How to Be Insanely Productive

A few weeks ago, I had one of those days.

No, not one of those days where you you lie around in pajamas eating nachos and wondering why your big project isn’t getting done, but the other kind.

The kind where you know you’re ON FIRE. The kind where you just keep churning and churning through your to-do list and even when the day should be over you put in a few extra hours because you’re just such SO ON FIRE. And, then, when you finally do close your laptop and turn off the phone you wonder why a New York Times journalist isn’t knocking down your day to ask, “So how did you do it? How did you become the MOST PRODUCTIVE PERSON ON THE PLANET IN ONE DAY?!?”

That day was amazing.

And then the next day, the whole nachos thing happened.

When I pulled myself out of bed with a belly full of cheese, I started wondering about what it is that made that one day so amazing, and then the next day such an overwhelming dud. How did I manage to be so productive, and what’s the lesson on how to be productive in general?

Here are the two key insights I came up with.

By Definition, Insane Productivity Can’t Happen Every Day of the Week 

None of us can fire on all cylinders every day of the week. Or, when we do, we quickly experience burn out, as my new book discusses. As such, truly incredible productivity by definition has to happen infrequently. That way, your body and mind can rest and recuperate well to get ready to do it all again.

Productivity Builds on Productivity

The day I was SO ON FIRE didn’t start out amazing. But there was a moment at which I made a decision to put my head down. Just for a short period of dedicated hard work. And, as happens when you successfully get through a short period of good, solid work, you feel psychologically awesome, and want more. That’s what happened that day. Small wins built on small wins, and by the end of the day I was on such a streak that I wanted to keep going.

Ultimately, what I learned in thinking about why I had such a good day – and then why I had such a bad day – was that I simply can’t have those amazing feats of productive genius every day. But I can have them sometimes. And to make them happen, I have to set myself up for success by building on small, early wins in the morning so I can feel the fire.

What about you? If you’ve ever had an insanely productive day, what did it teach you about how to be more productive in the future? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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18 thoughts on “How to Be Insanely Productive

  1. Glad to know someone else had a “nacho day” right after an “on fire” day. I’ve wondered the same many days (I rate my days 1-5, with 5 being “on fire”.) Most days I’m a solid 3. Very few days are 1’s. I’d like to average a 4, but the only way to get from a 3 average to a 4 is to of course have more 5 days. 🙂

  2. Hi Claire,
    Such a nice refreshing post. It felt nice to read, thank you.
    I too feel such energy some days. For instance the other day I had the energy to run an extra mile in my workplace but was dead confused as to what to do. Due to this, I could feel my energy go down the drain slowly as i had no closed concrete points. How do you tackle such days? I’ve a strong urge to takeup something on my own, still figuring out how to put it on paper.

  3. I like the small wins idea…I’ve had the same experience. It runs counter to a lot of advice you read about tackling the big, high priority stuff first, but I’ve found that doing a handful of short but necessary actions first, early in the day, lets you check off some of the To-Do items and builds momentum. Sort of like warming up before a run or a race .

    • I agree – small wins are leading to bigger things, if you don’t let yourself be cut off at the pass, with side things!

      Today is growing… soon, I’ll be ON FIRE. I really like Claire’s tips- usually right on target.


  4. Just like my big guy here says, look for that busiest worker, add them more work. Success attracts success. Coudn’t be more true

  5. Claire I loved this post! Made sense in so many ways.
    One statement stuck out from the rest “..I have to set myself up for success by building on small, early wins in the morning so I can feel the fire.”
    I copied it onto a word document so I could look at it. Then the photographer in me, asked what picture would fit with those words? I decided a basket full of apples. Then the writer in me asked, how can I make this thought my own? I came up with :
    Producing a good day
    comes from gathering
    small victories
    throughout the morning!
    I posted the words above the basket full of red apples. Thanks for the motivational concept! You’re awesome 🙂

  6. Thanks Claire, very helpful. We don’t have to focus on the whole day being “on fire,” just one project at a time. I have noticed that in my own life but often get distracted by all of things I need to be productive on. Great to know that even people like yourself get the bummer days. Thanks!

  7. So agree that we can’t be insanely productive constantly. It’s taken me a long time to learn that constant motion, a packed calendar and long work days don’t equal productivity. Constant motion does generate adrenalin which is extremely addictive leading to more action! Those nacho days provide the perspective and a restorative break which creates thoughtful, creative productivity.

  8. Hi,
    This also happens with me. My understanding is when things work out in positive direction at start, our energy level increases resulting into more productive day.
    But you will agree, that Efficient Personality have more frequency of such productive days.
    For him it doesn’t matter, if one or two things goes wrong. He do not need any external motivation to keep going.
    Thanks to share this topic.
    Kind Regards,

  9. Just start. Of my three jobs I’m OK with one, hate another, and love the third. Once I start on the third I end up with “might as well get some of the others out of the way” building on a mental list of “things I have to do by…” (which includes fun as well as have tos)

  10. I’m about 5 decades into the cycle of creative-productive ups and downs. IMHO, maintaining sanity and productivity is through a building block process. Given good and blah (or worse) days, what’s key is to have a result from each super-burst that serves as a guide for the next step, whatever it is – reaching out to others, communicating to self, literally drawing, building or creating ‘something’ – and then doing your best to simply relax when you’re flat-brained. I’d put learning-through-failing and moving on somewhere in the process as well, but that’s a trickier one to express!