7 Steps to Getting Unstuck and Becoming More Productive

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.

Businessman Working on a Busy Street - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/urbancow, Image #4776338

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/urbancow

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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!

Question: What works best for you when you find yourself distracted? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.warriorshepherd.com/blog Dave Hearn

    I find that I’ve got to shut off my email to be productive… I get the little notification, and it’s usually something I can quickly answer, so it’s easy to be distracted. (but still takes at least 5 minutes every time … ) 

    I’m good at shutting out Facebook.And I shut off “Growl” in Mac… it’s just annoying.And I need to leave all of my blog reading to the mornings or end of the day… unfortunately, you’re right… your post did interrupt my work flow… but it’s worth it. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Ha! Sorry about that. You might try the Anti-Social Software. It is really good about shutting off everything at once.

      • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

        I’ll have to try out the Anti-Social Software.  It sounds really helpful in getting rid of distractions.

    • http://chriscornwell.org Chris Cornwell

      Dave, I know Michael has already said this in regards to grouping task together vs. shutting things off so you can concentrate on others, but I recently heard a specific suggestion re: email. Because email encompasses so many different things, projects, conversations, etc., I heard you should set aside maybe two 1 hour blocks a day to tackle nothing but email. Say 10-11 and 4-5, everyday. It is supposed to allow you to be more efficient and focused on your responses and thoughts since your emails may be all over the place in conversation.

      • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

        I learned something similar to that in the four hour work week. 

        • Jmhardy97

          I had forgot about that book. Thank you for reminding me.

          Jim

    • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

      Yes, those little notifications get me  a lot. 

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      “your post did interrupt my work flow… but it’s worth it.”

      Great stuff! :)

      • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

        I treat Michael’s post as one of the emails I have to attend to. That’s part of batching. It seems to work well for me.

        • Joe Lalonde

          I agree Theresa. It’s one of the first sites I visit everyday.

        • Jmhardy97

          I agree theresa

          Jim

    • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

      Same hear.  Email is a large part of my work; and, if I see or hear the alert about new email, I feel like I have to check it out.  Even 30 minute chunks with email turned off can make a difference for me.

    • Joe Lalonde

      The little notifications always get me too! I see it pop up and get that little taste of what the email contains. Then I’ve got to see the rest of it.

      • Jmhardy97

        Yes, that drives me crazy. I have to stay focused when this happens.

        Jim

        • Joe Lalonde

          I do believe there is a way to turn it off though. I’ll have to take a look and see if I can find out how.

    • Jmhardy97

      Dave,

      Email can be so distracting and time consuming. I use a filter to help keep things focused and in line with my priorities.

      JIm

  • Anonymous

    Great list. I might add “endure through the resistance.” At the beginning of a day of writing or work there seems to be an initial wall of inertia that needs to be broken through. Personally, I need to cut through that wall and experience some “flow” before I can give myself a break. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree with that. Steven Pressfield calls this “starting.” It is the most challenging part.

    • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

      I would agree. Good point.

    • http://twitter.com/pahouseholder Aaron Householder

      Killer suggestion!  Thank you.

    • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

      Sometimes that is the hardest part for me.  I hit the resistance and then want to do something else for a few minutes to try and refresh my mental posture.  However, that can easily lead to just being distracted and not really getting past the block.  Sometimes “enduring and persisting” is necessary – kind of like strength-training where you have to do just a little more even when you feel like you can’t.

      • Jmhardy97

        Steven,

        for me it is exercising!

        jim

    • Jmhardy97

      Very good thought.

      Jim

  • http://twitter.com/joannamuses joanna

    I find working somewhere else can sometimes help. Sometimes I will go to the library to work or shut myself in another room of the house that has less distractions

    • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

      Yes. Me too. Sometimes the coffee shop is the “quietest” place for me to be productive, even thought it’s filled with people. 

      • http://courseadjustments.wordpress.com Bschebs

        I find myself doing a lot of my writing on my ipad in Airplane mode.  I go sit on the porch or at the park, and start writing(Thank God for bluetooth keyboards).  then if I do find I need to do a little research, I will keep a list.  once I get 5 items to research(or cann’t go any further without reseach) I will go in, turn on my data, and give myself 25 minutes to have data connectivity for research.

        • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

          Bluetooth Keyboards? Is there anything we don’t have? :)

  • http://www.myoneresolution.com/ Don McAllister

    To-do lists are a must for me. I have used David’s Seah’s Emergent Task Planner, which has been helpful. I also like taking frequent breaks, typically at the top of every hour. I try to just get up, get away from the screens, and just take a brief 10 minutes to stretch, walk, or do whatever. It really helps me focus. Great list here! 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I take breaks at the top of the hour, too.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        I had to do that yesterday…I’m taking an online college class to get extra credits for med school this summer. It was crazy yesterday! I had to use the tomato technique.

        • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

          Did you use a tomato timer? I hear that makes it even more beneficial! :)

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

            Haha! If I had one, I would have! Just used the clock on my computer…

            _____

    • Jhallal

      I love this one. Sometimes I find myself working ten and breaking for fifty.

      What I get stuck with is the ingrained desire to multitasking. Such a myth. Focus and catching work so much better when I do them.

  • http://claz.org Classifieds

     Good list. From my experiencethere is one more problem that interferes with focus and pretty exhausting productivity. I’m talking about fear. Fear of how much remains to be done. So the first rule from which I start – it’s saying “The eyes of fear – the hands are doing.”  After that, getting into in the work. The main thing for me to start. As soon as you progress towards (being guided by the Michael’s steps), you’ll feel more confident and inspired.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I feel fear, too. However, for me, it is a specific kind of fear: inadequacy.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        That goes through my mind frequently. It always has to be shot down though…

      • http://twitter.com/pahouseholder Aaron Householder

        Honesty reveals character.  Thank you for your example.

      • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

        I begin my day’s work with the assumption that I am inadequate, and I can do what I am given to do only by the power of the Spirit. This, at least, takes out one kind of fear and leaves me energy to deal with the other fears! :) :)

    • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

      Great point. Hadn’t thought of it like that. My fear would most likely be inadequacy too. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carolyne-Aarsen/537816961 Carolyne Aarsen

      This is a really good point. Sometimes it’s easier to think that the work will never get done today so why bother. Tomorrow it will happen. But then tomorrow becomes today and, surprise! Same fear but even worse because the job is bigger. I’ve also found that narrowing my focus to getting so much done in the next hour does help. Break the jobs down into little jobs and don’t look further than the job at hand.

    • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

      Fear definitely can interfere with productivity. But starting and at least doing something can do a lot to motivating you to keep going!

  • http://www.leahadams.org Leah Adams

    A to-do list is a must for me…even for a busy day with tasks that don’t require as much focus as writing or preparing a speech. One thing I do when I am distracted is pray. I ask God to help me focus on what He wants me to accomplish that day.

    • http://joeandancy.com Joe Abraham

      Prayer – that’s true.

    • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

      Absolutely, Leah! When I plunge in without asking God to manage my time, I get lost in distractions. 

  • http://joeandancy.com Joe Abraham

    5 things that help me overcome distraction:
    a) Creating and following a To-Do-List
    b) Start doing what I need to do even when I don’t feel like doing
    c) Focusing my mind on the work to be done
    d) Taking a power nap
    e) Creating a quiet space

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I totally believe in power naps. I typically take one for 20 minutes every day, immediately after lunch.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        I also find that music helps! Especially music by Leeland and Phil Wickham!

      • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

        Power naps are truly helpful for me.  I don’t always get to use them.  However, yesterday was one of those days… after lunch, feeling tired, a short nap, regained energy, productive the rest of the afternoon!

      • http://courseadjustments.wordpress.com Bschebs

        I do something Similar.  I work my job from 6a-2:30p get home, take the dogs out, then 30 min nap before focusing on blogging. It really helps to transition between 2 very different tasks as well as refresh myself.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Joe, power naps are an excellent suggestion. I have done that in the past and it helped revitalize me.

  • http://urmobile.com Mike

    I love #6…as the poster boy for ADD, I’ve found this to be effective.  To the point where I now have a digital kitchen timer that is set at 50 minute intervals.  I work 50 minutes on a defined task or set of tasks and when the timer goes off, I take a 10 minute break.  During that 50 minutes, nothing but the the task at hand…mostly.  Good insight.  #3 is good too.  As an aside, that is why I don’t use a tablet for dedicated reading…too many distractions for me.

  • http://www.dennismccaskill.com Dennis McCaskill

    This is just what I need. I am guilty of having facebook on 24/7. Thanks Mike

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      I’m guilty of having the computer always on…although I am not always on it, it is always on. Then whenever I pass by, I check email! :)

    • Joe Lalonde

      While I don’t have Facebook on 24/7, I find it way too easy to hop onto a new tab and onto Facebook.

      • http://www.dennismccaskill.com Dennis McCaskill

        Yeah I am like the 24/7 social networker. I just love talking to people. The other thing that is a trap for me is the comment section’s of newspapers and blogs… err whoops. I can easily waste an hour on those things without even noticing. 

        • Joe Lalonde

          Dennis, I’m with you on the comment sections of newspapers and news sites! I get sucked into those. Our local newspaper comment section is a hotbed of activity. Though I’m trying to train myself to stay away from those are a lot of the comments are negative and not helpful.

  • http://www.philippknoll.com Philipp Knoll

    Indeed not revolutionary but a very welcome reminder! I found that when trying to really get something done music doesn’t do my any good. Instead I put on inspirational tunes during the frequent brakes.

