How to Cultivate a Productive Mind

Productivity begins first in the mind. It is not created with a tool or in a fancy app. To have a productive mind, the following are essential:

1.       Know what you want from life.

Some refer to this as “know your why.” Without an overarching sense of purpose, much of life is meaningless. Knowing what you want is the biggest issue you need to resolve to be highly productive. This is because when the going gets tough, your why pulls you through. And the thing that you want will change, depending on where you are in life. For instance, as a preteen, my why was to escape poverty; as a teenager, it was to get into a good college; as a college kid, it was to finish well so I could have great career options to pick from. Now, my why is to be an example to my kids and to give back to society. I want to be the best version of myself because I want my kids to be the best versions of themselves, and also because that is the state in which I can best serve the world. A compromised me is of no use to anybody. What’s your why?  

2.       Eliminate the unnecessary.

Fluff is all around us, taking up our precious time. To achieve a productive mindset, you need to get rid of the trivial. Anything that does not advance your purpose is trivial, even if others think otherwise. It’s one thing if you attended a pointless meeting because your boss asked you to, but it’s another if you attended it because…why did you attend it again? 

The most common waste of time, energy, and capital—all necessary ingredients to be more productive—is engaging in an unnecessary battle. I see people fight just because. Every fight, regardless of the result, consumes an enormous amount of your resources. Be like the wise general who picks his battles. Let go of little things; they are not worth fighting over. Reserve your strength and time for the big deals.

 3.       Go for epic wins.

What are the key battles you need to fight, and win, in order to achieve your purpose? Those are where you should unleash all your powers. Any time spent going for the big win is time well spent. Ultimately, productivity is not so much about how much work you got done, but about accomplishments. Who is more productive: A writer who sent out 500 emails to publishers or the one who secured a lucrative deal with a big-name publisher? Epic wins move you forward. They bring you into a whole new level where you can do even greater things. The following are examples of epic wins: getting to college, landing a great job, securing a promotion, publishing a bestseller, etc.  

Not all epic wins are glamorous or public. Your biggest victories may be private. I know mine are. Your epic win, for instance, might be overcoming an addiction. Because once you overcome that addiction, your health, your relationships, and your finances will get better. I cannot think of anything more productive than conquering the enemy within.

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Your biggest victories may be private…I cannot think of anything more productive than conquering the enemy within.

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 4.       Think more in terms of energy.

Energy management is more important than time management. I can do more in one hour when strong than in two when weak. Therefore, it behooves me to pay attention to my energy bank. I do what increases my energy and avoid what drains it. Examples of what increases my energy level: a good night’s sleep, very little carbohydrates and proteins and lots of fruits and veggies, meditation (prayer, study, worship, reflection), awesome conversations, light exercise (walking, mostly), and an afternoon nap. The following drain my energy: negative people, reading the news, too much food (yes, I know, “too much” is relative), uncertainty, difficult times, and so on.  

It is true that we cannot always avoid what drains us, but be aware that energy is a resource you need to manage, much more so than time. This knowledge alone will help you cultivate a productive mindset and make some smart, productive decisions. For instance, I used to have a colleague that sucked the life out of me anytime we talked. He wasn’t overtly negative or anything. I can’t even describe it. All I know is that after talking with him for 5 to 10 minutes, I needed to do something to bring my energy level back up. So I minimized my contact with him, which was hard because I pride myself in being a people person. But I have only a finite store of energy per day and how I manage it determines whether it will be a productive day or a wasted day. 

5.       Focus on the now.

“Give us this day our daily bread” is, to me, both a prayer and an instruction. It reminds me daily that the next 24 hours is all I need to worry about. I mine the past for its learning, but I can’t live there. I look to the future with hope, but I can’t live there either. The present is all I have been given. I live in the present, so I bring my whole self to each task. For me to be productive, a part of me cannot be in the past or in the future. I need 100 percent of me right now. When I am fully engaged in an activity, I usually get it right the first time, which saves both time and energy.  

I have by no means provided an exhaustive list of the characteristics of a productive mind. Please let me know in the comments section what other things you believe are needed for the mind to be in a productive state. Here’s to a productive year!