An Unproductive Person's Guide To Productivity

Due to a mix of bad time management skills and a very short attention span, I’ve never been the most productive person. Unsurprisingly, this used to cause huge problems for me. Deadlines became my nemesis, and I used to have mini breakdowns the night before an important paper was due. My high school yearbook write up (that I obviously wrote myself) actually says “Shaniqua Lizardo plans to stop cramming. Someday. Maybe.”

Well, high school self, I am happy to report that that day has arrived.

It wasn’t really a day; it was more of a process. No one gets rid of their bad habits overnight. Like everything, it starts with getting to know yourself and that’s something that never really ends. For me, it was less like fixing something that was broken and more like working with what I had. And most of all, it was understanding that I wasn’t a terrible person for not being productive and realizing that giving myself a hard time wasn’t benefiting anyone.

I wouldn’t say I’ve completely changed my ways. I still like to take things slow, and I believe in the life-changing power of naps. But I’m now a person who can submit things of a decent quality on time without driving myself insane. So I guess I’ve learned a few brain tricks since high school. Here are some of them.

1. Reverse Pomodoro

You might have heard of the Pomodoro Technique, which is when you work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break. The idea is to do several chunks of these until you finish whatever it is you’re doing.

My version of this is simple - flip it. Work for five minutes, then rest for 25 minutes. It’s still five minutes of work that you didn’t do before. If you think nothing can get done in five minutes, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish if you commit to focusing during a short time, knowing that you’re going to be taking a good long break afterwards. The only caveat is that you have to start doing this weeks before the deadline. Before you know it, you’ll be done.

2. Think of a reason to finish.

Not a reward--a reason. Instead of saying, “When I’m done with this, I can sleep soundly,” try saying “I’ll do this so I can sleep soundly.” That way the thing you want becomes a motivating factor, instead of something you’re depriving yourself of.

Rewarding myself never worked because I realized that I could just get those rewards even if I wasn’t done with my task. I could take a nap any time I want. I could watch another episode of that show right now. If I really wanted to, could shut down my laptop and just walk out the door. By putting off a desirable thing until after the task, the task becomes a barrier to what I want to do, and a meaningless one at that.

But if I think, “I’ll finish this now because I want to sleep well,” I’m actually saying that I want to do the task, even if only because I want it done. That motivation is so important, because if you have no reason or desire to do something, then you won’t do it. Make yourself believe that you want to do it.

3. Done is better than perfect.

This sentence has done wonders for my productivity and mental health. I’m the type to obsess over every detail of everything I do and this tends to drastically extend the time I spend working on something. But the fact is that we can only do so much with the time that we have. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s something that a lot of us need to hear: Not everything you do is going to be amazing or even live up to your own (admittedly high) standards. And that’s fine. The world does not start and end with this one task. Don’t expect too much from yourself and just get it done. Your best is more than enough, and everything is going to be okay.

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