I'm a master procrastinator, and I finally found THE fix for unprecedented productivity.
It's not rocket science, it doesn't take a crazy system, it's worked flawlessly for the last 6 months, and I wish I discovered this 15 years ago.
The Dirty Laundry
This is a bit sad to admit. A bit embarrassing.
But it is 100% the truth.
Today, as a 30 year old.
If you gave me 2 weeks of vacation and I didn’t have a single responsibility and I could do whatever I wanted, left to my own devices, I would likely spend 90% of that vacation playing computer games or watching TV. I’d likely stay up until 2am or 4am playing one of those games that get me to think, “One… more… level.”
I’d likely fall asleep playing the game, wake up groggy, wake up annoyed that it’s already 11 or 12pm and I didn’t do a single thing yet, and then feel too “bleh” to try to do anything.
And that’d be the perfect headspace for me to be lulled into another marathon on that game or TV show, only leaving my room to go to the bathroom or grab a snack until it was dark again.
And from there, well, it’d already be dark, the day would be technically “over,” so no time to get started doing anything productive... so… more psychological permission to go deeper into the wormhole with the game/show.
And then the cycle would repeat itself until the natural pressure of the last day of vacation would prompt me to put on my grown-up pants, be a responsible human, get my things in order to prep for my work week, and be secretly disappointed with how I wasted — yet again — another vacation.
Today. That is who I am.
Left to my own devices.
That’s the key sentence.
Left to my own devices.
I’ve known this about myself since I was a teenager. I’ve seen this movie before. I know the ending. I know when the movie starts, too. This is a total rerun and I know every line in the movie.
And so, of course I’ve experimented. Of course I’ve read about this. But despite everything I’ve tried, nothing has worked effortlessly, effectively, and consistently (important distinction).
I’ve tried breaking down tasks into mini-steps/sub-tasks
I’ve tried “eating the frog” first
I’ve tried “eating the frog” last
I’ve tried artificial deadlines (Parkinson’s Law)
I’ve tried to get good sleep
I’ve tried Pomodoro
I’ve tried creating reward structures
I’ve tried putting it on my calendar
I’ve tried not breaking the “streak”
I’ve tried tiny habits
I’ve tried morning/evening routines
I’ve read the work of Charles Duhigg, B.J. Fogg, James Clear, James Altucher, Tim Ferriss, Dan Pink
I feel like I’ve given it a pretty good shot.
If I ever found a sustainable fix for this, you know I’d be telling everyone.
So. Buckle up.
I have found it.
No not a joke. I found it. I’m not procrastinating on telling you. I’m just telling you how significant this is given my journey.
Since the start of COVID, like most, I’ve basically had countless open evenings and open weekends. COVID should be the perfect storm for me to repeat history.
But...I have not.
In fact, the last 7-8 months (I stumbled across this pre-COVID), I’ve spent nearly 90% of my weekends and open evenings doing “productive” things.
When I say “productive,” I’m referring to the category of things that I know are “good” for me, but when given the freedom, I never do unless I absolutely have to. I think things like these are different for everyone (I’m actually curious now, what are these things for you?)
I’ve been reading, writing, learning, working on side projects, coaching, and doing responsible adult things like cooking, cleaning, doing life-errands, and exercising.
I feel like… I’ve become the adult that most parents want their kids to be.
I finally feel like I’ve become what I imagine “responsible adults” do.
You know, those responsible adults….. they eat their vegetables, they drink 8 cups of water a day, they exercise 5x a week, they floss everyday, they do their taxes on time, never late to meetings, and they call their parents on a regular basis, they keep track of things they’ll say they do no matter how challenging it is and get them done in a timely manner, they’re always prepared, always thoughtful, they have all their finances in order, and they never seem “behind” on responsibilities...those adults.
I feel like… in this ONE DIMENSION of my life -- spending my time wisely -- I have finally joined the league of “responsible” adulthood.
Ok ok I’m getting to the point.
How am I doing this + What am I doing?
Expanded simple answer:
Everything that my “responsible adult”-self wants to do, I don’t do it on my own, I find a friend to do it with, calendar it, and that’s it.
I fundamentally do not trust leaving myself to my own devices to do what my most-responsible-self would do.
