“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off.” Wise words from Ellen DeGeneres. They’re words to live by if you like wooshing sounds that deadlines make as they rush by or that sinking feeling when you realise you should have started yesterday (or last week!).
We’re all guilty of procrastinating. Paradoxically, it sometimes seems that when things are a bit quiet that things don’t get done. (It’s true, if you want something done give it to a busy person). All those DIY jobs that would get done when you had a free weekend (but binge-watched ‘Orange Is the New Black’ on Netflix instead). Or the great books you would read on holidays (but got sucked into the time-vacuum of Twitter instead)
Whether you’ve lost momentum, lost your mojo or are simply distracted, here’s a few tips to get your productivity back on track:
1 To-Do Lists
This is your repository for your tasks and things you need to remember. I call it my out-sourced brain. Its where I dump stuff that I need to get done but can’t do now or that I need to remember for a later date. A reliable to-do list should always be at hand. Once you’ve jotted down what you need to remember you can free up your mental energy and focus for the work you have to do now.
Your list can be an old-school notebook. However, I prefer to use apps for this. And there are loads of great, free apps out there for just this job. I use Google Calendar for time-sensitive tasks and Google Keep notes like shopping lists, gift ideas, recipe ideas, reading recommendations. These are great as I can always view them or edit them as I usually have my phone nearby and they’re automatically backed up to my online accounts. I can even share them with others.
There are lots of great apps, tools and extensions e.g.Pocket for bookmarking material you find online that you would like to read later. The idea is to save stuff (by ‘stuff’ I mean distractions!) for later so that you can focus on the work you have to do now.
2 The Four D’s
Take a good look at your to-do list. For each task on the list do one of the following:
- Do It – If its going to take five minutes or less and you that five minutes right now, do it and get it out of the way before it gets a chance to land in your to-do list.
- Defer It – If you still need to do it but can’t attend to it now, then schedule an appropriate time to do the task. This can include scheduling time to read your emails and do the 4 D’s on your to-do list! Meta!
- Dump It – If no action is required then dump it (or file it if you need to keep a record for future reference)
- Delegate It – Action is required but you’re not the person who should do it – then delegate the action to the appropriate person.
3 Bite Sized Pieces
Ok, you’ve dumped and delegated as much as possible. There’s no getting around it, you’re still left with some fairly substantial chunks of work. Sometimes these chunks can seem like mountains. Fear not! You’re going to break each task on your to-do list down into bite-size (dare I say ‘fun-size’) pieces. What constitutes a bite-size piece? A bite-size piece is a single task with a measurable result that you can achieve in one 30-40 minute time slot If you’re really struggling to get started make that an even tinier piece – say a two-minute chunk. A chunkette? A nibble-sized piece?
You’ll need to take a bit of time to identify these bite-sized pieces. That’s a bite-sized piece of work in itself. Then arrange them in the order they need to be done and identify any time-sensitive tasks. Once you’ve done that you have yourself a project schedule of do-able chunks of work. You may prefer to break your list down further into tasks for each day (a long to-do list can be overwhelming) Now its time to get stuck in!
4 Ditch the Distractions
Distractions feed procrastination. Switch off your email alerts, notifications, beeps, buzzes, vibrations or whatever else you’ve got going on. Ditto calendar, social media and phone alerts. Switching your phone to Airplane Mode on is a handy way to do this. If you don’t know how to do that learn now. It will be one of the most useful productivity lessons you’ll ever learn. Don’t procratinate! I know you can’t ignore calls, emails, etc. Instead schedule a couple of time slots in your day to take care of these. You’ll know they’ll get taken care of and in the meantime you can focus on the work you need to do now. Pro tip: there is no such thing as multi-tasking (well, there is, its more correctly called simultaneously doing several things in a half-assed way)
Switch off the radio, TV or other noise sources. Pro tip: if you work in an open plan office get yourself some big headphones. When you need to concentrate and get things done, wear them. This has two benefits. First, you block out some of the distracting background noise. Second, people are less likely to disturb you with trivial interruptions if you have to remove your big headphones to be heard.
Aim to do 30 – 50 minutes of focused work. Know what you what to have done by the end of that time. Then get stuck in to some pure, focused, productive work.
Once this chunk of time comes to an end get up and stretch, look out the window (this rests your eyes), walk to get a coffee and generally change your focus, physically and mentally, for about 10 minutes before getting back to another productive chunk of work. After a few hours aim for a more substantial break. Trying to maintain your focus without these physical and mental breaks is ultimately unsustainable and unproductive. The same is true of the importance of a good night’s sleep and proper ‘fun time’.
6 End on a High Note
Its so much easier to get started first thing in the morning or after a longer break when you can start on something that you enjoy and that you know you can get done. This may be plucking the low-hanging fruit but I see it as building up a bit of momentum so you hit the ground running on the tougher tasks. That’s why I recommend ending on a high note: when you wrap up for the day (or for lunch or a meeting) know what you’re going to do when you start back again and know its something you’ll enjoy and do confidently.
7 Rinse and Repeat
At this stage you’re really powering through your work like a pro (and not the ‘pro’ in procrastinator!). You’ll find that many tasks lead on to other tasks while some tasks are no longer required and yet other tasks have become high priority. Its a good idea to set aside time in your day to review your list. Remove defunct or complete tasks. Add new tasks (do the 4 D’s in step 2 first). Re-prioritise your tasks if necessary. Then you’re back to step 3 with an up-to-date to-do list. And off you go again …
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