Creative Sleight of Hand: Six Ways to Trick Yourself into Productivity

“Most productivity techniques require a little self-trickery” – L.V. Anderson, American business writer.

We all have days when we feel about as productive as a limp noodle, yet we have no choice but to get into gear and do something that adds zeroes to the bottom line. So, what do you do when the motivation needle is on E?

Simple: You put in the extra effort to trick yourself into productivity. It’s usually easier than you might think, since, per the quote, most productivity involves self-trickery anyway. By the time you’ve faked it long enough, you’ll have accomplished a decent amount of work and will probably find it easier to move forward.

Try these tips to start your productivity engine on a down day:

  1. Harness creative procrastination. Start your morning with a relatively easy task. While completing five minor tasks may not be as productive (or as profitable) as completing one big task, at least you’re clearing your list. And it makes you feel good as you do it. Neurologists claim you get a natural dopamine jolt every time you finish a task, which may urge you on toward the next, better fix.

  2. Make a Done List of all the projects and tasks you’ve finished lately. This will not only remind you that you can be productive, it’ll make you feel more confident about your abilities.

  3. Talk to yourself. Self-talk is surprisingly important. It’s most obvious in children, who often speak aloud when reviewing the steps of a process or urging themselves on. As you mature, it goes underground to become internal self-talk, which can be extremely influential—especially if it’s negative. Talk back and speak up. Outline the steps of the task. Be your own cheerleader. Talking to yourself forces you to articulate your thoughts, making them cleaner than stream-of-consciousness, and helps you override any negative thoughts slowing you down.

  4. Compete with yourself. Try to beat your previous best time or efficiency at a specific task. It’s a great way to boost productivity, and you can have fun with it. I know someone who, whenever he listens to the Jason Mraz song Curbside Prophet at work, pushes to finish his latest subtask, line, or thought before the dog barks (fans will know what I mean). It’s silly… but he says it feels good to finish before Elsa the Dog “exceeds his limitations.” There’s that dopamine thing again. You can also practice “sprints” for a set length of time, for example 15, 30, or 45 minutes, pushing yourself as hard as you can until time runs out.

  5. Bribe yourself. Tell yourself that when you complete a task, you can go get a cup of coffee or tea or take a quick walk. You probably need to stretch your legs anyway. Promise yourself you’ll stop for a treat on the way home if you have a productive day. But don’t reward yourself if you didn’t accomplish much; if you do, your self-conditioning won’t work!

  6. Just get started, already. If you’re procrastinating just because you’re facing a task that looks tough, stop it! Sometimes worrying over a task takes more energy than doing it. Take a breath, jump in, and see what happens. The work may feel like pulling teeth at first, but you’ll at least make some headway; and as you get limbered up and start gathering speed, you may find yourself on a roll. If you don’t, you can stop for a while, knowing you’ve made a decent start. Use the Pomodoro Technique, a classic way of tricking yourself into working on something: set a timer for a brief period, say 15 minutes, then work at it until the timer goes off. At that point, you can either stop if you’re having problems, or decide to keep going for a while longer. Many people find they’re so into the task by then it’s easy to choose the latter.

Remember Your Why

If nothing else, focus on your Why: the overriding goal underlying and informing everything you do. We all need one… If you lose your Why, then you’ve lost your way. Remind yourself: why are you doing a certain task, and working at your job in general? Maybe it’s because you want to be a good provider; maybe you’re saving for a new car; or maybe you want to change the world. You may just love your work, and your to-do list is part of achieving it.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
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—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
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