Having a Routine
Some people feel that having a routine is the best way to maximize their daily schedule. But the assertion that Mark holds to is that while routines are great for getting the small things taken care of, they don't always work for everyone all the time. As he says:
The problem with routines is when we stick with them for the sake of having a routine and they run counter to our natural rhythms. The time of day plays a big part in how our minds work. Some studies of parole boards found that a prisoner is twice as likely to get parole if the board reviews the case within an hour after lunch. So not only does time of day impact our cognitive abilities, it appears to play a very large part in our view of the world.
The important lesson here is that each of has some very specific physical and psychological motivations. Understand those motivations then use the knowledge to create more value in the work that you do.
Procrastination has been the downfall of many good intentions over the course of history. Speaking personally, it's a demon that's been pushing me up against deadlines for years.
Mark's philosophy is that there are two types of procrastination, the difference being whether you put off your intended work activity by doing something more or less valuable. Consider an example drawn from a Productivity501 article entitled, "When Procrastination is a Good Thing":
If instead of writing this post, I start fiddling around on the Internet and spend a mindless hour on social sites or reading jokes, that is probably a bad thing. This post is more valuable to me than an hour wasted on the Internet. However, if I decided I don’t really want to write this post and instead decide that it is nice enough outside that I should take my kids to the park for an hour, that really isn’t a negative thing. Maybe I came up with the idea as a form of procrastination to put off writing this post, but my procrastinating activity is something more valuable than the activity I’m putting off.
The takeaway is that it's ok to put something off as long as you continue to create value through your 'distraction'. It's only when you redirect your energies towards something that creates no value that procrastination can be truly crippling.
Of course for those of us who still have issues redirecting our focus on to value laden alternatives then you might need to take a more systematic approach. Mark's solution:
List specifically the steps you need to do, a, b, c, d. Then you follow that recipe and update it if you can find a way to make it better. This helps for tasks where you procrastinate simply because it is mentally exhausting to just figure out what needs to be done, so it is easier just to not think about it. Solve the "what needs to be done" problem once and for all and then see if it is easier avoid procrastination.
Essentially, if you can outline these small steps, then start knocking them off one by one you'll create momentum towards completion (inertia is what Mark calls it) and being able to see the steps necessary to reach the end game should keep you driving forward until you reach your goal.
As a general rule I hold that many men (myself included) have far more productivity inside of them than they realize, it's just a matter of figuring out a path that allows them to access that.
But keep in mind that not every person is the same. Take account of your strengths and weaknesses and tailor a productivity strategy that works for you. If you know you do your most productive work in the morning then schedule your hardest / most important work for that time frame. If you're a night owl who focuses best in the evenings, build around that.
In the end remember that it's not the amount of work you get that done that matters. It's the value you create that ultimately tells the story of how productive you've been.
Next Page: The tl;dr Cliff Notes