    It helped me to realize that not every call, every email, tweet etc. requires an urgent action on my end. Emergencies do, but be honest, how many of them do really occur during your days. Anything else can wait until you finished your top priorities. That is living on your own schedule.

    Off course I try to get back to everyone asap. The result I witnessed is that my connections appreciate the more thoughtful and in depth replies they receive from me by the time I’m ready to get back to them. This is way better than rushing trough things.

    And another thing I needed to learn is to come up with realistic To-Do lists. I always used to pack everything on them leaving me frustrated at the end of the day. On good days I was only able to get half the stuff on my list done. Not very motivating. It even puts you in a downward spiral. You get demotivated which slows you down even more. Then you get even less done…

    So find your limits, focus and try to enjoy each task you are working on.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Great post, Michael. It’s nice to see everything in one list. I use a daily planner, a 48 minute time slot, and try to turn everything off or go to a room without a computer in it. One additional thing that I’ve found that helps on a regular workday is to plan to be done by noon. Mentally this helps me focus on priorities and cut out the unnecessary items. It’s amazing when you have to get something done by lunch (like when you leave on a trip) you instantly become more productive. When this works, you have the whole afternoon to start on a new project… or actually take the afternoon off. I recommend the latter!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I try to get done by lunch, too. Then the afternoon is bonus time to work on important but not urgent stuff.

  • MRomeoLaf

    Excellent list.  One more is useful when others are trying to sponge up your time:  Close your office door and put the phone on cover 30 minutes to break the flow of distractions.

  • Anonymous

    I crank up the music and shut out the rest. I also give myself specific (often arbitrary) deadlines. Lists work great for me when I have the discipline to create/follow them. After reading Joshua’s guest post, I’m now dabbling with the Pomodoro technique (which I also liken to interval training. I put off reading the Galloway method article, linked to in this post, until after I finish leaving this comment. See how my focus is improving?!). The Pomodoro technique seems to combine the list/arbitrary deadline approaches, so I think I’m going to like that. I may try the Freedom app mentioned here, but I only have trouble with the social media distractions when I’m not managing the list/deadline discipline. 

    Oops! Time’s up for this activity. Gotta run! :)

    • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

      I usually work better with a deadline.  Setting my own helps – but, knowing the arbitrary nature of the self-defined deadline often allows the other side of my brain to dismiss the deadline :)

  • http://twitter.com/GoodNewsAustin Good News Austin

    You’re so smart.

    When I get bogged down, I often take a short bike ride or take some pretty pictures outside. Nature is a brain bath.

    • Joe Lalonde

      I agree. Getting outside and doing some physical activity is a great way to get unstuck. I’ve recently started running on a couple of my lunch breaks and come back feeling more focused.

  • http://twitter.com/RookieWriter David Barry DeLozier

    A great reminder of tools readily availble. I’m the same about instrumental music (I get easily distracted by lyrics). When I’m really struggling to focus, when the choirs in my head drown out my thoughts, I use ten to fifteen minutes of centering prayer and ask God to silence me inside.   

    • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

      This is so typical of me! I must have instrumental, but then the familiar I can sing along with if my tasks are not taxing, but even the familiar old gospel songs can be distracting for me… but, then sometimes, I believe it is a God-thing, He will distract me into singing praises to Him and we just take a minute to enjoy each other. Then back to work, refreshed and ready for the rest of the day.

      • http://twitter.com/RookieWriter David Barry DeLozier

        that’s a wonderful way to be distracted – singing praises!

    • Joe Lalonde

      That’s something I’ve never done but I can see it being a help. I normally have a radio station playing normal music. I’m going to try listening to instrumental music during my work days this week due to the suggestion. We’ll see how it goes!

      • http://twitter.com/RookieWriter David Barry DeLozier

        Some work I do ( illustration) lends itself to jamming out with the radio – but other work (particularly writing) needs a little less head bobbing.  Good luck with the experiment.

        • Joe Lalonde

          Thanks David. I hope it goes well for me this week and improves productivity.

  • SherryRediger

    Maybe  an”Advanced Unstuckness” list would include “eating the frog” – that pithy little work ethic that comes from Twain. I find when I do the worst task first – the one I keep avoiding – I get such a high and an energy release that there is no stopping me on everything else that day.

  • Jamie Chavez

    I have a rule: if my to-do list (for this day) won’t fit on a Post-It Note, it’s too long. And if the list is too long, I’m just setting myself up for failure.

    • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

      I have never heard of that, but I like!

  • http://chriscornwell.org Chris Cornwell

    I like to kid myself that I am a multi-tasker. I usually have Twitter going in the background, my email open, facebook, and now google+, and then whatever I am working on. After clearing my head checking social media, I dive in. I usually do great for about 20 minutes, then I end up checking Twitter or something and my productivity is shot. I am looking into Anti-Social now. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      How’s google+?

