I have a confession to make. I can be pretty lazy, distracted and an expert procrastinator. Those important but difficult tasks that will really make a difference are exactly the ones my brain loves to avoid whilst doing the easy, less important tasks instead.
I would say this is pretty normal, every human seems to love doing the comfortable stuff, but in order to take things to the next level you need to push yourself out of that comfort zone. The problem is, it’s easier said than done but with me being an expert procrastinator I’m probably a good authority on overcoming this issue. I’ve tried many things and there is no simple solution but I will go over what I think is the most important and what has really helped me.
Note: there will still be days where you struggle to be productive, and that’s ok because you are human. When that happens you can just go into it, watch Netflix for an hour, go for a walk or sit on the beach. Then come back and spend just 5 minutes working on one of your important tasks. You will probably find it’s not so bad after all and maybe you will even get into a flow state where you will want to keep working on it because you are now getting pleasure form the task.
My Favourite Tools
Lets get started with my favourite tools/methods/philosophies that have actually been effective at improving productivity.
Meditation offers so many benefits way beyond productivity and the world would be a better place if everybody took just 5 minutes each day to practice it. There’s a reason why Google employees meditate and practice mindfulness and that’s because it helps improve their mental energy and focus whilst often providing clarity in moments of “no mind”. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have came up with solutions or great ideas whilst meditating, this almost never happens when I am stuck in front of my computer working. The biggest benefit is it allows you to clear your mind, leaving you more mental capacity to work on your tasks. For that reason, meditating first thing in the morning before starting your work is a very powerful way to start your day.
To get started I firstly recommend The Power of Now book by Eckhart Tolle, it’s one of those that really is life changing. Secondly, for guided meditation you can use Headspace, which you can install on your phone and has a large library of meditation sessions.
Healthy Eating (high protein breakfast)
Just like a car, your body and your mind function better with premium fuel. That means avoiding the sugars and excess carbs whilst eating plenty of protein, healthy fats and vegetables. Lots of people are unwilling to spend money on high quality food but probably wouldn’t think twice about paying $20 to get into a nightclub and another $50 on drinks. You are what you eat, and sticking to a clean diet will not only help you be more productive but you will stay at a healthy weight, look great, avoid many diseases and live longer. You can’t put a price on your health, so every time you eat low quality food to save money you should consider the price you might be paying in the future.
The breakfast of a productivity ninja will include lots of protein and fat which makes an omelette a perfect choice. For an extra bonus cook it in butter or coconut oil, and add a salad on the side.
Essential snacks include nuts (cashews are awesome), dark chocolate, cheese, fruit, shakes/smoothies. Bonus: if you’re living in Asia it’s you’re never far from a protein hit with all the grilled meat on the streets.
As you can guess I mostly follow a Paleo diet, I’ve been doing this for almost 5 years now and it really is the only way of eating that makes sense. If you are carrying a little extra weight then get on it right now!
When I first heard of this technique I initially thought it was a bit crazy and wasn’t convinced until I kept hearing more and more people swearing by it. A gave it a go, and it turns out it really works. The basic idea is that you focus exclusively on your task for 25 minutes with ZERO distractions and then take a 5 minute break before going back into another pomodoro. The time lengths can be adjusted to suit you and if I get into a flow state then I often end up skipping the break. If you do anything other than your task (e.g. checking your phone) you should reset the timer and start again. It’s really quite amazing what a little timer running in the background can do for your focus. I use a simple little tool for Mac called Pomodoro One, for me 8 pomodoros per day allows me to get a lot done and then have free time to enjoy myself after.
I’ve tried so many task management tools and I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter which one you choose as long as you stick with one. Just because you have a shiny tool with all your tasks on it doesn’t mean you’re being productive. There are some great options out there and honourable mentions go to Trello, Wunderlist and WorkFlowy. I prefer the simple list style which means I choose Asana over Trello, and the new version is very beautiful. One great feature of Asana is that you can copy projects which means it’s easy to have a nice SOP for your repetitive tasks and make a copy of it each time.
This is one I’ve been using for years and is great for people that are often working at night time. Once installed it will automatically adjust the lighting on your laptop at nightime to a level that is much more comfortable for your eyes. The main benefit being that you should find it easier to go to sleep after because the light from your laptop would normally prevent your body from producing melatonin.
