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Principles for Productivity

A meditation on long-lasting ideals for being productive, and thus successful, in your personal and professional life.

Adapted from a 2020 video
Posted 3 September 2022

The impetus for every creative endeavor I've ever begun has been to improve.

A nontrivial motivating element has been to simply complete a project - the knowledge that the finished product I am working towards will justify its existence based on merits that I impart into it during development. An at-times veritable, though now vanishingly small component of my motivation has been driven by my ego - my desire to see my name next to the finished product, or to see my name or my project discussed, interpreted, and otherwise engaged with by an audience.

But the primary motivator for all my significant works has been that I see that project as a path to improve my own skillset. This is especially true of projects that are still ongoing after years of development, where my interest would or should have waned - and yet it instead regularly spikes as further developments are made, and as more skills are learned and mastered.

This has been my journey, as I have learned to become a consistent force as a developer and content creator, and it is a journey I have seen mirrored in the true greats of other spaces. I posit that the underpinnings of my journey are universal - a set of principles that dictate how successful, how efficient, how productive, and how satisfied you could be, were you to put these principles into practice.

These are my principles for productivity.

Be consistent

Consistency is consistently the toughest nut to crack. It is something you can't half ass, and something you work on every moment you spend working on anything else. It's a trait to strive towards, no matter how many times you stumble or miscalculate, and it's ultimately what separates the professional (or the professional-to-be) from the amateur.

Consistency is the repetitive practice drills of macro cycles on an empty Starcraft map, or of free throws on a basketball court. Consistency is your ability to master the fundamentals, and your ability to learn new skills. In this way, consistency is also serving on a different kind of tennis court, or theory-crafting in a new Counter-Strike map - the act of shading in the unknown, and integrating it with the familiar.

Without consistency, skills that were once familiar will atrophy, and new skills you seek to learn will simply never stick. Consistency is your very ability to learn, to refine, and to improve. Anything you do not do consistently is not something that will lead to self-improvement, and in the context of your work, is not worth doing at all. Novel experiences can offer epiphanies, pleasantries, and simple relaxation, but aimless experimentation within your disciplines will seldom offer long-term gains unless you keep at it.

Consistency is an endless walk through an infinite forest, not a quick sprint to a nearby finish line. You'll find many places to rest, and to celebrate your accomplishments throughout your travels in the woods, but you'll never come to the end of the canopy. There will always be a few more trees you can see in the distance, just as there will always be a few more projects you want to start - and though your work may never be fully done, being consistent in your practice is the first step in being satisfied at the end of your journey.

Be mindful

Mindfulness is avoiding burnout through furthering your understanding of your body and mind. Consider your earthly desires of diet and exercise, your physical limitations with regards to your work, and your mental aptitude - either for toiling for long periods of time, or for wrestling with unfamiliar skills or concepts. Mindfulness provides you with the introspection needed to understand when you are not working with purpose, and as such, mindfulness is the true genesis of solutions to any problem.

Take care of your meat vehicle. Take care of your brain in a jar. What allows you to remain consistent in your journey is in and of itself a measure of your discipline - your habit of sleeping at a regular time, regardless of how excited you are to make progress on your latest project, and of waking up even despite any residual fatigue. You'll find that the more you cultivate your lifestyle to improve your sleep, your diet, and your physical activity, the more energy and drive you will have to expend on your projects, and the better your existence will be on the more mundane, day-to-day level.

Allowing yourself time to meditate on mistakes and to be mindful of progress is your best tool for correcting any bad habits before they form, and for reinforcing good ones during their nascent stage. It is the nature of being human that you will stumble and sometimes even outright fail, but without such hardship, you'll find it's far harder to grow. And even at your peak level, you will still be competing against yourself - against the person you could be if you tried just a little harder, or if you had dug deeper into a mysterious limitation and unlocked even more greatness.

Hand in hand with being mindful of your limits is acknowledging what you are truly capable of, and considering both your floor and your ceiling will allow you to be firm, yet fair when negotiating with yourself. Understand which excuses are legitimate, and which are manifestations of weakness - and understand which failures offer up a lesson to internalize, and which are best owned, discarded, and put out of mind. Without this introspection, we are bound to loop within our fallacies, repeating errors for far longer than we need to.

Remember that examples of greatness often manifests in the form of other people. Find exceptional talents and work to demystify their success. Understand their strengths and weaknesses, their imbalances and their boons. Seek out interviews involving people you admire, find any scrap you can use to reverse-engineer their process from their product. And when you do strike up conversation with others on the subject of self-improvement, see what their experience has been like in this regard. Try to learn from their mistakes, and share yours with them in the hopes of providing value in exchange for what they gave to you.

This principle extends well beyond the remit of individuals. Take notes when something inspires you, either as a fan or as a critic. Assess when an act or a hobby benefits you, and when it leaves you poorer. Critically assess as many of your actions as possible. Justify, accurately and honestly, everything you can. Consider whether the act will enrich your life, or release psychic pressure, or indeed, be productive. When you can maximize how beneficial your every action is, you will be well and truly on a path towards discipline and consistency.

