Momentum Is Your Best Productivity Hack

If you want to get more out of your to-do, you need know what you’ve already done.

Momentum Is Your Best Productivity Hack

You don’t need to streak like LeBron James or Lou Gehrig to feel the power of momentum in the work that you do. Like TaskRabbit engineer Zack Shapiro notes, all it takes is some clever task management.


Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that you’ve got a passion project that you’ve put on the back burner for a while. The work feels as vague as it is unconquerable. So how do you start getting it done? Shapiro has a key insight: Break that monster into its constituent parts and get your work flowing smoothly.

To do that, he makes a few great points. Let’s expand on them here:

  • Begin by listing every part of the project.
  • Then break each part into smaller tasks.
  • Then break each of those items into even small pieces.
  • Then–and this is the clever bit–list all of the things that you’ve already done. It’ll trick your brain into seeing how accomplished you are.
  • (And a bonus tip: See if there’s anything in that list you can outsource, giving you more time for the tasks only you can do.)

By breaking bigger tasks into smaller bits, they become more consumable–bite-sized if you will, or fun-sized if you wouldn’t. And as you continue to kick ass, you add more micro-items to the list, keeping your focus and getting more done. In this way, you can start to shift the inertia and get decisive. Shapiro captures it well:

Feel that adrenaline? The pulsing and excitement in your body? That’s momentum. That’s you exerting a force on the previously immovable object. By moving your project, you’ve established velocity. Every item you cross off your list increases your velocity.

When you think about it, productivity is velocity. Some of the most accomplished people recognize this. When she’s working on a book, Joan Didion begins her writing days by retyping all the pages she’s completed so far–she says it helps her overcome the terror of the blank page. Similarly, Jerry Seinfeld makes a giant X on his calendar each day to keep himself accountable to his tasks. Like Gehrig, Didion, and Seinfeld show, consecutivity has a power all its own.

Momentum is a hell of a drug

How do you build momentum into your work? Let us know in the comments.


[Image: Flickr user Zebra Pares]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.