1. Get an email widget
If you have a mac, you may use the “Mail” app. Email widgets like “Mail” or the one I use, “Mailtab for Outlook,” are really useful because they separate email from the internet. Once you’re checking emails in gmail or outlook, you’re only a few clicks away from your favorite blog/timewaster. And the procrastinator in me knows that. Having an app like this creates a good mental barrier that says, “Once I’m done checking and responding to emails, I’m not going on the internet, I’m going back to my desktop where that document is waiting to be written.”
2. Start a “today list”
I have learned so much from Craig Jarrow over at Time Management Ninja. One of the things that has really stuck with me is the “today list,” a time-saving and task-defeating alternative to the classic to do list.
The idea is simple. Ask yourself, “What do I need to get done today?” Once you’ve identified two or three things, get to work on those. Be ruthless in eliminating distraction and knocking out those few tasks (it’s best to keep the number really low) with all your strength.
Simplicity = productivity. The today list makes simplicity happen consistently.
3. Write smarter goals
The next 5 minutes of your free time needs to be spent reading and thinking over this article: The Beginner’s Guide to Goal Setting. It’s 802 words of wisdom that will help any person write smarter goals. Here’s my big “take away” from his S.M.A.R.T. acronym:
If you want to do something big, you have to do something small. Huge projects, like writing a book or creating a company, only get completed once all the little steps are taken. And it’s figuring out what those little steps actually are that’s half of the battle. What small things can you do in order to edge your way closer to the finish line? What bite-size tasks can you put on your today list so that when tomorrow comes you know you’ve actually made progress? Read the article, ask yourself those questions, and get to writing some good goals.
4. Love what you do
This one, unfortunately, is the most helpful and least… “downloadable.” You can’t flick a switch to make it happen, but I’ve found that it saves more time and creates more joy than anything else. You have to love what it is you’re doing.
When I was in college I took a Psychology course where we talked about a phenomena called “Flow.” Flow happens when a person is so engrossed and captivated with their task that, 1) they subconsciously block out outside distractions, and 2) they are able to exert almost all of their mental and physical capabilities toward the task at hand. That’s kind of what I’m talking about. But it’s a more life-wide phenomena than Flow. It’s the reasons scholars with wiry hair and thick glasses exist. It’s the reason experts exist. People find an area of study that sets them alight and go on, for their lives, to pursue that. They love what they do and simply couldn’t be bothered with petty distractions.
Numbers 1-3 are some of the simple tricks that I’ve picked up in the past year and am hoping you might find useful. Number 4 of course is not so simple. It’s the result of having your attention focused on the right thing already, not just focusing more.
How do you stay productive? What tips do you have?