Bonus: Twilight is a similar app for your Android phone.
StayFocusd for Chrome
For me StayFocusd has been one of the most powerful productivity tools, it is very simple but effective. It allows you to set a time limit per day of how long you allow yourself to spend on distracting websites e.g. facebook, news etc… If you try and increase this time it will popup many messages to confirm which is a good deterrent.
F.B. Purity Extension
Facebook used to be such a time waste for me since they started showing everything all of your friends comment on or like…stuff you probably don’t want to see and it makes the news feed wayyyyy longer. The Answer? F.B. Purity which is available for Chrome, Safari and Firefox. This extension will allow you to customise your whole news feed to only show stuff you care about. Using this I can quickly get through my feed each morning in about 5-10 minutes, allowing me to be an active Facebook user without killing my productivity.
This is a fantastic little calendar app which pulls in data from multiple sources which can serve as a great and beautiful dashboard for everything you have going on. It will link to Google Calendar, Asana, Trello and even pull in Facebook birthdays so you never forget.
QualityTime for Android
Smartphone addiction is very real, and most people are constantly checking their phones, most probably for the dopamine hit of receiving a new message / tinder match or whatever. It’s got to the point where people are almost inseparable from their phones and feel withdrawal symptoms if they go without them. The cure? There are quite a few apps out there which try to solve this issue and QualityTime is a very good one. It will track how many times you unlock your phone and which apps you are using throughout the day. Be prepared to be shocked how many times per day you unlock your phone!
Pro Tip: When working always keep your phone out of sight to avoid the temptation of using it.
The idea behind Chains.cc and similar apps is that in order to start a new habit it takes a number of days and each day you can record your progress with this. The more days that you complete your goal/task the longer the chain becomes and it also changes in appearance. It’s quite a powerful motivation tool and you can even make your chains public to compete with other people. So if you want to start meditating daily you can create a chain for it and check it off if each day you succeed with your new habit.
Sign Up: here
This is quite a new service, which you can listen to with the idea of helping you focus. I was a bit skeptical but it really seems to work for me and a few others. You can listen to some tracks for free and their is a paid service to unlock more.
Sign Up: here
For those who are looking for something which will track everything you do (including your phone if you wish) then you should try RescueTime. It will log and categorise not only your browsing habits but also the applications you use. It will take a couple of weeks of working to get most of your activities categorised but then once that’s done you will be able to get a very nice breakdown of how you have been spending your time. You can set goals such as how many hours of productive time you want to achieve per day, and it will alert you once that goal is met, which is a nice way to motivate yourself. You will also get a productivity score for each day which depends on how much time you spent on productive activities versus how much you spent on distracting ones.
Other Productivity Tips
This is probably an obvious one but beyond the benefits to your body you will find exercise also benefits your mind. If you’re feeling low and unmotivated I guarantee that after hitting the gym, going for a swim or run that you will feel ready to go again after. Even if you’re feeling a bit tired you will find a quick workout will bring the energy rushing back to you. Not only that but in the time after your workout it’s been shown that you are more focused and able to work on complicated tasks. I’m not a fitness expert but I like do a high intensity type of training because not only does it save time but it’s also pretty effective.
Work in batches (and turn off notifications)
In the digital world we live in it can be hard to find a moment to really focus on the task at hand but it doesn’t have to be like that. The solution is turn off your notifications for everything – Skype, Slack, Email and most importantly your mobile phone (or at least put in on silent + turn off that distracting flashing LED!). Not only will you be able to focus and get shit done but you will be way more efficient when you do check your email/phone. By ignoring the notifications nothing bad is going to happen, you can still check them every hour or so and respond when appropriate.
Don’t be too Busy
I will let Julien Blanc take over for this final point, he made a fantastic video about the book Busy by Tony Crabbe. The main point being that above all, the most important thing to concentrate on is where you focus your attention.
Thanks for Reading
Phew! That was a long list and you probably shouldn’t implement all of this in one go/if ever but I hope it at least gives you some good ideas and helps some of the other serial procrastinators out there.