I remember in Junior Secondary School during assembly we often had to sing a song that began “Do your best and leave the rest.” I was tempted to attach a voice file of myself singing the full song. Luckily, saner heads have talked me out of it. That song got me thinking, in order to reach peak productivity, you need to first choose what to focus on, then give it your best, even when no one is watching.
Productivity is best seen not as a place where you reach and everything falls into place but as a journey where there is always another milestone to reach. The aim is to make reaching the next milestone easier. This is done by building healthy productive habits that you can replicate again and again.
A bodybuilder continues going to the gym and lifting weights even after they have achieved their desired body. They know that if they relapse back into their old ways, they risk losing the body they worked so hard to get. A day without exercise and unhealthy eating won’t give them a potbelly but one day becomes two, two becomes three and three becomes a habit.
To publish a book, you have to create a first draft, edit to make that draft even better, work with a publisher to revise your work and eventually you might get to see your work in print. If after that, you stopped writing every day and no longer bothered editing your work, your second book (if you ever get it published) will likely neither be as successful nor well received as your first. You reached a milestone and instead of documenting what helped you get there so you can move on to the next, you chose to sit at that milestone and hoped what you had already achieved will take you to the next one.
Jerry Seinfeld is famous for crossing out a big X on a calendar for every day he creates new content. The rows of X’s serve as a visual reinforcement of a habit he has developed over the years. After some time, it will be very painful for him to ruin that pattern by being lazy and not coming up with new content. Seinfeld has developed the habit of giving his best every day to his craft. His attitude is one we can all learn from. He is willing to do his best, even when no one is watching.