      • http://chriscornwell.org Chris Cornwell

        not bad so far. read something last night where someone wished it would be more of a community than facebook rather than just another place for short status updates. I agree. It is definitely poised to be more social than fun and I am trying to make it that way for myself. I like it though. Better than Facebook.

        • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

          That’s good. I could never get into it because they were full.

          _____

          • http://chriscornwell.org Chris Cornwell

            Email me or something and i will invite you.

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

            Ok. I have received several invites, but it still didn’t work. Do you just
            have to keep trying?

            _____

    • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

      I do the same thing!

  • http://twitter.com/TomRHarper Tom Harper

    I find myself often battling at least 2 things: fear and frustration. Fear that I’m not doing the RIGHT thing right now; frustration that what I’m working on is taking much longer than I anticipated, or that I’ve been interrupted by someone else who needs help getting their own tasks done!

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      Those are very common!

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    I experienced this distraction yesterday more than usual. I usually do well with making a to-do list, but I didn’t yesterday. I woke up tired and I didn’t do a good job of getting myself back on track. Since I didn’t have a list to follow I was not nearly as productive as I could be. I learned my lesson last night when I realized that today would have added tasks. 

  • http://www.shaneraynor.com Shane Raynor

    Thanks for these tips– especially the ones about breaks and multitasking. One other thing that sometimes kills productivity for me is the people factor. When I’m in the middle of a task and I get sidetracked by a conversation or question, it’s hard to get back on track. And when your office is a cubicle, you can’t close the door.

  • http://jeremysconfessions.com Jeremy Statton

    Great tips. It can also be important to clearly define items that are urgent. It is easy to let non-urgent issues interrupt our concentration and work flow. We let emails and phone calls and even meetings interfere with our productivity when most issues can wait.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    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.

    Exactly. Please stop spying on me.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      Haha! By the way, how do you get the text to show up italics?

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

        You do it with html tags: 

        This text would display in italics if I hadn’t used spaces before and after the “em” in the opening tag and the “/em” in the closing tag.  

        • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

          Ok cool! I’m gonna try it with saying hi… Hello

          _____

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

            Ah didn’t work…here it goes. I’m using italics

    • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

      Ha!

  • http://roborr.net Rob Orr

    For me – just turning off – either closing or just not opening it –  TweetDeck has made an amazing difference. I noticed a while back that I had just stopped opening it and reading all the tweets and updates that were coming through.  Far too much noise coming through that channel. I take some time each day to see what’s going on, but I’m much more productive not having that open on my desktop all day.

  • http://twitter.com/suzanneodell Suzanne O’Dell

    As a writer who also wears other hats, I find that focusing on creative work first thing in the morning allows for optimal productivity. I leave the cut and dry for the afternoon. 

    Usually, I am encouraged by the creative work I achieve in the morning, allowing me to quickly check off the boring tasks after lunch with no problem. 

    Thanks for this post! 

  • http://robrash.us Rob Rash

    Focus seems to be the key for me. Making the time, sitting down, and then focusing on my thoughts/ideas. Although great background music is essential for me!

  • Bruce

    I get rid of the clutter, even if it means pushing the piles off my desk and into a box. (don’t forget to go back to the box later, of course). And I make a short ToDo list for the day. And my only commitment is to take the first step to completing something on that list.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carolyne-Aarsen/537816961 Carolyne Aarsen

    I am always dealing with one deadline or another and I have found Freedom to be a great program for shutting off the distraction of the internet. Another good one that costs a bit more is called Concentrate. It will shut off a myriad of other programs as well for a specified time. As well, if you want, you can have it mark off five minute increments or even give you a quick message. Costs a bit more than Freedom, but still a bargain for the extra work I gain.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    This is great! Thanks for sharing!

  • FemmeFuel

    Terrific suggestions, Michael, especially for maximizing productivity in the daytime/workday. Lately, I have been thinking about my lack of productivity in the night hours, before going to bed. What a waste it is that I watch so much television at home at night, all in the name of “unwinding”. I would so much rather focus that time on “vegging out” in a more purposeful, meaningful way–one that would better recharge me for the following day. I wrote more about this in my blog yesterday: http://femmefuel.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/worshipping-at-the-altar-of-television/

    As always, thank you so much for the insight!

    –JM
    http://femmefuel.wordpress.com/

  • http://kinderboost.com Michael Gray

    “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.”

    Ha ha ha.  Guilty as charged.  That’s a great opener, Mr. Hyatt.

  • StephanieS

    I feel a little hypocritical  sharing what works for me because I feel I am less productive than I set out to be so much of the time, but two things that have helped me (on my good days) are 1) changing my setting and 2) setting a timer. 

    Regarding #1, If I can’t focus at my desk, I pack up and go to a coffee shop.  The act of intentionally gathering my things and driving to a new location so I can work always allows me to focus on the work once I am there. 

