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Nowadays, everybody and his dog seems to be striving to be more productive. But what’s the true secret of productivity? I’ve often wondered myself. After months of writing my own blog, here’s what I’ve discovered.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, it isn’t using apps. It’s not even really about being disciplined, more highly motivated than others, or having a great system. Though those things do help. So, what’s the real secret?
The true secret of productivity lies in finding ways to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing and changing your mindset so that you’re more likely to have fun. Setting yourself up for productivity and finding ways you can get others involved will help you find as much joy in the journey as you hope to find in the destination.
Later, I’ll share five techniques you can use to help find enjoyment in your work. First, though, grab yourself a coffee, and let’s investigate the true secret of productivity.
Learn to enjoy the journey
Productivity isn’t just about getting things done, it’s more about finding fun and enjoyment in processes. If you’re having fun doing whatever it is you’re doing, productivity takes care of itself.
That’s hardly surprising, is it? After all, when we’re having fun and doing things we enjoy, like reading a book, watching Netflix, or spending time with mates, we’re never that fussed about productivity, or indeed our motivation. I mean, how often do you say to yourself or need a boost of motivation to watch the next episode of your favourite drama? Not often, right?
So we only need motivation, when we are doing things that require effort, exertion, or pain in the short term for a longer-term payoff. And as humans, we are bad at motivating ourselves to do things that will benefit us in the future. We like instant gratification too much, don’t we?
So, here’s the dilemma. How can we make ourselves do things that will serve our future selves, but may require short-term sacrifice or effort? Many tasks might fall into this category, whether it be to work on that side project, write an essay or clear out the loft when you’re already tired.
Soon, will have a look at two ways you can try to find enjoyment in your work and consider which of the two works best. Now though, we’ll look at what Muhammad Ali had to say about success.
The Mohammed Ali philosophy
The famous boxer Muhammad Ali once talked about how he hated training but told himself not to quit. “…Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
This philosophy obviously paid dividends for him. And maybe if you want to be the best boxer in the world or win a Nobel prize this would be the best advice to follow. But how useful is this approach, as a way of looking at your work? I’m not sure myself, especially not when I think about what I want from life.
My ultimate goal isn’t to be the best in the world at anything in particular. I think what I want from my life (and I hope others feel like this as well) is really to be able to live a life in which I have fun, work on things I like doing that are useful to society, and not be too concerned about being the best or competing with others.
The problem with the great Mohammed Ali’s advice, then, is that it perpetuates the idea that you need to suffer to know that you’re doing something right, and, indeed, in order to succeed. It implies that if you’re not suffering, or willing to suffer to be the best, it’s because you can’t stand the pain. If you subscribe to this view, it sounds as if there are just times when you won’t be enjoying what you do, and if that so you’ll eventually succeed. Doesn’t sound great for motivation, really.
Obviously, that’s a massive oversimplification, and Ali’s views on this were probably much more nuanced. But in my life, none of the things I’ve taken on (or few of them, let’s say) have felt like a grind or required me to suffer. That brings us back to the question of how to make ourselves enjoy what we do.
Next, then, let’s discuss two main ways you can approach your work to make it more enjoyable.
Ways to find enjoyment in your work
There are two broad ways to approach this. The first one is one I’m sure you’ve heard before if you’ve read any self-help or self-improvement books. Namely, find your passion and do the things that you enjoy. But there’s a problem with the whole ‘find your passion’ type of thinking.
- Not everybody knows what their passion is.
- The things you’re passionate about aren’t always things that you’re going to be able to make a living from. If you gave it a whirl and tried to make your passion your career (if your passion is playing the guitar. for instance) then you’d have to be extraordinarily lucky to actually succeed. Not many guitar players or songwriters become huge stars, even if they’re exceptionally good at what they do. The odds are never in your favour, the cards are stacked against you.
- The Mahammad Ali success strategy also doesn’t account for the fact that we often have to do things we don’t want to do in life. Most of us can’t just quit our job to follow our passions.
That’s why I don’t think picking the enjoyable things to work on fixes the issue for most people. So what could you do instead?
The answer is simple. Learn to enjoy what you’re doing. Let’s look at the upsides of taking this approach to life and work.
- You don’t need to be privileged to follow it.
- All you need do is revise your mindset to encourage yourself to enjoy more of the things you do.
