I first got into making lists (and the topic of productivity more generally) because I’m a huge procrastinator. Ironic, right? For me, the hardest part of being productive is getting started.
Procrastinating requires a whole lot of rationalizing. Instead of spending time and energy on the task at hand, you exert yourself mentally, working to convince yourself that there are other, urgent things you need to do and think about. You know what I mean: those moments where you tell yourself, “I need to tidy my desk, because I can’t get anything done if it’s a mess.” Or there's the classic, “I’ll just check these emails for five minutes …”
Well, regardless of whether you are a chronic procrastinator or just often struggle with forcing yourself to do something (don't we all?), it can be hard to muster the energy and focus. That's why I developed a great work around for this — trick yourself!
I use "hacks" to make myself more productive whenever I start to slack. Experiment with these little mind-tricks, and see what works for you!
1. Set a fake deadline.
The logic underlying this one is quite simple: the more time you have to do something, the longer you’ll take to do it. If I have a particularly busy week ahead, I pretend as if I won’t be working on the Friday. That way, I force myself to get everything sorted by Thursday. And even if I don’t make my "fake" deadline it saves me from some last minute panic at the end of the week.
2. Never answer your phone.
Sure, they make apps for productivity, and your timer is on your phone. But it's easy to try and rationalize why you need to be attentive to your phone at all times when you're trying to get things done. But the truth is, you really don't need to be clinging to it for dear life, and especially not when doing work.
My rule? Never, ever answer your phone. Not unless the person on the other line has an appointment to talk to you right at that moment. This will cut down on distractions and derailing your day! Take back control and set up appointments to chat — that way you will both be focused and more efficient to tackle the task at hand.
3. Split your time up into clear chunks.
One way that I do this is to work in very short time increments. So I will look at the clock as if it says 4:47 pm and think to myself, OK I’m going to respond to as many emails as I can until 5 pm. I then I work on that one task right up until 5 pm; it keeps me focused and driven — for 13 minutes at least.
4. Have a mantra you can fall back on.
I resist the urge to start doing something else by repeating to myself the given task at hand. I'll silently say Work on email or Make outline for that article, or whatever the task is that I’m doing. Having a mantra to get you in a zone for productivity is a great trick for avoiding something shiny that might distract you.
5. Rewrite your list.
I often rewrite my to do list if it’s messy because having a shorter list will psychologically make you feel more accomplished. You’ll be able to get rid of all the other to-dos that are cluttering your list and just zone in on the ones that matter. This is a simple way to clear clutter, which in turn will reduce your stress hormones.
6. Dangle a carrot.
Having a light at the end of the tunnel will help to make you more productive. Even something as simple as getting up to get a cup of coffee can motivate you to get more done. I often give myself a reward (some tea, checking Twitter, texting my husband) when I'm in the middle of a task. I do the task and then I know I'll get a reward. But making that deal with yourself ahead of time is very effective.
7. Take a walk.
Being indoors can make you feel stagnant, so get outside and go for a walk. Getting some fresh air can help reset your mind and keep you motivated. Going for a stroll is also a great opportunity for people watching. I often make up stories about people I see on the street — it’s a fun little habit I picked up as a kid. Other people can be a great source of inspiration for new experiences and new ideas.
8. Sleep on it.
If it’s 11:59 pm and you haven’t written a single word in the last hour, it might be time to go to bed. Don’t worry, you’re not giving up. Your subconscious mind is always problem solving, even when you’re sleeping. Plus: a new day brings a new perspective on your task.
So let your mind get creative. Remember that the same way you rationalize your way into procrastinating, you can trick your mind out of it. Got any tricks of your own? Share them in the comments below!