Being Productive is Difficult.
I’d like to discuss productivity, and how we can achieve that. With college starting back up, a fact that is impossible to pass over thanks to all of the young people coming to my hometown and my friends who have begun to stress out over coursework, this seems a perfect time to discuss ways to be productive.
Or, perhaps, how to best go about staying productive without burning yourself out.
I was always terrible when it came to studying in high school. College came like a burn to the elbow, and just like this morning when I burned my elbow, I was woefully unprepared. However, during my four years I developed a method for studying that could be broken down into 4 steps. I continue to (roughly) follow these steps today whenever I have some task that must be done. I’d like to share this method with you today. Hopefully what I’ve come up with here will help a few of you focus on your studies, projects, or whatever it is you need to focus.
1: Set a Goal.
Figure out what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by–or better yet, when it should be done. Give yourself some room in case things don’t work out as you expect. If you’re subject to the demands of a syllabus or schedule, make sure you give yourself enough time to edit the work. I don’t care if it’s writing a report, making a 3D model, or anything else, you need to review your work and have time to fix mistakes. If you can, leave time to show it to a friend or co-worker so that they can review it as well. A second set of eyes is always helpful.
I find a deadline motivating, personally. I recently had a lot of trouble writing my next novel, for example. If you’ve ever checked the ‘books’ section of this site you’d have seen a slider that indicates how far The Ember Trade has progressed in terms of writing, editing, etc. If you’ve ever checked it on multiple occasions, you would also have noticed it has never changed. That’s partially due to the fact I haven’t bothered to edit the page every day I make some changes to the manuscript, but mostly because I’ve had issues with it lately. The Ember Trade was not only restarted on two occasions since the creation of this site, but I also have been very undisciplined when it came to writing it. Lately, now that I have a new plan for the novel, I have begun setting deadlines for myself. The book is broken into 5 sections and I am giving myself one week to write each, 1.5 weeks maximum (in case work or family get in the way). The same rule applies to editing. In the past few days, with these goals set, I have written more than I have in the past two months (approximately).
Above: Often-given, but poorly conceived advice.
2: Focus and Work.
Do whatever it takes to develop a focus on the task at hand. I realize that is vague and probably unhelpful, but it’s all I’ve got.
Let me explain–everyone focuses on things differently. I use music, often instrumental, sometimes techno, often with minimal lyrics to help me focus. I definitely recommend Balmorhea or Ólafur Arnalds. I’ve spent much of the time writing this post listening to them. There may also be tea involved. A friend of mine uses rock music to help him. I know another person who needs silence. Some people need to force themselves to work, others need to be told to work. The point is, everybody has their own methods of working. I cannot tell you how to get to that point because frankly, I have no idea who you are, dear reader.
3: Reward Yourself.
The reward can be anything. In college I used to write a short paper or complete X pages of reading, then play a round of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer or jump into a game of Halo: Reach (Xbox 360 video game). After the 20-ish minute game(s), I would go back to the work. These days it’s a bit more varied. I still break up my work with games like these, but I also spend the time between work with family, friends, or sleeping now. Sleep can be an amazing treat given the right situation. For example, right now. I’m pretty tired and as soon as I’m done writing this post I’m going to start toward bed. I’m pretty excited.
Writing that made me feel old. Oh well.
In any case, it’s this that helps make the work feel good. Don’t get me wrong, there is a great deal of satisfaction in getting something done, but I also find a lot of immediate joy in these other activities. Besides, breaking up my work with these kinds of games or going to visit others is necessary. I don’t know the science or psychology to this sort of thinking, but I can tell you that I am happier because of this method of focusing, then playing, ad infinitum.
4: ad Infinitum.
Again and again in the same way; forever.
Perhaps the “forever” part is a bit severe but with this method nothing is ever complete the first time through. Things must be continued, expanded, or edited constantly. Then, new projects or assignments crop up and the same has to be done with them. Right now, for me, ad infinitum seems quite accurate. We’ll see how things go as time goes on. The point is, step 4 just tells you to go back to step 1. Things may never seem to end, but I think that’s a good thing.
Title photo credit: Kari Shea
Photo Credit 2: Jordan Whitfield