A Simple Trick to Boost Your Productivity

Boost your productivity with this method of prioritizing.

Posted Jan 25, 2021

Maria Lysenko/Unsplash
Source: Maria Lysenko/Unsplash

Prioritizing is essential to success and happiness, but systems for prioritizing can be convoluted. Just using the system can suck away energy from actually getting things done.

Here's a simple way to prioritize:

Of all the things you currently have the energy for, do the thing you're normally least likely to do.

How Should You Choose?

We all have behaviors we are more or less inclined to do. 

For example, are you someone who washes their windows weekly or someone who does it once every five years?

Some behaviors are more familiar and, thus, more comfortable. For example, it's easier for me to write an article for a publication I write for a lot than if I'm writing for a publication for the first time. Writing for a new outlet is more anxiety-provoking, so I'm more likely to put it off.

Choose whatever you're naturally less inclined to do, amongst all the things you could do.

Why Does This Work?

There are several ways this strategy can benefit you.

  • The first pathway: You do a behavior like washing your windows that you never do. Having clean windows won't change your life. However, doing something you rarely do is energizing. It challenges your conception of yourself. Maybe you're not the lazy sloth you thought you were? Maybe you are capable of adulting? You already did something you didn't expect to do today, so in what other ways could you do that? Physiologically getting your body moving gives you energy and can improve your focus. 
  • The second pathway: You'll expand yourself, your skills, and your future opportunities. Unfamiliar behaviors often have more potential to help us grow than familiar ones. When I write for a new publication, it's with a new editor. I get different feedback. I reach a new audience. I need to adapt my style to the style of that publication, so I stretch my skills.
  • The third pathway: When you tackle behaviors you normally procrastinate doing, those behaviors become more comfortable. The average time you procrastinate with those tasks will go down. The circle of behaviors that trigger gnarly procrastination for you will shrink. You'll tie yourself in knots less.
  • The fourth pathway: Some people react to anxiety by working hard on very comfortable behaviors but ignore uncomfortable tasks that are a higher priority. The way of prioritizing I've suggested helps prevent you from doing that. It makes it harder to fool yourself that you're being productive by doing busywork that's ultra-comfortable for you but has little chance of changing the world or changing your life.

Should You Use This Strategy All the Time?

No. This is a good tip for when you've got energy, but you're swimming in thoughts about all the things you could do, and you're having trouble deciding and focusing. 

You can use this strategy when you're low in energy too, but the pool of actions you're choosing from will be smaller. For example, if you've experienced a setback that has resulted in depressed feelings, your sphere of behaviors you feel capable of might be smaller than usual. You can still choose the thing you're least likely to tackle from that sphere.

More generally, I don't think it's good to always stick to one method of prioritizing. When you use one system religiously, you'll always come up with similar decisions. Your choices will be less varied. Using one system will mean you repeatedly challenge yourself in the same kinds of ways. Instead, periodically alternate between different simple systems for prioritizing. Mix it up, but consider including the strategy I've outlined here. (I'm not a fan of sticking to the same habits forever. Read why.)

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