    As for #2, when I am facing a task I don’t want to tackle I just set the oven timer for a specified number of minutes and dive in.  I tell myself I can quit when it beeps.  Most often, I am engrossed and pleased with my progress when the timer goes off so I decide to continue.  But, if I find at the beep I am still only half-heartedly engaged, I move on.

  • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

    I’m always amazed out how productive I am when I write out a to do list. Even if I have all of it in my head, writing it out somehow makes me do it more effectively!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Dylan, writing it out is a great tool. If you keep it all in your head, the “list” gets changed and forgotten about. With it written out, you can attack it in order of importance, check off the completed tasks(a great motivational booster), remember the tasks you needed to do, etc…

  • http://jasonfountain.blogspot.com Jason Fountain

    When I need to focus, the best strategy for me is to turn off “everything else” and sit down and “do the work.” We can talk and talk and talk all day long, but the rubber hits the road when we sit down and do the work. Steven Pressfield says in The Wart of Art that the hard part of writing is not writing, it’s SITTING down to write.

    We go to any means necessary to do anything BUT the work. It’s a discipline just like anything else, but I agree that turning off “everything else” is the key. Great ideas!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Jason, I know it’s a typo but I got a chuckle out of it.

      The Wart of Art (-;

      I could see that being a great title for a productivity book. Art’s wart being the one thing that keeps grabbing his attention from what he should be concentrating on.

      • http://jasonfountain.blogspot.com Jason Fountain

        Haha! I love it. Sounds like good satire!

  • http://twitter.com/pahouseholder Aaron Householder

    Great post!  I’m applying it right now – whittling down my inbox.  Categories are: trash (if its just worthless to me); respond now (only if less than 30 sec); file (if need to save); action later (if I need more think time on that item).  Think you’ve written advice like that haven’t you?

  • Christa Allan

    The only way I can access Internet at home is via HotSpot on my EVO. So, if I turn that off, I can’t get online at all. The fact that I have to make a conscious decision to activate it is usually enough to remind me why it’s off in the first place.

    This is definitely one of your primo posts. Informative, links get you right to the info you need, and no excuses. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    “The more conservative you are, in pace, from the beginning, the more you can push your wall back farther and farther with little risk of fatigue or injury,” Jeff Galloway said. My husband recently applied this principle when training for the Rock ‘n Roll marathon and saw great improvement in his performance.

    I would like to suggest one more thing to do. When I find myself doing something other than the priority I should be attending to, I stop to listen to my emotions. There is something inside that’s driving me to attend to the important tasks. In fact, many people come to life coaching to deal with the challenge of procrastination.

  • Seabel

    Thank you, this is good and encouraging. The lists can be overwhelming because there are so many of them. It does not seem there is any way around it though.           

  • http://cynthiaherron.wordpress.com Cynthia Herron

    Totally love (and needed) this post today! I’m working on the multi-tasking part. We’re taught at such young ages that to be effecient this is a must, but as you reminded us, it really is just a “myth” as far as productivity goes.

    What strikes me as so encouraging about your blog is your humbleness and transparency, even right down to the comments. To me, this speaks volumes about a person’s character.

    Thanks for a great way to start the day!

    • Joe Lalonde

      That’s the hard thing Cynthia. Multi-tasking has been pushed on us so much. I’m trying to break free of the myth too.

  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylereed

    Going for a walk, taking a nap, or just having fun helps me.

    I think often times I get caught up in work work work and forget to have fun. When I take a break to do something enjoyable I come back to find more focus and more drive. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laura-Krämer/100001481863376 Laura Krämer

    Very timely. Thank you!

  • http://www.bizontrack.com Harry @ BizonTrack

    Great tips. 

    Here’s another one: Take notes while you work on complicated tasks, that helps you concentrate and make seemingly boring task less so.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Good tip Harry. I can see that being a help with focusing on the task at hand.

  • http://joyfulmothering.net Christin

    As a mom this might sound strange, but I agree with you about multi-tasking being overrated. It really is and it can also be more frustrating than it is productive. You try to get several things accomplished and instead nothing gets accomplished and you’re frazzled from trying to give your attention to multiple places at once.

    Something I remember from Ann Voskamp: Choose to do something and be ALL there.

    Edited to add: I put your post in a tab but didn’t read it til I was done with my work tasks. Score! :)

    Thank you Mr. Hyatt!

  • http://www.productivechristian.com Tim Graves

    I find it very hard to concentrate around anything digital. My most productive hours have been with the computer, phone, and any other digital device (except a DEDICATED music player and a good pair of headphones) with my fountain pen and the moleskine writing away.

    When the computer is a requirement, however, I have to exercise a bit of discipline and avoid even opening the tabs to load up Tweetdeck/Facebook/Google+/etc. I write from my Cr-48, so I make heavy use of the Pillarbox and Write Space Chrome plugins to keep focused on what’s important.

