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At this point, you’ve learned about the origins of energy, and probably why you are fatigued more than you want to be. As you’ve discovered, you are likely engaging in some degree of self-sabotage.
This final chapter is about some psychological techniques to be productive even when your energy is low or lacking. Sometimes changing the perspective or mindset we have toward our work can make the difference. Indeed, sometimes we can feel drained or energized by the same task just depending on how we frame it.
Who would have thought that productivity and energy could be viewed through the lens of physics, math, and equations? Bestselling author Stephen Guise found a way to do so using Newton’s three laws of motion as an analogy to formulate the Three Laws of Productivity.
By dissecting energy as physics concepts and equations with identifiable elements and interactions, you’ll identify the specific things you need to do or to avoid in order to add to your productivity. If you know the variables at work when you lack energy, then you’ll be able to single out a particular variable and manipulate it, as you’re able to do in a mathematical equation.
The three laws of motion were formulated by physicist Sir Isaac Newton in 1687 to explain how physical objects and systems move and are affected by the forces around them. In other words, he’s the guy who claims to have conceived of gravity after getting hit by a falling apple. These laws lay the foundation for understanding how things from the smallest machine parts to the largest spacecraft and planets move. Applied to the science of human cognition and behavior, these laws can also illuminate the mechanisms behind our energy—and how to manipulate those mechanisms to drive productivity.
First law of motion. According to Newton’s first law of motion, an object at rest tends to remain at rest and an object in motion continues to be in motion unless an outside force acts upon it.
How this law applies to procrastination is glaringly evident: an object at rest tends to remain at rest, which means a person in a state of rest tends to remain at rest—unless some sort of force moves him or her into action. So if you’re currently in a state of inaction with regard to your intended task, you’ll tend to stay that way unless you’re stimulated into motion. Your tendency to leave that task untouched is thus a fundamental law of the universe.
But remember that Newton’s first law of motion works the other way, too: an object in motion continues to be in motion, which means a person in a state of action tends to continue moving as well. So if you’re currently working on a task, this law of motion states that you’ll most likely keep working on that task. Our energy flows when it starts to flow.
The most critical element of becoming energized is to find a way to start. Find a way to get moving. Once you get the ball rolling, it gets infinitely easier to keep going until the task is done.
Now, the next question becomes, how do you get started on a task? Writer James Clear suggests following what’s known as the two-minute rule as applied to productivity. The rule states that you need to start your task in less than two minutes from the time you start thinking about it. Think of it as a personal contract you strike with yourself. No matter what, you need to start within the next two minutes. Build some momentum and don’t give your energy levels the opportunity to pull you back down.
For example, suppose you’re tasked to write a report detailing your department’s project updates. To beat the inertia of lazing around the entire morning, commit to just jotting down the project title and objectives or expected output within the next two minutes. You don’t need to think about doing the rest of it just yet. You only need to start within the next two minutes. This action will help break the inactivity that’s been strapping you down, and once you’ve started writing things down about your project, you’ll find it easier to keep going.
Another benefit of abiding by this rule is you’ll also be forced to break the task down into smaller and smaller steps, as giving yourself a two-minute limit for starting requires you to think in terms of more manageable chunks of work you can begin quickly and easily.
Note that the two-minute rule doesn’t require you to pledge that you finish your task, or even proceed in an orderly manner. It doesn’t need you to mind the quality of your output just yet; you can reserve the critiquing and refining for later. It just needs you to start, to get into motion.
With Newton’s first law of motion, you’ll find that once you start, you will tend to keep going on your task. Energy begets energy. So rather than wait for an enormous amount of energy before starting, just go ahead and start small. You’ll find that your motivation and drive will snowball into ever-larger amounts after you’ve started.
Second law of motion. Newton’s second law of motion explains how a particular force affects the rate at which an object is moving. It is represented by the equation F=ma, which states that the sum of forces (F) acting on an object is the product of that object’s mass (m, which refers to how much matter there is in an object) and its acceleration (a, which is the rate of change in how fast an object is going).
In other words, the second law of motion dictates how much force is needed in order to accelerate an object of a particular mass in a certain direction. And as illustrated by the equation, the relationship between these three variables—force, mass, and acceleration—is proportional. The greater the mass of an object, the greater the force required to accelerate it. Likewise, the faster you need an object to move over time (i.e., accelerate), the greater the force you’ll need to apply.