I think for the longest time, I wanted to find a hack or loophole and figure out a way to make it work on my own. The idea of having so much of my behavior dependent on another person felt… unsustainable? Too non-independent? It felt like a thing that responsible adults shouldn’t need to do. So I avoided doing this for years, refused to opt in, hoping that I could eventually find a way that didn’t rely on others. It also didn’t help that “accountability” had been somewhat of a dirty word for me for many years.
As of June 2020, this was a typical recurring week for me:
Monday night: Leadership Practice group (90-120 minutes) (3 people)
Tuesday night: Co-writing 1.0 (60-90 minutes) (2-6 people)
Thursday night: Co-thinking (60 minutes) — scroll down to my glossary for an explanation of this, Peer coaching (20-30 min) (both 1-1)
Co-reading (120 minutes) (3-4 people)
Co-working (60 minutes) (5 people)
Peer coaching (20-30 min) (1-1)
Co-writing 1.0 (60 min) (1-1)
Co-writing 2.0 (60-90 min) (1-1)
Co-writing 2.0 (60-90 min) (1-1)
Co-piano (30 min) (1-1)
Leadership practice group (90 min) (3 people)
Co-thinking (90 min) (1-1)
Co-working (120 min) (1-1)
On an average weekend I’m getting an extra 11.83 hours of meaningful work in. That’s 590 hours per year (50x), equivalent to 3.5 months of 40 hour work weeks. If I count my weekday evenings, it brings the total to 4.7 months of work dedicated to work on things my “responsible adult”-self would do.
My god. What have I been doing for the last 10 years?!
A whole lot of unproductive, meaningless gaming, and internet browsing… and now I finally have a way to make up the time.
In reading this, you are now the beneficiary of my reclaimed productivity. This piece of writing in particular is a direct result of Tuesday night and Sunday morning writing sessions.
I’m no longer leaving myself to my own devices.
When I look back at the last 6-7 months, what I’ve created, how I’ve grown, I. Am. So. Incredibly. Proud. Of the body of work I have created.
The books I have read, writing I’ve crafted, beliefs I’ve challenged, mindsets I’ve developed, and the progress I’ve made on my multiple side projects… it’s quite unprecedented.
I feel like I found a magical pill that is FREE, that magically has 5x-ed the progress I make in a week. All my goals feel more within reach, the momentum feels amazing, and the crazy kicker? I feel connected to a great community and feel very supported by friends.
For the longest time, I thought that working on personal projects would HAVE to come at the expense of time with friends and meeting new people.
I could either:
Work on personal projects and be a hermit OR
Feel connected and supported with tight relationships but not make progress on things I care about
I hated making that tradeoff. So I completely revamped my life, optimized my life for BOTH, created a new ‘structure’ to make it happen, and then brought all my friends along.
So the how.
It’s pretty simple.
10 Steps to Unprecedented Productivity via Social Accountability
Step 1: Define
Define for yourself what your most responsible-self, proudest-self, best-self, smartest-self, or wisest-self (whichever one you resonate with) would want to spend more time doing.
My list is reflected in my schedule.
For me, my best-self would spend a lot more time writing, thinking/reflecting/planning, working on meaningful projects, reading/learning, and growing. This is what I defined for myself early in the process.
Step 2: Pick One
That’s it. Pick one.
Step 3: Find a buddy.
Friend, family, co-worker, stranger.
Call them, text them, Slack them, email them, post on Facebook, post on IG...
Here is your worst-case-work-with-a-stranger-option:
Step 4: Ask
“Hey X, I’ve been wanting to spend more time doing Y, would you want to do co-Y with me next week?”
“How would that work?”
“We can hop on the phone, FaceTime, Zoom, or Hangouts, etc for 30-60 minutes, catch up a little bit, and then we both do Y together.”
“Cool, lets try it”
Step 5: Show up
That’s it. Show up.
Step 6: Check in.
Did they like it? Did they find it worth their while?
Yes? Proceed to next step.
No? Go back to Step 3.
Step 7: Do it again
They liked it. Awesome.
Schedule the next one for next week, in 2 weeks, next month, whatever works for the two of you!
