Recently I stumbled upon a movie in my Netflix queue called Limitless. For those of who you are unfamiliar with it, I'll give you a brief synopsis. The main character Eddie Mora gets his hands on a drug that causes his productivity to skyrocket.
In the span of weeks he finishes writing books, becomes fluent in languages, and makes a significant sum of money in the stock market. While you won't be able to do all of those things in the span of a few weeks, you can dramatically increase your productivity by tapping into some very simple secrets that don't require you to pop any pills.
Health and energy are the foundation for everything else. If your health is not in order, your effort to increase personal productivity is going to be futile. While it may be tempting to take an extreme approach to this, that almost never works. Taking care of yourself is a habit. Like everything else we discuss, this is going to take an understanding of how habits actually work.
"Anyone can use this basic formula to create habits of her or his own. Want to exercise more? Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you'll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually, that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine."
~ Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
Now, let's talk about some very basic adjustments you can make to improve your health and energy.
"If you want to function at the highest possible level, you've got to move"
~ Laird Hamilton
While Laird gets his movement from the pursuit of 80 foot waves, for you things are going to be much simpler. In a fast pace world, where information is being thrown at you on a daily basis, "unplugging" is becoming more and more critical. Something as simple as a 15 minute walk each day will have a significant impact on your productivity.
Over a shorter time-frame, an exercise routine can give you more energy throughout the day. Most of your cells contain components called mitochondria, often referred to as the cell's "power plant." Mitochondria produce the chemical that your body uses as energy, known as ATP. Physical exercise stimulates the development of new mitochondria within your cells, meaning that your body will be able to produce more ATP over time. That gives you more energy to exert yourself physically, but it also means more energy for your brain, boosting your mental output.
~ Robert Pozen, Huffington Post
Make it a point to take breaks every hour or so. Even if you can't go for a walk, just get up and move around. Sitting in front of the computer for several straight hours will not make you more productive. Make some sort of exercise a daily habit.
Cars run on gasoline. If you decided to put Coca Cola, potato chips, and vodka into the tank your car wouldn't run very well. The fuel for your body is food, and what you put in it will impact your energy, and in turn your productivity.
"The way we eat can have an immediate effect on our productivity, which in turn affects our work output. A donut can cause a sugar spike that increases alertness for about 20 minutes, but after that we can crash unless we maintain this high-sugar intake. A study conducted by researcher Roy F. Baumeister, in collaboration with New York Times science writer John Tierney, found that skipping breakfast affected school children's productivity and behavior, but that when given a healthy snack, the children who had skipped breakfast performed as well as their peers who had not. This proves that healthy snacking can have a noticeable effect on focus, concentration, and productivity."
~ Corrine Collins, Fiber.Net
As we talk about in our productivity course, foods that are rich in water content such as fruits and vegetable are going to enable you to maintain the highest level of energy. You want to have a deep understanding of how the foods you eat impact your productivity and adjust your diet accordingly.
Distractions of all kinds fill our world today. Social network notifications, email inboxes, phones ringing and much more fill our day, resulting in a dramatic decline in productivity. Most of our attempts to eliminate distractions fail because we've made it too easy for ourselves to be distracted. So let's talk about a principle from Sean Achor's book The Happiness Advantage that he calls activation energy. The principle of activation energy simply refers to how much energy it will take to begin a certain action.
"Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change."
~ Sean Achor
The less energy it takes to chase a distraction, the more likely you are to get distracted by it. The more energy it takes, the less likely you are to become a victim of it. The same applies for positive habits as well.
Starting your day with a clear idea of everything you want to get done will increase your likelihood of finishing things you start. Make a list of the 5 most important things you plan to do tomorrow. As a writer, one of the most important things I do every single day is write 1000 words. To make sure I do nothing else when I wake up, I setup my journaling software the night before so it's the first thing I see when I turn on the computer. The activation energy required to launch a new program is completely eliminated. Figure out how to reduce the activation energy of the 5 most important things you want to do and you'll be much more likely to get them done.
Have you ever ended up at Facebook, twitter or any other web site and found yourself wondering where the time went and how you even ended up there? Well there's one simple way to make sure that doesn't happen. Use an app like Self Control and block distracting web sites. Another app that will cause your internet to stop working is Freedom. The activation energy to visit your favorite distracting web site dramatically increases because you have to reboot your computer to get back to it.
The irony of our shortcuts is that they actually reduce productivity. We end up wasting time on things that we didn't intend to work on. By removing all our shortcuts we increase the activation energy required to get caught up in distractions.
"The key to creating these habits is ritual, repeated practice, until the actions become ingrained in your brain's neural chemistry. And the key to daily practice is to put your desired actions as close to the path of least resistance as humanly possible. Identify the activation energy—the time, the choices, the mental and physical effort they require—and then reduce it."
~ Sean Achor, Happiness Advantage
When I was writing this article I really struggled to get started because it was going to be my first post for the Academy on the Go blog. It was also much longer than anything I had written in quite some time. So I decided that I would just write the first paragraph. Every day for 5-6 days I committed to a paragraph and by the 3rd day the words just started to flow.
When it comes to bigger projects and tasks we have a tendency to bite off more than we can chew. But if we break them into smaller more manageable pieces we're much more likely to act on them. Again the principle of activation energy comes into play. It takes far less energy to write a paragraph than it does to write an entire article.
Use the principle of activation energy for a week to work on something you've been struggling with. You'll notice a dramatic difference in your ability to start and finish things.
If you watch the movie Limitless, you'll notice at the start Eddie Mora looks a bit like a bum. He hasn't shaved, or had a haircut in quite some time. Then he looks in the mirror and decides to get himself cleaned up. Once he's clean cut, he starts to really tap into his potential. Have you ever noticed how you feel more powerful and productive when you put a suit on? That's no coincidence.
The way you dress and groom can have a big impact on how you feel.
"We frequently judge other people on the basis of the clothes they are wearing. If you see a man in an expensive suit, you tend to automatically assume that he is successful and competent. See the same person dressed in a kaftan or flowery shirt, and you might assume that he is a creative type. Bump into the man wearing large shoes, a red nose, and a clown's pants, and you know it is time to run.
The As If principle predicts that dressing as if you are a certain type of person will affect your sense of identity. The message is clear: the way you dress directly influences who you think you are. For years, physiologists have urged job candidates to dress in a business like outfit before an interview in the belief that his clothing will have a positive impact on the interviewer.
The As If principle suggests that such attire will have a profound and even more important effect on the candidates."
~ Richard Wiseman
Dress like you're ready to get things done, make ideas happen and make dents in the universe, and you'll do all those things and more.
"Picking up new skills is a fundamental aspect of the human experience"
~ Josh Kaufman
With the amount of information at our fingertips these days, it's tempting to assume we can learn a language, run for president, write a piece of software, and write a book in the span of a week. After all there is a resource for each one of those and books like Josh Kauffman's book the first 20 hours indicate that accelerated learning is possible. But if we try to take on too much, we suffer the paradox of choice and don't do anything.
Put these principles to work and it won't be long before you start to become limitless.
It's where your smartphone, tablet, or laptop becomes the instructor.
And your daily life becomes the classroom.
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