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Productivity Nirvana: Bet to Win


This is a guest post from Ben Rubin of Change Collective. They build mobile lifestyle courses that pair expert content with a live coach to help you follow through. Their Inbox Zero course with Ari Meisel comes with a 1-on-1 coach to help you master your productivity systems (including FollowUp!) – start a free trial today.

Have you ever experienced a moment of productivity nirvana? That magic moment when everything comes together and you achieve more in a few hours than you normally do in a week? We thrive on these rare moment of flow. And then… the moment is over. And we struggle on with the daily reality of distraction, limited willpower, and busy work.

Most people *know* how to crank productivity to 11. Getting Things Done, Inbox Zero, Covey’s Quadrants, Eat That Frog, setting FollowUps on emails. We each end up with a unique system, and it works just fine *if* we can follow it.

Most of us know how to be productive. We just don’t do it. Just as we *know* we should head to the gym (but watch TV instead), it’s hard to follow through on our productivity systems.

Why? And what can we do about our reluctance to follow through on our best intentions?

Where Does ‘Motivation’ Come From

It turns out motivation is less intrinsic (you are not a “motivated” or “unmotivated” person) and more a product of whatever environment you’re in. The entire group exercise market (yoga, Crossfit, Zumba) is based on this concept. If you can just get yourself to class, you are near guaranteed to get in a great workout.

This applies to our productivity as well. It’s easier to change our environment than to fight for motivation 24/7.

We Hate Losing (More than We Like Winning)

I’ve recently been using a cheap trick to change my environment and force myself into extreme productivity. It’s called the bet/switch mechanism, and it’s based on the fact that we’ll work harder to avoid losing money than we otherwise would to win.

Have you ever noticed just how much work gets done right before a true deadline? Think back to your college days. Ever have a term paper you picked away at for months magically come together the night before it’s due? These moments show us what we are capable of.

But in the complicated professional world we can’t always count on externally imposed deadlines. How can we create urgency on tasks that we know are worth doing? Or said differently, how can we create a different environment?

Enter the bet. It’s human to dislike losing money. If you stood to lose $10, you might think twice before flaking on that sales report you promised. If you stood to lose $1,000, you might skip your best friend’s wedding to write it.

Let’s explore some bets that I’ve constructed to force myself past ‘motivation’ and into productivity.

Productivity Bets

There are a handful of productivity techniques that I know work for me. But so often they go unused. Here’s how I changed that:

Weekly Review: I love kicking my week off with a review. I clear my inbox, journal, prioritize, and schedule. But all too often Monday is busy and my weekly review doesn’t get checked off until Wednesday. Or never. In fact, despite knowing that a weekly review is the single most important part of my week, I’ve gone months without completing one. I bet I’ll complete my weekly review by midnight Monday, or pay $25. For a simple and actionable weekly review template, checkout ZenHabits.

Daily Plan: Spending 5-10 minutes planning out my day is extraordinarily valuable. I review my schedule, lay out which tasks I’ll work on and in what order. I bet I’ll write a daily plan 4 days per week, or pay $25. The productivity masters at Asian Efficiency have you covered with their guide to a Superhuman Day.

Pomodoro Technique: For those unfamiliar, a ‘pomodoro’ is a 25-minute focused work block followed by a 5 minute break. By picking a task and committing to work on it without interruption for 25 minutes I’m dramatically more productive. I bet I’ll complete at least 25 Pomodoros per week, and every day I’ll complete the Pomodoros laid out in my daily plan, or pay $25.

Company Standup: I typically commit to 1-5 tasks at company standup and do my best to crush them over the next 24 hours, but often don’t succeed. I bet that I’ll complete every item I commit to during Standup, or pay $10 per item.

The result? Six weeks in, I haven’t paid a dime on my weekly review, daily plan, or pomodoro bets. And my success rate at company standup? I used to hover around 50%. With the Standup Bet I’m well over 90%.

The Standup bet has been particularly beneficial. I work harder to accomplish tasks I’ve bet on. I also find myself working smarter, for in order to win the bet I need to ignoring distractions and work more efficiently. And unexpectedly, I’ve become better at estimating what I can accomplish. Humans consistently underestimate how long a task will take to complete (Planning Fallacy) and making a bet is a wonderful way to inhibit this bias. Having money on

the line forces me to think critically and learn quickly from estimation errors.

Our business is making strides as a direct result of my personal productivity.

Creating Your Own Productivity Bet

It’s time to put this to work in your life. Here are a few simple steps that will get you setup with a solid bet:

  1. Pick 1 or 2 productivity techniques have worked for you in the past, but have been hard to keep up.
  2. Set goals for each behavior that are both reasonable and extremely specific. Start with a 20-50% improvement in a given behavior, not a complete life overhaul. You can always ‘up the bet’ later, so pick something you can hit!
  3. Select a short ‘test’ time-frame that you know you can stick with. I suggest 1-2 weeks, ideally when you aren’t traveling.
  4. Find a friend who you’d truly hate to give money to. Or consider using software like Stikk and Beeminder to help automate the bet process.
  5. NO CHEATING. Follow your bets to the absolutely letter or this won’t work.

Welcome to productivity nirvana :)

Excited about Inbox Zero but don’t quite have it down? The Inbox Zero Course with Ari Meisel comes with a 1-on-1 coach to help you master your productivity systems. Join Ben on a 30 minute Webinar about and Mastering Productivity on April 30th.

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