In today’s world and society; we all want to learn how to be more productive in life.
I know for myself personally, I used to think that sloth and laziness was one of the biggest sins. I learned this because of my father– who practically never had a job since I was 2 years old, and I had to see how hard my mom had to hustle, working 6-7 days a week, for 10-12 hours a day. She is where I learned my hard work ethic– and knowing that nothing in life is given to you on a silver platter.
1. What makes a ‘good life’?
Now I know in life, there is a problem with over-working, with over-stressing; and worrying too much about money, finances, and checking your email.
I don’t want this to be another ‘productivity porn’ type of article. Rather, I want to share some of my personal thoughts and experiences on ‘productivity’ — and how this can be tied in living the ‘good life.’
For me, the ‘good life’ is doing creative work that makes our soul sing. That helps us feel alive, and connected with the history of other artists.
The good life is not feeling hurried. It is feeling grateful. It is about feeling elated. It is about having freedom to do creative work.
Above all, I think it is about not having fear to do creative work. And not having fear to share that work.
So I think one of the best ways to conquer fear in art is to publish more. To be more productive. And that is what I will share with you.
2. What is productive isn’t always effective
Seneca once said that our over-obsession with industry (work) is the sign of a ‘hunted mind.’ He said this 2,000 years ago — in the days of ancient Rome.
Humans have always stressed about money, figuring out how to feed themselves, and worrying about the day (and tomorrow).
I think a lot of us worry too much about work, because we are afraid of going broke, going homeless, and dying. The fear of death is what makes us all a slave to over-work.
I know for myself, I used to be too obsessed with work, because I thought that being busy meant that you were happy.
But in reality; the important thing was to figure out — what was the most effective use of my time, not the most “efficient” use of my time.
Effective use of my time means: how can I best use my day (today), to be the most valuable to the largest number of people? For me, that means blogging, making videos, or creating/improving on information.
An “efficient” use of my time means that I get a lot of stuff done — which isn’t always important or effective. I can answer a bunch of emails, order things on Amazon, and text message my friends very ‘efficiently’ — but it isn’t necessarily ‘effective’ in my life.
3. What should I cut or subtract from my life?
I also know for myself; I’ve found the best way to be more ‘productive’ on the important things in life (the effective things in life) is knowing what to cut out. Knowing what to subtract is the first step to productivity mastery.
For example, I thought a long time about what was the most important work to me. It included writing, thinking, reading, blogging, recording videos, teaching, spending time with loved ones, and counting my blessings. Everything else came secondary.
Therefore, here are some things I’ve started to subtract from my diet:
- Smartphone (I keep my phone off by default, because I am easily distracted)
- Managing my finances
- Social media
- Caring what others are saying about me or what others think of me
I’ve found the best way to be productive and to do more effective things in life, is to figure out what to subtract or remove from life.
So for example, I know that I am easily distracted. I am like a pigeon that whenever I see something shiny, I instantly get distracted. I had to figure out ways how I could prevent myself from getting distracted. Some things I have done in the past:
- Disable my wifi (using the ‘Freedom’ app, to turn off my wifi at 3-5 hours at a time)
- Using website blockers to block distracting social media websites/blogs/etc.
- Uninstalling all social media apps/email from my phone
- Turning my phone off whenever possible
I’ve found that once I was able to remove most of my biggest distractions in life, ‘focusing’ and being ‘productive’ was quite easy. I had nothing better to do— so I have been a lot more productive blogging and creating, rather than consuming superfluous junk-food style information on the internet.
4. I will die tonight
If today were your last day on earth, what would you work on today? What kind of work is truly meaningful or important to you?
For me, I want to help people find more happiness in life. I want to help photographers build more courage in their photography. I want to help photographers to find more personal meaning in their lives, through photography. I want photographers to worry less about their gear; and more about making photos. I want to help others become the best versions of themselves. I want to help others become as ‘self-actualized’ as possible.
