1. Plan your day ahead of time.
Make a better plan. Put 1-3 big things on your schedule with blocked-out time for each one. Don’t wing it on the important stuff. Wing it on everything else. Don’t cram it full of details.
2. Include transition time.
Don’t expect yourself to switch instantly from one task to another. Work in transition time. Give your brain and body a break. Give yourself mental room to close out of one project and switch to another.
3. Take breaks.
Stand up. Stretch. Take a ten-minute walk. Loosen up those neck and shoulder muscles.
When it’s work time, do the work. Then take a break. Then get back to work.
At some point, take a longer break. Break for the day or for several hours. Build the other parts of your life. Don’t carry work around with you. Focus on play time, family time, rest time. Work isn’t life. Work is part of life.
4. Set a timer.
Work on one task for the duration of that time.
Bribe yourself with a reward if you need to.
I hope that you like your work enough that the process is it’s own reward. But sometimes it is tough to get started, sure.
So choose a reward, set the timer and work until your time is up. Then take a break and enjoy your reward. Then do it again. Look at you, doing the Pomodoro like a productivity pro.
5. Tackle the big thing first.
This is the “big rocks first” principle.
If you’re interrupted and distracted for the rest of the day, you’ll know you made progress on the big thing. But if you work on the big thing first, you’ll have a more productive day anyway.
Starting your day by making progress on the big thing ups your energy and motivation. You show yourself that you can do shit. That feels great. You focus on what’s important. That sets the tone for the day. You feel confident and happier, which makes everything better.
6. Take five minutes to visualize.
What do you want to have accomplished at the end of the day?
No shady, hazey positive powerful thinking. Work at this. It’s a mental exercise. Focus until you have a strong, clear image of what the end of your day looks like. What’s done? What did you finish? What did you start? What did you check off your list?
It’s easy to get side tracked. Do you visualize yourself having spent two hours on Facebook? Does that make you feel accomplished? Nope. What does? Picture it. Then start doing it.
7. Check email at a set time.
I like to check once, mid-morning, and then usually twice in the afternoon.
Mid-morning is good for me, not early morning. Not first thing in the morning. Later in the morning, when I’ve already been up for several hours, done some reading and writing, worked on that big thing, created my own world again. You have to create your own world every single day. I like to spend a few hours creating my world before I open the gates to it and let other people come in. If you let other people in too soon in that daily creation process, guess what happens? You don’t get to finish creating. They take over. Then you’re living in their world for the rest of the day.
This goes for social media, too. Really for any input, any entry point that lets other people into your space (mental or physical). I know you can’t control them all, but you can control a lot of them. You can postpone or ignore a lot of them. You can delay some of them. You can completely opt out of many.
8. Don’t confuse busy for productive.
Lots of things make you feel busy but leave you with nothing actually done.
Just because you can have 20 tabs open in your browser and incessantly switch back and forth doesn’t mean you’re working. Define work – day by day, if needed – and don’t confuse “busy work” for real work.
You’re not in school anymore. You don’t have to waste time on busy work. Skip straight to the important stuff.
9. Imagine the rewards.
How good will it feel to get through this project?
How great will the paycheck be?
How amazing will it feel knowing you finished the draft, completed the prototype, made the call, got the customer, shipped the product?
(By the way, if your feelings about it are mediocre, you might want to rethink what you’re doing and why.)
10. Don’t try to do everything.
Ah, multitasking. Stop doing that.
Focus on one thing at a time. Make a good sandwich. This is the way of those who finish things.
Once you quit trying to do everything at once (i.e. multitask), you are free to focus on one thing at a time.
You’ll do a better job at it, you’ll enjoy the work more, you’ll get through it and finish it and be able to move on to the next thing.
12. Clear your workspace.
Clutter is distracting. Spend five or ten minutes on your break or at the end of the day. Clean up. Throw away what you don’t need. Stack, sort, file, whatever. Straighten. Put away.
