How To Shift Gears And Rev Up Your Productivity

Orange supercar with superimposed text saying: go from 0–100 real quick (kinda)

When’s the last time you drove a stick shift?

Seems like an irrelevant question, until you recall the fact that I’m a writer. And as it turns out, being a writer affords me the ability to make the zaniest of analogies. Hence today we officiate the marriage between productivity and driving a manual transmission.

But first off, let’s discuss productivity overdrive (PO). Is it a fancy new term I made up? Yes. Is it important? Not really. Should we still treat it like pre-existing corporate lingo? Most definitely.

So what is it? In a nutshell, it’s basically flow.

You’ve probably felt PO at least twice in your life. You know, like that time the words just flowed out of you when you weren’t trying. Or when you ran those ten miles without feeling it. Or when started a doodle in the morning and finished after sunset, without even noticing.

That’s productivity overdrive. And chances are, you had to switch gears multiple times to get there.

The importance of switching gears

So why this talk about switching gears?

Well, you might remember that time I wrote about High You and Low You. That’s basically a post about your lowest and highest gears.

But productivity is a complex creature and is far from binary, so you’ll need other modes besides ‘Netflix all day’ and ‘balls to the wall’. Which brings us to the subject of gear-shifting.

And the most important point of that topic is the first gear. Why? Because that’s where it all starts, no matter the pursuit. Also, it’s the trickiest gear to learn, and you could even destroy your engine with it.

First gear: The one that gets you going

Here’s the golden rule: you can’t go anywhere without starting in first gear. But it’s also the hardest gear to master, especially when it comes to not stalling.

On the flip side, it’s important to note that the first gear won’t get you to your destination. That’s the other gears’ job.

In fact, if you look at it objectively, the first gear is pretty lame. With a top speed of 40 km/h (and that’s pushing it), you’re not travelling much further past the next block if you don’t switch gears.

Similarly, the first gear in real life seems comically useless. Writing 250 words a day looks stupid compared to the 80,000 words of an average novel. And getting dressed for the gym is pretty silly versus actually working out.

But put it this way. The first gear’s job is only to get you moving. Once you accept that perspective, it’ll be easier to see these ‘pointless’ tasks as what they really are: your gateway to PO.

One way I like to tap into the first gear is by using Mel Robbins’ five-second rule. All you do is count backwards from five to one, and you’ll be amazed at how often you actually get up and do what you’re supposed to.

Need to wake up but your bed’s too comfortable? Try counting down from five to one. On your couch and can’t be arsed to wash the dishes? Count backwards. Need to do the groceries but don’t feel like going out? Ditto. I’ve used this method to walk the dog, sweep the floor, write articles, and even start my workouts.

I know, it sounds like woo-woo crap that’s childish at best. I thought this was a load of bull too, until I actually tried it. It seriously does work. Give it a go and tell me what you think.

The other gears to productivity overdrive

Once you’re rolling, it’s time to keep the momentum going. In second gear, you’ll want to set deadlines or a daily schedule. In my case, once I’ve written my 250 words for the day, I’ll attach that task to a project—this article, for instance—which allows me to keep the bigger goal in mind.

Next, we enter third gear. This is where you fall into a groove and start optimising. Still using my writing example, this is where I find pockets of time where I’m most creative. Sure, I can crank out 250 words any time of the day, but if I realise that I’m wittier at night, then that’s when I’m going to write. No reason to make things harder for myself.

I know that cars typically have five gears, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s cap it at fourth gear. This is where you achieve your top speed and set personal records. This is the best you. Your flow state. And if you’re lucky enough to come here often, then this is where you ask more of yourself. Already mastered 250 words a day? Aim for 500. Then 1,000. Then the sky’s the limit.

Want to know why it’s always important to challenge yourself at fourth gear? Watch this video of people being great at their jobs. No matter what you do in life, you’ll always gain satisfaction from doing it the best way you can.

It doesn’t matter if you’re slicing bread or washing the toilet. There’s always a way to display your mastery. And if you feel satisfied watching that video, imagine how great you’d feel doing it.

