It was a day of legend. I fixed all the bugs. I closed all the tickets. Everything was easy and straightforward. My fingers flew across the keyboard, converting chaos into beautiful creations. Everyone was amazed. The air conditioner turned on and money rained down from the air vent. The doorbell rang. It was a donut delivery person with a dozen red velvet cake donuts. A gourmet gelato truck stopped in front of the building and gave free gelato to everyone.
Ding. A message from a coworker. Whoa, 15 unread messages. Huh. Adam is asking about ticket #1345. Didn’t I already fix that today, to much rapturous applause?
Right. I’ve been starting at the screen in a Water Mitty style daydream. There is no gelato. There are no donuts.
The air conditioner is not raining money.
I’ve tried everything to boost my productivity and nothing is working.
I’ve tried eating donuts.
I’ve tried eating ice cream.
I’ve tried eating chips and salsa.
I’ve tried complaining to coworkers or friends about how what I’m working on is wrong and if the company only did X it’d solve all problems and I’d find it magically easy to work.
I’ve tried listening to podcasts, audio books, or TV shows. This may work for some people1, but it doesn’t work for me.
Falling asleep with my head on the desk surprisingly doesn’t help with productivity.
Email, Twitter, Facebook, RSS, telegraphs, faxes, checking bank accounts, paying bills, upgrading servers, upgrading libraries, upgrading software on every computer I own, organizing photos, ripping DVDs, reading books, cleaning my desk, cleaning the monitor, vacuuming the house, more ice cream, better go wash the ice cream bowl, I’m cold I better put on socks, oh I better shower before I put socks on, time for lunch, dang I have too many tabs open I better clean those up, oh man check out this article I left open in a tab months ago, oops I should brush my teeth today, oh crap I have 2 hours left I better do all the things, but first I’m going to refactor this ugly method over here.
I’ve tried a lot of things to motivate myself at work over the years (the above is not an exhaustive list). Of all the things I’ve tried I’ve only discovered one reliable method.
Here’s my method in all its brilliant and simple glory:
Have a very small starting point.
Having a small starting point keeps me from becoming overwhelmed. It means I can get started without having to load too much contextual information into active brain memory. Once I have the small start it’s easy to move on and do more.
It also helps a great deal to accept that I sometimes procrastinate. There are days where I check Twitter an awful lot. That’s okay. No guilt. I’ll eventually find my small starting point and go nuts from there.
I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over productivity and motivation, but at the end of the day none of the fancy stuff has ever mattered.
- I don’t actually believe them, but I had to try it. ↩