September 3, 2023 | Bryan Brkic
The 4 Core Pillars of Productivity
I wake up to my alarm early in the morning and struggle to get out of bed.
However I’m not surprised.
The night before I ended up going to bed way too late.
Not because I was working on some important tasks. But because I was on my phone.
Getting caught up in watching pointless videos. Scrolling through Instagram. Scrolling through Amazon. Then before I know it, it’s past midnight.
At this point I already know I screwed up. I shouldn’t have let the time slip by. I knew that I was going to have a hard time waking up early.
Of course now that it’s the morning and I’m tired because I went to bed too late the night before, I tell myself that I should sleep an extra hour. Otherwise I won’t be productive throughout the day.
I set the alarm for an hour in advance and go back to sleep.
Then the alarm goes off again.
Now I tell myself, an extra hour doesn’t give me enough rest, I should probably sleep one more hour. That way I can have 8 hours of sleep and be more productive today.
I set the alarm again. One hour in advance.
Now the alarm goes off again. I’m still tired. However, I have to get myself out of bed.
But first I need to check my phone.
Now I’m scrolling through my apps again. I tell myself this time that I already screwed up my morning by sleeping an extra 2 hours, so if my morning is already a mess, going on my phone a bit makes no difference.
What was supposed to be an early and productive morning has now turned into a disaster.
My day is now on a bad start, I’m behind on everything and the rest of the day suffers as a result.
Then eventually comes the end of the day. I’m on my phone again.
Should have learned my lesson already. But I tell myself I need to look at something right now because it’s important.
Then it gets late again. Should have gone to bed over an hour ago.
You know what though? Since I’m already going to bed past my bedtime, I should set my alarm clock forward right now. That way I get enough sleep the next day and can be productive.
Then my alarm wakes me up the next morning. I’ve now woken up later than I would have liked to, which now makes me feel behind again. My morning is off to a bad start again simply because I woke up later than I would have liked to.
At this point, I’m completely off my rhythm.
The cycle keeps repeating.
This is a cycle I’ve found myself in multiple times.
Perhaps you can relate to this and have found yourself going through similar negative cycles in your own life.
This has probably led to you feeling like you’re not getting enough done. Like you could do more.
I imagine it’s frustrating to know that you’re capable of so much more. That you expect so much more from yourself. If only you didn’t give into the distractions that keep you from doing what you know that you should be doing.
Productivity is something that I still struggle with to this day. It’s a battle that happens every day and will continue to happen every day.
If you’re anything like me, then you want to spend every day to its fullest and live your life to your full potential. That is why this is something I needed to get far more control over. By using some of the techniques that I’ll share soon, my productivity is levels beyond what it was just a few years ago.
In this letter, I will share with you the tools that gave me a handle on my productivity and that got me out of the negative cycles that kill your productivity day to day.
These tools have given me far more motivation and progress than ever before. Not just when it comes to building up my development skills, but in many areas of my life.
Now I no longer need to feel like my day is off to a bad start. I no longer need to feel off my rhythm. I no longer need to feel like I’m not making enough progress.
I can instead get the most out of my days and end my days feeling accomplished.
Some of the tools that I will share come from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. The last one comes from other experiments I’ve done which have greatly affected my energy levels and motivation.
Here’s what to expect:
How incremental daily 1% improvements skyrocket your progress over time.
Why your identity impacts your daily habits.
Why you should embrace discomfort and take cold showers.
Why delayed gratification is absolutely critical.
Incremental Daily 1% Improvements
This is a concept that has completely changed the amount of progress I would make.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself trying to make big leaps in a short period of time. You have something in mind that you really want. You’re highly motivated for the time being to work towards getting it. You put in all this output for a short amount of time. Maybe a few days. Maybe a week. Then you stop.
Then lots of time rolls by and you do the same thing.
The problem however is that large progress doesn’t get made by short bursts of output.
The key comes with these incremental improvements that compound over time.
Although the only way that they compound is if they’re done every day. The point isn’t to try to have massive output straight away, but instead to focus on small incremental improvements that eventually compound to massive improvements on a longer timescale.
With the internet age however also came the age of comfort and short attention spans. People want everything quick. Everything easy. They want large amounts of progress while avoiding time spent on hard work.
The real world doesn’t work this way however. This is not how real progress is made. Quick and easy however is the marketing message you will constantly get bombarded with. That's because most people want results without putting in the time and effort required to get those results. Marketers know this.
If you want to make large progress in your own life, then you need to focus on small 1% incremental improvements each and every day.
By focusing on making progress in this kind of way, it also keeps you from feeling overwhelmed.
You might have some big goal in mind you want to work towards. If the goal is large and you’re far from achieving it, then focusing on that goal can overwhelm you.
Instead you can take your big goal and figure out the small incremental improvements and processes that you can do each day that will eventually bring you to that goal. Focus on these small incremental steps and processes rather than solely on the big goal itself.
You can still have the goal in mind. But it’s the small improvements, the small processes and systems that you establish that make the difference.
These are the things that will bring you progress when you focus on them. The goal itself should only really be a source of motivation to take action on the small processes.
The next concept revolves around your identity. How do you see your own identity?
Do you see yourself as someone who struggles to get out of bed in the morning? Do you see yourself as someone unproductive? Do you see yourself as someone who is learning how to develop apps?
The way that you view yourself, your identity, this will have an impact on your behaviour and the feedback loops that you experience.
You want to try and create an identity for yourself that is the final outcome you’re trying to reach. You want to change the way that you see yourself in order to force positive feedback loops to take place.
