A lot of people think I get a lot of things done, and now I do. But it wasn’t always the case. Today I’m going to be sharing about my productivity journey and how I learned to get stuff done.

A minimal desk with a lamp and a white chair with the text "my productivity journey" at the top

Original photo by Minh Pham 

Productivity goes beyond checklists.

It goes beyond thinking about what you have to do.

I would argue there’s a mindset associated with it, or perhaps it’s more a realization. You have to realize that you’re the only one that’s going to do the things.

That’s about it, really.

And I realize that’s super unhelpful, so I’ll try to clarify this point. What follows is a peek at how I got from someone who procrastinated so hard that I was constantly self-sabotaging to someone who felt they could run their own business.

I’m not going to say that you can do it too. Not everyone can. And that’s because most people are content to continue on their self-sabotaging way.

(You can get pretty far by self-sabotaging, honestly. Like, everyone I knew in higher ed pretty much did that. It’s not ideal, and you always feel down on yourself for it. But it’s not like the type of self-sabotaging that most people do will stop you from living a pretty comfortable life. It will stop you from living your ideal life, though.)

Procrastination is self-sabotage. Click To Tweet

But if you’re tired of feeling like you’re behind the eight ball in everything you do and you’re ready for a change, I think you’ll enjoy this.

So with that, let’s get to chatting about my productivity journey. And trust me — it’s a journey.

My Productivity Journey

In the Beginning: Procrastination

I don’t think I was always a procrastinator. As a kid, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, so it’s hard to say. Also, I don’t remember large chunks of time from back then. At least, not in a detailed way.

I can remember birthday parties and playing games with friends and what every single one of my bicycles looked like. But school? I don’t remember a lot of it.

Largely, I think this is because every single day always looked the same, and it’s hard for anything to stand out there. So, because that’s the case, we’re going to say that the first time I really procrastinated was senior year of high school.

In AP Literature, we had to write a paper, and it was due between the purgatory that existed between prom and graduation. It was three weeks of the year where people were taking AP tests, bragging about where they would go to college, and just skipping class because nearly everything was done.

I had to write a 10-page paper on The Once and Future King by T.H. White. The details are a little fuzzy, but I believe this was due a couple days after the weekend of prom.

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So, instead of working on it piece by piece, I just stayed home sick from school the Monday after prom weekend and furiously typed out this paper on my family’s Gateway computer.

I finished it. Made an A. And overall, the process was nice. Having a whole day to sit down and work on a paper was good. Because it was relatively short and I was already a dyed-in-the-wool writer, I could easily complete it at a leisurely pace during the course of a day.

I took this with me to college. As an English major, I had a ton of reading and papers due each week. At one point, some of my compatriots and I did the math and realized we were reading 800-pages of stuff a week, and were still expected to turn in papers.

That was the stage of my life where I developed the habit of waiting the night before a paper was due so I could stay up all night to write it. (I was young enough that I could stay up all night and still show up to class the next day. Now, this would destroy me.)

This mostly worked, though the lack of sleep led me to develop some pretty intense stress-induced night terrors.

In grad school, I kept this up. Only now, I was given much bigger assignments. You really can’t write 50,000 words in the course of a night. Nor can you really write 20,000 words over the course of a night, which is something I wound up doing.

That was the time when my grades really reflected the way I was working. Though, it’s worth noting that I didn’t exactly quit procrastinating all together.

Sure, I did for the Master of Professional Writing program. I had to in order to finish my thesis project. I spent all my free time working on it, and didn’t put it off — largely because I had three months to write a novel that would allow me to graduate.

But by the time I got to the Master of Library and Information Studies program, I was back to my old ways. I have a great story about taking off work one day to write and research a 20-page paper, all before it was due at 5 PM.

(I got an A on it, by the way.)

And that was the problem. I was mostly rewarded for the procrastination, though it didn’t always work in my favor. The consequences were never enough to make me quit all together.

