Later is more than a word – it is an idea whose judicious use can change our life.

When it comes to working on the most important priorities, we don’t ever want to use it. The more we use it, the more we procrastinate.

But, when dealing with behavior that does no good in the long term, it can be a very powerful word indeed. Willpower researchers have found that substituting “no” with “later” when dealing with temptations can successfully resolve the tension in our head.

Therein lies the power of later. Our minds mark the action we’re dealing with as resolved and ease the tension. There are times when easing the tension is useful and there are times when it is counter productive. “Later” can thus be the difference between delaying gratification and succumbing to temptations.

Use it wisely, we must.

The five stages of productivity

Basic assumption – You have a goal or goals you are working towards. Productivity only exists when we work towards a goal.

Stage 1 – Developing a clear understanding of how much time you have available in a day: You only understand this by taking on too much and stretching yourself beyond capacity. This is finite and, yet, it is amazing how often we underestimate how much time we actually have on our hands. Hence, the adage – if you want to get something done, give it a busy person.

Stage 2 – Eliminating waste-age by banishing procrastination and hustling while you wait. Now that you understand how much time you have, it is critical to eliminate waste. With the ability to clear news and blog reading backlog, check email, and listen to audio books available on our phones, we really have no excuses with the “hustling while we wait” part. Banishing procrastination, on the other hand, is tougher (and potentially life long) battle and a worthy one at that. Mastery over procrastination takes you very far very quickly.

Stage 3 – Developing the ability to scope projects and to estimate how much of your capacity they will consume. This is the natural next step and is a skill that doesn’t come easily. While it is possible to move forward without having mastered this, it is essential to check back from time to time and make sure we’re getting this right.

Stage 4 – Focusing on what’s important by learning to say no. As Warren Buffet says, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”

Stage 5 – Developing the physical and mental stamina to work at high intensity for long periods of time. Once you’ve ensured you’re using all the time available to you by working on the right things, the last step is building the necessary physical and mental stamina to work at high intensity. This is the area where the masters blow the rest of their competition away.

While it is possible to achieve step 5 before you master step 3 and work on couple of steps concurrently, it is hard to achieve mastery without getting really good at the previous steps. If you don’t have a grasp of how to make use of your time or to scope projects right, you’re going to be spending most of the time fighting fires. This is a step-by-step process and we’re best served when we focus on achieving mastery at every step.

PS: Notice how technology barely comes into the picture here. Technology doesn’t make us productive. It is just a tool that we can use to improve our productivity. These steps require old fashioned grit, desire and focus.

Chasing momentum

The resistance is a powerful beast. If procrastination is one of your weapons of choice, how can you not be all powerful?

3 months back, I decided it was time I banished procrastination. I was sick and tired of it and didn’t want anything to do with it. So, the task was to make banishing procrastination habitual. After the usual and expected difficulty, I think I am finally beginning to make progress. This is thanks to shifting my focus from banishing procrastination to chasing momentum.

Chasing momentum involves a single minded focus on building momentum. These are the steps I follow –

1. Get to the desk. Clean up the desk, if necessary.
2. Check for a prioritized list and start working on the big rocks.
3. If I’m unable to start on the top priority item, start working on the little rocks – small tasks that need to get done.
4. If I’m unable to get to the small rocks, start with the “sand” i.e. simple tasks like responding to email, catching up on my feeds.

I find myself working my way to step 4 more often than not. That’s where I start building momentum and, over time, I’ve found that momentum grabs hold of me. Suddenly, like it or not, it’s hard to stop. In the very rare instance when I don’t even feel like chipping away on a small task, I realize it’s time to take a break and not look at the list. As long as you’re not working 7 days a week, that shouldn’t happen all that often.

So, that’s all it takes – have a clear prioritized list of tasks at hand. Keep going down the list until you find a task that you just can’t not do. And, just start. Don’t worry about procrastination. Chase momentum instead.