Confession time: I don’t actually whip through projects as fast as some people think. More than once I’ve gotten the question ‘how are you so productive?’ I suppose for people watching me, it might be a logical question. For me, standing amid the chaos I like to call my life, I’m just like ‘what things? I’m getting things done?’
Life is hard. We all know this. We have work or school or kids. Meals to make. Laundry to do. A house to clean. More meals. And did I mention that people want food like, three times a day? Add to that all the extra things that happen: picking up a shift for a sick coworker. A sister locking her keys in her car. Another car that breaks down. A random cold. Kids bursting into your room every twenty minutes because they’re bored and talking to you is the solution.
Productivity isn’t threatened by just outside forces either. How many times have we sat down to scroll through social media and come up for breath an hour later watching Avenger music videos? Or maybe that new show is free on Prime and suddenly it’s 1:30 in the morning, leaving us to sleep in the next day and then rush to catch up.
In the middle of all of this, how do we actually get things done?
It’s simple. Not easy, perhaps, but simple.
You take control of your life. And you do it in three steps.
If you don’t know what you want or where you are going, you’re not going to get there. Figuring out your priorities in life is an invaluable aid to getting anything done long-term. Yes, we can all sit down now and then and write a little bit, or sew a seam, or knit a row. But if we want to actually get things done, we need to figure out priorities.
In my life, writing ranks very close to the top when it comes to what is important to me. Among my writing, my main novel is the highest priority. Hence, after normal chores, I make sure I have time for writing first. When I write, I make sure I get something done on my main project. During a launch, the priorities shift. Writing takes second place as I focus on graphics, copy, and the rest.
Knowing your priorities helps you evaluate your life and ensures you are focusing not only on things but on being productive in what actually matters. These priorities might change each week: writing one week, finals the next, moving everything the next one. That’s fine. So long as you have priorities and know what they are, they give you a focal point to take the things that are important and get them done.
How many times have we heard or said or thought ‘I just don’t feel like doing that right now?’ Something needs to be done, but we simply don’t want to do it. We’re adults, after all. Why can’t we just push that project off a little longer?
Well, guess what?
You’re an adult. So shut up and take control of your life.
Emotions come and go. Sometimes we’re thrilled and love doing a thing. Sometimes we’d rather do anything but that project. But if you let your emotions drive productivity, then you will have very little control over what you accomplish.
Priorities are for things we work on whether we feel like it or not. There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes we simply need a break. Sometimes dropping a day’s worth of writing and going to see a friend who needs help is the right choice.
But we don’t decide to spend all day in bed watching a whole TV show because we don’t feel like getting up and working—unless, of course, the highest priority in your life is your own pleasure and emotions, in which case you need a slap upside the head and a different sort of talking to than this article is giving.
Motivation comes from inside you, and it comes from your mind, not your emotions. It’s a choice. That’s the whole point of having priorities. You are placing aspects of life at various levels of importance so that, when you don’t feel motivated, you can look at your priorities, remember your reasons for placing them that way, and tackle them even if you don’t feel like it. It’s a deep desire for a long-term goal burning brighter than the quick longing of short-term satisfaction.
Exercising your own will despite your emotions can be hard. I’ve shut both Facebook and Pinterest at least once since starting this article. But if you want to get things done, and if you want control of your life and be productive, then you’ve got to take control. Which means you choose where you are going and what you are doing.
Give yourself rewards for finishing something. Turn off the Internet until you are done. Give yourself deadlines or schedules. I don’t care. But whatever you do, don’t let whatever random emotion you woke up with choose how you handle your day for you.
You have priorities. You may or may not have motivation. Guess what?
It’s time to get moving.
You don’t have to have every single thing figured out in your head. If you wait for that, you’re not going anywhere. You don’t need every little detail researched (well, unless you’re making explosives or something). You learn as you act. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes (again, unless it has to do with explosives. Or dragons.)
I wrote an article a while back called Shut Up and Do It.
Basically, yeah. That’s everything in a nutshell.
I don’t care how good your intentions are or how sound your priorities are. If you don’t actually get up and do something, then it’s all worthless. Taking control of your life and getting things done means you take control of your life and get things done. It doesn’t mean you can never take a break. It doesn’t mean you can’t make a choice to reschedule one priority and let another one take over for an afternoon.
It does mean that, even then, these things are conscious choices and not just something you let slip over you while you weren’t watching.
For now, I only have one piece of advice for you.
Get up and get moving. Take control of your life.
Don’t expect it to be easy, but then again—since when has life been ‘easy?’ That’s not the point, after all. But it is up to you to be productive with your life or just leave to flutter in whatever wind blows.
I highly recommend you do something with it.
So shut up. And go do it.