The habits of productive people
If I were to ask to describe the practice regiments of world-class musicians, you’d probably envision a shut-in artist who plays all day long and then tucks in their instrument at night.
Amazingly though, research by Anders Ericsson that examined the practice sessions of elite violinists clearly showed that the best performers were not spending more time on the violin, but rather were being more productive during their practice sessions.
Better yet, the most elite players got more sleep on average than everyone else. How is that possible?
Subsequent research by Ericsson reveals the answer: the best players were engaging in more deliberate practice. You’ve heard the term, but beyond the hype, what is it all about?
It’s nothing more than spending time on the hardest tasks, and being better at managing your energy levels.
Think of it this way: If you were trying to get better at basketball, you’d be much better off practicing specific drills for two hours rather than shooting hoops all day long.
Since deliberate practice requires you to spend more brainpower than busy work, how can you implement it without draining your willpower?
The first answer is an inconvenient truth: the best way to overcome your fear of spending a lot of energy on a big project is to simply get started.
The Zeigarnik Effect is a construct that psychologists have observed in numerous studies on suspense. One such study gave participants brain-buster puzzles to complete, but not enough time to complete them. The surprising thing was, even when participants were asked to stop, over 90% of them went on to complete the puzzles anyway.
According to the lead researcher:
It seems to be human nature to finish what we start and, if it is not finished, we experience dissonance.
It’s the same thing that happens when we become engaged in a story in a book, movie or TV show: we want to see how it ends.
You can use this knowledge to your advantage by just getting started on that next big project; in the most basic sense, don’t focus your motivation on doing Activity X. Instead, focus on making Activity X easier to do.
Start the night before. Is your to-do list already written up? Is your place of work ready for you to get started? Break down barriers of friction before relying on willpower.
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