Staying in overdrive: Troubleshooting

I feel like a broken record highlighting these possible pitfalls repeatedly throughout my blog. But the reason I repeat myself so much is because these problems are what you’ll most commonly face.


My reason for procrastinating is wanting everything to be perfect before I take that first step. Which, let’s face it, will never happen. There’s never a day where I truly get to write or work out the way I want to.

I’m most creative at night? I’ll end up getting overtime at work. Plan to swim? The pool will be closed.

How I combat this is by embracing no zero days. Regardless of what happens, I try and make the best with what I have. Writing ten words is better than nothing at all. Same with push-ups. And they may not be the perfect routine, but they’ll start to add up after a month or two.


My second-biggest problem is doggone YouTube. The internet is such a blessing and a curse. But when it comes to overall productivity, I fall victim to the endless scroll every time.

This is a work in progress, but my current workaround is using low-tech alternatives for tasks. That means drafting my articles longhand or getting creative ideas from actual books and not Google. Abstinence works better than moderation in my case.


I’m always juggling multiple writing projects or chores, and you’ll even find me watching TV while on my phone. Not only is this a less-efficient way to approach my tasks (attention residue is a thing), but it also conditions me not to focus on the task at hand.

For some reason, to-do lists work well for me, especially the pen-and-paper variety. It keeps me focused on the tasks I’ve laid out for the day, even if I don’t consult the list again. I also try to keep my devices out of arm’s reach.

Let’s park this here

If we’re going to go all in on this analogy, I should probably bring up the fact that cars need routine servicing, which means so do you.

Take inventory of yourself every once in a while. Check your tyres. Change your oil. I don’t know what’s the real-life equivalent for you, because only you can answer that.

Also, don’t be afraid of the reverse gear either. Because sometimes you gotta make those three-point turns in life to get to where you want to go.

Anyway, that brings us to the end of the first post of 2023. Happy New Year if I haven’t wished you that already. May you achieve productivity overdrive for the entire year, and remember to shift into neutral every once in a while.

Vroom vroom, motherfathers. Have a great year ahead.

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58 thoughts on “How To Shift Gears And Rev Up Your Productivity

  1. Hi Stuart, I think I’m still stuck between the first two gears for the writing that I want to do. Do you find that your mind is flowing with all kinds of ideas as you drive and the traffic is slow moving? You then feel like pulling your car out of the traffic and park the car so you can scribble your thoughts before they are gone. But you know you cannot do that, as you have a destination to arrive. This is how I feel all the time. It is a matter of discipline which I’m still working on. About distractions, I think we tend to welcome the distractions because the work is just too hard. This is a helpful article, thanks much. Best wishes, LH


    • Lol, that’s exactly why I use the phone holder for my car, so that during these moments, I can easily ask Siri to take a note for me, or open the audio recorder. It’s a wonderful feature, really!

      Regarding distractions, I can relate to wanting to choose the easier option when there’s work vs. distractions. Lately, I’ve begun using visualisation to stop picking the easier option, because I know I’ll feel happier if I go with what I need to do instead of what I want. Still a work in progress though.

      Thanks as always for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing and pulsating blog post Stuart. Great analogies of the gears there and it is so true , the first gear usually it the gear that won’t get us to the final destination because it is the start where the mind usually stalls but as you slowly pace up from the 1st to the 2nd gear and so forth you end up reaching that desired level.

    It is like learning to drive, the first time will be a lot of work and daunting but as you apply the tactics each day like the to do list that you mentioned here under the multitasking sub topic you focus on the goals of the day. Doing so makes driving easier because you have the manual in front of you all you need it is to practice it. I believe practice makes productivity easy and it gears you up👏💯


    • I envy those who can get things done without a manual. If I just wing it through the day, I find that I’ll choose more pleasurable activities instead of doing the things I need to do.

      For some weird reason, a to-do list keeps me on track and allows me to skip everything else. Maybe it’s like a video game, where the objectives are laid out, making it easier for me to progress through the game.

      Thanks for for your lovely comment!


