Mark Twain famously said that “80% of success is just showing up.”
I’ve discovered that he was right. You don’t need to hit a homerun every day to be successful, but you do need to be consistent. A relentless commitment to showing up and following a carefully planned schedule with a time-tracking tool will improve your performance and allow you to get so much more done during the day.
At first, this takes discipline. But like everything, discipline and focus gets easier with practice and habit. Work ethic can be built up and instilled through repetition and accountability. The trick is to not expect too much of yourself. Small, manageable goals are much better than a big overwhelming goal that seems exciting and gets you pumped up at first but fades badly as soon as a rough patch occurs (which, of course, it does).
Once I got into the habit of meticulously scheduling my day, I noticed that I got so much momentum that I was also planning the subsequent days in precise detail. People fear uncertainty more than anything else, so knowing in advance exactly what I needed to deal with and at what specific time allowed me to relax a lot more than if I left that task floating around my brain with a slight feeling of dread about when I’d have to take on the problem.
You have to know what you’re going to do and make a commitment to just doing it. Broken down like this, it sounds simple. And it is. We just overcomplicate things by worrying about ifs and buts and by bringing stressful uncertainty into our lives by not sticking to our schedules.
You have to be clinical with your time. I cannot stress this enough because people are creatures of habit, and by building a tolerance to extreme focus during the allotted time, you will establish strong neural pathways that build and reinforce this type of behavior. Before long it becomes second nature to sit and focus and gain positive momentum. The solution to improving your performance is so simple that you’ll wonder with remorse how many months of your life you’ve lost (add to that the compounding gains and opportunity cost that you’ve missed out on).
What I find really useful is making notes at the end of each block of time I schedule. I know that when the times up, I really want to be able to write with integrity that I did what I was supposed to, like a real adult instead of bailing out and taking the path of least resistance by procrastinating on an easier task or selling myself short because of laziness or fear. I don’t want to be the guy who bails out when things get a bit tough or my mind starts to wander. With these short manageable blocks of time, I know if I focus for just a few more seconds I can win some momentum and step by step reach my goal.
Writing down my notes at the end of the allocated time allows me to see where I’m been wasteful. Figuring out where I’m most tempted to waste time and when I struggle to move forwards allowed me to cut these bad habits and patterns out. Personally, I feel more temptation to procrastinate after lunch (studies show that your motivation is a finite resource, and is at its strongest earlier in the day).
One problem that I have with this system is that I actually want to do too MUCH work. If I’m on a tear and smashing through the tasks with terrifying efficiency I find myself tempted to keep working past the allotted time that I’ve get scheduled. This is actually a mistake as it conditions you not to respect the script and will work against you when you’re emotional state is reversed and you’re in an irritable and unproductive state of mind. You should respect the time allotments and only break them under special circumstances (and I don’t use that word lightly).
Although I’m obviously not in the productivity kill zone during every block of time, I often achieve a state of peak flow even when I don’t expect it, just by conditioning my mind to focus and assuming that the results will follow as long as I show up and follow the system.