Respect yourself and your space. Get out what you need as you need it. Get rid of what you never get out.
13. Build in 10 minutes of warm-up time.
Free write, mind map, doodle, scribble, rough draft, sketch, make sculptures out of pipe cleaners…
Warm up into the project as you approach it.
Don’t expect pure and perfect production as you start working. It’s priming the pump. You can throw out the warm-up stuff later once you’ve finished the work. Or you can save it and sell it later, when you’re famous.
14. Use blocks of time.
If you don’t set aside time for it, chances are it won’t get done.
Use blocks of time (30 minutes, 2 hours, whatever). If a big block is intimidating, use a little one. Nice big blocks of time give you mental freedom to relax into a project. The boundaries of a short time block can help you get started and complete the work faster.
15. Announce your deadlines.
To someone besides your cat. This is called creating accountability.
The hypothesis is that you’ll then be embarrassed, shamed, humiliated, and ostracized if you fail to meet the deadline.
I don’t know how true that hypothesis is, but announcing a goal can help motivate you to meet it.
16. Take yourself seriously.
Because if you really want to succeed, you have to.
And if you don’t, nobody else will. Take yourself seriously. Keep your promises to yourself.
If you can’t take your work seriously enough to do it, then maybe take it off your list of “things to do” altogether. Maybe you don’t really want to do it. Maybe you need to figure out what you do really want to do.
17. Calculate your hours in terms of what you earn (or what you don’t).
If money motivates you (hey, it motivates me; I want to pay bills and buy food and books and take a vacation), then put your hourly rate where you can see it.
Calculate how much time you’re wasting when you let yourself get distracted. Consider that anything you do that isn’t paying work or work toward a finished product is costing you your hourly rate.
18. Use paper and pen.
Computers can be great tools. They can also be great sources of distraction. If you need to just get some brain work done, shut down the computer and force yourself to think via pen and paper. Transfer it to computer when you get far enough in.
19. Only sit at the computer with a specific goal and a specific time limit.
Don’t do anything but work toward that specific goal until your time limit is up.
20. Separate marketing from other tasks.
Doing your own work (writing, entrepreneurism of any brand, small business, artist, etc.) means you need to be marketing.
Marketing is important and you need to do it. But it can be a blackhole of distraction. Because most marketing happens online, it’s easy to leapfrog from one link to another, waste an hour, have nothing done, get discouraged, give up, lose the whole day.
Block time for marketing. Focus on it during that time and only during that time.
21. Don’t freak out at the ebb and flow of creativity.
Sometimes you’ll be full of great ideas; sometimes you’ll have to work and work to think of one thing.
This is how creative work feels sometimes. Don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost something, you’re no good, your inspiration has fled. Go ahead and do the work.
You’ll have something you can go back and fix, and chances are you’ll go back to fix it and find that it’s pretty good after all.
22. Don’t buy the “creative block” mythology.
Train yourself to put the effort into creative work even when you don’t feel like it.
The more disciplined you are, the more compliant your creative muse will become. Strange how that works…
23. Give yourself more time on what you enjoy.
If you have projects you love and projects you hate, give yourself shorter time blocks for the ones you don’t like.
And work on getting rid of those kind of projects altogether. Work on it.
24. Make yourself begin.
Just get started. Put in five minutes. Put in five sentences. Put in the first ounce of effort. Do the first step.
25. Have a place to collect the randomness.
Keep a notebook or a planner or have a system on your laptop or iPad or phone, whatever works for you.
Randomness pops up (idea, book to read, something you remember, text message, phone call, etc.) while you’re working. Collect them in one place, but don’t stop to chase them right now. Do that later, when you’re done with your projects for the day, or when you’re taking a break.
26. Don’t answer the phone.
This is why we have voice mail.
Let things rest. Give your subconscious time to process and solve. It’s part of the creative process. Learn, think, focus, then take a break and do something completely different. Come back to it later.