How to Use Limitations to Boost Productivity

Sometimes it’s good to be cornered to be more productive

Image licensed from Canva

I saw a thread on Twitter where people detailed what they miss most from their pre-pandemic lives. Hanging out with friends, hugging parents, going out without a mask were common replies, but stuffing popcorn in movie theatres appeared just as much.

I started to wonder what I miss most and because in my country we are almost back to normal — it left me missing travelling the most. The experience of leaving this everyday life behind to delve into a different city, hearing another language and dip my toes in the sea is on the top of my list.

But surprisingly, right after these, I realised how much I miss my weekly commute to Vienna — which is 200 miles or 3 hours on the train away from where I live. I work as a freelance consultant and my main client’s headquarters are in another city, another country. Before March I commuted to Vienna, every Wednesday — getting up at 5 to catch the 6 am train, arriving there at 9 to work from the office the whole day and then catching the evening train back. It is as exhausting as it sounds, the longest day of the week was always Wednesday and I used to spend my entire Thursday recovering from it. Yet I realized I miss it.

Because even if it was exhausting, I got so much done in one day that I felt okay not doing anything on the following day. The commute left me with 6 hours of a train ride, and those were the most productive hours of my entire week. Sitting in my seat, nowhere to go, nothing else to do but work or write. During an average journey — there and back — I used to write 5,000–8,000 words or to clean my inbox getting everything done for the whole week. I was focused, sharp and without distractions. I managed to use the limitations to my advantage so no wonder I wish I could be travelling there again.

I might not miss the ensuing fatigue but I surely miss the exceptional productivity. It made my day and my whole week.

I started to think about how I could replicate that productivity without the possibility of getting on the train, and I collected a few tips that focus on using restrictions to boost productivity.

Limit the impulses

The beauty of the train ride was that I had nothing else to do but to focus. The wifi is usually up and down, making it near impossible to browse endlessly without being interrupted by a tunnel. There is nothing to look at but the back of someone else’s seat. There is nothing to hear but the music in my ears. Watching out the window is not my thing but the scenery there is not too interesting after having seen it once.

If you limit the impulses you would have normally, if you shut everything out, if you silence your phone and switch off notifications you can become immediately more focused. The idea of multitasking is a myth, when multitasking your brain jumps back and forth between different tasks in a short time, loosening your focus and making you more tired quicker.

When at home or at the office (lucky you!) make sure that during a certain time, there is nothing to bother you. Early mornings work great for that. Stopping phone notifications is superb. Sitting in a boring environment works magic. Limit the impulses that would distract you and be there fully for your tasks.

Limit the space

Working from home sounded great at first until we were forced to do it. Because there are too many things happening. You get up for a coffee. Then to put the dishes away. Then it’s lunchtime. Then the postman arrives. You get up, you leave the desk, you lose focus and it’s hard to get it back.

You can help yourself by limiting the space around you. Make sure you can’t go anywhere or it’s difficult to do it. Make sure that you are comfortable but no one bumps into you. Sometimes working and writing on my phone from the bathtub is the most productive time of my day — because there is nowhere to go, nothing to do. But an ugly corner in a coffee shop, a park bench without a view or a bus stop works just fine.

A more comfortable limitation is when you get comfy in your bed, plugging some music in, surrounding yourself with only the things you need to work — so that unplugging and getting up shouldn’t be worth your while.

Limit the time

I noticed in myself and I heard a same for others too, if I have too much time to complete something I will most probably waste 90% of it with something useless. Thinking, overthinking, second-guessing myself, procrastinating my whole term away.

But when there is a looming deadline, and time is scarce, I seem to be better at focusing. Having a lot to lose helps to stop me procrastinating. And I don’t like missing deadlines, self-imposed or not.

You’ll be surprised what can be done in 10 minutes or 25. The Pomodoro method is a great way of setting deadlines to yourself. Working 25 minutes seems nothing, but if you set slightly impossible chunks of tasks, you will automatically become more focused. After all, it’s only 25 minutes, it can’t hurt.

Freelancing, entrepreneurship, writing — they are all about having the freedom you don’t have in a 9–5 job. But sometimes too much freedom is holding you back. Why not try some limitations and boost your productivity easily?

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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