people in this world are asleep from 5am to 7am. You can do your best work at this time.

10) Build a routine that works for you: Will power is not enough. You plan 10 things the night before. You are all charged up and promise yourself that you will accomplish all the things in the list. What happens the next day? You snoozed and as a result you lost few hours of your precious time. You start to feel guilty and the whole day spirals downwards!

Don’t feel like writing, sit down, open your Mac and start typing. A rough draft is better than an empty page

Don’t feel like going to the gym. Stop your thinking, wear your shoes and just go. Once you are at the gym, you’ll be glad you came.

Successful people build routines, and not will power.

11) Start a stop watch before every task: Oh this one really works! When I know the clock is ticking, I am way more focussed.

12) Divide your day into small chunks: I don’t enjoy F1 races much! But what I have learned by watching is that the team who wins is the team who takes timely strategic pit stops! In the long run what really matters is that you have the right amount of fuel in the gas tank, your tires are not worn out too much etc.

The same can be applied to your work. I personally can focus intensely for 25 to 30 minutes. After which my mind and my body asks for break. Usually when I am excited or with my team I override that signal and make myself a cup of coffee and keep working! Not wise! After sometime my body starts to release stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline etc. This makes me anxious and jittery!

In order to work smarter, what I can do is to take a break after a period of intense work:

  • The break should be no more 5 to 10 minutes after 25 min of work
  • and 15 to 20 minutes is ok if you work for 45 to 50 minutes
  • During the break don’t check Facebook or chat with your friends.
  • Instead do these things: Go for a walk and take deep breathes simultaneously
  • Mediate
  • Listen to great music
  • Take a power nap

There’s an app for that: iOS – Be Focused by Denys Yevenkoy

Android – ClearFocus by ClearApps.xyz

13) First things first: Now, I am of the notion that if it has to happen, it has to happen FIRST. You see we have limited will power. Roy Baumeister’s experiment proves this fact.

If you complete all your important task before noon ( exercise being at the top of the list ) , chances are very high that they will get done!

14) Do Less: Less is more. Less is productive. 20% of the things you do will give you 80% of the results. Those 20% of thing are hard to do. Usually we try to avoid them! And choose to stay in our comfort zone. Majority of us are busy, but not productive.

15) Keep asking this important question: Is this the best use of my time? If the answer is “No”, then probably it is. Re-assess and stratagize. Figure what are things that you should be doing instead.

16) Plan Plan Plan: Abraham Lincoln said: ” If I have nine hours to chop a tree, I would sharpen my axe for 6 hours and cut the tree for 3 hours! Always plan the next day the night before! This habit has helped me saved me tons of time! Plan every hour , every minute. Its ok if things don’t go according to your plan. Just improvise:)

17) Reserve Sundays for Weekly Planning: Measure, analyse, progress. How can you improve on something that you don’t know? Keep a document detailing how you spending every hour of the day! I know it may seem like a big task initially, but over time, it builds into a solid habit. This way you have a clear idea where your spending your time.

Every Sunday you can take a look at the various things you have accomplished. You can then work towards improving.

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