From last Saturday to Tuesday, I was in the computer science lab for about 10 hours a day. Every day, I’d go to the lab from 12pm to 10pm but sometimes I’d work until 4am. I was working on my final project — a board game called Lines of Action.
Combined with the ongoing work throughout the semester, I’m exhausted. All I want to do is sit in bed, watch The Mentalist and play Fifa. I want to sleep in past 10:30am. I don’t want to be productive.
But I have finals next week. I can’t relax yet. I have to review the semester’s material and also learn the material for the last two weeks of class.
It’s easy to be productive when you’re in the mood to be productive. The hard part is getting in that mood. The harder part is doing work and being productive when you’re not in that mood. Because we aren’t always in a productive mood and we can’t always be.
And you will lose your productive mood at the most inopportune times. Like the week before finals. Or the few weeks before an application is due. Or days before a project is due. When it happens — because it definitely will happen at some point if it hasn’t already, you just have to suck it up and go to work. Take a break first and go have some fun, but as much as we’d like to feel good, sitting in bed and waiting for the mood to come back isn’t the solution.
I played Fifa all day on Wednesday after I finished my project. I played Fifa again yesterday and then went out to a concert. When I woke up today, the feeling of wanting to be productive didn’t come back. You can’t get inspiration from doing nothing.
But I know that I have to be productive if I want to learn the material I need to learn. And I know that I have to be productive if I want to grow as a person.
When people say live like it’s your last day, we usually think then to do something that’s fun. If it were your last day to live, then you wouldn’t want to spend it doing homework.
But I also wouldn’t want to spend it playing Fifa. I wouldn’t want to spend it sitting in bed doing nothing. If I were to live like I was dying, then I’d want to know if I’ve made the most of my opportunities. If I’ve learned all that I could have learned. Made the most positive impact that I could have made. If the answer is no to any of those things, then I’d change something and try to make the most of my opportunities. Try to learn all that I can learn. Try to make the positive impact that I can make.
During his Stanford Commencement Speech, Steve Jobs said this: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the biggest tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life…”.
I’d like to offer a different perspective. Knowing that I’ll be alive for a while is a tool that helps me make the big choices in life. Because my actions are shaping my future. Knowing that I have a lot more time to live gives me the freedom to make mistakes — a small mistake that I make now will not have a large impact 40 years in the future. It allows me to evaluate what I need to learn and when I need to learn it. It gives me the ability to look back at yesterday and ask myself if I’m the person that I want to be, and if I’m not, change myself going forward.
I was going to end this post with a message about me forcing myself to study and be productive. But after writing it, I don’t need to force myself anymore. Because I’m now in a productive mood — I want to learn, I want to do work, I want to be productive.
And this is the key to being productive when you don’t want to be: you create your own mood of productivity. Do something, anything that’s on your to-do list. Pick the easiest thing. Because when you’re done, the next thing will be easier. Starting is the hardest part, but after you start, you will feel the mood of productivity come to you. That’s what the most successful people do.