The Secret to Becoming Prolific
I’m a morning person.
I love waking up early and getting a jumpstart on my day while most of the world is still sleeping.
My morning routine is simple: I wake up around 6 AM, take a freezing cold shower, drink a large glass of water, brew a cup of coffee, then sit down at my dining room table.
I place one of my succulent plants on the table next to me, open my laptop, put my headphones in, then turn on some background noise from Noisli.
Once I’m finished, I hit “publish”, tweet out the article, then move on with my day. If it’s a weekday, I get ready for work and head out the door. If it’s a weekend, I typically head to the gym afterwards.
The Secret to Becoming Prolific
One common question I receive from readers is: How are you able to produce articles so consistently?
The simple answer is that I follow my energy. When my energy is high, I choose to write. When my energy is low, I choose to be lazy.
For me, my energy is highest in the mornings. It’s when I’m able to concentrate deeply, sit without distractions, and be highly productive. As the day wanes on, my energy drops lower and lower.
In the evening, I’m completely unproductive. I might tweet out a couple links to articles or respond to emails, but I don’t do any deep work.
Instead, I’ll have dinner, read a book, play some video games, watch Netflix (I’m currently on season 2 of Happy Valley – highly recommend), or hang out with my girlfriend.
Anyone can write one article per day for a week, but not many people are able to write one article per day for months or even years.
The secret to becoming prolific over a long stretch of time is to give yourself opportunities to rest and recharge frequently. For me, I let myself rest every evening. This helps me avoid burnout.
In Deep Work, Cal Newport shares how he has become a prolific professor, author, and computer programmer:
“I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.”
He doesn’t work 16 hours a day. He finds time to be highly productive for several hours, five days a week. By committing to this schedule for years, he has been able to churn out an incredible amount of high quality books and academic papers.
The Two Enemies of Becoming Prolific
There are two primary things that will kill your ability to be prolific: comparison and short-term thinking.
No matter what field you’re in, there will always be someone who is better than you, who writes more concisely than you, who earns more money than you, who has more followers than you.
If you spend too much time dwelling on your shortcomings relative to these people, you’re likely to become discouraged and quit.
This is why it’s so important to avoid comparing your progress to others. One essay I frequently refer to that helps me avoid the temptation to compare myself to others comes from Seth Godin:
Without a doubt, there’s someone taller than you, faster than you, cuter than you.
We don’t have to look very far to find someone who is better paid, more respected and getting more than his fair share of credit.
And social media: Of course there are people with more followers, more likes and more of just about anything you’d like to measure.
What is the comparison for?
Is your job to be the most at a thing? Perhaps if you play baseball, the goal is to have the highest on-base percentage. But it’s probably more likely that you should focus on the entire team winning the game.
Just because a thing can be noticed, or compared, or fretted over doesn’t mean it’s important, or even relevant.
Better, I think, to decide what’s important, what needs to change, what’s worth accomplishing. And then ignore all comparisons that don’t relate. The most important comparison, in fact, is comparing your work to what you’re capable of.
Sure, compare. But compare the things that matter to the journey you’re on. The rest is noise.
The second enemy of becoming prolific is short-term thinking. So many people start projects, blogs, or businesses, and expect to see results within the first two to three months. Unfortunately, results are delayed in virtually every field.
The effort you put in now won’t culminate in visible results until several months or even years from now.
This is why it’s so important to embrace long-term thinking. Give yourself years to succeed, not months.
One quote I often think about comes from Steven Pressfield in Tribe of Mentors:
“I’m 74. Believe me, you’ve got all the time in the world. You’ve got ten lifetimes ahead of you. Don’t worry about your friends “beating” you or “getting somewhere” ahead of you. Get out into the real dirt world and start failing.”
Don’t worry about proving yourself or about finding success as quick as possible. Just get moving.
As James Clear once said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every day.”
Give yourself the advantage of a long-term perspective. Don’t stress about finding success immediately. Just lay one brick each day.
There are three steps you can take to become prolific:
- Identify when your energy is highest each day. Use that time to be highly productive.
- Avoid burnout by allowing yourself to rest each day.
- Avoid quitting by resisting comparison and short-term thinking.