The Newton Law That Helps Me Get More Done
July 10, 2019
I could probably stay at rest forever.
Give me a couch and a free afternoon and my default activity is, well, nothing.
Not that there's anything wrong with that—free, unaccounted for time is a privilege, and one that should be enjoyed.
But the same can't be said for time that you want or need to use to its fullest advantage. I'm talking about your packed work days, or that time you'd like to fill with a creative project or side hobby. These are the times when you might want to be moving and getting things done.
So, how can you do that more often—without resorting to the couch flop?
Turns out you can take a cue from science.
Let me explain. Or, rather, let Sir Isaac Newton explain.
The genius scientist was a revolutionary in maths and physics (among many other subjects), but his findings can also be translated into antidotes for the overtaxed, modern-day mind. Put simply: He might just fix our productivity problems.
The writer James Clear took Sir Isaac Newton's three laws of motion and transformed them into productivity rules. The first law of motion is the one that caught my eye.
"An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force. (i.e. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.)"
Anyone who has fought procrastination for hours (or days) knows this all too well. You can put something off for a long time, only to find that when you do get started, the task goes much more easily (and is simpler) than you imagined.
Once you're in motion, you're off and running. You are the external force you were looking for.
But it's that first initial motion that's the hard part.
If you're continually at rest, you're likely to stay that way. If you're continually in motion, you're likely to stay that way, too. (I feel like this explains why I can't run just one errand—I start with one and then feel compelled to do all of them in one afternoon.)
So how can Newton's law be applied to your own life? Let's look at a few scenarios and find ways to better manage our rest and go modes.
Are you at rest and WANT to be moving?
Ah, yes. A familiar state to people prone to procrastination—or getting sucked down a social media rabbithole. For our purposes, "at rest" can be defined as doing nothing, or any low-energy activity that isn't providing much tangible benefit.
To nudge yourself out of this state, you need to apply an external force. Here are some that might work for you:
●︎ A deadline! Pick a time to end your workday, or give yourself a deadline to complete your project.
●︎ A physical activity. There's a reason many successful people start their days with walks or some kind of workout—moving your body can often wake up your mind. Even something as boring as taking a shower can kick off your day and tell your body IT'S TIME TO GET TO WORK.
●︎ A recurring cue. That first cup of coffee in the morning can be a signal for your body to start the day; can you create a similar cue in the middle of the day?
Are you at rest and WANT to stay at rest?
Perhaps you reached an important milestone or finish line—or just had a busy workweek—and now you really crave some rest. The key here is to remove all external forces and eliminate your distractions.
If you want a low-key time, try to say a blanket "no" to any opportunity that comes up. Look at your phone and notifications less often to reduce temptation to jump onto something that might tire you out.
You have to plan your rest as carefully as you would plan your activity.
Are you moving and WANT to keep moving?
So you want to continue to move at constant velocity? You're probably in a state of flow or getting a lot done—that's great! Once you get started, it's always easier to keep moving, but these tips might help to keep you from falling off:
●︎ Cut off external forces that will slow you down. This means little distractions that want to pull you back into a state of rest, like Instagram or Slack. Before you start moving, it's important to come up with a plan that'll squash these things before they pull you astray.
●︎ Set up an "out of office" or an away message. It can go a long way—you won't be worried about what's happening elsewhere because you already communicated that you're in the zone.
●︎ Come up with continual benchmarks. Tracking your progress can be an exciting way to see how far you've come. Maybe it's a to-do list you're ticking off with each activity completed, or logging your productive hours in an app or by hand, or writing down how many workouts you've done—all that productive progress will add up and convince you that it's worthwhile.
Are you moving and WANT to be resting?
As hard as it is to sometimes get started on a task, it's equally hard sometimes to stop. Anyone who feels compelled to check their email on the weekend is familiar with this feeling. You want to keep up, without ever truly taking breaks.
This can be just as harmful as procrastinating, and if you want to be pulled back into a state of rest, you need an external force to do so.
One thing you can do is set a timer. When it goes off, it can be your signal to take a break for lunch (no more sad desk salads!) or when to stop at the end of a workday.
Another trick to get in more rest is to plan a vacation. Is the season yawning ahead of you with no solid plans in sight? Don't let it get away—you've been in motion for the first half of the year and will continue that way, unless you make a plan to stop. So schedule an hour this week to plan a vacation or staycation before the months disappear.
Sir Isaac Newton would be proud of you—on all counts.
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