Therefore, I treat each day like it were my last. This helps me focus on working on what is really important. This is what will help convince me to write an article on capturing souls in photography, rather than wasting a full day doing a camera review (which will be outdated soon).
It gives me an elated, calm, sense of focus. To treat today like it were my last. To not waste a minute of it. To be grateful for every moment, and every hour, that lies in my hand.
That means, I’m all about counting my blessings in life— rather than thinking about what I don’t have. Because what is the point for me wishing to have more money, a fancy car, and a bunch of expensive stuff — when today might be my last day? After all, I don’t know if I will get hit by a drunk driver today, or whether I will die from some unknown food allergy.
And I know this sounds a bit dramatic; but it is true — we never know when we will die. And death is the only thing guaranteed in our life.
I’ve had friends who died from drunk drivers running red lights. I knew people who died at age 50 from rare forms of cancer. I personally have had a few close encounters with death— once when I almost got hit by an incoming truck (I was on the wrong side of the freeway), and more recently when I ate some cashews, had an allergic reaction in which I felt 80% of my throat swell up, and I couldn’t breathe. At the moment close to death— all I could think about was my love for Cindy (nothing about my personal work, nothing about money, or nothing about my legacy).
So in a funny sense, to be more ‘productive’ in life is to do more things that are related to showing love to Cindy. And after Cindy, the most important thing in my life is my creative work. Everything else isn’t so important, perhaps besides a few close friends and family.
5. When in doubt, drink more coffee
I am addicted to coffee. It is probably the best ‘productivity’ drug out there. I stick to espressos, because contrary to popular belief— espresso has less caffeine than traditional drip coffee. Which means I can drink an espresso in the morning, another before going to the coffee shop, another espresso at the coffee shop, and a second espresso at the coffee shop, before eating dinner.
Coffee is great because it is also an appetite suppressant. Which means, I don’t need to waste time eating breakfast or lunch. I usually fast all day until dinner time. Of course, I cheat every once in a while.
I also find myself being able to focus more with caffeine, and I find coffee shops/cafes being the best place for me to do work. I dislike working at home, I prefer the natural light of the coffee shop, the hustle and bustle of the other patrons, and the feeling of being outside my apartment.
6. Listen to instrumentals on loop
I also feel music is a good way to be more productive and to focus. For me, I find music without lyrics a good way to block out distracting noises outside, and I usually have headphones on when I work. I like hip hop instrumental beats that pump me up, and help me get ‘in the zone.’
7. Deadlift whenever possible
When I’m working, I usually get burnt out at about 3-4pm. Then I usually use that time to go to the gym, do some deadlifts, squats, pull-ups, or I just do pushups or dips at the coffee shop.
I find that by getting my blood flowing, I am able to get a ‘second wind’ and have more energy to get more work done.
8. When in doubt, hit publish
Another big suggestion I have when it comes to productivity and creative work — learn how to hit publish.
That means, know that everything is a work in progress. If you want to be more prolific, publish works-in-progress. The great thing about most digital/internet creative work is that we can always go back and re-edit things later.
I am not a perfectionist. And thank God I’m not. Because I feel like I can thrive more, just getting my work 80% ‘good enough’ and hitting publish. Some of my most popular blog posts were written on my phone (or perhaps ‘texted’ on my phone), while I was on the bus. There is never an ideal time to do creative work. And there is never an ideal time to publish.
Each time I hit publish on blog posts, photos, or videos — I feel like I’m taking a step closer to the truth. A step closer to self-enlightenment. A step up to the next level.
I think of video games— when you have to kill a bunch of monsters and ‘grind’ to get experience points, and to level up.
I feel as artists, we also need to gain those experience points to level up. To gain experience points means to spend more time studying creative work, to create more creative work, and to publish more creative work.