Step 8: Make it recurring
You did it twice? Baus. You’re a pro.
Chances are, if they opted in for a 2nd time, they enjoyed it. If they didn’t, go back to Step 3.
If clearly both of you are enjoying this here’s the next ask:
“This was fun, you want to do same time <insert a date> and make it recurring?”
Book it. Throw it on the calendar.
Step 9: Repeat from Step 2 until you’ve completely transformed your schedule.
Step 10: Look back in 3 months and be wowed and proud of what you have done with your life.
Boom. That’s it.
Social accountability has transformed my life in the most unbelievable way.
Let me know how this works for you, what could be better, or questions you have! I always love hearing these kinds of stories.
Some of the things I’ve mentioned on my calendar are not intuitive, so I’ve taken the time to provide more context as to what the activity entails and how it works.
What you’d imagine this to be.
10% catching up, 1% talking about what your writing intentions are, writing in silence for the remainder of the time.
This revolutionized my writing game. Instead of writing in silence, I’d talk out loud, usually a story, and have a friend patiently listen and type word for word everything I’d say, and after 30 minutes, I’d have a draft of writing that’d be 70-80% there. The majority of the key ideas and overall structure would already be in place, and editing would be such a breeze after this.
Having a friend who is a GREAT listener and solid typist (80+ WPM) makes this smoother.
I wrote about how my friend Dan concluded our peer-coaching/therapy relationship in September 2019. It also details how I got it started and how we utilized our time.
It’s super helpful to be able to have a dedicated part of my week where I can just 100% vent about absolutely anything. We switch off, share the time, acknowledge each other, challenge each other, and support each other. Usually contained to 20-30 minutes so it doesn’t feel like it overloads the schedule.
Similar structure as co-writing 1.0.
10% catching up, 1% talking about what your reading intentions are, reading in silence for the remainder of the time.
Leadership Practice Group:
My friend and fellow practice group partner, Kim, has written about how to start one of these groups.
15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership has been one of the most thorough, practical, and challenging books I have ever read. Working through each chapter of the book with friends on a regular basis makes it 20x more valuable.
Our very first meeting was in July 2019 and we have met 35 times since, usually for 90 minutes at a time. Across 50 hours of practice, I feel like a completely different person. Hands down, one of the best decisions I made in my adult life.
This is one of my favorites because I feel like this was a completely unique creation.
Over the years, I’ve said to myself, “Yeah, I need to think more about that” many times. They are usually pretty big and hairy ideas, it’s not “light” thinking, it requires undiluted focus to make meaningful progress on these kinds of threads.
Over the years, this kind of thinking would happen haphazardly, while I drive, when I’m taking a shower, when I’m lying in bed before I sleep, but very RARELY would I set the intention for myself and say, “I’m going to think right now about the things I’ve been meaning to think about.”
I could probably count on one hand the number of times I did that for any extended period of time (most of them were after significant transformational/emotional experiences).
Now? Regularly. Usually 2 hours per week.
This dedicated time helps me reflect about changes in my life, flesh out the wants that I have, think through theories, and process through pain/trauma.
Structurally, it’s slightly different than co-writing/reading.
10% catching up, 45% thinking, 45% talking about what we thought about.
It’s incredibly nourishing, connective, and meaningful time that I can no longer imagine my life without.
#1 introvert activity, ever. Amazeballs.
What resonated with you? What questions come up for you? Leave a comment :)
After 10+ years of blogging all over the internets, I’m currently working on a book! If you resonate with my writing, you can sign up to get my book updates here.
When’s the next post coming out? I publish weekly on Sundays at 12pm Pacific (3pm Eastern, 3am Singapore, 8pm UK)
I definitely have a lot of similarities with you! The sentence "I can't trust myself if left to my own devices" is one I empathize with. I have realized that the best way of having me complete things is to have a deadline or have it be a social occasion that I won't miss.
However, there are also times where there is a personal creative project that I want to do with no deadline. I'm a teacher, and when I am on break I actually want to spend a lot of time writing. This is one of the things I can never seem to get to on a regular workweek, but it gets easier when on a specific kind of break time from my regular job.
I want to congrats you on all you've discovered while building deeply meaningful relationships. It's a joy to read about it!