So if you want to accelerate an object—say, a ball—then the amount of force you exert on that ball, as well as the direction of the force you apply, will both make a difference. If more force is applied for the ball to go left than for it to go right, then you can bet that ball will go left.
Still with me?
Applied to energy, this means you’ll need to pay attention not only to the amount of work you’re doing (magnitude), but also to where you’re applying that work (direction). If you work a lot but don’t focus all that work in a single direction, then you’ll tend to accomplish less than when you direct the same amount of work to only one direction.
The amount of work you’re able to do as a person has its limits, so if you want to get the most out of your effort, you need to start being conscious of where that work goes. As Newton’s F=ma equation teaches, where you direct your effort is just as important as how much effort you exert. Temptations, distractions, and lack of task prioritization all serve to scatter your energy and effort in different directions, so avoiding those elements is key to optimizing your productivity. Keep your energy focused.
Say you have a myriad of things to accomplish before the day is up—reply to five client emails, read and critique a lengthy research plan, and write a recommendation letter for a former employee.
Applying Newton’s second law, you need to recognize that how fast you’ll be able to accomplish a particular task depends largely on your ability to focus the effort you exert on that task and that task only. If you insist on scattering the “force” you exert by frequently switching tabs from email to research to letter-writing all throughout the morning, you’ll be less likely to accomplish any one of them before the lunch hour. You may even just be switching back and forth on those tasks as a way to procrastinate on all of them.
To remedy this, apply the principle of Newton’s second law: exert your energy/force in a single direction for its maximum acceleration.
Third law of motion. This law of motion states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This means that when Object A applies a force on Object B, Object B simultaneously applies a force of the same amount, but of opposite direction, on Object A. For example, when you swim, you apply force on the water as you push it backward. Simultaneously, the water applies a force on you that’s equal in magnitude yet opposite in direction, thus pushing you forward.
Applied to the science of productivity and energy, this law reflects how in your own life, there are productive and unproductive forces at work as well. There is a constant battle, and everyone’s level of balance is different. For those who are unproductive, their inefficient forces tend to win more often than not.
Productive forces include positivity, atmosphere, environment, social network, focus, and motivation, while unproductive forces include stress, temptation and distraction, unrealistic work goals, and unhealthy lifestyles (e.g., poor diet or lack of sleep). The interaction and balance between these opposite forces is what creates your typical levels of productivity and energy.
This balance could shift either way—it could lead you to be massively productive or severely drained. For example, it may take you just an hour to finish writing a report when you’re feeling well-rested and confident in your abilities, but you may need a week to complete the same task when you’re stressed out and insecure.
Basing on the applications of Newton’s third law of motion, there are two ways you can go about upping your energy levels. The first is to add more productive forces. This is what Stephen Guise refers to as the “power through it” option, in which you simply find a way to pump yourself up with more energy in an attempt to overpower the unproductive forces inhibiting you from working. This strategy may involve such actions as chugging cup after cup of coffee (although we should know the dangers of this by now) and digesting motivational words through books or inspirational videos.
The “power through it” option could work well, but only for a brief time. The problem with this strategy is that you’re only covering up the unproductive forces that are still working to undermine your energy, and this tiring task could easily lead to burnout.
As an alternative, Guise suggests dealing with unproductive forces directly through the second option, which is to subtract, if not totally eliminate, counterproductive forces. This strategy involves such actions as reducing the number of tasks you commit to, learning how to say no, and changing your environment in order to simplify your life.
Compared to the first option, which requires you to add more productive forces, this second option simply needs you to release the reservoir of energy already within you by removing the barriers that obstruct it. As you can imagine, this second option is an easier route to success than having to produce energy by attempting to add more positive forces.
For example, say you need to accomplish a year-end evaluation report for your organization’s project sponsor. You’re aware that you’re the type of worker who needs quiet in order to think and work effectively, but your office cubicle is sandwiched between two chatty colleagues. Instead of simply opting to “power through” the task despite the noisy and distracting environment you’re in (i.e., attempting to increase your productive forces), consider relocating to a quieter area or politely asking your colleagues to refrain from disturbing you for the next hour or two (i.e., eliminating unproductive forces).
That way, you’ll be more motivated to start and keep working on a task, not necessarily because you’ve upped your willpower, but because you’ve simply let the natural energy already within you flow unhindered.