Ernest Hemingway was known for his love for fishing as much as he was known for his literary work. An early riser, Hemingway always wrote as soon as he woke up. When asked about his writing habit, the author of The Old Man and the Sea is known to have said: “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write… You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.” Founding father of the Theory of Evolution Charles Darwin spent only five hours a day doing research. Even today, Stephen King writes about 2,000 words per day. Though these prominent men did not spend all their time at work, they were considered to be highly productive.
Creative minds like Darwin, Hemingway and King had mastered the art of productivity much before it found a place in management books and became corporate jargon. In fact, Mark Twain had once said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting with the first one.”
Though there are a million books on success, people are increasingly found complaining of low productivity, thus, pulling them away further from the success they desperately want. Studies suggest the hours spent at work have increased, but productivity has plummeted. People spend hours at their workstations accomplishing much less than the previous day. There could be grand plans and to-do lists, yet deadlines fly and tasks remain unfinished. The mind is ambitious in making plans but very few of these are translated into actions. Everyone strives to be better, to give a 100 per cent to the tasks taken up, but many of us struggle to bring it to completion. A message that seems to be appearing in these conversations is one of taking a conscious decision. No online courses, TED Talks, books, online mentorship programmes can help us strike out the tasks on our to-do lists until we decide to commit to finishing them.
The same story tends to repeat itself on the personal front. We wait for weekends to finish household chores, laundry and groceries. Until Friday, the plan stays in place. Come Saturday morning, we begin to take it a little easy. Household chores are pushed from morning to evening. Why you ask? Lazing around and watching TV is just as important. The chores get postponed further to Sunday afternoon and just like that the weekend is over, leaving a feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction.
So, why do we become unproductive? First off, procrastination–the dreaded monster in the closet. Human beings are known to be habitual procrastinators. Brian Tracy in his bestselling book Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, recounts a stupendous quote by Twain that says: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Using the simple analogy of a frog, Twain intends to advise us to finish off the most difficult task in the first part of the day. Otherwise, it is highly likely it will be carried over to the next day. Next time, you are at your workstation staring at the frog, you know you just have to eat it without a second thought.
Someone once rightly said: “Actions speak louder than words.” Successful people realise their plans through actions. More often than not, it’s the failure to understand the difference between the goal and its accomplishment. Action begets results. No matter how great the intentions are, if there is no output, the intention doesn’t stand a chance.
Another major conundrum is the world of distractions. Social networking, entertainment sites, television or breaking news, every waking hour we end up doing things that don’t necessarily add value to our day. Studies suggest the brain is addicted to distractions. Each time you access new information, the brain releases dopamine. In a world where information flows freely, how does one avoid distractions? The key is to be selective. Do what needs to be done in a given moment. Had Usain Bolt been distracted by things around him, he would not be the fastest man on the planet.
There are no shortcuts to master the art of productivity. Being productive is about persistence, practice and commitment. Once you are committed, you need to constantly practise. Practice emerges from the action. After all, as Evelyn Waugh said: “Your actions and your actions alone determine your worth.”