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Hi, I’m Andy. I’m a world-class procrastinator.
When I have a task to do – maybe an article to write, or an apartment to clean, or an email to reply to – I’ll go out of my way to do absolutely everything except the actual task at hand. I’ve wasted hours, days, weeks, months of my life just killing time and avoiding doing the actual work I really want to be doing.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a list of techniques that have helepd turn me into a productive person who can actually get shit done. It’s something I still struggle with now and then, but for the most part I’ve become a pretty prolific worker.
Here’s my list of tricks to get shit done. Experiment with all of these yourself; you’ll be blown away by how much more awesome & productive you can be if you set your mind to it. You can literally become a “productive person”.
- Tell Yourself, “Today I’m Going to be Productive” (And then Follow Through with it)
- Daily Todo List
- Set Rewards for Successfully Being Productive
- Have a “Productivity Routine”
- The Pomodoro Technique
- Turn off ALL Distractions
- Give Yourself Permission to Ignore People for a Little While
- One Task at a Time
- Know When to Unplug & Call it Quits
- The Takeaway
Tell Yourself, “Today I’m Going to be Productive” (And then Follow Through with it)
Probably the most important thing on this list. If you want to get shit done, you need to actually believe that’s possible. No point sitting down to work if you don’t actually believe you’ll succeed in getting anything done.
One technique that helps is to visualise how damn awesome it’ll feel to have a product day (or just a productive hour or two). Really think about how proud of yourself you’ll feel, how you won’t have that sense of guilt that comes from procrastinating working on your goals, etc. Allow yourself to feel all those positive emotions, then say out loud, “I’m going to feel like that at the end of today.” Then get to work actually making it happen.
Daily Todo List
Writing a todo list of things you want to get done each day is something I’ve gone into detail before. If you don’t define what your goals for the day/session are, how will you know what you should be working on – how will you know if you’re on task, or straying?
Grab a piece of paper and write down everything you want to achieve. Writing it down makes you accountable. You’ll find it’s a hell of a lot of fun crossing things off the list as you go – each time you scribble something out, you’ll feel like you’re one step closer to the finish line; one step closer to those awesome feelings we visualised in the step above.
Set Rewards for Successfully Being Productive
You can’t be all work and no play – a productive day deserves a fun reward at the end of it. Come up with something fun you’ll do once you finish your goals for the day, and keep it firmly in your mind the whole day – use it as motivation, something to work towards. Being productive is supposed to be fun; you’re not supposed to be a tyrant to yourself and work yourself to death.
At the end of the productive day, allow yourself to have the reward you set, without any feelings of guilt or “I should be doing even more work, I can’t afford to relax.” Chill out and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Have a “Productivity Routine”
Come up with a set of actions that put you in a nice productive mood – and keep repeating those actions until they become a habit. For me, my productivity routine is:
- I tell myself, “Today I’m going to get a tonne of shit done”, and then I visualise how fricking awesome it’s going to feel at the end of the day when I’ve succeeded.
- I get out a big sheet of paper and write down everything I want to get done that day/in that “productivity session”.
- I put on my most comfortable clothes, making sure I’m not too hot and not too cold.
- I like to make myself a nice cup of coffee in the biggest mug I have.
- I open up the blinds in my apartment (I have very wide panoramic windows with an awesome view out into the city), letting in a tonne of light, boosting my mood.
- I put on my headphones and turn on some music that puts me in a good mood. I like electronic/ambient, drum n bass (this one’s great too), chillstep, progressive house, downtempo/electro house, and a few others. Find something that puts you in a good mood but doesn’t distract you and take your attention away from the task at hand.
- Then I sit down at my computer, do all the techniques we’ll go over below, and get to work.
You should come up with your own routine – it can be literally anything, as long as it’s a routine you repeat each time you want to sit down and be productive. After a week or two of repeating the exact same routine, you’ll start associating the routine with productive work – and the simple act of going through the routine will automatically put you in a great frame of mind to kick ass and put in some solid work.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique has been a recent addition to my productivity routine, and it’s the second-most important thing on this list. It’s pretty damn simple:
- Do 25 minutes of productive work
- Take a 5 minute break
- Repeat this 3 more times, for 4 cycles in total.
- After the 4th cycle, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).
- Repeat as many times as you want.
To make it super easy, use an app, which will automatically set the timers for you:
It’ll take a while for you to actually become productive with it – like most things, you have to build it into a habit. At first you might find 25 minutes isn’t enough time for you to actually be productive – you might spend that entire time being distracted. You might find 5 minutes of break time isn’t enough – you’ll feel like you’ve barely had a second to rest before it’s time to start working again. But over time you’ll adjust to it and find it’s an incredibly powerful tool for getting shit done.