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    Seems like I’m on the right track. Just need to refine with a couple of these steps, like #5 & #6. Need to break it up a bit. I get in a zone and get lost. Before you know it, I’ve exhausted myself. Good times! :)

  • http://twitter.com/ashleighallen Ashleigh Allen

    Awesome advice! I’m going to try out the work, then rest technique and turn off social media as well. I definitely needed to hear all of that today.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    I just ended my productive streak…I’m taking my tomato break!

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      Mmmm….. I love tomatos

  • Rabrooks1

    Yes, you caught me. Your email did distract me from what I ‘should’ have been doing. I just can’t resist temptation, especially your emails. It the product of being of Sesame Street kid: short attention span. But I do promise that after I hit Enter I’ll get back to the more urgent stuff. Thanks again for the good wisdom.

  • Merle Engle

    For truly relaxing and non-distracting music I highly recommend Stanton Lanier’s biblical inspired piano music.  To learn more about Stanton and his ministry, Music to Light the World, to to: http://www.stantonlanier.com

    • Joe Lalonde

      Merle, thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to check it out.

  • http://courseadjustments.wordpress.com Bschebs

    Oh the Distractions,  When I get distracted, a lot of times I will actually allow myself to go down that path to see where it leads.  Some great adventures have started with a simple distracion.  However, when I know I have to get something done,  I sit in a quite room preferably in a place where no one will look for me, no music or tv, make sure I have snack/beverage nearby and phones off.

  • http://twitter.com/MariePulliam Marie Pulliam

    To be honest, I have the opposite problem. I stay focused on something long past when I should give up and move on. Not every invention was successful. Trial and error are part of the learning process, and there are times I need to let go and try something else, or another tact. It is all balance, which is hard to achieve. Any posts for the ones who hate to give up, even when it is in their (and others’) interest that they should? Thanks Michael.

  • Joe Lalonde

    I never realize it until it’s too late but I always find myself getting distracted. Spending much of the work day in front of a computer screen can make it so easy to click on a new tab and open a new website up. Before I know it, I’ve wasted plenty of time that could have been productive.

    One thing that helps keep me on task is to take care of a task in the order hits my desk. It helps me to not forget about it and keeps my schedule fairly clean. I know there’s more that I can improve upon and you’ve given some great ideas.

    I can see these helping out –

    Creating a to-do list
    Do one task at a time
    Take frequent breaks

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I find myself looking at the same three things…

      • Joe Lalonde

        You might find a fourth if Google+ catches on…

        • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

          We’ll see ;)

          I’ve intentionally stayed away from that one right now.  I have too much on my plate at the moment to learn it right now.  maybe this fall…

          • Joe Lalonde

            That’s a good plan Jeff. If you like Facebook, I’d really recommend staying away from it. Very similar but has some new and different features.

          • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

            I’m interested in trying it.  I read a blog about it the other day stating that it may be the next big thing, or it may not.  FB has 750 million users.  It may take a while for those people to switch to something new. 

            But the article said, things change.  Remember AOL?  AIM?  MySpace?  They were all big.  But not so much anymore.  Things change.

            So… I’m interested in looking it over, and giving it a shot later this fall.  If it catches on, I want to be in it.  If it doesn’t, no big deal, I still have my FB account.

          • Joe Lalonde

            It’s worth a look when you get a chance. One of the coolest features is the “My Circles” feature which lets you put people into circles. Then you can share updates with specific circles. I think that can make things less messy for some people.

            And yes, I remember all of those… Have some very fond memories of those. But times changed.

          • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

            I know I will eventually.  I just need to get through the summer first.

  • Editing

    Love these suggestions as well as the ones below about short, manageable to-do lists and the 50/10 work hour with break. I’m an editor and work better with these short lists and breaks. Thanks everyone!

  • Wendy

    Thank you!  Needed this one  today.  I do take breaks and think it is a wonderful way to remain focused. At one time, my breaks were non productive though I had to specify certain “rules” if you will for the breaks.  This time is reserved for doing a short, inconsequential task that I know I can end abruptly.  You see, I’d break to check out Facebook and end up in an on going conversation, like passing notes after  recess was over.  

    I now allot specific time slots for the socializing, nonsense reading, etc. at the end of the day.  I think of them as a reward for completing all that can be accomplished on my to do list.  It makes the accomplishment sweeter and spurs me forward throughout the day.  See an article you want to read? Save it, print it, make sure to set it aside, and look forward to it!

  • http://twitter.com/GinaConroy Gina Conroy

    Great post! Right now I’m on #6. Usually, I’m a distracted mulitasker, but today I’ve been on task with #4 and I’m getting it done! I need to try this more often!

  • http://www.gospellab.com Gospel lab

    and #

    8.  Don’t forget to set your tomato timer for the Pomodoro Technique.

  • http://www.BartLeger.com Bart Leger

    Multi-tasking has been the bane of my existence. This is definitely a list worth implementing.