I know a lot of people are into the ‘quantified self’ movement — if that works for you, go for it. I know my partner Cindy has ‘Gamified the Academy’ and used a free app on the phone called ‘Habitica’ to ‘level-up’ her character, whenever she did productive things in her day. And she would subtract hit points when she would get distracted, or do something she didn’t want to do.
9. Goals are overrated
I used to think that setting goals was a good thing. Not anymore.
I used to have a problem finding inspiration to write. I read all this stuff on writing 1,000 words a day and the such. But that didn’t help motivate me to write more. The only thing that helped me write more was to have less fear. For me, ‘writer’s block’ was not writer’s block. It was just having fear to publish.
I think the problem with goals is that we often focus on the wrong goals. What does 1,000 words a day mean in terms of your personal progress as a writer? You can just copy and paste meaningless text from the web and create 1,000 words. Even with haiku poetry, the most sublime words can come from just 3 lines of text.
In photography, taking a photo everyday won’t make you a better photographer. Because what if you just photograph your cappuccino everyday? I recommend instead, only photograph what is personally meaningful to you. This is a better ‘goal’ to have in your photography/art.
The problem with goals is that it is often metric-number driven. I think the best way to guide your creative process is to trust your gut. To think about how you feel about your daily progress.
Therefore for me, I no longer set goals. Rather, I just think to myself:
Either I do it, or don’t do it.
There is no but’s. I also try not to share my ideas with other people anymore. I would rather just do whatever my idea is, hit publish, and then share it with others. Whenever I have an idea and I share it with someone else, I usually end up never doing it. I heard something like, “If you share your ideas with other people, your brain tricks itself into thinking that it already did it.”
So if you want to be more productive, just do it. You don’t need the opinion or advice of someone else to do creative work.
10. Just do it 80% ‘good enough’
In life, there are generally ‘satisficers’ (mix of the word satisfy and suffice) and ‘maximizers’. Satisficers do things 80% “good enough” and move on. Maximizers are perfectionists, and try to get things 100% perfect.
Generally satisficers are a lot happier in life, and also more productive. Maximizers are generally ‘idea’ people, and never get anything done, because their obsession with perfection prevents them from finishing anything.
I know for myself, the more I ‘satisfice’ in the small details of my life (what clothes to wear, what coffee to drink, what food to eat, etc) I can focus on the more important things in life — like my creative work, and time with my loved ones.
Also I feel that if you’re an artist that has a hard time producing work, creating, and being productive— it is probably because you are a maximizer.
I think perfection doesn’t exist; certainly not in art. There will always be flaws. And it is often the flaws that make a work of art have soul, meaning, and character.
I like sculptures that have chips in them. I like paintings that are a bit faded. I like photos that are off-center, or not perfectly straight. They feel more genuine and real.
So produce more, create more, and publish more. Just get it about 80% “good enough” and hit publish.
11. Guard your time, attention, and energy fiercely
I feel the most important things in our life include:
These are the three ultimate non-renewable resources that we are given in life.
- We can never gain more time once we lose it.
- We can never re-gain our attention once we lose it.
- We can never re-gain our energy once we lose it.
We lose our time from pointless meetings, or ‘networking’ events.
We lose our attention by mindlessly browsing social media and blogs.
We lose our energy by doing work that doesn’t make our heart sing— like answering emails, or other logistical work.
That means learning how to say ‘no’ or just ignoring other people. I know it is hard; I’m the ultimate people pleaser. I used to let everyone take my time, attention, and energy from me. Because I wanted to be helpful.
But I’ve realized that I can be more helpful to a larger group of people through the creative work I do in photography, blogging, and teaching. So I prioritize that over everything else. So I’ve learned to say ‘no’ (nicely), to ignore matters, or to just let things slide. I will always prioritize time, attention, and energy to do creative work — never for anything related to business or money. Because if I do my creative work passionately, the money will follow. If I only chase the money; where will the creative work come from?
12. Allow yourself to get bored
I have a new productivity hack — it is called ‘boredom.’