  3. love this post! This is very reminiscent of what I have been doing with my blog!

    When I first started I was in hyper drive and now that I have over 6 months of work under my belt I feel like I am not getting into second gear. I am really focusing on trying to build momentum and optimize systems so I can grow my site to where I want it to be!

    Usually in the mornings the first thing I do is drink coffee and then jump right onto my laptop and write before I head off to my day job… counting down the days that I can finally quit and move onto something with more freedom to it

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can feel the dedication when browsing through your blog (it does help that I’m a jiujitero as well, lol). But I’m learning pretty quickly that writing isn’t just all about writing sometimes. In fact, I think marketing matters more.

      So perhaps your second gear might be less about posting, but more about getting your work seen. It could be through advertising, being a regular on forums like Reddit, or what you’re doing right now, which is leaving thoughtful comments on other blogs.

      Wishing you all the best with your goals to be free from your job!

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is a great point! I have a master list of all the things I want to write about so I still have some “gear one” work that needs to be done before I solely focus on the marketing! My goal this year was to grow more on Twitter and connect more with bloggers, I plan on starting another website about my spiritual journey as well


  4. Driving a stick shift, a skill we all possess
    But when was the last time we used it, I confess

    We’re all writers at heart, crafting our art
    Analogies and flow, it’s all a part

    Productivity Overdrive, a term I invented
    But it’s not really important, just try to be content

    It’s flow, that feeling when words flow out
    Like running ten miles without a doubt

    Or starting a doodle and finishing it too
    All without noticing, now that’s something new

    To get to this flow, we must switch gears
    From low to high, it’s all in our fears

    First gear is the hardest, but it gets us going
    It won’t take us far, but it’s the start of the showing

    Writing just 250 words a day may seem small
    But it’s the gateway to flow, and that’s all

    The five-second rule can help us get started
    Counting backwards from five, it’s not too complicated

    Once we’re rolling, we must keep the momentum going
    Deadlines and schedules, we must keep them showing

    Third gear is where we find our groove
    Optimizing our time, we must constantly improve

    Fourth gear is when we pick up speed
    And finally in fifth, we reach our max indeed

    But don’t get stuck in any one gear
    Keep switching and adapting, it’s all very clear

    Productivity Overdrive, a state we all crave
    But it’s the journey to get there, that we must savor and save

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whoa, is this a rap version of the post? Or are you just being drunk? :P

      What a lovely comment. I must say, I have no idea how to reply to this. You really stumped me here. I truly appreciate the effort that went into this. And if anything, this is a great summary for the post. Thanks for writing one of the most unique comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved the analogy, Stuart.
    It’s all about motivation.

    One thing that might help is setting goals for yourself and then tracking your progress over time. This could help you see how much you’ve accomplished and give you a sense of accomplishment as you reach your goals. Additionally, finding a community of bloggers who support and encourage one another can be really helpful in terms of staying motivated. Finally, it’s crucial to find ways to enjoy the blogging process – experimenting with different styles, writing about topics that interest you, etc. – because if the process isn’t enjoyable, it can be difficult to sustain the motivation over time.


    • What a thoughtful comment. Yeah, I think I’ll need to use my journal in a more productive way and record down a specific path I’m taking (on top of my long form babbles).

      I’m thankful I have a great community to support me, as well as keep me on my toes (just as how you’re doing the former right now through your comment), so I have that going for me at least.

      Anyway, thanks for writing such a valuable comment!


  6. I like this analogy. Smart. As for multi-tasking, dividing focus between multiple tasks dissipates the focus and also effectiveness of each task. When we think ahead, we lose power in the Now. When we try to do multiple things at the same time we lose the power fueling those things, along with the effectiveness of the activities. Like right now, I focus 100% of my mind on publishing this comment. This strategy makes an impact. But if I tried to do many things at once you’d see a 1-2 line, comment drive-by. Not a bad thing per se but it cannot and will not make the impact of a long-form comment. Plus, when you’re in 5th gear and revving along you’ll drive right by the mental urge to multi-task because doing so pumps the brakes and no one wished to pump the brakes at 110 MPH, revving in 5th.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That 5th gear analogy is so spot on. Once we get there, momentum takes care of itself, and we don’t need as much effort to maintain the task, and we won’t even want to end it.

