Have you ever found yourself ‘in the zone’ when you’re doing something? Whether you’re painting a fence or shearing a sheep, when you enter this magical sweet spot, everything just seems effortless. You’re not so highly-strung that you’re stressed, and yet you’re not so relaxed that your mind is wandering. Of course, if the world’s workforce could somehow find a way of harnessing that power at will, much of the world’s problems would probably be solved overnight.
Let’s take a look at some ways in which you might boost your productivity by getting into this elusive rhythm.
Divide your time into bite-size chunks
Contemplating an enormous task, such as losing seven stone in two years, is likely to result in depression. By contrast, contemplating a small component of that task, such as losing one pound in a week, is likely to result in success. Repeat that success another hundred or so times, and you’ll have achieved what you once thought was impossible. This principle is well understood – but it’s often not applied to very small timescales, like a day – or even an hour.
Suppose a student is asked to write a two-and-a-half-thousand word essay on the fall of Rome, or some equally enormous subject. They might begin by dividing the task into stages – research, writing, rewriting. They might then divide those stages still further – perhaps the writing section might comprise five chunks, and these chunks might in turn be divided into five chunks of a hundred words each. If the student were to write a hundred words in ten minutes, the entire essay would take around four hours. The principle here is the same – working toward smaller goals is easy; working toward distant, enormous ones is not.
Set yourself achievable goals
Of course, it matters whether these goals are achievable ones. If our hypothetical, beleaguered history student were to decide that they could write a hundred words a minute, and be done with chronicling the fall of Rome in just under half-an-hour, then they might well end up disappointed. Moreover, the resulting essay would likely be a formless mess, from which no sensible person could derive any enlightenment.
We’d all like to be able to get the things we want in a short space of time. Ideally, we’d like it to happen instantly. But if we’re to avoid being disheartened, then we should come to terms with the notion that progress takes time.
There are also chemical means of boosting one’s work-rate. Of course, we’re naturally only thinking of legal drugs here – clearly mixing a dose of speed into your morning corn flakes is not going to result in an increase in productivity. But something like caffeine can, in moderation, result in an increase in focus – and therefore an increase in productivity.
It should go without saying that such aids are not to be leaned upon too heavily, as they can be addictive. Just because Ernest Hemmingway, Steven King and Christopher Hitchens spent much of their time drunk doesn’t mean that you should.
Of course, there is one way in which we might avoid disappointment throughout our whole lives – and that’s by setting ourselves an extremely low bar. But if you’re to really glean satisfaction from an achievement, then a little ambition is a necessity.
Really, we’re capable of a great deal more than our minds and bodies might give us credit for. Marathon runners often refer to ‘the wall’ – a point at which the runner feels as though their physical resources have been utterly depleted, and that completing just another step would be impossible. But, sure enough, the overwhelming majority of marathon runners who reach this point go on to finish the race. If you’re not ambitious, then you’ll never reach such a point – and you’ll never know the feats of which your body is really capable.
If you don’t have a long-term goal looming on the horizon, then signing up for an endurance event might be just the target you need. Charity treks and challenge events are an excellent way to get fit, see the world, and raise money for a worthy cause in the process.
Fight through the boredom
Of course, not all herculean tasks are physical ones. Some mental ones are also taxing. If a mind is being under-stimulated, it will become bored. Ideally, it’s wise to think of ways to make a task more interesting; but sometimes this isn’t possible.
Self-control and discipline become hugely useful tools in this situation. If we were to simply abandon a slightly dull task at the first sign of distraction, then getting anything useful done would be almost impossible. A far better solution is to fight through the boredom, just as a marathon runner might fight through ‘the wall.’