The feeling of being productive or having a day of great productivity behind you is just a great feeling. It means the day was not wasted to netflix binge watching, video games or other absorbing activities that don’t lead to anything. But how can productivity be maintained in the long-run, sustained during holidays or pandemics and perpetuate itself? I have some ideas…
1.) Build a routine. If ‘getting work done’ would be like brushing teeth, you would just do it without thinking too much about it. If you start thinking ‘do I like this?’ or ‘am I in the mood for that?’ it’s already too late. Frankly speaking, get out of your bed and move to your desk and start working, BEFORE these thoughts even get the chance to develop. If these thoughts took over too much already, I recommend meditating and observing them for a while with full attention. If they feel seen, they usually disappear. Ideally you accept at some point that negative thoughts and feelings just pop up on a regular basis (side effects of the intelligent human mind in my opinion) but ignore them and act anyway. For the routine it could help to set up a list of things you like to achieve at a particular day (the popular ‘To do list’) so that it’s not debatable what is due that day.
2.) Work in chunks. It might cost you quite an effort to go for a run for 1 h (because it’s long and painful and your legs just say ‘no’) or to write a full manuscript over a weekend. Therefore start easily and do the really tiny steps. Allocate 20 min to writing every day or start meditating 5 min a day. This is something everyone can do. Then you get the feeling of accomplishment and self-efficacy more easily and you can slowly increase the dose. And even if you don’t increase the amount, it still means you do 150 min of meditation per month, which is great and should cause an effect. Work slowly but steadily.
3.) If your brain gets easily bored by monotonous work, make sure you provide the necessary change and stimuli. This should however not interfer with the overall work routine (see 1.), whose maintenance has the highest priority. I just mean you could change the working environment (from couch to desk, from home office to café), or get more external stimulation that fuel your motivation (e.g. listing to stimulating music, exchange with colleagues, a coach providing another perspective, watching a relevant documentary) or establish a reward system (2 gummi bears for a written page etc.)
4.) Find out what motivates you and feed it. People are usually motivated by three motives: performance/accomplishing things, power, and affiliation. You can be positively motivated by these things or negatively. For instance, it can drive your motivation if you feel you lose power or if you see how you can gain it. You can be motivated by fearing a loss of social connection or by seeing a chance of improving it etc. Then there are of course internal and external motivation forces. Best is if the motivation comes from inside you, then it is less easily destroyable. If you work because you enjoy what you do and are really interested in finding out more (typical for scientists ; )) then this is a better driving force than if you work for a high salary or promotion (external motivation). I noticed for example that I lose motivation if I get heavily micromanaged. I like to work out and think by myself and if someone takes this part away from me, I am no longer interested. Try to find what motivates and demotivates you and use this information wisely!
5.) To my experience, productivity can only last if you create room for idleness, because this is when your consciousness forms the necessary connections in your brain, and brings together what you have learned. I recommend going for a walk in nature or just watch the horizon through your window. Getting enough sleep and good food is also very important. Wish I had such a hammock in my home office 🙂