Even if it may not be true in your life at this moment, start to create your identity on the ideal that you want to create for yourself.
Identity yourself as someone that gets up early in the morning no matter how they’re feeling. Identity yourself as someone who is productive throughout the day. Identity yourself as a developer or engineer. View yourself in light of what you want to become.
In this given moment, this identity might not be how you live your life. However, if you create this identity, take the actions that confirm this identity, then you’ll have a positive feedback loop created that will continue to reinforce your identity as you make more progress towards it.
Discomfort and Cold Showers
The next concept is something that I’ve experimented with that has greatly helped with effectively starting off my day and my motivation early in the day.
This revolves around intentionally starting the day off with discomfort.
If I can start my day off with discomfort and power through the discomfort, then I’ve found that this sets me up very well for the rest of the day.
This involves getting up early and immediately making my bed. Also you have to absolutely refuse to look at your phone in the morning while you go through your morning of discomfort.
The night before I’ll usually put my phone somewhere hidden and inconvenient for me to grab it. That way it removes the temptation of looking at it. Even if you do get tempted, you have to refuse with every fibre in your body and not look at your phone.
The next step is taking a cold shower. This involves putting the shower straight to cold water and jumping in.
Starting off with warm water and then going cold doesn’t have the same effect. The idea is to embrace the discomfort. To strengthen your mental fortitude towards things which are difficult and become more resilient.
If you go from warm to cold, you don’t feel the initial shock that you would from going straight into cold water. This means that you completely miss out on this mental war that happens only when you jump straight into cold water. It’s this mental war that strengthens your mind.
You can also add in a workout after your cold shower to add more discomfort to your morning. Although I wouldn’t start off with that. Remember the concept around small incremental improvements. If you try too much too quickly, then you won’t make progress.
I’ve found that starting my days off in this sort of way gives me a feeling that I’ve won the morning and helps me to reaffirm my identity as someone who embraces discomfort.
Do you see how you can tie these concepts together?
You can build the habit of starting your day off with discomfort by changing how you view your identity and by focusing on small incremental improvements day by day.
If you’re just starting out, first you might want to build the habit of getting up early in the morning consistently. Then after that start adding in the cold shower. At first maybe try to be in the cold water for 3 seconds. Next time try 5 seconds. Then 10 seconds. Work your way up to being in there for a long time
Then slowly over time, these incremental improvements compound into a powerful morning ritual that feels automatic.
The next concept is a mentality I’ve used that completely destroyed my bad habits.
I’ve had a lot of bad habits over the years. It took a lot of time and effort to finally break free from these habits. Hopefully through some actionable tips, you can save a lot of time breaking free from the bad habits in your life.
Bad habits are usually those that feel good in the moment, but later you regret.
There are many of these kinds of habits, they might include hitting the snooze button, eating junk food, skipping a workout, wasting time on your phone, wasting time on social media, wasting time on video games, drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, compulsive spending, fapping like a little monkey, and so on.
These are all bad habits that feel good in the present moment due to the dopamine hit you get from them, but they sacrifice feeling good in the future.
Good habits are often those that feel bad in the present moment, but later it feels good and you’re happy that you did them. They have a delayed payoff.
The bad habits have what feels like an immediate payoff, but negatively affect you later.
The good habits feel negative in the given moment, but have an actual positive payoff later.
Bad habits sacrifice tomorrow for the present moment to be better.
Good habits sacrifice the present moment to make tomorrow better.
If you’re in fantastic physical condition now in the present moment, it feels good. But it was your past self delaying gratification that allowed you to feel good in the present moment around your physical condition.
Most people don’t live their lives in a way where they delay gratification. We live in a consumer society where you want things quickly and to feel good now.
Eating junk food feels good now. But years later you suffer when you feel ashamed to look at yourself in the mirror.
Compulsive spending feels good now. But years later you suffer financially and feel ashamed of where you are in life.
Wasting time constantly entertaining yourself feels good now. But years later feels bad when you have little skills to offer and little progress made towards anything.
Hitting the snooze button feels good now. But years of doing this and the amount of progress that it kills makes you feel disappointed.
On the other hand…
Eating healthy and exercising now doesn’t feel as nice. But years later you look and feel amazing and are grateful to your past self.
Being disciplined with your earnings by not inflating your lifestyle doesn’t feel good now. It doesn’t impress people you don’t care about now. But years later it frees you, which again makes you grateful to your past self.
Taking action in doing work instead of entertaining yourself doesn’t feel good now. But years later it will put you far ahead in life, which again makes you grateful to your past self.
Getting out of bed early every morning when the alarm goes off doesn’t feel good now. But years later you will reap the rewards that all those productive mornings have gotten you, which again makes you grateful to your past self.
How you feel now in all aspects of your life is a result of what your past self has done for you. If your past self only indulged in feeling good now, you will likely not feel good with where you are right now in the present moment. If that’s the case, then it’s time to break the cycle and implement delayed gratification to create a future for yourself where you can look back and be proud of what you’ve done.
Create a present moment for yourself down the road which makes you feel grateful to your past self. It is your past self and the actions that they took which create the reality of where you are right now.
That is everything for this one. Hope you enjoyed the letter and have a fantastic rest of your day.
There are far more tools I’ve implemented from Atomic Habits by James Clear, which have greatly impacted the habits throughout my day.
He goes over the 4 laws that make up creating a habit loop. However there is a lot to go over when it comes to building these habit loops, so stay tuned as I’ll have to go over my experience with habit loops in another letter.