In order for the technique to work (after the initial adjustment period), you HAVE to sit there and write/work on your goals/whatever you’re trying to do. You’re not allowed to get distracted and make cups of tea, or reply to that “super urgent email”, or text your friend, or any other bullshit. Just sit down and work on your goal – force yourself to do that and nothing else.
You also have to take a break as soon as the timer goes off. At first this will be fucking hard – damn near impossible – especially if you’re on a roll and being really productive. Force yourself to stop what you’re doing, go do something else for a bit – it’s only 5 minutes. Even if you’re literally in the middle of a sentence, you need to just stop and
^ (See what I did there? 😉 )
Nothing is so important you can’t take a break for 5 minutes and come back to it. If the thought you were in the middle of having was important enough, you’ll still remember it when you come back.
You’ll also find taking a break allows you to take a step back, refresh your mind and see if you’ve started to become inefficient or waste time. You’ll come back with a renewed sense of energy and a clear mind, ready to kick ass for the next 25 minute round.
A lot of the time you’ll spend your break excitedly waiting to get back into the work; your mind will be racing with ideas & you’ll be itching to start working again. Thus, working and being productive actually becomes really fucking fun.
Turn off ALL Distractions
When you’re working on your missions/goals, it’s easy to let yourself be distracted by the daily bullshit of life. You’ve gotta ignore the distractions and put them out of your mind for a little bit.
- Turn your phone on silent and put it out of arm’s reach, face down so you can’t see the screen light up.
- Close your email program so you don’t get any notifications.
- Close Skype, iMessage, etc.
- If you have to, tell your friends/workmates/everyone else you won’t be contactable for a couple hours.
- Put some music on (especially if you have noise-cancelling headphones) so external sounds won’t distract you.
- Make sure the room is not too hot and not too cold.
- Use an app like Off The Grid to completely remove the temptation to fuck around with your phone when you want to be working. It disables all notifications and completely locks you out of your phone for the designated amount of time you set. You can also use apps like StayFocused to do similar.
- Remove the temptation to visit distraction websites (Facebook/Youtube/Twitter/etc) by using a Chrome/Firefox/Safari addon like StayFocusd (Firefox: Use Monastery. Safari: Use WasteNoTime).
- If you’re working in one window/application, close all other windows and make your main window full-screen.
Give Yourself Permission to Ignore People for a Little While
When you sit down to work on your goals, it’s inevitable people will text you/message you/call you/email you/try to get in contact with you. You’ve got to give yourself permission to let go of the need to reply to everybody the millisecond they try to talk to you. It’s absolutely fine to wait an hour, two hours, even an entire day to reply to someone. Most of the time people are just talking to you for the sake of talking to you. Even when they say “Please reply, this is urgent!” they’ll almost always figure out the answer themselves or sort the issue out on their own. It’s not your job to be at everybody’s beck and call 24/7 – especially when you have your own goals you want to work on.
After you’ve done a couple hours of solid, productive work – or during your 5 minute breaks if you’re using the Pomodoro Technique – you can reply to everybody then. But you need to get into the habit of keeping work time strictly as work time – not “allow myself to be distracted by everybody’s bullshit” time.
You’ll find if you just wait a couple of hours, when you eventually do reply to everybody, they’ll say “Oh that’s cool, I already figured it out myself” or “Yeah that problem doesn’t matter any more, it’s all good”.
You’re not neglecting other people when you ignore them for a little while. You’re setting healthy ego boundaries for yourself and teaching other people your time is valuable. You’ll actually help the other person too – because they’ll have to learn to be more independent if they know they can’t just constantly spam you every time they have a problem/are bored/feel like killing time/feel lonely.
One Task at a Time
Focus on achieving one task at a time – don’t hop between tasks or try to do multiple things at once. Multi-tasking isn’t real, and jumping from one task to another is inefficient. If you have a lot of tasks to do, write them all down on a piece of paper, and systematically go through the list, focusing on one item at a time and ticking them off as you go.
Know When to Unplug & Call it Quits
There’ll come a point after a few hours where your productivity really takes a nose-dive – especially late at night. When you find your output slowly grinding to a halt despite your best efforts, it’s probably time to call it quits. Either give yourself a very long break (an hour or two) or go to bed. Getting a good night’s sleep is much more important and much more productive than trying to pull an all-nighter.
Give yourself a big pat on the back – you kicked ass today. Give yourself that reward you set earlier, rest up and kick some more ass later today/tomorrow.
With practice, you’ll be able to build everything above into a habit you can use pretty much every day of your life. You’ll be able to settle into a nice productivity routine, shut out all distractions and just get on with the task at hand. You’ll be 10 times more productive, you’ll feel like you’re truly making the most of every day – you’ll feel like you’re truly living. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the above tools.
In fact, this entire article was written in an afternoon, and I utilised every technique listed above to get it done with minimal fuss. So this shit works.