Google “productivity” and you’ll be dished up more than 200 million search results. Scroll around and you’ll find blogs, websites, apps, browser plug-ins, essays, subreddits, consulting firms, publishing houses, podcasts, and scientific studies devoted to productivity.
What’s the obsession? Our modern lives are inundated with more information than ever before, with pressure to do more, better, faster. There are productivity hacks (wake up early; develop a routine) abound to help us squeeze more high-quality work out of less high-quality time.
But here’s the thing: the secret to productivity is actually super simple. Ready for it?
Manage your willpower.
How do you do that exactly? Systems and routines. Omer Perchik, founder of Any.do, writes about how reserving your willpower for truly impactful decisions and activity helps safeguard your productivity potential throughout the day:
Willpower is not something that you just create more of. In any given day, willpower is a limited resource, and truly productive people make sure they preserve it for the things that matter…. When you learn how to manage your willpower, you’re not only able to cut out extraneous work and decisions, but also more adept at choosing the decisions that matter. That’s a key understanding that highly productive people live by.
Systems to minimize “ego depletion,” Perchik’s term for willpower, include The 10-Minute Rule (break down all tasks into 10-minute mini-tasks), the Pomodoro Technique (focus on one task for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break), automation of as many tasks as possible, and building smarter to-do lists.
Simply add a system, with an adjustment to your routine, for maximal willpower protection. Easily distracted by your open office environment? Make it a habit to take a laptop into a closed room at a certain time each day. Get sidetracked by email overload in the morning? Don’t check it until the afternoon, and set up rules in your inbox to file away messages by topic or urgency. It’s all about minimizing decision fatigue and knowing your habits and preferences well enough to adjust. Whatever works best for you, adopt it. Your willpower stores will stay fully stocked so you don’t need to dip in for anything that doesn’t move your work forward.
The best part is that the better you get at maintaining your willpower, it’s not only your work that will benefit; so will your personal life. With more willpower not being wasted on things like what to order at Starbucks or how to respond to someone’s cryptic email, you’ll have much more mental energy to tackle personal goals (read 100 books this year), make healthy decisions (make it to the gym after work), and carve out time for side projects. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Get after it.