  • http://www.noahlomax.com Noah Lomax

    Wow! This post was written for me today. I’m typically organized, motivated and disciplined but lately been very distracted and subsequently unproductive. Timely post!

    P.S. The Finding Nemo soundtrack is also kn my list to play when trying to get things done!

  • http://sevensentences.com Geoff Talbot

    Literally I decided to read this blog instead of doing work. Are you inside my head Michael Hyatt?

    These are great points. I believe I may have a social media addiction? So that program sounds perfect. I have just begun the Pomodoro Technique that your guest blogger shared so well on Friday.

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom with us all. Everyone benefits.

    Geoff

  • http://twitter.com/mattplynn Matt Lynn

    For me, I’ve gotta get out of the house (and sometimes even out of the office) if I have to work on a project that demands 100% of my attention. I tend to write my best stuff amidst the noise of a busy coffee shop.

  • http://twitter.com/HRwritergalinOH HRWriter gal in Ohio

    When I get distracted, I start writing down everything that’s laying heavy on my heart; because internal issues are usually my biggest distraction. Once I’ve written them down, I start crossing things off, one by one; which ones I can control, which ones I can not; which are urgent & important; which are not. This really helps me get things in perspective, and it also helps me feel better.

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    I laughed out loud at your opening sentences! You caught me, I was totally putting off working on my project! It was a good distraction though. I find with practice I’m getting better at breaking down my day in manageable sections.

  • Anonymous

    We have the 20/20/20 rule we educate patients on in the eye care field. Every 20 minutes of a near point task, stop and take a 20 second break and focus on a target 20 feet away. This is to help alleviate/prevent eyestrain (especially with computer use). Seems like this this would work for your brain too….with a little longer break.

  • Carol

    Time out to re-focus and start again plus chocolate :)

  • Anonymous

    I find deadlines help, even if I need to set them myself. If I am determined to finish a task by a specific time, I tend to filter out all distractions automatically. Though, one side effect of that is it makes it difficult for people in the same room to get my attention. Another is that, sometimes, I’m not very nice to those who interrupt me!

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  • Anonymous

    It seems like you publish the article I need exactly when I need it.  About to put a couple of hours in on an important project.  But first, I’m going to find the soundtrack to Searching for Bobby Fischer, one of my favorite movies of all time.

    • Anonymous

      Just completed an albatross of a project. Your article was just the encouragement I needed. Thanks again. (Also, thanks to Bobby F. and Braveheart:-)

  • Kcmoog

    I work in the IT industry which is mentally challenging all day.  So, I take breaks mentally and do something physical.  It could be a walk around the building outside or even refilling the soda cups and plastic spoons in the office kitchen; just something to get up and move around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Evelyn-Van-Winkle/683637828 Evelyn Van Winkle

    Thanks for this one; very timely lol.  I would also suggest “get away from it all.”  Whether isolating yourself from distractions by going outdoors to reconnect with God or nature, turning off your phone for a set period of time, turning off the radio or tv, whatever it takes to get away from distractions for the longest period you can sacrifice, do it.

  • Allen White

    These are some great tips. I agree on the myth of multitasking. I keep a piece of paper handy. As thoughts and other t0-dos come to mind, I write them down. That way I don’t have to continue thinking about it, and I have a list for later.

    I agree on instrumental music. I’ve set up a Instrumental Folk station on Pandora that I use a lot.

    A change of environment helps me. If I have a big writing project, it’s good to get out of the office. If I’m in the office, then I make my assistant my ally. She keeps the walk-in distractions away and handles 60% or more on her own.

    Allen White
    allenwhite.org

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  • http://twitter.com/tdyrsmid Trent Dyrsmid

    How do I shut of growl? I hate that bloody thing!

  • http://tangoleadership.wordpress.com/ Poul Andreassen

    It is really distracting when you are working on something and that notification is blinking. Discipline is the compulsory tool to pave our way towards our goals.

  • http://www.dwaynes--world.blogspot.com Dwayne Morris

    Closing my door and closing my email is critical to my workflow. The Pomodoro app has been a great new tool. I’ve got 10 days to prepare for being out of the office for two weeks (Mission trip, speaking at a camp) and I have to use as many minutes as possible to prepare for when I return. Otherwise, my time away will not be enjoyable as I’ll be fretting my return to the office.

  • Kiesha @ Weblogbetter

    Hi Michael,
    Turning of social media is just about the only way I can get anything done, but it leaves me feeling disconnected and like I’m neglecting my friends and followers. But it’s the big picture that I try to keep in mind. Thanks for these insightful tips.

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    One of the best things that I’ve done to increase my productivity is to turn off the pop-up box in Microsot Outlook that tells me when a new email has come in.  That way, I’m not obsessively checking the new emails that come into my box, and I can focus on the task that I’m completing.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I do the same thing.

