This year has been a bit of a landmark year for me. I have completed the first year of my PhD, my family has grown, despite nature’s attempts to thwart us, and I have lost 10% of my body weight and I’m feeling like I can actually accomplish things. I wanted to reveal the secrets behind my “success”:

There are no secrets to success. Just a recipe. Hard work, consistency, and perseverance in the face of adversity.

So what about productivity – what is it, how do you get it, how do you do more of it?

Firstly, don’t expect it to happen just like that, it doesn’t work that way. You need to have set yourself goals and understand what the next steps are to achieve that goal. You need to be determined to reach your goal. Without this understanding, you won’t be motivated and you won’t get it done.

Before you get productive, you need to have a good hard talk with yourself about what you want to accomplish, and how you’re not going to let anything get in your way. You need to be absolutely convinced and determined in your mind that you will complete your goals.

For six weeks before we went to visit my wife’s parents in August, I woke up every day at 4am and wrote up my PhD. If you add it up, which I hadn’t before, that’s 6 weeks times 7 days times x 2 hours is 84 hours work, or about two work weeks.

Consistency is key. I had to do it every day, including weekends, or if I didn’t my whole week would be out of whack.

What did this look like at the ground level? Well firstly it means having a clear and current list of your next actions. If you follow the GTD process, then you’ll be used to this. But if you aren’t clear on what you’re going to be doing that morning, then you won’t get up. Even if you do, you’ll waste time trying to decide what to do. I recommend being very clear on what your goals are for the morning after before you go to bed.

Have a routine. Mine was wake up at 4am, dress, switch on laptop, open curtains, put coffee on, VPN in, open necessary files, get coffee, work. Until at least 6am, then I could have another coffee.

Be careful not to fall in to any “productivity hack” traps. Don’t think an app or a technique will make you better. Don’t think that finding the perfect playlist will make you work harder. Having YouTube open will distract you rather than soothe you. I used to have many, many devices. If I had wanted to, I could have switched on my Mac, my laptop, my iPad, my eeebook, my iPhone. The one time I tried it I wasted a lot of time on all of them without actually focusing on a single task. Now I try to achieve as much as I can with as few devices as possible. I didn’t renew my iPhone as it wasn’t making me more productive, just being a distraction.

Know your capacity: there’s only so much you can do, on any time scale. You can get better at something, but only with practice and practice takes time.

When we got back from visiting my in-laws, I had to restart again as I had lost momentum. I had lots of distractions that I had let happen when I was abroad. When this happens, pick yourself up and start again slowly. Get back into the routine. Freshen it up if necessary. Cheat if you need to.

Finally, the most important thing: get rid of distractions. Don’t open your email. Don’t look at your phone. They only have messages of other people’s goals. Don’t listen to music. Don’t watch tv. Head down, get it done.


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