      I totally resonate with your ‘staying present’ thought, because that’s what I hope to achieve as well. I’m so easily distracted these days, which I’ll blame on electronics. I’ll be brushing my teeth and feel the need to check my phone. Work in progress, as usual.

      Anyways, thanks for such a great comment, Ryan!


      • Being present may be the most uncomfortable practice ever LOL. No wonder why enlightened beings are so revered. Imagine spending your life never looking back to the past and never making any decision with the past in mind. Crazy. Slowly but surely, we are getting there. Meditating helps heaps as does basic mind training.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The last time I drove a stick shift was shortly before my JJ accident that took out my left foot. Now I can only drive the automatic. I hope it will be like riding a bike when I can finally drive it again. I also hope walking will be like riding a bike, but I’m told that, no, no it will not be.

    Mel Robbins’ five-second rule–I have never heard of this. It sounds brilliant. No zero days–likewise. I will totally do that regarding push ups. I now do them on my knees, but hey, I’m doing them. I should make a goal for crunches too because it’s amazing how quickly one can lose her abs when she’s no longer doing martial arts 7-9x a week. But this just means I have to work harder on the areas I can still work on. (My left calf muscle is now non-existent. I’ll have to give that special attention when the time comes.)

    All this talk of flow–I’ve only heard that on my other JJ blog buddy Tom’s blog. Must be a JJ term that my guy surprisingly doesn’t use. Well, he’s young. :)

    Vroom vroom, motherfathers. Lol! Great analogy all around, Stuart. I appreciate your insights and that video of people doing their jobs well. That was fun!


    • Yeah, you’re probably right that walking’s not gonna be like riding a bike. I highly suspect it’s going to be a lot like… walking :P

      I haven’t seen an actual stick shift in a while though. Especially with the traffic jams we have here in Malaysia, I think many people have opted for automatics as their daily driver (heh).

      Injuries suck, right? Especially after you’ve been doing it so regularly. I can totally relate. I do hope you find alternative areas in your life to work on.

      Thanks so much for this super thoughtful comment. I can always rely on you to bring a huge dose of charm and sunshine to this part of the web!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This analogy reminded me of my goal which is to take car driving license. I always find it hard to start despite having the basic techniques taught by my cousin a few years ago. My first gear would be registering for the class and I’m sure once I do that, everything will flow and I will get into momentum.

    By the way, I have never tried Mel Robbin’s 5 second rule but I’m going to try it today! Let’s see if it works for me.

    Thank you Stuart for this valuable insight. Happy New Year to you and all readers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love it that you have a first gear so that you can go and learn how to get into first gear :P

      If you need me to keep you accountable, I can check in a week from now to make sure you did indeed register. In fact, I’m going to write it in my diary now.

      I hope you had the time to try the five-second rule? Let me know how it goes.

      Happy New Year and thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for offering to be my accountable buddy, Stuart! I plan to register the class on 8th February and I’m taking my brothers with me to accompany me 😂

        However, I’m feeling nervous just thinking about it. Like, I’m not ready to go for the class, let alone drive a car. Do you know a way to go about it? I would appreciate any kinds of advice. Thank you!

        Oh yes, I did try the 5 second rule a few times and it worked! But I find myself always forgetting to do it so I can’t say much about it.

        Anyway, thank you for the response and I’m so sorry for the late reply 🙏


      • I totally understand your fear of driving. I think I was scared for my first 6 months of driving after I got my license. Like, how do I exit junctions? Roundabouts? Am I going to be able to park properly? Will I still in first gear (most cars were manual transmission then).

        But all I can say is that it gets better. Today I drive without a second thought. It’s as natural as breathing. The fear part is a necessary process. Expect to feel overwhelmed if you’re not used to driving. But it will go away.

