Like most people, I like being productive. I like knowing that my limited time on this earth is being spent making the most of myself. That could be learning a new skill that interests me (like VFX), teaching underprivileged youth basic computer science and computer literacy, or even sleeping. As long as it’s helping me or others, I consider it to be productive.
The problem with productivity is that it’s often hard. Everyone knows the guilty feeling that comes with procrastination, when you know you should be doing something productive but instead you scroll through r/me_irl looking at memes. And sometimes, even when your mind wants to be productive, your body feels otherwise. You feel fatigued. Even with all the right habits, the perfect diet, and the gift of full mental health, being productive is going to be hard.
That’s where many people, including myself, turn to advice from others.
“If you struggle with procrastination, try the Pomodoro technique. If you aren’t confident in your ability to truly understand a subject, try the Feynman technique. If you easily get distracted, install a website-blocking extension in Chrome and move your phone to a different room. If you struggle with willpower and motivation, read some self-help books.”
This is advice you’ll find in countless WikiHow articles and Quora answers, but I want to share one piece of advice that doesn’t come up as often.
Just do the damn work. I love tricks and techniques as much as anyone else, and if they work for you, great! But I’ve found they don’t always work for me. At a certain point, you have to forget about the advice of others and just get started working. You need to get yourself out of the mindset of over-thinking everything. No more “Am I studying this in the most effective way possible?” or “Is the work I’m doing beneficial for me or others?” The only person who can motivate you to do your best is yourself.
This might sound like ignorance, but it’s really not. Rather than always try to follow the advice of others, you need to figure out what truly motivates you. For me, that’s imagining myself reaching my goals because of the work I’m doing. I also like to realize how much easier I have it than others. It’s much easier to study genuinely interesting material in a air-conditioned library than it is to risk your life fighting wars in less-than-ideal conditions. If those brave men and women can fight for our country, then I can write a term paper on cultural anthropology, despite my disinterest in the subject.
This has been kind of a ramble, but the most important point I want to get across is that the advice of others isn’t always the solution to your resistance of hard work. I love doing Pomodoros as much as anyone else, but sometimes thinking “just 20 minutes of work” isn’t even enough to motivate me. Sometimes I feel tired for no particular reason, and times like that are the most difficult. But in the end, the only way that I’ll feel successful is if I stop over-thinking about everything and just do the damn work.