So, the real secret of productivity is that if you can learn to have fun and put the journey before the destination (as Brandon Sanderson does through his work in The Stormlight Archive), then productivity will take care of itself. Now it’s time to look at five techniques you can use to inject fun into your work.
5 techniques to help you enjoy work
Here’re the five most useful tips I’ve come across.
1) Revise your mindset.
Tell yourself the thing you’re going to be doing or working on is going to be fun. Usually, when I’m feeling stressed or unmotivated, or even guilty for not being as productive as I hoped, it’s because I forgot to have fun. As philosopher Alan Watts once said, “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”
Instead of taking things seriously, take things sincerely. Still give tasks your all but think of them as a game you’re going to have fun playing. That way, you’ll be able to remind yourself that you don’t need to feel that work requires you to suffer.
2) Turn things into a game.
As Mary Poppins says, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun and… snap! The job’s a game.”
Gamification is back. The idea is that if you gamified the workplace all your employees will be more motivated and more productive. The concept may be a bit tired and evoke pictures of an old corporate world, but trying to view things as a game may actually be game-changing.
If you find something to enjoy about a task you’re undertaking, you’ll likely find yourself looking forward to getting on with the task ahead or doing similar stuff, and thus will find it easier to do them. So try to find an element of enjoyment in what you’re doing or a way to make progressing through a longer task fun and see if you become more productive over time.
3) Get others involved.
Doing things with friends and co-workers can really help with motivation. Especially if you’re engaged in boring or repetitive tasks. You’re asked to go through a spreadsheet of thousands of people to check certain facts. This doesn’t require any specialist knowledge on your part, but the thought of doing it alone makes you more likely to procrastinate. To make it easier to feel motivated and be productive, you can get other people involved to split the workload up. You and your friends will get equal credit for the work, but the task will not seem so overwhelming for one person to tackle.
Whatever you’re doing, take time to think about how you can do it with other people. It may just make everything much more fun. It may even lead to things happening in your life that you didn’t expect or wouldn’t have experienced if you worked alone.
4) Set yourself and your environment up for productivity.
Think about how the tools you use, and the environment around you can help you have more fun. It could be as simple as having your favourite colour on the wall, or a plant on your desk. Design your surroundings in a way that appeals to your tastes and sensibilities. If you do that, you’ll probably find that whatever you do when in that environment will automatically seem more fun. Don’t worry if you don’t have any money for a fancy setup either. Just think about the best way to set up your laptop, notepad, and books to best please you. You can work with music in the background if you like. As I’ve written before, this can do wonders for your motivation and — by extension — your productivity. Instrumental music may be the way to go. I love to have my favourite film scores on in the background. While it’s true that music makes you lose a little focus due to the two systems of attention humans possess, I think the enjoyment factor listening to music adds to my work overall is well worth this small sacrifice in my short-term productivity.
5) Figure out if you’re working on the right things.
To stay productive and feel fulfilled in the longer term, it’s important to ask yourself whether you’re working on the right things and whether the work you’re doing means something to you. After all, if the work you’re doing is things you perceive as means nothing to you or others you care about, there are only so many things you can do to make yourself enjoy it. There’s no point climbing up a ladder if the ladders leaning up against the wrong wall, is there?
So how do you find things that are worth pursuing and are worthwhile to you? One way you could do this is to set aside half an hour for quiet reflection. Let your mind wander back to your childhood and remember things you treasured and what you had fun doing.
- What fascinated you as a kid?
- What did you love to daydream about (no matter how silly)? Did you have secret hopes and dreams?
When time’s up, ask yourself a few more questions. Is there a part of yourself that still loves the things you loved when you were a child? What skills and talents did those childhood dreams use? Then ask yourself if you could do something in the present that can help you reconnect with your inner child. By doing this simple exercise, you might be better able to judge whether what you are doing right now is something you think is worth pursuing.
If you find that it’s hard to do something to reconnect with your inner child, you could write down a list of your hopes and desires, even things that may seem impossible at first. Then you could narrow it down to about 5 key goals you hope to achieve and start taking action to make them a reality.
We’ve taken a look at the advice of the great Mohammed Ali and talked about how finding joy in your work and life is the best way to become more productive. I hope you’ll use these tips to find joy in your own life and work. Start today and I’ll bet you’ll become more productive in (almost) no time at all.