While I don’t always follow my own principles of productivity as well as I’d like, I have some sayings and methods that help me get my work done when I’m at my busiest. There’s been a lot going on lately, hence the lower posting frequency, and based on the faces I see on the train and in the classroom, it seems to be an intense time for everyone. In the hopes of helping you through that crunch, here are my mantras and methods for when the only way out is through.
1. “The only way out is through.”
When I was little, I was only allowed dessert if I ate all my vegetables. I loved dessert more than I hated spinach and brussel sprouts, so I would sit in my chair at the dinner table, sometimes a full half hour longer than everyone else, slowly working my way through my greens and complaining all the while.
Sometimes, it can be tempting to take a similar approach to my work, stopping every five minutes in the middle of reading a dense theoretical text to check Instagram, make tea, or complain about how dense my reading is to whomever is nearby.
When I fall into this pattern, I try to remind myself that the only way out of my difficulty is through, that the only way I can be relieved from my work is by putting my technology in airplane mode and finishing it.
This mantra works well for going through emotional or other difficulty as well and is an unintentional echo of the saying, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
2. “Eat your frog first.”
The concept of eating one’s frog comes from two versions of a quote mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.”
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
These sayings, unappetizing as they are, really stuck with me. When I save my worst things for last, I essentially spend all day anticipating my tasks and all evening actually doing them, making it hard to have any true down time.
Who wants to eat a frog, especially first thing in the morning? Not me. But I’ve been trying to fight my night owl tendencies and start moving my more unpleasant and difficult tasks towards the morning, when my mind is sharper and when I won’t be missing out on relaxing time with friends and family.
I’ve found the idea of starting with what’s most difficult so helpful that I even made myself a printable poster for it, which you can download in a large size here if you like.
3. Use your small spare moments to accomplish something big.
Especially because I’m still on a college schedule, filled with irregularly patterned classes and meetings, I find that many of my daytime hours are spent in 5-30 minute breaks in my schedule.
It’s easy to take this time to surf the web, check social media notifications, or reply to emails, but I’ve found that I’m much more productive if I have one larger task, such as reading a novel or writing a blog post, to accomplish piece by piece whenever I have those spare moments.
As an exercise, keep track of how many awkward, unscheduled minutes you have in a day, and discover how much time you really have!
4. Keep your space tidy.
Have you ever found that the impulse to clean your room or desk space is never so strong as when you have a big project to do? I often find myself cleaning when things get intense for two reasons: 1) It gives the illusion of productivity, and 2) It really is hard for me to concentrate when my space is messy. Now that I keep my space consistently tidy, I find it easier to concentrate and harder to make excuses not to do what I need to do.
5. Get your sleep and exercise!
This is probably the one I’m worst at, but it’s also the most important. Sleep and exercise are the two best things you can do for your physical and mental health and will allow you to do your best and fastest work. I know you know this, but we could all use the reminder.
What are your go-to methods and mantras for getting your work done? Let me know in the comments below!