I have a fear of boredom. That is what causes me to be always on my laptop, listening to something, reading something, or on my phone.
But as of late; I’m trying to allow myself to get bored more often. And that has helped spark so many creative ideas, which I often put into work.
For example, when I’m burnt out from working, I just lie down on the couch, take off my glasses, and just close my eyes. I can’t fall asleep (too caffeinated), but all these creative ideas start to swirl around in my head, and marinate into my mind. I usually rest for about 10-20 minutes, and when I get up, I feel refreshed; and ready to do more creative work.
I am so glad I do that rather than just checking social media, mindlessly. Because the mind needs time to relax, in order to be more productive and creative.
You don’t always want the mind to be active. That is like constantly forcing fruit from a tree. You need to let the tree re-gain nutrients from the ground.
Or you can think of ‘crop rotation’ — you need to change the types of trees you plant in a certain plot of land; not to drain all the minerals.
I also find that going for a walk helps. Whenever I walk, I get creative ideas. I also usually walk with my camera, which allows me to make photos that delight my soul.
So the next time you’re bored waiting in line at the store, waiting for your partner to come from the bathroom at the restaurant, or at home with nothing to do — embrace the boredom. It will help you bounce back with more creative zest.
I mentioned this a bit earlier; but I’m convinced that I get more creative and productive work done when I’m fasting.
When I’m physically hungry, my mind is sharper. I work harder. I have less fatigue.
After I have a meal, I get tired, lazy, and want to take a nap.
I’ve started to embrace just eating one meal a day, and while it was tough at first, it becomes pleasant over time. Because you can do more creative work, with less fatigue, and you end up losing body fat, you feel more vigorous, and you feel more alive.
Nowadays I feel like a feral, wild lion — instead of a lion locked inside a golden cage. A lion becomes soft and tame when it is fed too often. Even hawks— the way to keep them sharp is to keep them always a little hungry. Humans are animals too — I think we should treat ourselves the same.
I like to study the ancient Spartan sayings from Plutarch, in order to motivate myself to fast more. I have also found spiritual benefits to fasting— more appreciation for food, and feeling more connected to all the starving people in the world. Most religions have mandatory fasting; and during Ramadan, Muslims fast for 24 hours (no food and water). It makes them tough, stronger, and more grateful. Why can’t I do the same?
Of course, I fall off the horse every once in a while. But when I do, I always try to ‘bounce back.’
14. The work is the reward
To stay motivated and productive in life; you need to not become disappointed from the fruit of your labor.
For example, let’s say you work really hard on an essay, publish it, and it doesn’t go viral. Or you work really hard on a photo project (or just one photo) and you share it and it only gets a few likes.
Don’t get disappointed.
The only thing that God grants us the ability to do our work. There is no ‘reward’ from our creative work that is guaranteed.
So for me, I know the reward of doing creative work, is the ability to do the creative work.
To explain better, when I write a blog post, the joy isn’t from getting a lot of page views, or shares on social media — it is having the privilege of actually writing it. And frankly speaking, I gain more joy through the process of writing, rather than after it is done.
Same in photography — the process of making photos is far more enjoyable than looking at them afterwards.
So don’t let your creative work be measured by some external barometer. Don’t judge your creative work and productivity by how many page views, likes, comments, shares, your word count, or how much money you earn.
15. Be a more productive artist
Be like Picasso who painted thousands of paintings before he died. The same with Andy Warhol. Only a few works are remembered, but the joy and pleasure is having the privilege to do the work.
And of course, being ‘productive’ in photography, art, life, business, whatever is a bit overrated. What I think we all want to find is more meaning, purpose, tranquility, happiness, and zen in our lives.
I know for myself, I just try to make a little forward progress each day. To add just 2.5 pounds to my deadlift each week. To write a little more, take a few more photos, and to find more gratitude in my life.
Whatever your creative pursuit is in life friend— I believe in you.
Hustle hard; nothing good in life is given free.
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