Get Productive By Manipulating Your Brain

Posted March 3, 2013 by Marcy Twete in Features

I laughed out loud when one of my favorite Fast Company writers, Howard Jacobson, shared last week what he calls “My Most Embarrassing (And Effective) Productivity Technique.” Howard talks in the article about how he simply can’t seem to get himself to write something without a deadline. How does he solve the problem? He asks someone to help him by “faking” a deadline. This is the email he sent to his editor at Fast Company.

Hi Erin,

Howard Jacobson here, with a weird sort of request:

I’d love to contribute 2 articles per month to FC, yet I don’t.

I do write 2 articles per month for [search marketing website], because they had me sign a contract that basically obligated me to produce.

So I’d like to pretend that you would be really mad at me if I didn’t send in my 2 articles a month.

At some point, I hope to be in enough of a groove not to need to play mind games with myself, but at this point I’d rather just accept that’s what I need than fool myself about motivation.

Let me know if you’d be open to discussing this possibility, and what it might look like.

I feel really silly making this request, just so you know… 😉

What’s the moral of this story? If you can’t be accountable, find someone to MAKE you accountable, no matter what. 
Howard asked his editor to pretend to be mad at him. It might seem small, but its a manipulation of the brain that was absolutely necessary in order for him to meet his goals.

Here are a few ways you can do this in your own life:

  • Set a weekly 1:1. If you don’t already meet with your boss weekly, try to get it on the calendar. This means you’ll have to be accountable for what you said you would complete that week, no matter what.
  • Don’t cross things off your to-do list and then make another. At the end of the week, how many to-do lists have you written? How many things have you crossed off of lists, but then on Friday you just can’t seem to remember all of them? Don’t throw away those crossed off to-do’s. Accountability means being able to look back and see what you’ve done as much as it does just doing it.
  • Ask a friend to check in on you. If you’re working on a freelance project or even just want to clean your house on a Saturday, ask a friend to call you at the end of the day and make sure you did what you said you were going to do. That kind of “I know the call is coming” motivation can’t be bought.

So go ahead, manipulate your brain any way you can to ensure your productivity is at its highest level.


About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."