Summer can be a tough time to get things done, as vacations, travel, and other plans naturally pull us away from productivity. But unfortunately, letting off the gas too much in these critical months can leave you falling behind on your big projects and goals (or even your day-to-day responsibilities).
To help keep your momentum going, we’ve pulled a few inspiring quotes on productivity from six of history’s greatest speeches. Check out the Otter transcriptions below, or watch the full videos whenever you need some extra motivation to get things done.
Steve Jobs: How to Live Before You Die
No list of history’s greatest speeches would be complete without a mention of Steve Jobs’ classic commencement address, delivered to Stanford’s class of 2005. Given just six years before the iconic Apple leader’s death, the speech contains a critical reflection on the importance of doing great work.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
Put It Into Practice: It’s true that every task you touch won’t be truly, deeply satisfying. But in the context of productivity, Jobs has it right that doing great work is easier when you believe in the value of what you’re doing. Finding this ‘why’ can help keep you on track—even if it’s as simple as understanding the value your weekly reports have for those making decisions based on them.
Jim Valvano: Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award
In his acceptance speech at the 1993 ESPY awards, a cancer-stricken Coach Jimmy V announced the formation of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, which has funded nearly $290 million in research grants since 1994. He also gave this generous bit of wisdom to anyone struggling to find their way forward.
“I always have to think about what's important in life to me are these three things. Where you started, where you are and where you're going to be.”
Put It Into Practice: It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of day-to-day work. Understanding the larger context of the role you play—the ‘where you are and where you’re going to be’ piece—may give you the motivation needed to keep going when your productivity is lagging.
Charlie Munger: University of Southern California Commencement Speech
Charlie Munger himself kicks off this speech—delivered to USC’s 2007 Law School commencement ceremony—wondering why an ‘old man’ such as himself was chosen to deliver the school’s graduation message. Moments like the quote below prove the value of his hard won wisdom for modern productivity-seekers.
“I got at a very early age the idea that the safest way to try and get what you want is to try and deserve what you want. It’s such a simple idea. It’s the golden rule so to speak. You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end.”
Put It Into Practice: To see the parallels between Munger’s reflection and productivity, focus on the last line of his quote. Is the work you’re doing work you’d be proud to put your name on? If not, let his words inspire you to elevate the quality of your work and overall productivity.
Randy Pausch: Time Management
Randy Pausch is well known for his ‘Last Lecture’ speech—the moving address on achieving childhood dreams he gave shortly before the end of his battle with pancreatic cancer. Yet, fewer are familiar with another lecture he gave at Carnegie Mellon on the topic of time management.
The speech—which tends more towards the practical than the poignant—contains an important piece of productivity wisdom on the importance of regularly evaluating how your time and attention is delegated.
“Almost no one that I know starts with the core principle of, there's this thing on my To Do list, why is it there? So ask, why am I doing this, what is the goal, why will I succeed at doing it, and here's my favorite: “What will happen if I don't do it?” The best thing in the world is when I have something on my To Do list and I just go: Hmm, no. No one has ever come and taken me to jail.”
Put It Into Practice: You may not be able to take entire items off your to-do list with a single shake of your head. But the real value of Pausch’s practiced skepticism is its ability to refine your productivity to the tasks that matter most. Being productive isn’t useful if that energy is wasted on unnecessary projects or tasks. Getting into this habit of questioning assumptions is a great way to hone in on the work that actually needs to be done.
Admiral William H. McRaven: University of Texas at Austin Commencement Address
Could improving your productivity really be as simple as making your bed every morning? That’s the contention of Admiral William H. McRaven, who delivered the advice in his UT Austin commencement speech in 2014.
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
Put It Into Practice: Making your bed is a great way to start the day, but you can apply this simple principle to your workday as well. Rather than starting your day with your biggest, most challenging projects, is there a smaller task you could easily complete each morning? Not only will you gain the satisfaction of having completed something, you may be able to turn that momentum into greater productivity as you go.
Neil Gaiman: University of the Arts Commencement Speech
Prominent author Neil Gaiman has a way with words, so it should come as no surprise that 2012 commencement address to the University of the Arts contained productivity advice that was as vivid as it was practical.
“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”
Put It Into Practice: Your mountain might not be a book or a comic, but there’s undoubtedly some larger goal you’re working towards. Balancing day-to-day progress with bigger picture action can be challenging, but Gaiman’s guidance provides a great framework for aligning your productivity with your goals. Whatever your personal mountain is, keep it in your sights and take as many actions as you can to move toward it.
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