How I broke through my own limitations to become a more productive person
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re operating on auto-pilot sometimes? Like you’re sleep walking through life or simply going through the motions? It feels like you’re moving forward because time is passing you by and maybe things around you are changing, but in reality, your personal progress feels like it’s at stand still.
I felt like this a lot throughout the last year while I was pregnant and other times in my life. It’s not pleasant when months and months go by and you feel like you’ve achieved very little or nothing at all. But with the right amount of awareness and effort, you can break through that slump. And often times, you can do it a lot quicker than you think.
Today I am going to share with you some of my best practices that I’ve learned over the years, that I implement whenever I’m feeling like I need to lift myself up, get back on my feet and break through some of the self-imposed limitations that have been weighing me down.
The best part of what I’m about to share with you is that the changes that need to take place aren’t major. In fact, they’re really minor tweaks that can, individually and together, make a huge impact on your mood and life in general. And when it comes to seeing results, like anything else, the more effort you put in to making and sticking to these adjustments, the sooner you’ll see them and the greater they’ll be.
First I’ve realized that, in some areas, life is not a marathon - it’s a sprint. In realizing this, I’ve become a big fan of time blocking and shorter work weeks (when the opportunity presents itself). These are by no means concepts that I invented; in fact, they’re practices that some of the most successful people that you can think of have adopted in their lives.
Whenever I can, I like to cram my work week into about four days. Of course, there are weeks when this is not only not possible but I am working through the weekend and into the night. But if it’s my choice, I’ve come to prefer a shorter work week that is more efficient. It’s not that I’ve come to a point in my life and career that I can afford more time off (I doubt that I’ll ever feel this way); it’s more that I have come to realize that when I am ‘strapped’ for time, I’m able to activate a part of myself that allows me to have greater focus and therefore get more done in less time.
I’ve applied the same philosophy to my workouts. I used to think that I needed to workout 6-7 days a week, for at least 60 minutes - whether it’s cardio or strength training. That is, until I discovered High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Instead of longer, less intense workouts, I try to spend 28 minutes 3 days/week on more intense, targeted strength training and about 35 minutes 2 days/week doing high intensity cardio (like running, spinning or dancing). And with this routine, I am seeing far better results than if I were to spend hours at the gym every day of the week.
Another key to breaking through your limitations is to go hard, first. What I mean by this is, each day, do the most important or difficult task, before you do anything else. For me, the most important part of every day is physical conditioning. I love to exercise - not because I am vain (though I can be), but because it makes me feel good and when I feel good, I really feel like I can do anything.
Understanding the psychology of doing the most difficult or important task first is important. But it’s also quite simple. It makes you feel a great sense of accomplishment and therefore makes you feel even more capable, which in turn, makes whatever else you have to do, feel much easier to get through.
If you have trouble identifying what the most important thing is, try thinking of it this way: it’s the thing where if you don’t do it right away, you’re thinking about how and when you’ll get to it all day. And it will distract you from everything else that you need to be doing.
You also need to learn to make time for yourself. We live in a society that applauds and rewards burning out, where you give so much of yourself to everyone else that you have nothing left in the tank for yourself. Not only is this a terrible way to live, but it’s also not very sustainable. You can’t burn yourself out in order to get to the next level. It’s simply not worth it because I can promise you that you will you find no satisfaction once you get there.
If you want to increase productivity or improve in various areas of your life, you need to take care of yourself first. And if you can’t find the time because of professional or personal obligations that seem equally or more important, then you have to make the time.
One way to make time, is to add it. Get up earlier than you would ordinarily like to and see what a difference it makes. Personally, I wake up at 5am as many days of the week as I can and the additional 1-2 hours each day has made a world of difference in my life. Instead of waking up at 6,7 or 8am and starting my day in a reactive mode, constantly responding to what those around me need, I am able to focus on myself because everyone else is, well, probably asleep. So at 5am, I am able to be much more proactive with my life and have the space to focus on the things that make me feel good before I tend to anyone else’s needs.
Some of you may be thinking that you can’t do this because you’re not a ‘morning person’. But don’t knock this idea before you try it.
Whether it’s exercise, meditation or working on a passion project, waking up early to accomplish something for yourself feels really good - no matter who you are. You don’t need energy to do it, because simply doing it gives you energy - to take on the rest of the day and week. In fact, after a few days, you won’t even think about being tired - you’ll either just crave to do it again the next day or you’ll feel guilty when you don’t do it.
Planning ahead is also essential if you want to become a more productive person. Personally, I like to wrap up my work day by plotting the next day and end my work week knowing exactly what needs to be taken care of in the week ahead. It makes me feel good and I waste no energy worrying or wondering about what I need to do.
Most people tend to become anxious without a plan in place. And if you’ve had even the mildest form of anxiety before then you know that anxiety can lead you to overthink, create problems that don’t exist, have difficulty sleeping and make it nearly impossible to be excited about what lies ahead.
Planning ahead prevents a lot of this.
Take unnecessary burdens off of yourself by taking a handful of minutes every day - whenever it suits you - to write down and prioritize your most important tasks for the days and weeks ahead. I like to use The Productivity Planner to do this.
Productivity tools like this cost very little and require very little time to implement, but they allow you to wake up each day knowing exactly what you need to do to make the day ahead as productive as possible.
Finally, you need to master your mindset. If you’re struggling with your productivity, it’s very likely that it’s the result of the way you think. At all times, the only thing that stands between you and your goals is the story you keep telling yourself as to why they’re not achievable. Until this changes it is very hard to change anything else in your life.
It goes without saying that many goals will take time to achieve. But it’s often a poor mindset that is causing you to continually push the excuse button and put off tasks that you don’t want to or are scared to do.
If you can allow yourself to consistently live on the edge of your comfort zone, you will soar through life. The only thing that prevents you from doing this now is fear and laziness.
Mastering your mindset takes time, but it’s like exercising any other muscle in your body: the more you do it, the stronger and better you will get at it.