With the new year already heading into its second month, I thought I would share the 1 tip that I have learned to help increase my productivity and overall trajectory of my life. I hope you find it useful as well.
What I have come to terms with at the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 is how much our environment influences us and guides our decision making. Too often have I thought that in order to reach my goals I needed to simply just “willpower” it out. That I needed to just “try harder.” Now I realize that there is tremendous power in taking a small amount of time rearranging your environment and letting new habits and thoughts form.
To explain what I mean, I’ll be transparent and use my own goals and environment as an example.
My goals each year have consistently been to both read and program more in my free time. However, if you had taken a look at my room just 2 months ago, you wouldn’t exactly have gotten that vibe from me.
The books that I had been wanting to read were either on a shelf, or on a table far away from my desk. Neither of those locations being convenient enough for me to default to reading. Out of sight, out of mind.
Instead I had my Nintendo Switch on my desk, where I spend most of my time, and also an Xbox controller that I used to game on my PC.
This disparity was also extended to my digital environments as well. Steam and Spotify would boot automatically on my personal desktop, subconsciously encouraging me to game the night away after a hard day’s work. My phone’s home screen conveniently had Reddit, Youtube, and a browser that had previously been on Facebook, too.
While none of these activities are inherently wrong in and of themselves, they are when you find yourself doing them when you haven’t even decided to. I call the activities that you find yourself doing without much thought or effort “default activities.”
I, like many other 9 to 5’ers, find myself tired after work. Upon coming home, I would find myself on Reddit or Youtube, without even realizing it. Because I’m typically mentally fatigued after a day at the office, I’m heavily prone to these types of distractions. When you decide in your mind that you are going to call it a day and relax, then it is fine to be “unproductive” and use these applications. However, when they become default activities, and you are using these applications without the decision to arising in your mind, then that’s when I consider it a problem for myself.
So I decided to change up my environment and see what would happen.
The first thing I did was delete Windows on my computer. Yes, delete it. I instead re-imaged my hard drive with Ubuntu, my programming environment of choice. This was to help encourage me to program more often.
I then followed this pattern of replacing what was immediately in front of me with things that I would rather have myself default to. My computer no longer boots up Steam, but it instead boots up Visual Studio Code with the last side-project I was working on. When I open up my browser, the 2 tabs that it opens up is to CodeSignal and to an Advanced React Course that I am currently taking. I deleted Youtube and Reddit off of my phone, and I moved my browser to cluttered folder, so that way I can get to it if I decide to, but not click on it out of habit when I unlock my phone without thinking.
As for my room, I opened up my books to the last place I was reading and placed them on my desk. I then moved my Nintendo Switch and my controllers to the top shelf of the closet. Out of sight, out of mind. This applies to unproductive things as well, I’ve learned.
Now, have I been more productive? Absolutely. I don’t think I have ever been this productive in my life. If only I had known this tip in college, I might not have gotten a C in one of my classes for not writing pesky blog posts about an internship I was taking. If I could go back, I would have made my personal laptop boot up and open Blogger to encourage me to just get it done.
So what does all of this mean? Am I saying that you should take everything that you enjoy or think is fun and chuck it into a closet or garbage bin?
No. What I am saying is design your environment in a way where you can easily default to activities that help you progress towards your goals. You do not have to be productive all the time. There is time to work, and there is time to relax. The problem is that the digital technologies of our time are so addictive and easy to do without thought, that they can suck away your time without you even deciding to use them. I still play games, and I still watch Youtube, but I do it when I decide to, which is usually from 9 to 11pm where I have blocked out relaxation time.
If you want to write more, have your computer open up Word automatically on boot.
Want to play more guitar? Take that guitar out of its case and place it in the chair you sit in the most. So it is as easy as ever to grab it and play it, and you also have to physically move it out of the way to deny doing it.
Having trouble drinking more water and less soda? Place water bottles near or on your desk, and keep soda on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Or better yet, just don’t buy it.
TL;DR Make the things you actually want to do as convenient as ever to do, and the things you want to abstain from as complicated to get to as you can.
Life is short and is full of so many wonderful crafts and hobbies that you can do. In the end, you may find that “productive” and “unproductive” activities are just an abstract concept, and that humans just like to have something to do, even if it is sometimes “hard.”
Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps.