How to be productive – start with a Goal

Time = life;
therefore, waste your time and waste of your life,
or master your time and master your life.
Alan Lakein

I remember the summer of 2014. I was a student in my early 20s, visiting my hometown for summer holidays, and I had to spend somewhere like 3 to 4 weeks at my parents’ place. I wasn’t thinking how to be productive – that’s for sure.

That year I studied well, I passed all my exams, and I enjoyed my life. Those days were full of playing video games, watching Youtube documentaries, and hanging out with friends.

I liked the idea of having this free time, but I knew that something was wrong with it. I knew that in just a couple of years I’ll have to go and get my first  job. I knew that the legal industry is over competitive. I heard thousands of students like me were struggling to get a well paid job, just because universities produced way too many of them every year.

I just didn’t know I could use this time better

I knew it all – and still I readily invested one day after another into… nothing. Yes, I can definitely claim that – I simply poured hours of my time into the void of quick dopamine, and I knew it was not productive at all. My skills, my wellbeing, or me personally didn’t benefit from this time.

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That summer made me think about something I’ve never thought about before. The idea that I could spend this time better – by gaining extra skills, joining an NGO or volunteering for something – struck me.

I just had an excuse to myself – like, how could I know it all? How could I know that there are better ways to spend time? Years later, I know the answer and I’m happy to share it in this article.

A little detail I’ve noticed in these “How to be productive” questions

When surfing subreddits about productivity and getting disciplined, I notice many posts, questioning how to be productive or how to gain some good habits. Sometimes they question how to stop bad habits, like surfing addiction or too much video games.

In most of these posts one key detail is missing to me. It’s the goal of these changes. What exactly are you trying to achieve by being productive? What will be your main reason to wake up early, watch less videos on social media, etc? 

If you stop having some bad habit and you get more free time at your hands, it’s obvious that you’ll have some void in your schedule – and the question is how you are going to fill it, what will be the replacement. Without having a clear goal, this question goes unanswered.

A personal example – starting a reading habit

I think I have a good example from my little box of personal achievements. A book reading habit. 

Somewhere 8 months ago, when going through my phone, I noticed a Kindle app. I launched it and saw multiple books that I’d purchased a long time ago. I read them in the past, and completely forgot about their ideas/their existence.

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This led me to think: hm, wouldn’t it be cool if I could re-read them? Or to read even more?

That’s how the idea to start a book reading habit popped. I just made a list of the books I want to read, started reading them, organized a little tracker in a spreadsheet, and kept using it.

The experiment was successful – I kept reading the books regularly, taking down notes of them, learning more and more ideas. That is fun now.

Looking back on this experiment, I understand that I just accidentally started a productive habit in the right way. I didn’t question myself: “How can I be productive?” I just asked: “How can I find some time for regular reading?” And it worked. I started with a Goal.

How to be productive: a Goal

That’s why I’d like to share this experience and to give advice to anyone who’s searching for productivity tips and wants to be productive at something. 

If we consider productivity to be a tool that helps you manage your time better and more efficiently, we should definitely start with a goal – or what exactly we want to achieve. It can be gaining new habits, learning new skills. It can be launching a blog or a Youtube channel. 

Set a goal. See what you want. Define it. Then think how to allocate the right amount of time towards achieving it. 

That’s exactly where the “productivity part” starts. That’s the “how” and “why” you should limit your bad habits and establish the good ones. This is definitely the first step to being productive.


Often productivity is considered to be the ‘standalone’ concept, some set of rules we should follow – like “do this”, but “don’t do this”. It feels that this is the broad perception of the idea on how to be productive.

But based on my personal experience, productivity can’t exist without a certain goal. It doesn’t make sense to re-allocate your time, to adjust your activities without a clear understanding of what you want to achieve with it. Besides, having no goal doesn’t even bring motivation to start doing something and be productive.

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That’s why I’m convinced that the first step towards productivity is setting a goal. Defining what we want to achieve helps us learn the ways to do it, and optimizing our routines/starting new habits/or abandoning the old ones are parts of this process.