If you go into a bookstore or even type in “how to be productive” or “books on productivity” on Amazon, you’ll find a ton of resources related to being productive.
This is all well and good, but it doesn’t get at the cause. These books are only effects.
They don’t address the root question most people have on their mind:
“Why am I not able to do what I have to do when I have to do it?”
“Why am I sooooo lazy?”
I had these questions for many, many years. Not too long ago, I found out the answers to these questions.
In this article I’m going to outline the main reasons behind being productive. After it’s all said and done you’ll learn:
- What productivity IS and what it ISN’T
- What a strong work ethic IS and what it ISN’T
- Why some people are motivated to be more productive and have a stronger work ethic than others
- How you can develop the mindset of a highly productive person with a forceful work ethic
This article is intended to be a mindset shift. It will get you to start looking at your own work habits and why you feel that they’re not up to par with where you’d like them to be.
After you finish reading this, you’ll start to set the gears in motion allowing you to get more things done and have a better life as a result.
So… let’s get into another question:
What is productivity? What isn’t?
Productivity is simply that – production.
It may be shitty production. It may be awesome production. But it’s still production.
“But wait. I thought productivity is about getting stuff done? You know…stuff that matters!”
If that’s the case, you’re probably thinking of efficiency:
(1) : effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with cost (as in energy, time, and money) – Merriam-Webster
When people talk about “productivity”, they really mean efficiency. Or rather, efficiency + productivity.
The nirvana of working life is combining quality effectiveness combined with relentless output.
This will make you happy. It will also make your boss happy. Very happy.
The Spartan’s Strong Work Ethic
You can’t have a pie without crust. In the same vein, you can’t have productivity without a strong work ethic. They’re hand and glove.
A strong work ethic is derived from someone who is fully engaged and fully present with the task at hand, allowing them to go into a flow state.
This flow state generates a massive amount of energy. It makes you feel alive.
The person who first popularized “flow” demystifies it in this video.
My theory is that since the brain is involved in single pointed concentration on an objective, it uses up less mental energy than you would if you were thrown in a million different directions (multitasking). This frees up the brain to allocate energy for other tasks.
This is pretty interesting because you need energy in the first place to have a strong work ethic.
It’s incredibly difficult to work hard (and SMART) if your energy levels are low.
This is part of the reason why you need to have a “backup” plan on days where you aren’t necessarily up to par.
At it’s best, a strong work ethic is like water flowing from a cup.
This is the trait an employer looks for and says “yeah, this guy is a fucking tank”.
It’s something everyone can see whether you know it or not.
“How do I combine efficiency with productivity?”
Think of “efficiency” as skill or mastery at something.
Think of “productivity” as sheer work ethic.
The former is known as “deep work”. The latter is just simply having a can-do, blue collar attitude.
So what’s the problem? Why is it so hard to combine these two? Why do you feel yourself as useless and lazy?
“Why can’t I have a stronger work ethic?”
I’ll tell you why.
Dopamine is a sexy little neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for motivation, concentration + focus, and of course – productivity.
If you feel as if you can’t act or don’t want to act, low dopamine levels are to blame. In someone who is very productive at work, more likely than not, their dopamine levels are stable and located the the right areas in the brain.
Dopamine inspires us to set goals, strive for achievement, enjoy the little things in life, and just be an all around ass-kicker.
If you have low dopamine, it will zap your zest for life. You won’t be able to focus the mind, either.
Here’s some things than can seriously fuck you up when it comes to dopamine:
- Drugs and alcohol
- Sugary, salty food
- Unnatural sexual stimuli
- Electronic stimulation
These are just a small sampling of things that play on your reward system and dopamine receptors and they’re found in vast quantities in today’s world.
Certain things play more on dopamine levels than others, like hard drugs and pornography.
Just like the guy who had great habits that made him a boss, the guy who has adequate dopamine levels in the brain will find it easier to get things done and as a result – become more productive.
This is why a lot of people find themselves so numb. So apathetic. So “I can’t handle this shit anymore”.
We live in a world of abundance.
It’s definitely not a bad thing. Tons of people have fought, bled, and died to create the world we live in today. To the people in the Middle Ages, today would be a utopia.
But this world also comes with a price. All of this abundance makes our dopamine receptors and our reward system spaz the fuck out.
We still have the physiology and psychology of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
This is an important but overlooked fact.
They didn’t have opioid-like drugs on tap. They didn’t have a bunch of high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar food on tap. They didn’t have millions of women at their disposal on tap. They didn’t have immersive video games on tap.
Our ancestors were lucky to find something like chicken or steak, even then it was VERY scarce. They were also exposed to a limited amount of people and as a result – a limited amount of women.
Our brain just isn’t made for sitting around all day and consuming, consuming, consuming.
Evolution just isn’t that fast, even though these guys weren’t around since 10,000 B.C.
Because after you finish popping, snorting, fucking, and god knows what else – your dopamine levels elevate to an ungodly level. Then they straight up crash.
Your brain then “rights” itself by reducing the amount of receptors in the brain. Less dopamine receptors and you experience life as “less”. Less pleasure. Less motivation. Less focus. Less…productivity.
No wonder a lot of us are extremely apathetic and lethargic. We have everything we can ever dream of at our disposal.
As a slight aside, this is a part of the reason why a ton of rich kids are so lazy – because they live in a world of abundance and no urgency (I’d know because I went to school with a ton of them).
The question then becomes: “Why work hard? Why learn a skill? Why start a business? Why read books?”
