Be honest. You’re distracted, right? In fact, that’s probably why you are reading this blog post instead of working on that project you should be working on now.
Maybe you’re like my friend, Justin, who told me a few weeks ago that he was having real trouble making progress on his book. “The deadline is looming,” he admitted. “But I can’t seem to get focused.”
I know the feeling.
If that describes you, I have good news. Here are seven steps to getting unstuck. They are not that revolutionary on their own, but practiced together, they are like a defibrillator for your productivity:
- Create a to-do list for today. Many people keep lists, especially those who have been inspired by David Allen’s GTD method. They have scores—perhaps hundreds—of tasks, neatly divided by projects, contexts, or areas of focus. But they don’t know what they need to get done today. So create a simple list for today with 5–7 actions on it. Keep the list short.
- Turn on some inspiring music. You need music that is not distracting. For me that means instrumental-only selections. I have built a playlist in iTunes called “Soundtrack Favorites.” In it, I include some of my favorite tracks from Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, Searching or Bobby Fischer, The Horse Whisperer, Finding Nemo, Dances with Wolves,” and others.
- Turn off the social web. Shut down HootSuite, the tab in your browser with your Facebook account, and email. If you don’t have the discipline to do this, use a program like Anti-Social (which I use and love). It allows me to keep those programs open, but cuts off my connection for a specific time-period. (If you use a PC, use Freedom.) It also allows me to keep my browser open for research.
- Do one task at a time. Multi-tasking is, at best, over-rated. At worst, it is a myth. Instead, you need to focus. Starting, stopping, and switching tasks before you finish costs you time, energy, and productivity. Instead do one discrete task from beginning to end. Check it off your list and then go to the next task. After a few of these, you will feel the momentum build.
- Group similar tasks together. This is the value of GTD: do tasks that require a similar context. If you need to run an errand, run a bunch of them while you are out. If you need to do a financial task, do several. Why ramp up to do one? Leverage your effort across several.
- Take frequent breaks. This is one of the secrets behind the Pomodoro Technique. Work intently for a defined period (say, 25–48 minutes), then take a break. Be as rigorous about the breaks as the work. You’ll find that this actually increases your concentration and productivity. (I use the same method for running. It’s called the Galloway Method.)
- Rinse and repeat. Go through several cycles like this each day. The main thing is to surge and then rest, surge and then rest. As you do so, you will learn the best length for your own optimal cycle.
Productivity is like any skill. The more you practice it, the better you get. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t initially make as much progress as you want. Stick with the process and expect to improve. You will!