You would think that the people who are most into advanced productivity ideas and systems would be the most productive people who, having mastered the basics, are looking for ways to eke out even more performance. In my experience, though, the people looking for “five weird productivity hacks” are usually the ones who think they’re too good for the basics.
The most productive people I know are people who absolutely master the basics. They know how to fill the time in the day with the most important tasks they have, and they know how to string those days together in such a way that they’re making meaningful progress.
The most important basic skill to master, without a doubt, is consistency. I’ve seen this in my own life, in my friends’ lives, and in all of my coaching clients paths. Those who are able to be consistent end up with huge success, very often much greater success than they expected or even hoped for.
People in finance say that people aren’t able to comprehend the benefits of compounding interest over time. Consistency in productivity creates compound benefits which people are similarly not able to comprehend. Your starting point doesn’t matter, because you can quickly scale up to your capacity once you have a history and habit of consistency.
Let’s say you wanted to write a book. Maybe you’d tried and failed before. If you commit to writing for thirty minutes every day for a month, you’ll write at least 10 to 15 thousand words. Not bad. Then the next month you up your quota to just one hour. Now you have a cumulative 30 to 45 thousand words. Not quite a book yet, but you’re a month away.
And how easy does that process sound? Anyone can do half an hour a day. Anyone who has done a half hour a day for a month can do an hour a day. And anyone who has done an hour a day can do another month.
That doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a book. Maybe you need a lot of editing or the idea you had didn’t play out as well as you hoped it would. But the truth remains that you are now pumping out 20 to 30 thousand words per month in your spare time and you’re doing it with confidence and consistency. It just gets easier and easier. Work on some auxiliary skills and you’ve got a book.
This is how I ran 10 miles. A friend bet I couldn’t and I barely did a mile the first time I ran. So I just made a rule that every week I had to force myself to run one extra mile. If it was hard I’d do one extra run during the week. I ran the ten miles without any problem despite never having run any distance before.
The amazing thing about consistency is that once you are consistent on one thing, you can fairly have a lot more confidence that you’ll be consistent on the next thing. Being consistent is just a skill, albeit an incredibly powerful one.
Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to matter what you choose to be consistent on or how easy or difficult it is. I’ve experimented a lot with this, and even the easiest tasks lead to a positive spiral of consistency. I’ve found that as soon as I get a coaching client to be consistent with any tasks relevant to their lives, they will generally remain consistent forever, with a few variances here and there.
Do productivity hacks and all that if it’s fun for you, but make sure you have the basics down first. Set a goal, figure out a daily habit that will guarantee progress, and then just set yourself at it with relentless consistency.
Photo is me and a manta ray off the coast of Kona! After two failed attempts, my friends and I finally found manta rays at night without a guide.