It all comes down to this:
Learning how to be productive is a mind game.
It’s how you’re wired. You can strengthen or degrade this wiring, it’s all about how you conduct yourself in daily life.
You wire yourself the right way through certain practices, daily rituals, and techniques. It’s a process and it doesn’t happen overnight.
So if you came to this article looking for a “quick fix”, I’m sorry pal. I can’t help ya.
But if you do want to be more productive in life, work with a boundless energy, and have an overall better quality of life, you have to understand that it will take time and repetition, repetition, repetition.
Knowing that and if you still want to increase your levels of productivity and work ethic, here’s how you can do it – over time.
1. Get your rewards right
As I explained to earlier, we live in a world where you can be rewarded instantaneously by doing absolutely nothing.
This completely throws the brain’s reward system out of wack. It makes it thirst for instant gratification and can in extreme cases, create an entitlement mentality. This is where these haterzzzz come up with the idea that “millennials are entitled”.
Your job? Break your addiction to instant gratification and easy rewards the best way you can.
This is part of the reason why you should limit or eliminate certain sources from where you get your dopamine fixes.
A lot of the things related to the Internet are not going to help you in the long run, but you still look at them because you get pleasure from it.
Goal-setting and creating a deep vision is a chief way to break the desire for instant gratification.
When you know where you’re going and you believe you can get there, it’s going to be VERY hard to steer you off course.
It takes time to get unattached from certain stimulus. But once you do, you will experience a better quality of life and you won’t find it hard to stay focused for long periods of time because you know what lies at the end of the road.
2. Work harder/smarter over time
A strong work ethic and the tendency to be productive is something that must be cultivated over time.
An acorn doesn’t become and oak overnight nor will you have the ability to start doing superhuman marathons of productive activity either.
It takes a little bit of incremental change every day to result in a 180 degree turn around.
Working hard is putting your nose to the grindstone and accomplishing tasks.
Working smarter is using the resources at your disposal and decreasing the amount of waste in time and energy.
It takes both to be successful. Don’t be fooled by anyone who says it’s one or the other.
It is very laughable when people say “work smarter” (code word for be lazy), not harder.
But when you fully believe in what you’re doing and you actually see an end, work isn’t “hard”. It’s just labor intensive. But it’s a labor of love.
Once you start establishing certain blueprints for your life and certain systems, you will find it easier and easier to be more productive and increase your work ethic.
3. Increase your self-discipline
Self-discipline can be summed up as: doing what you have to do when you have to do it.
It takes a strong degree of willpower to do something you’d rather not do but you know is necessary. This taxes the prefrontal cortex, the seat of decision-making (willpower).
Self-discipline doesn’t have to be this way. Self-discipline can eventually become a habit, like anything else.
You see, there’s a slight gap between when something comes into your awareness and your ability to make a decision about how to react to it. In many cases, this gap is so small it’s instantaneous. But it’s still there.
In the case of “getting shit done”, this gap is affectionately known as “procrastination”.
In the moment between being aware of something you need to do and the end decision, there’s another micro-decision.
Will you do the task? Or will you put it off…to be done later (or not at all)?
Most of our decisions happen on this micro level. This means most of our decisions are subconscious. Don’t believe me?
What route did you take to a familiar place today? Probably the same one you’ve always taken. You took it because you made a series of subconscious decisions to take that route. Extend this to the rest of your life and you’ll see what I mean.
You short circuit this by implementing self-discipline as a habit. You make self-discipline a habit by choosing to do something now instead of thinking about not doing it.
4. Reduce friction
Friction happens when certain things in life “get in the way” of a defined objective.
- Traffic on the way to work
- Coffee spilling on your thousand dollar suit
- Your computer suddenly dying on you
- Crying babies
All of these are examples of friction. Friction will make it hard to accomplish an objective, because these are things that usually need to be taken care of before life can run smoothly.
Addiction is it’s own beast, but it is a prime example of friction.
If you have an addiction to something, it will be VERY difficult for your life to run smoothly.
Your mental RAM is dedicated to quelling the addiction, leaving it nearly impossible for you to focus in on other tasks.
Life generates its own friction but a lot of friction is self-inflicted (like addiction).
Deciding to get mega-bombed at the bar for the Nth time and then nursing a hangover that lasts well into the next day is an example of self-generated friction.
Arguing with members of your family just because is an example of self-generated friction.
One good way to minimize friction as much as possible is to create an artificial environment with as little of it as possible. Locking yourself in your room for hours on end to practice an instrument is an example.
5. Strong locus of control
If you look at someone who is extremely productive no matter rain or shin, hell or high water, they tend to have a strong internal locus of control.
They aren’t the type of people that go around trying to fix what they can’t change. They operate from the inside out. They change themselves, then they change the world.
How do you develop a strong internal locus of control? It’s pretty simple. You make sure you focus on only the things you can have a direct influence on.
Increasing your performance in the gym through following a good routine and rest is an example of a strong locus of control.
Hoping the weights magically get lighter is not.
You’ll notice that I didn’t give a step by step “method” in this article.
This is just a mindset and a way of living that will allow you to begin using those methods.
Pretty hard to use all of these if you’re not self-disciplined, don’t have a strong internal locus of control, and have several addictions.
When you decide to get unhooked from instant gratification and start thinking long term this whole world that you thought was off limits to you is now open.
Adopting this mindset makes getting shit done 10x easier.
I want to hear from you: what steps are you taking today towards a stronger work ethic? Let me know in the comments!