Go From Unproductive To Productive In Just A Few Hours - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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Go From Unproductive To Productive In Just A Few Hours

Dec 09, 2014


Maybe it's a Monday morning thing or maybe it's writer's block. But it's not like I'm Jane Austen or Arundhati Roy or some other epic writer. It's just one of those days when I don't know what to do next. I sit at my desk, keying in aimlessly, hoping to make sense, trying to create something valuable but all I get is a distracted flitting mind that doesn't know where it's headed... And please note, I have the most honest intentions of getting down to some serious work.

So the easiest option is to put off my writing for tomorrow. And I ask myself if I should write anything at all... should I just call it a day, put my work aside and go take a walk, literally? But no, I decided I had to do something. I've made a commitment to getting something done and I need to keep it.

And then I started reading stuff online about writer's block, about how it can be a myth, about how it's applicable to just about anyone. You needn't be a writer to feel stuck in your work day. You needn't be a painter who doesn't know which colour to use next. Or an actor who is unable to feel the character he is supposed to portray.

Whether you are in a creative field or not, we all go through moments when we feel like we're in a slump. Just like the stock market... there are days of green and days of red. Days when work happens in a breeze without much effort and days when you're unable to produce something... anything.

Be it a doctor or a lawyer or a plumber, a customer care executive or even a parent... everyone goes through patches of low energy and peaks of high productivity. So how do you combat these varied moods and moments? How do you show up and serve up with a smile, when deep inside all you want to do is curl up and go into hibernation mode? How do you dip into your deep reserves, lift your spirits, make your work account for more and produce something that is useful and relevant.

From a writer's perspective, I use many tricks, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But more often than not, they see me through a fairly productive day. I go back home feeling something has been accomplished, even if I just got a few baby steps ahead.

Enhance Productivity
Source: klublu / Shutterstock

Start doing something, anything

But let's come back to my day - Monday morning. Unable to write. But a deadline has to be met.

Here's what I do first. I aimlessly surf the internet. I begin doing the mundane tasks, clearing my inbox, responding to weekend emails, generally warming up without doing anything too serious. But still trying to get started and not wasting too much time in the meanwhile.

A quote by Mark Twain explains this well: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."

And so that's my first step on days that are filled with low energy. I keep the activity on, hoping it'll take me somewhere.

Go look for inspiration yourself

And while I start out not wanting to do anything, there's a bubble in my mind constantly reminding me that something has to be delivered at the end of the day. For some time I hope that divine intervention will make its presence felt. The gods will shower me with their benevolence and all will be fine. But who am I kidding, inspiration is only for the greats. They have the luxury of muses, I merely have a laptop and some colleagues with equally sleepy faces.

I simply followed American novelist Barbara Kingsolver's advice: "I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh... I have to wait for my muse. I don't. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done."

So I get down to the tough task myself. I go seek out my own inspiration. I don't wait for it to unfold in its due time. I start exploring my idea a bit further, start questioning its validity and use, begin researching online.

I look for topics that may serve a certain purpose in the reader's daily life. I keep the basic premise of Common Sense Living in mind - to give the reader different ideas on thinking and living.

Remove the weight of expectations

And finally I decide it's time to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. This is when the real challenge begins. It's time to confront the blank page, it's time to put words on paper. And this could be for any other task, not just writing. Have you ever opened your refrigerator, seen a host of vegetables and wondered what dish to cook? It's the exact same feeling.

But the getting started is often hindered by blocks in the mind. We worry about the end result, we worry about how it will be received. For writers, they're often caught up in the expectations of the readers; for film stars, their last blockbuster success actually prevents them from starting work on the next, or for a batsman, he gets so defined by the last century he scored that it hampers his performance in the next game.

And that's when you have to realize and believe that you are, first and foremost, doing the task for yourself. Stay clear from expectations and the weight of previous successes and failures and simply be true to the work on hand.

Don't be your own worst critic

And once you've overcome the expectations hurdle, still another one rears its ugly head - your harsh inner critic. Your own nagging questions and doubts of your work not being good enough. A feeling that makes you write and delete and write and delete again.

And many a times, this internal critic has no external bearing whatsoever. There is no one out there pointing fingers at you... it's just you pointing fingers at yourself, creating foolish little impediments that disrupt a smooth flow of action. Maybe it's the elusive pursuit of perfection that prevents us from being more productive. If we simply went with the flow, little would hold us back.

Ernest Hemingway gives a useful tip here: "The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day ... you will never be stuck... But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start."

So silence that inner critic of yours and get down to doing what you do best. Putting your best forward is all that is required. The rest of the job will take care of itself.

Surrender to the flow

And now that I'm writing and almost done I realised just how easy it was. The block was all in my mind, just like most things are. Getting into a state of flow was actually not that tough. It was just a matter of being completely one with the task at hand. Letting it happen the way it does, giving in to its natural rhythm.

Most work is like that, once you immerse yourself in it, you find yourself being more and more productive. The words come more easily, the movements are much smoother and the joy in the doing is what finally dictates its course.

Ray Bradbury at a writer's symposium aptly described the joy in his work: "I've never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?'." 

But to reach this state of flow and joy, become ready to give up your own inhibitions completely. Like all spiritual texts say, leave your ego or ‘I' behind. You are the writer and written word at the same time, the observer and the observed. When such a union happens, be sure you'll create something fantastic, be sure your work will have more meaning than you ever expected it to have.


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7 Responses to "Go From Unproductive To Productive In Just A Few Hours"

Ritika Bajaj

13 Jul, 2015

@Krishna: thanks for the comment. I actually hadn't even heard about Mark Manson till you mentioned him. But after looking up the link and reading some of his articles, I must say he's really inspiring and practical in his approach. Thanks for sharing the link was very helpful. and yes, keep reading CSL eletters!


09 Jul, 2015

I follow Mark Manson's articles and this really looks similar to one of his articles. Read @ markmanson.net/do-something I am going to apply this for my search now.

Raghunandan Rao

21 May, 2015

A very dear friend who works with me in an Asset management company is a Chartered Account by profession and more out of a family compulsion than by choice. Extremely creative and soft hearted by nature, she has express to me her dream to become a successful and popular writer. She keeps reiterating this desire to me every single day and I patiently tell her she will indeed become successful in the field. Your article is indeed a blessing for her to read and I am sure it will add to the tips she needs to accumulate to reach her desired destination. Thank you Ritika..


11 Dec, 2014

Remove the wait of expectation The same thing s said in other words in Bgavat Gita Do your Karma (work) with out worrying about the end results. Yes it is true your inner feeling are the biggest critic of yours. You are having conflict with in your the kurushetra war is happening with in you and you should stand up and do the fighting to reach your goals

Like (1)

Kalyan Kumar Sandilya

09 Dec, 2014

Biggest stumbling block :1) inner critic's disregard against my choice of subject. 2) picking up of right word at the right moment with respect to a right context. thanks for your writing tips when any one feels blocks in mind.


09 Dec, 2014



09 Dec, 2014

Worse than the so called "Writer's block" is the editing part... where what flowed through your finger tips, seems total trash !! Overcoming that is worse than not being able to "start writing". My remedy to both is soothing music - oldies.. Love Murali


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