Last updated on May 22, 2017 | Follow @deanyeong on Twitter
Have you found yourself putting off important tasks that you need to get done? Have you found yourself busy all day without actually getting anything done? And do you get distracted easily even during the time you can’t and shouldn’t be distracted?
Procrastination, distractions, lack of focus, lack of clarity — all of these are “diseases” in every single one of us. While the world is changing at a rapid rate and things are happening at bullet speed, it sometimes feels like if we aren’t being productive, we’re losing out.
But how can we fix that?
When I search for “productivity tips” on Google. I get 39,000,000 search results. Productivity is a hot topic that eight out of ten persons in the room are talking about. However, there is just too much information out there, making you even more confused than ever.
This isn’t a list of productivity tips for everyone, these are productivity tips for specific groups of people. And often, you may find yourself belonging to more than one group here.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
Procrastination often happens when we fail to practice self-control using our prefrontal cortex, but instead fall back to our lizard brain to seek instant gratification.
Almost every single one of us procrastinates at some point. That said, people who succeed in their work and life aren’t those who never procrastinate.
They simply deal with procrastination better than everyone else.
As mentioned, one of the reasons we procrastinate is that we all crave for instant gratification. While most of the things we should be doing today — writing a blog post, going to the gym, and eating salads — don’t provide immediate returns, they aren’t motivating us to take action immediately.
The best way to solve this problem is by making the reward of the actions you want to carry out more immediate. You certainly can’t lose weight immediately after a session of workout, but you can develop and set up other rewards such praise from your spouse after you complete your workout as scheduled.
At the same time, we can make the consequence of NOT doing what we should do more immediate. Having an ice-cream instead of a healthy bowl of salad doesn’t affect your progress immediately, but you and I both know it does contribute the failure in achieving your fitness goals.
We frequently get confounded by how much work we need to get done to achieve our goals. We become paralyzed, unable to take action because we aren’t sure where and how to start. Even if we do, we can’t make ourselves to do it because the resistance of getting started is just too massive.
To get things done, we should make our action more achievable. If you’re working on a big project, break it down into smaller progress milestones and focus solely on ONE milestone at a time.
Besides reducing the resistance by breaking your plan, you can also simplify the process to achieve the same results. Explore different paths that lead you to the same outcome and pick the simplest one — or the one that you have the most leverage on. This doesn’t mean to choose the easy path, in fact, the simplest solution will not always be the easier solution.
Lastly, construct an environment that makes the action more achievable. If you want to visit the gym regularly, pick the gym center that is nearer to your house.
The visual cue is a powerful trigger for our actions. We can use objects to visually remind us of what we need to do.
One great tip to stay focused on the tasks at hand is to remove distracting objects out of your sight. If you’re writing a blog post (like I’m doing now), place your phone somewhere you can’t see.
One thing I constantly do is to optimize the home screen of my phone — placing apps like Remember the Milk (to-do list), Kindle (reading), and YNAB (budgeting) in the first display, and moving apps like Twitter and Instagram to the last.
(I deleted Facebook entirely from my smartphone.)
People who multitask are usually people who lack focus. They see everything as important and fail to prioritize their work. A multitasker tends to work on many things at the same time without seeing any progress.
The negative effects of multitasking may not be obvious in the short-term compared to the momentary illusion of “being productive” it provides.
But research has shown that multitasking actually decreases our performance and productivity. Worst, the more we multitask, the more we lose the ability to stay focused in the future.
To figure out the fundamentals we need to get done every day, we first need to pay attention to our day-to-day activities. We tend to pile more tasks on our plate without paying close attention to what we’re doing.
Find out things that you do that bring you the most output in any life area of your life?
After you’ve figured these activities out, the next thing you want to do is pre-commit to it. At this point, you’re not thinking about whether you can make it or not. I see many people who aren’t willing to even commit themselves to something when they say they want to. And that’s why people can’t get started on things they wish to do.
Pre-committing to important tasks helps you to reduce multitasking and switch you to monotasking because now, you’re no longer thinking about what to do. Instead, you have a list of things you need to get done in a day.
Our environment shapes us – our thoughts, our attention, and our focus. To reduce the chances of you multitasking, design a working environment to do that. An open working space is useful for communication compared to a cubicle, only when your coworkers don’t distract you.
Build a fixed structure for different types of work. For example:
Creating concrete structures and environments like these helps you to manage your energy and frame your work expectations. At the same time, this could be incredibly helpful when you work with a team, so that everyone knows when is the best (or worst) time to disturb anyone.
One of the biggest distractions to our work may be our mobile phone. So, keep your phone out of sight when you’re working if you want to stay focused. For me, I deleted social media apps, and I switched off all notifications on my phone and only checked on them intentionally.
You probably found yourself here more than once:
Often, we find ourselves in the position of having never-ending tasks. Our to-do list is piling up automatically, and we have no control over it. Everything is just too important to ignore.
The truth is, every task comes with two characteristics: importance and urgency. It’s crucial to acknowledge this because when you don’t, everything feels important.
The point is not to ignore the urgent tasks. And you should settle your urgent tasks as soon as possible. But after that, focus more of your time on important tasks.
With an urgent life, you have so many deadlines to meet. You feel that you don’t have enough time to spend, you’re always busy, and you wish you had 48 hours a day. It’s hard for you to adjust when some “surprising incidents” happen, even if it will only take up 2 minutes of your day. You’re extremely inflexible with your time.
On the other hand – the important life, you feel productive. Most of the time, you plan for things to happen, you understand the importance of every single thing you are working on. You have priorities for each task at hand. You want to make it the best without chasing a deadline. And you always have time to reassess yourself.
People who can’t stop multitasking usually failed in one thing: PRIORITIZING.
Only when you figure out what’s actually important to you, you can start to prioritize your energy and attention.
To make this the best productivity article available on the Internet, I’d like to include a few extra ideas and techniques that are useful to everyone who works creatively.
You may be a creative director, an author, or an e-commerce business owner, these tips are something very few people are talking about, and you definitely should take a look at.
These have been mentioned by many people for way too many times. But I have to repeat it again.
There is a saying that “we are what we eat”. I totally agree with that. In fact, I think a better term to replace “eat” is “consume”. We are what we consume, not just food, but also emotions, information, and thoughts.
Observe what information and materials you’re consuming. This will help you to understand yourself better. Then, manage them to frame your creativity and productivity to the desired direction.
It’s common for many of us not to manage our day-to-day stimulus intentionally. And we end up being reactive to what caught our attention without first knowing if the materials we consume help us in any way.
The time we spend sitting in front of our computers is increasing compared to a decade ago. However, our body is not designed to sit still for an extended period of time. And this bad posture causes more health problems than ever.
If you’re an employer who has people working for you in an office, or a freelancer working at home, invest in ergonomic friendly office furniture. This doesn’t only improve the focus of your employees (or yourself), it also delivers long-term benefits to your health.
Here is some cool stuff you can check out:
(I haven’t tried all of them out yet, and I’m not affiliated with any of these products).
If you want to become more efficient, develop routines and habits. Set an exact what, when, and where for everything you want to do. This helps to put you into executing mode quickly and reduce context-switching as much as possible.
After you have your routines set up, reflect on their output and optimize them regularly. What we don’t want is to sacrifice effectiveness for the sake of efficiency.