A quick question. how do you make yourself do something productive instead of wasting time? I know I've tried various things, like an alarm clock or making it easy to do productive things, making sure i know what to do, and so on. Is the only choice to just try increasing the odds as much as possible for the future and hope that when the time comes it will work? Is there no way to get to 100 or even 90% success?
I know its not realistic to shoot for that, its better to do the best you can with what you have and work from there, but I'm wondering if that end goal can be reached.
Good question. Let me ask you a counter-question:
How do you win at baseball?
The most simple answer is obvious - "Score more runs than your opponent."
But that's not really helpful, now is it? The next question someone would have would be, "Well okay great, how do I score more runs than my opponent?"
And you could answer, "Prevent them from scoring runs, and increase your side's run scoring."
Still not helpful, though! This leads, naturally, to, "Okay great, how do I prevent my opponent from scoring runs, and how do I increase my run scoring?"
At this point you'll start getting into good pitching, good defense, and good hitting. What's good pitching? Throw strikes, study scouting reports and attack each hitter's worst spot, mix up speeds, be aware of the count, throw a diverse range of pitches, don't walk anyone...
The same could be repeated for defense - good positioning in the field, reflexes, fielding mechanics, transferring the ball from your glove-hand to your throwing hand, strong and accurate throwing mechanics, backing up and cutting-off intelligently, understanding the situation and which base to throw to if there's multiple possible choices...
Similarly, there's guidelines for good hitting.
Even the level we've gotten to, we can go deeper - how do you get strong and accurate throws? You practice, you also develop strength and flexibility by lifting weights, stretching, good diet, and taking a smart mix of steroids and Human Growth Hormone.
What's baseball got to do with being more productive?
A lot. "How do you win at baseball?" has a simple answer - score more runs than the other side. But if you keep asking and re-asking the question, you get a really long list of things you could do.
"How do you make yourself do something productive instead of wasting time?" is similar. The most simple answer is probably "Define the next step to be taken and then start taking action on that step."
But - like baseball - that question unpacks to a lot of other answers. How do you define the next step? Well, this is where a mix of long-term planning and goal-setting, short-term analysis, decisive ability, developing your ethics, understanding what you want to accomplish in the world, sizing up situations, and studying your specific field all help. How do you take action? Keep defining more and more simply if you're struggling, and also analyze your various beliefs, motivations, and habits, and try to improve all of them.
Getting an understanding that perfectionism is counterproductive will help. Fear of failure or fear of success (I used to think fear of success was nonsense; recently I've changed my mind - frequently I know something pays rewards alongside costs, and I'm held up from the desirable reward due to aversion to the cost - I've seen this now, it's real) - thinking through that and moving on from it helps.
Practice helps a lot, as do good habits. Habits, actually, are maybe the most important thing.
Nutrition, sleep, diet, breathing, and stretching all indirectly help with taking more action.
A good work environment would help.
There's lots of things. Dozens or hundreds. Just like winning at baseball, you work on a few at a time, and you go back and re-practice the old skills so you don't get rusty.
100% success rate?
"Is the only choice to just try increasing the odds as much as possible for the future and hope that when the time comes it will work? Is there no way to get to 100 or even 90% success?"
Short answer - no, 100% success rate is not possible. Nor is it even desirable.
Imagine a baseball player saying, "I'd like to bat 1.000" (100% success rate at hitting). Is that possible?
No, the best baseball players occasionally hit somewhere near .400 (40%), but no one's even hit .400 in a long time.
But what if he really, really wants to?
No, it's still not possible.
Nor is it desirable, in my opinion!
You see, if you're really trying to get to 100% with your goals, one of two things is going to happen - either you're going to inevitably fall short and get frustrated. That's a real possibility and that does happen to perfectionists. They wind up quitting.
Or, worse yet, you set your goals too low in order to meet 100%. How will you know where your limits are if you're always succeeding 100% of the time? To find your limits of what's possible, you need to run up against them and fail sometimes.
Me, I aim for a 70% success rate on my goals. Through some trial and error, I figure 70% is a good general baseline. It means succeeding considerably more often than failing, which is good for morale. But it also means failing quite regularly and getting used to that.
If I start succeeding above 70%, I add more goals/habits, or I increase the difficulty/challenge of the ones I currently have.
If I succeed below 70% for quite a while in a row, I adjust my goals down. That's okay. I find I get more done that way, which is the real key thing after all.
So, let's say you want to "make yourself do something productive instead of wasting time" - that's good, that's a noble and worthwhile thing to pursue.
Next up, make it tangible and measurable. You could, for instance -
1. Decide to cut down the time you spend wasting time to some certain maximum number of minutes or hours per day.
2. Decide to spend a minimum amount of time doing something you find meaningful and important.
3. Decide to track all the time you spend for a week or two, in order to get an idea for your baseline and try to improve it.
4. Set a challenge for yourself like, "Don't look at any email without immediately taking action on it, and don't open my inbox if I'm not ready to take action" - and then marking yes/no at the end of the day if you succeeded or failed on it.
See, you've got to make it tangible and measurable instead of hazy. Just like "Score more runs than your opponent" is the most fundamental way of saying how to win at baseball, "Define the next step to be taken and then start taking action on that step" seems to be the most fundamental way to take meaningful action.
But the define part is big - and part of defining is nailing down exactly what your goal looks like, and how to evaluate success/failure in that goal.
So, start by making it tangible and measurable. Then, I really do recommend you aim for a 70% success rate. If you're not reading at all and start trying to read four hours per day - but you're missing it 6 days out of 7 - you might want to scope down a little bit and increase your success rate. If you adjust your goal to reading one hour per day and you're succeeding every day, then you can increase to ninety minutes, two hours, etc, etc.
If you're succeeding higher than 70% for an extended period, add a new goal or increase the difficulty. If you're falling below the line, perhaps adjust down to increase your success rate.
70% is just a rule of thumb, but it works pretty well for me. 90% or 100% either leads to discouragement when you (inevitably) fall short on occasion, or to setting your goals excessively conservatively and never seeing what you're really capable of.
In the process, it's improving at 30-40 skills. Just like baseball, you can improve your footwork, throwing mechanics, arm strength, positioning, first step, reflexes, acceleration, speed, awareness of the game situation, backup assignments, etc, etc. All of those can be broken into component parts, too, and you can work on the little components for more edges.
Especially with getting more out of life in a general sense, there's always something you could be refining and improving at - but that's the real joy of it. Study, train, and improve the components of being productive. Perhaps consider aiming for a 70% success rate with your goals, and adjust when you're above or below it for a while in a row. And win.