  • http://twitter.com/KindleYourLife Ksu

    How do you “turn-off” three squirmy kiddos? ;) Been trying to work on our OSNOVA project lately (osnova.com) with three little ones in the backgroung (I am a SAHM), and I have to admit – it’s been most challenging! Local McDonald’s is my best friend these days, since it offers a fun indoor playground while providing me with free Wi-Fi.

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  • Mnijtnc

    Freedom is amazing! I knew there was a program like that for Mac (a friend has one) but didn’t know about the PC version. Thank you! The internet can be a huge distraction for me, especially when I go on to research a topic during a writing project. I got a huge amount of work done knowing I just couldn’t go online–I just left a space for the info I needed to research, then looked it up later when all the major writing was done. Thanks for that tip, Michael!

  • http://twitter.com/JRandorff James Randorff

    Regarding Tip #2, I’ve found that the “Film Scores” channel in Pandora is a brilliant source of inspiring, non-distracting music.  I like it because I don’t end up getting bored with the same music repeating in my iTunes playlist… I always get something fresh.  For instance, Pandora just pulled up “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Video Game Score”.  I would have never found that on my own!

    http://jrandorff.blogspot.com/

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  • Gary Judd

    I like your ideas. Ihave a friend who uses the pomodora technique and really likes it. I’m going to try that. I use the SimplyNoise app rather than music…it’s less distracting to me. Thanks for the great insight.

  • Samantha

    I have to lock myself in my home office-turn off home phone ringer, and leave my cellphone in the other room–no opening any internet. If I hand my husband something to proof and have not done these things, he is able to point to the exact spot I stopped and took a phone call– I only hurt myself when I do not follow the above guidelines. Thank you for sharing!!

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    Great stuff.  Evernoted…

  • http://www.facebook.com/carina.brunson Carina A. Wyant Brunson

    I love this! I have issues checking my email every five minutes or getting a phone call or being asked a question and I forget what I was working on. What I really need to work on is shutting off the social networks. I kind of stay too tuned in to those things because I want to know about events as soon as they pop up and what the news is covering as well so I can see if it is in my coverage area and maybe I need to write a story about it. I need to lessen my time on those things and spend more time on making the to-do list and sticking it. My husband went to a Covey workshop years ago that went over time management and to-do lists…. I need to go to one now since my plate always seems so full and I can’t seem to finish things….

    Thank you for this knowledge that I can hopefully apply to my work and at home. I think applying it in either area, or both, would allow me more time with the things that matter most – my family.

  • http://twitter.com/alexcforrest Alex Forrest

    Some good suggestions here. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/diamondfreddy Barry Holtslander

    Another option for assisting in productivity that I have found quite helpful is Rescue Time. One of the things I like about it is the option to decide what is productive +1 or +2, neutral 0 and unproductive -1 or -2. It has been very useful for me in tracking time and improving my productivity at work.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      That sounds like a good system.

  • http://BrentFielder.com Brent Fielder

    I am finding that I need to set aside better blocks of  time in my day.  Instead of catching up on current events/blogs all day, I have been working on doing this in 30 minute segments.  

    Also, I like you have to turn things off.  Email is a big distractor for me… If I am not careful, I can reply to email all day and accomplish nothing at all…everyday!

    The only other thing I would add to your list is to “Remove the clutter.”  If I have papers on my desk, I put them in one pile and clean them off.  If my desktop on my mac is not neat, I create one folder called “To File” and put all loose documents in there so I cannot see them during a productive time.  After I complete the tasks or projects, I will go back as a daily clean-up and file/scan all of the loose documents.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Email is a huge time-waster for me, too.

  • K-eM

    Cleaning my desk is a great way to break the distraction cycle and get back in the game. As I clean, I’ll put a post-it on each one noting what needs to be done with it then put it in a pile by priority. Once my desk and mind are tidied and organized, I’m ready to go again.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      I find this, too. If my desk is clean, somehow, I can focus better. It’s probably just psychological.

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  • Gary

    The GTD system is great. I also find http://www.workflowy.com to be the best to do list creator ever. For the big picture stuff everyone needs to get Life on the Zipline to read!

  • http://ashleyscwalls.com Ashleyscwalls

    Glad I read this one. I havent done the inspirational music thing in a long time. I defintely think this is missing. Its also reminds me that I have been working in environments that have hindered me from doing so…..Necessary Awakening.

  • Skarppala

    Email is a biggie for me also. If I check it first thing I can easily spend a good hour and 1/2 on it before I can blink an eye and then ask…”Where did the morning go?!”.  I have found that if I check it only 2x daily, once 1/2 hour before lunch and 1/2 hour before I sign off for the day that works best.  I then have an arbitrary time limit to get it done quickly because I want to get on to the best parts of my day, lunch and homelife.  Say around 11:30 am and 4:30 pm works for me.

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  • http://www.physicianstrategycollege.com/program/ Physicianstrategycollege

    If you are feeling distracted and unfocused, here are seven steps for becoming more productive. They are not that revolutionary on their own.