- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

Nine Tips to Stay Productive in a Spontaneous Life

You don’t need to be a robot to be productive. You can make spontaneous decisions and pursue new opportunities without sacrificing your work ethic. I’d like to argue that having more fun outside your work can actually lead to more work being done.

Combining varied activities while structuring your life for maximum engagement is the key to get more done while offering more time for fun.

Productive Partying

I learned the lesson that spontaneity and productivity aren’t opposites at University. My high school career had been ordered and disciplined. It was during this time I managed to cut out television, reduce internet usage and wake up earlier to hopefully carve out a bigger slice of the time to be productive.

This approach worked, or at least I thought it did. When I went to University, I decided to take a different tact. Focus on new experiences and less on work. The result? My life was completely different. One day I might be waking up at 6 am and another sleeping in after a spontaneous decision to see a concert until 4 am.

What happened to my productivity? The surprising answer, not much. I still managed to write an e-book, publish about five articles a week, complete about a dozen speaking projects through Toastmasters and double the traffic of this blog.

Time Management’s Dirty Secret

Time management doesn’t work. At a minor level it may appear to. Switching a few hours here and there can get more done. But at a larger level, the more you try to force yourself to become a human factory, the more it fights against you.

Energy management isn’t the complete answer, either. Simply taking time out of your day to relax or rest after work doesn’t make you more productive.

Instead of complex management principles, I’ve found the key really lies in combining varied activities along with complete engagement in them.

Combining Activities

Energy management isn’t complete. You don’t have an internal battery that can be drained and recharged. A better metaphor is to say you have many muscles, each can be strained and rested. When you are working on a project you are using different muscles than when you are socializing with friends.

This means that if you put in varied activities, that use different muscles, you can stay engaged in your tasks. The truth is that sometimes the best way to relax one group of muscles is to stress a completely different group. Work and fun isn’t a balance then, but a synergy. Getting the right mixture of fun and work results in more productivity than completely working.

Complete Engagement

Mixing fun and work isn’t enough. We all know people who struggle to get their work done because they spend too much time partying, relaxing and socializing. My findings have been that the lack of productivity isn’t a result of their other activities, but a lack of engagement in their work.

Work needs to be as engaging as fun activities. If you aren’t passionate about the work you are doing, then time spent having fun will easily overwhelm it. Engagement in work really comes from only two things:

  1. You like what you’re doing.
  2. You find it meaningful.

I enjoy writing. I also enjoy learning new things at University and I enjoyed working on many of the essays and projects I had to tackle. I found the challenge itself to be interesting. That is the first key to engagement, to actually enjoy the task you are working on.

The second is that you have to find the work meaningful. Every project and piece of work I did, I first became aware of why I was doing it. If I couldn’t satisfactorily answer that question I didn’t bother.

Varied Activities and Engagement Creates Energy

By utilizing different “muscles” as part of my schedule and having a high engagement in my work I got far more done even though I spent less time working and more time having fun. This is the kind of thinking espoused in the 4-Hour Workweek [1], where you focus on engagement and a varied lifestyle to do more.

But how do you actually do it?

This philosophy of getting more done by focusing on work less is harder to implement. How do you know it will work and you won’t just end up wasting your time? Here are some practical suggestions for injecting productivity into a spontaneous life:

  1. Know Thy Results – Keep track of how much you are actually getting done. It’s easy to feel guilty for having a lot of fun if you also have work that needs to be done. Proving to yourself that this new method actually is more productive will keep you objective. Know your current output and then track your future output.
  2. Sign Up for New Experiences – This formula can easily become a recipe for laziness. Instead, sign up for new experiences. Take new classes, join new organizations, find new challenges. This will mean that even if spontaneous opportunities don’t come, you still have a varied schedule.
  3. Know the Motivation – I have a personal rule that says if I don’t know the motivation for doing something I don’t do it. Although sometimes the motivation will be escaping punishment (finishing an assignment to pass my class) that is a weak motivation. Try to find better ones. Finding a higher purpose in what you do is the key to engagement.
  4. Realize the Law of Diminishing Returns – Each hour of work contributes a lower degree of productivity. Working one hour a day has a very high rate of productivity for that hour. Working eight is much less. Working fifteen may be even less than eight. Utilize this principle to sit on the maximum while investing your leftover time in other activities.
  5. Use Daily Goals – Writing down my goals for each day helps me balance opportunities with work. If I’ve finished most of my goals, I’ll be willing to take up new activities. If I still have a lot of work to do, I focus on that first.
  6. Work First – Pick out one or two elements of your work that are extremely important. Those elements must be complete before any other activities get in the mix. Once you complete those few tasks, divide up the rest of your time between extra work, varied activities and new opportunities.
  7. Watch Your Muscles – Pay attention to which of your muscles are drained and which are in need of a good workout. Are your social muscles exerted or in need of exercise? What about your creativity muscles, work muscles or learning muscles? Use this as a basis for making changes in activities to stay engaged.
  8. Get Your Priorities Straight – Figure out what your priorities are. This will be your standard for judging spontaneous decisions. Does the new opportunity fit into my existing priorities? If you are focused on wealth, that will give you different decisions than if you are focusing on adventure, relationships or health.
  9. Kill Boredom – Boredom is the enemy. It lacks both productivity and fun so it is the biggest evil you will face in your day. Every moment that you aren’t resting needs to be completely engaged in something. Whether you spend your boredom time seeking an adventure or finishing work depends entirely on your daily goals and which muscles you need to rest.