        Will definitely check in on you on the 8th!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the word of advice! It’s normal to feel scared of driving then. I just have to do it many times until it gets better. What’s more important is that I don’t let my fear stopping me.

        Okay, 8th February it is! Thank you Stuart 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I like the car analogy! I need to consider the importance of first gear rather than letting it get me down. Maybe some days are just meant to be first gear drives around the block while other days are road trips on the freeway lol. I’ll need to try out that five second countdown for motivation. Happy New Year to you, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heya Sarah!

      Yeah, your gear of choice depends on traffic and the route too. So it’s not like you can go up to fourth gear sometimes, even if you want to.

      And that danged countdown thing is pretty effective, for some reason. Try it and let me know how it goes!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I believe No Zero Days has been responsible for my writing habit, because there was a time I didn’t write at all (despite writing for a living). But once I made the commitment to write even 100 words a day, my habits have totally changed. So here’s to taking those consistent steps, however small!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Procrastination => I don’t use the 5-Second rule. Is this more like mind over matter => if I don’t mind it doesn’t matter. LOL. I miss my standard shift…. Great topic. There is one very important step you have left out, you have to press START (meaning want to change).

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Happy New Year, Stuart! This is a perfect way to start the year and it really motivated me to get to work on my goals! It really is a great analogy because, as you say, the first gear is always the hardest, just like the first step!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy New Year to you too! And yes. If there was a way to capture that motivation to take the first step, I’d bottle it up and sell it, then swim in money like Scrooge McDuck :P

      Keep working towards your goals! I’ll always be here rooting for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Love the analogy: I used to driving only stick-shifts and loved them. (Gave it up when I stopped working on the road.) The best part of driving a stick is learning the feel and sound of the car letting you know it’s time to shift up (and shift down). Just like a working day: Gotta know when to shift up and when to shift down.


    • And I also love the fact how something that was once fearful (I used to hate dead stops and tried my best to avoid them) can become second nature with time. I miss driving a stick. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!


  13. Really awesome article! I just love the analogy. I’m starting this year off with a new bullet journal and plans for better routines and more productivity. I think I’ll try that count-down method to get me off my butt now and then to do the things I need to do. Thanks for this post and Happy New Year to you and yours.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The five-second rule is so simple it’s bordering silly. But it gets me off my ass every time. Would love to hear how it works for you, Roze!

      Ah, the feeling of a fresh journal. Nothing beats that. I actually enjoy coming to an end of a journal and choosing the next one to continue my journey with.

      Happy New Year to you too!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Vroom vroom, indeed. I’ve never had a problem sucking it up and doing what I have to do…until the latter part of this year/into the New Year. So, you know I’m gonna try that counting backwards thing! I have been plagued by the “I-don’t-want-to-do-anything” problem…and that, for someone like me, feels like the sky’s falling! Ha! P.S. I use pen-and-paper to-do lists even if I don’t need reminding…it’s sooo helpful to keep me on track!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tell me about it! I had the same problem too. For some reason, I just kept losing speed towards the end of the year.

      Oh that five-second rule is sweet. Do try it and let me know how ti goes.

      And yes, to-do lists are weirdly effective, as basic as they are. Interesting to know that it helps me get things done, despite me knowing what I need to do, even without the list.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. My car is parked for now, since I’m still recovering from the sickness, the last gift of 2022.

    But I’m also practicing to getting back in the groove, by participating in the bloganuary challenge. I realize that I won’t get to work in optimum health all the time, so it is a great practice.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Just what I needed today Stuart. Thank you … and you got me up out my seat to put on the washing machine when I’d finished reading.

    I need to work on being more disciplines, so I’ll try your countdown method 😁. Must admit I was also distracted by another of your posts shared at the end of your post … so obviously still a work in progress 🤭


    • You have no idea how great that makes me feel, Brenda, to be able to spur you into doing laundry. That’s a super win for my start of 2023, even though technically you did all the hard work.

      I’m seeking feedback on those who try Mel Robbins’ five-second rule. Like, does it really work? Or am I just getting a placebo? So do let me know what you think of the countdown!

      Liked by 1 person

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