Until I got out of school.

A Spark: GYST

After graduating, I worked a series of really terrible jobs. In fact, I would argue that most jobs are terrible. But they were just jobs, and they were things I did to pay the bills until writing became my full-time gig.

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The problem, though, is that I was in the habit of procrastinating. And I want to make it clear it’s a habit.

(If you disagree with me, read this post on why we procrastinate and this post on how to stop procrastinating.)

Because I was out of school, there were no more deadlines on me. Any blogging, novel writing, or a writing project of any kind I wanted to complete, I had to do so without the external pressure of the deadline.

It took me a really long time to realize that I was kind of addicted to that external pressure. I needed the adrenaline rush of waiting until the last minute and then working furiously to come in under the deadline.

But without that deadline? I was worthless.

I procrastinated because I needed the adrenaline rush of waiting until the last minute and then working furiously to come in under the deadline. Click To Tweet

It took me so long to figure out how to get my shit together. (GYST stands for “get your shit together,” by the way.)

And that’s really all you have to do to spark that productivity — get your shit together.

For me, it was a slow process. I do everything at my own speed, and that is the speed of someone slowly figuring out really obvious things. It’s not great, but it’s how I work.

While I was at the job from hell, I slowly started to take blogging more seriously. I didn’t really know what I needed, but I invested in some eCourses and slowly started to figure out what I wanted this space to look like.

Then, I left that job, took a huge pay cut to work extremely part time for a semester as an adjunct, and really started thinking about what I wanted to do. Eventually, I was hired on full-time as an instructor, and that schedule really allowed to get moving with this blog.

In 2018, I leaned in hard, and in 2019, I leaned in harder.

But all the while that was going on, I started my YouTube channel, and I started really working on some writing projects.

And while I don’t have anything that I would consider is ready for publication, I do know that from 2013 to 2020, I was slowly figuring myself out. I was figuring this business out, and I was figuring out exactly the sort of life I wanted to have.

And it all centered on writing and getting things done.

It was a long road, but it’s one I’m happy I went down. I can’t imagine how unhappy I’d be today if I were in the same boat I was in 2013.

I don’t say this it brag. I say this because I want everyone to know that you can do it. It’s going to take a long time. But you can break that procrastination habit, and you can do whatever the hell you want.

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How to Keep Going: Me and To Do Lists

My productivity journey isn’t linear. I don’t think anything really is.

I still backslide into procrastination. I go into seasons of life where I feel like working 12-hour days because my brain’s on fire and I have to do get everything done. ( I really like those days, by the way. They aren’t sustainable over the course of a week, but it’s cool when you’re feeling it to just lean into them.)

And while to do lists are important, they aren’t the way that you stay productive.

The to do list is just a place where you can glance and see what has to be done. The real work is in knowing what actually needs to get done.

There’s a lot of prioritizing and cutting things here and there. There are a lot of moments of reassessing why I’m doing what I’m doing. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here.

Productivity is a conscious journey. Remember at the beginning when I said that you had to have that realization?

Maybe it’s not a realization. Maybe it’s just waking up and realizing what you want.

Whatever it is, it’s all about being aware of what you need to do in order to get what you want.

And that’s probably the hardest thing about productivity. It’s not sitting down like a machine to get some work done. It’s 100% analyzing the situation, looking at the time you have, and figuring out what you can do in that time to make shit happen.

Some people have more time than others. Some people prefer to use their time differently. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does, though.

Because productivity is all about your moment of realization or waking up. That’s where it starts. Then, you get your shit together, and then you constantly analyze the next best step for you to take.

Sure. You’ll mark a lot off of your to do list. But that’s really more of a side effect than anything else.

Because productivity is all about your moment of realization or waking up. That's where it starts. Click To Tweet

What Does Your Productivity Journey Look Like?

Did you have a wake up moment? Did you also procrastinate a lot? What’s one thing you want help on when it comes to productivity? What did getting your shit together look like?

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