1974. Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman. Rumble in the Jungle.
Odds were stacked against Ali against the undefeated heavyweight champ. If Ali stood any chance against Foreman’s power, he’d have to be techinical and dance around Foreman.
But Ali didn’t dance.
He leaned on the ropes and covered up. When Foreman was exhausted, Ali knocked him out.
Ali’s strategy was dubbed the Rope-a-Dope.
Whenever something is labelled unconventional, we dismiss it as ineffective. But uncommon strategies can be the most effective.
Here are 3 unique strategies to boost your productivity:
1. The Internal Rolex
Typically, the clock on the wall drives our lives. And we forget our biological clocks.
There are 20,000 nerve cells in your hypothalamus that controls your circadian rhythm. Its responsible for regulating bodily functions, including your sleep cycle, digestion, hormones, and plasma levels.
How are you feeling this very moment?
Your energy levels, physical, and mental states are affected by your circadian rhythm. Trying to function outside your circadian rhythm creates fatigue (e.g., airline staff).
To leverage your circadian rhythm and find your optimal work periods, try sleep 3 consecutive days without an alarm. Note your average wake times.
Typically, we hit our highest levels of alertness within hours of waking up. Dr. Steve Kay, professor of biology at University of Southern California says, “When it comes to cognitive work, most adults perform best in the late morning. Working memory, alertness, and concentration goes hand-in-hand with increased blood flow and rising body temperature around waking periods.” Alertness slumps after lunch; the digestive process can sap your energy.
Surprisingly, some parts of the brain light up during circadian non-peak times. Dr. Mareike Wieth, a professor of psychology, tracked analytical vs. novel thinking during circadian peak and non-peak times. He found novel thinking was best during non-peak times. Fatigue causes our analytical faculties to take a break and lets our creative brain wander.
While there are no doubt benefits to morning training, Dr. Michael Smolensky, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas says that muscle strength, eye-hand coordination, and joint flexibility peaks between 2pm and 6pm.
So, there are 3 major markers for scheduling and optimising your day: the morning analytic spike, a creative spike after lunch, and a physical spike in the afternoon.
Regardless of whether you’re a morning or an evening person, you’re going to have those three spikes starting with your wake-time. Condense and synchronise your respective work with those three peaks.
2. The Willpower Trinity
Why is it we desperately want to lose weight, but we keep emptying the tub of ice-cream?
Our struggle with willpower is due to a conflict between our impulsive self—constantly pulling us away from goals, and our wiser self—pulling us toward our goals.
Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist at Stanford and leading researcher on willpower. She explains that the key to reaching our goals is understanding the three powers that make up our willpower: “I will” power, “I won’t” power, and “I want” power.
I won’t power is the ability to resist temptation. E.g. Saying “no” to a cigarette.
I will power is the ability to choose an alternate behaviour. E.g. Chewing some gum.
I want power is remembering the bigger vision of your end goal. E.g. Living long enough to see your grandchildren.
Our willpower is much like a muscle, it weakens as we use them. Typically, when we fail to reach our goals, it’s because we solely rely on “I won’t” power—there’s only a certain limit of times we can say no before we crumble. However, bringing in backup, and using the two other elements of our willpower will triple the likelihood of success.
Next time you’re faced with temptation to steer from your goals, think through all three powers of willpower: resist, replace, and remember.
3. Create Your own Obstacles
To shoot yourself in the foot has never been something to boast about, however, it’s an effective strategy for getting things done. It seems counterintuitive, but setting obstacles in our own path can actually aid our success.
It’s the psychological phenomenon known as “Loss Aversion.” We’re more motivated to take action in light of loss rather than gain; a person will work harder to save losing $100 rather than to gain $100. The pain from loss outweighs the pleasure of gain.
It extends beyond economics, Lance Armstrong said, “I like to win, but more than anything, I can’t stand this idea of losing. Because to me, losing means death.”
Of course this can be leveraged to boost our levels of motivation and productivity. When the stakes are raised and we risk something to lose, we kick in our fight mechanisms and work that little bit harder.
Here are some self-imposed obstacles that will boost your productivity:
Setting shorter deadlines: Have you noticed how a 4-week project suddenly gets finished when realising there’s only 2 weeks until the deadline; and the agenda for a 3-hour meeting is magically covered when starting an hour late.
It’s called Parkinson’s Law—work shrinks or expands according to available time. If we give ourselves an hour to clean the house, we’ll use that whole hour. But if we’ve only got twenty minutes, we’ll hustle and still manage to get things done.
The key is to have the deadline coincide with another important event. So, the reason you’ve only got twenty minutes to clean the house is because you have friends coming over; You cut your meeting short because it’s on the eve of a long weekend. You don’t want to miss out on the upcoming event.
Monetary Stakes: As mentioned earlier, the risk of losing money is a great motivator. You can give money to a friend with the agreement they keep it if you don’t reach your goal, or give it back once you’ve accomplished them. But it has to be a considerable amount of money in order to create that feeling of significant loss.
A clever and novel website designed by Yale University economists is stickk.com. Not only do you place money on the line, but that money goes toward to a charity you hate if you fail to reach your goals. That added bitterness acts as motivation.
The higher the risk, the greater our response. Sometimes risk needs to be self-imposed.