Say you need to complete a major project or tackle a task you’ve been putting off. Or maybe you desperately need to crank out a ton of work in a short period of time, yet you never seem able to find that time.
What you need is an exceptionally productivity day.
Keep in mind that the following isn’t suitable for everyday use; try that and you’ll soon burn out. But, once in a while, it’s the perfect cure for the “Will I ever manage to get that done?” blues.
Let’s say you have a task that will take you 10 to 12 hours to complete. Here’s how to do it in just one day.
1. Tell everyone you won’t be available.
Interruptions are productivity killers, so letting people know you’re doing something special and will be out of reach for a day is an absolute must.
At a minimum, tell co-workers and family, but don’t forget important clients. Send a quick email a day or two before explaining that you will be tied up on a certain day and will respond to calls, emails, etc. first thing the following morning.
Some customers will contact you before Thursday; others will mentally note that you can’t be reached. Either way it’s all good.
And you get an additional benefit from telling other people your plan: Those important to you will know what you intend to accomplish, and they will know if you don’t succeed.
Peer pressure can be a great motivator. Use it.
2. Decide how long you will work…
Don’t plan on the basis of “I’ll work as long as I can,” or “I’ll work as long as I feel productive.” Set a concrete target. Commit to working 12 hours or whatever period of time you choose.
Why? The longer the time frame you set, the quicker the early hours seem to go by.
When I worked in a factory we typically worked eight-hour shifts; the hours before lunch dragged and the last couple of hours each day always seemed like death. But when we worked 12-hour shifts, the morning hours seemed to fly by. Something about knowing you’ll be working for a long time allows you to stop checking the clock; it’s as if you naturally find your Zen (work)place.
When you know you’re in for a long haul, your mind automatically adapts. Trust me — it works.
3. … And totally commit to meeting that deadline.
You know what happens: Once you decide a task should take four hours it somehow ends up taking four hours, even when it should actually take only two. It’s natural to fill extra time with “stuff.”
The opposite happens when a deadline is seemingly too aggressive: We find ways to strip out the nonessential and get things done much quicker than we could have imagined.
So don’t just set a deadline. Totally commit to hitting that deadline.
And feel free to play any mental games that help: Make a bet with someone else, or make a bet with yourself (with losing meaning you have to do something you really don’t want to do) — in other words, make the stakes personal so you’re not just professionally but also personally invested in the outcome.
4. Start at an unusual time.
Have you ever taken a long car trip and left at 3 or 4 a.m.? I bet those first few hours flew by, because you stepped outside your norm.
The same trick works for an extreme productivity day. Start at 4 a.m. Or indulge your inner night owl and start at 6 p.m. and work through the night. Those first few hours will fly by.
An extreme productivity day is not a normal day. Set the stage for the unusual by breaking free of your usual routine.
5. Delay and then space out your rewards.
Say you like to listen to music when you work. On an extreme productivity day, keep the music off for the first few hours. That way, when your motivation starts to flag, a little music will provide a great boost to your morale.
However you tend to treat yourself, think of those treats as personal productivity bullets; use all your ammunition too early and you’ll have nothing left when you really need it.
Whatever typically carries you through your workday, hold off on it for a while. Delayed gratification is always better gratification.
6. Refuel well before you think you need to.
Waiting until you’re thirsty to drink when you’re exercising is already too late.
The same is true when you work. Plan to eat or snack a little earlier than normal. If you sit while you work, stand up long before your rear gets numb. If you stand, sit long before your legs start to ache. In short, when you allow yourself to feel discomfort your motivation and resolve will weaken — so do everything possible to keep that from happening.
And speaking of food, plan meals wisely. Don’t take an hour lunch break. Prepare food you can eat quickly without lots of organization or mess. The key is to refuel and keep rolling.
Remember what Isaac Newton said: A productive body in motion tends to stay in productive motion. That’s why you should…
7. Take productive breaks, not relaxation breaks.
Momentum is everything. Don’t take a walk, or watch a little TV, or goof around on the internet. You will need breaks, but those breaks should reinforce your sense of activity and accomplishment.
Pick a few productive tasks you like to perform — and gain a sense of accomplishment from — and use those for your breaks. Spending even a few minutes in the land of inactivity weakens your resolve.
8. Don’t quit until you’re done — even if finishing takes longer than expected.
Stopping short is habit-forming. If you quit this time, what will keep you from quitting the next time? Answer: nothing.
Quitting is a habit, but staying the course is also a habit (much the same way it’s possible to develop greater mental toughness.) So make your first extreme productivity day the start of a great new habit.
Plus you can gain a great side benefit from extreme productivity days: You’ll unconsciously reset your internal limit on your output. How? We all have this little voice inside us that says, “I’ve done enough,” or, “I’m exhausted–there’s no way I can do any more,” which makes us stop.
But that little voice lies to us: with the right motivation, or under the right circumstances, we can always do more. Stopping isn’t inevitable. Stopping is a choice.
9. And then bask in the glow.
One, you deserve it.
And two, an extreme productivity day automatically ratchets your internal limits to a higher level. After a few (maybe even just one) exceptional productivity days, you’ll start to perform better during every “normal” day too, simply because you will have unconsciously quieted that little voice and raised your own bar — which, of course, is the only bar that truly matters.
So enjoy your accomplishment — and let it spur you on to even greater heights next time.