by Niall Doherty

I’ve found this combination of productivity strategies to be very effective for me:

  1. Set the bar very low.
  2. Have someone hold you accountable.
  3. Set a harsh penalty.

For the past few months, this combination has helped me write for at least 30 minutes every day (since December), and stretch for at least 5 minutes every day (since February).

1. Set the bar very low

You want to make it very easy to succeed. Even if it’s a big goal you’re working towards, break it down into small, easily-manageable chunks. Then just tackle one chunk per day.

For example, I have a goal to produce some handy guides related to travel and working online. So far I’ve put together 120+ pages of content. That didn’t happen with one big push. Instead, back in December, I vowed to write for at least 30 minutes per day.

30 minutes per day isn’t a big deal. I can sit down and write for 30 minutes no matter what. I won’t always write something worthwhile in those 30 minutes, but I’ll always nudge the project at least an inch or two in the right direction.

After four months, that has added up to 120+ pages.

2. Have someone hold you accountable

Living in New Orleans for the past few months, I knew I was in danger of gaining a few pounds with all the good eating on offer. I didn’t have a lot of time to exercise, so I set another small goal: stretch for at least 5 minutes every day.

I knew that if I made myself stretch for 5 minutes, I’d most likely do a few push-ups and situps as well, which is indeed what usually happens. I end up stretching and exercising for closer to 10 minutes each day.

But I don’t trust myself to stay disciplined all by my lonesome.

To make sure I would actually follow through with my goals and not make excuses, I needed some accountability. So I roped in a friend to help. The deal was that I had to email him every day detailing what stretching/exercise routine I had done, along with a screenshot of the writing I had done that day.

And if I didn’t send him that email…

3. Set a harsh penalty

…I would face a $1,000 penalty, payable to my friend, for him to do with as he pleased.

Now $1,000 is a lot of money to me. And that’s the point. There’s no way I’m going to let myself fail. Because getting up off my ass and spending 30 minutes writing and 5 minutes stretching each day is waaaaaay less painful than losing $1,000.

There have been days where I have left it late to email my friend. I might get in at 2am from a night out, with my writing and stretching still to be done. And it crosses my mind that I could skip it just this once, but then I remember the cost and I suck it up and put in the work.

What’s your goal?

Let me know your goal in the comments below. Then apply the three strategies I shared above. Tell me:

  1. How can you break that goal down into something small that you can do frequently (ideally every day)?
  2. Who can you get to hold you accountable?
  3. What penalty can you set that’s so painful there’s no way you’ll let yourself fail?

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