Founder Diary

November 16, 2021

What productivity habits are really about

What productivity habits are really about

Productivity habits aren't about getting more done. They're about staying and getting back on track.

A focused hamster dividing his food among three piles
A focused hamster dividing his food among three piles
A focused hamster dividing his food among three piles
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

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In my previous post, we talked about how productivity is defined by progress and how, for this framework to work, progress, no matter how small, must be consistent.

This is where habits come in.

The sentiment toward habits and productivity rarely goes deeper than "good habits are good, bad habits are bad, so maybe let's try to keep and build the good ones and toss out the bad.” I believe that when it comes to building useful habits, just as in any other endeavour, you have to start with the end in mind. You don't need all good habits for your project to succeed, but you do need to settle on what benefits you actually want. This will help you focus on routines that can lead you to desired outcomes.

When we set goals, we define the change we want to make. When we deconstruct them, we show ourselves the path, and we lay out how our goals can be achieved.

The next step is to make progress, ideally a lot of it. Now this doesn’t mean to rush. Large projects are marathons, and you can't win them by sprinting. My suggestion is to look for habits that help preserve your "productivity stamina," i.e. consistency of progress versus its intensity.

Below are some non-obvious benefits that come from developing productivity stamina.

  • Reduce or eliminate internal dialogue. Do you ever find yourself having to talk yourself into doing most tasks? It’s pretty common, especially if what you’re doing feels like hard work. Habits help you cut this part to a minimum. For example, when you start working at 11 am on weekdays just because you've always done it that way, there's no need to weigh pros and cons each time. It’s simply how you roll, so what's there to discuss?

  • Save decision-making capacity. Our ability to make high-quality decisions is limited and requires substantial brain bandwidth. Decision fatigue limits our ability to make good calls. If opening a blank doc involves more willpower, than “habit power”, your effectiveness at finding solutions diminishes. Habits, like using a simple template in this example, help you eliminate the number of hard choices you need to make daily and free up your energy to deliberate what really matters. That's precisely why Jeff Bezos says his goal is just three good decisions a day.

  • Make passion optional. Arguably, the "pursue your passion" sentiment is overblown. Passion represents an intense, burning desire for action that only gets you so far. It's often about a particular moment, and it can burn out. It doesn't help much when it comes to parts of the job you’re less enthusiastic about, and there are invariably a few of those. On top of that, we often perform badly when starting something new. That's the way life works. So when passion evaporates and you just "don't feel like doing it," showing up regardless is what gets you through. Having strong habits on your side virtually ensures your project won't die when "the fire within" gets temporarily snuffed out. I regularly get disillusioned with pressing small square buttons on a rectangular piece of hardware, but I still keep writing these posts because I know it’s a habit that will make a difference both for me and my readers.

  • Help reduce uncertainty. Major new projects are inherently uncertain. Outcomes vary wildly. Habit-driven consistency raises the odds of success because the best way to fight uncertainty is to take action. By making sure action (however small) is taken regularly, you chip away at the fear of the unknown. Let’s say you’re writing a book. Even if you write, say, just 200-300 words a day, before you know it you’ll have made massive progress.

Essentially, these are all about your ability to stay and, and even more importantly, get back on track. This kind of stamina is an underrated skill that can be learned and improved, and habits are your best tool to support it. If you’re churning out great work, but eventually abandon the project because you lost steam, your effort has been for nothing… and that’s kind of the definition of “unproductive”.

But make no mistake, dumping projects that no longer make sense or turn out unable to deliver the change you seek IS perfectly fine. “Never give up” is advice you should take with a grain of salt, too. The point is your project will hit roadblocks. Everyone’s does. Without meaningful habits to cement your productivity structure, one misstep is often all it takes for the whole project to unravel. Habits act as a failsafe for when things just don't go the way you want. Building habits that give you the above benefits will help you win most of your marathons, no matter how ugly the road gets.

Next time, let's talk about how to treat habits for what they are: a means to an end.

Thanks for reading!

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