Be ambitious

Ambition sets you apart from the rank and file. It's what allows us to envision a better world, through adopting a better process that informs a better result. Without ambition, we settle for less than we could achieve, stymie the flourishing of our skills and our work, and inevitably step backwards as the gravity of mediocrity pulls us away from any higher ideal. Without ambition, there is no innovation, and the "better thing" we all wish for never comes.

When Thorin, esports historian and interviewer extraordinaire, invited Ramsey Dukes on his side channel for a second appearance, a particularly poignant anecdote shared by Dukes illustrated a brilliant method of short-circuiting the tribal nature of the human mind, and learning important lessons as a result.

The essence of Dukes' point was that if a staunch capitalist was confronted with a community of aloof hippies, and was convinced that they were wrong or even malevolent in their conduct in the world, the best thing he could do in that situation would be to join them for a short time to study their behavior and take part in their activities. Either this man will find he is wrong and will become wiser for the experience, or he will be vindicated in his initial hypothesis, and will be able to draw upon the events to back up his convictions.

In a similar vein, should you ever be confronted with something foreign and unknown, the most useful course of action is to bring that concept into your own domain. There are skills that seem out of your reach - so be ambitious, and test that hypothesis! And not just once, but several times, with many approaches, until the skill is learned, you become convinced that such a skill cannot exist within your wheelhouse. If you can retire from your work, content in the thought that there was indeed no missed opportunity, and no stone left unturned in your quest to improve, that is a superpower. The subtle but pervasive sense of doubt - that you might have been able to learn had you tried a little harder - is a perpetual "what if?" question that can only be answered by taking an approach like this.

By the same logic, should you think that any idea or principle within this article isn't all it's cracked up to be, but lack the experience necessary to properly argue your opposition, that is a perfectly logical reason to explore these concepts in your own life, and see what you accomplish with them. Either you'll find yourself to be a very unlikely exception for which these rules do not apply, or you'll surprise yourself with how far you go on your own journey, launched by ambition and kept alive through consistency.

Be decisive

Decisiveness is another principle I have put to great use. Decisiveness keeps you focused, first and foremost, and couples brilliantly with consistency to make you a powerhouse of productivity. Not sure which task to start with? Decide on a plan, and carry it out, every day. When you remove the ambiguity that barrages us on a regular basis, you also remove choice paralysis, and will amaze yourself with how much is possible to accomplish in a single day.

A particularly-effective method of mine is building a habit of accountability. Write a plan, as terse or as detailed as you like, that describes your ideal vision of tomorrow. Use a physical pen and paper if you can - those tend to feel more real than digital plans. Once you've got your list, and you've had your rest, rise the next morning and start following your plan. With the notable exception of events outside of your control, there's no reason for you to reexamine your list, and every reason for you to work down from item number one. You were decisive yesterday, so you can be consistent today, and every day.

Coupled with the mindfulness to assess which habits, thoughts, or even individuals are providing a net negative to your life, decisiveness will allow you to separate the wheat from the chaff, the positive from the negative, and cut out any aspect of your life that does not pull its own weight. Uninstall social media from your phone, or relegate checking it to specific times of the day. Sign out of instant messengers or set them to "do not disturb" while you're working. Do anything necessary to minimize distractions and maximize time spent being productive, as well as time spent fully-enjoying leisure time, rather than endlessly scrolling the internet.

Time is short - get after it.

Never suffer fools who shy away from these principles for the wrong reasons. Be open and eager to share your experiences and your wisdom, but when you receive responses such as "that's too hard" or "I can't do that", you should interpret that as the admission of weakness that it is. Barring obvious physical and neurological shortcomings, anyone can learn to do anything, given enough time and drive. So when you meet people who speak as if they desire to learn, but dismiss these principles on the basis of their own cowardice, or otherwise waste everyone's time with their self-fulfilling prophecies of mediocrity, understand that you have lead that horse to water, and simply can't make it drink.

After enough time spent putting these principles into practice, and seeking competence within yourself, you'll find that the person you used to be and the person you've become have shifted dramatically - and for the better! This is the pivotal counterpoint to the argument that improving at a craft does not improve yourself as a human. These things are one and the same, and the more disciplined you become in one area, the harder it will become to be undisciplined in another. By the same token, the longer you remain wrong, the harder it becomes to be right.

To close, I propose that during our very short lives, we have been given the opportunity to enrich our experience and the experiences of others. Those of us driven towards creation of all kinds have the potential to pass on the very notions I hope I've inspired in you: that consistency will unlock countless doors, that mindfulness will shine a spotlight on the best doors for you, and that decisiveness will prepare you to choose which door to step through.

The gift of consciousness that we all enjoy comes with a responsibility to use it as a force for good, and the only sure-fire way I've found to do that is with consistency in your process, with mindfulness during your downtime, with decisiveness at your crossroads, and with honesty in your life.