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 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. I recommend creating a simple list for today with just three critical actions on it.
Turn on some inspiring music. You need music that is not distracting. For me that means instrumental-only selections. I listen to music whenever I want to get out of the world and into my work. Thanks to my friend Stu McLaren, I use Focus@Will. It’s a service like Pandora that streams music selected to lengthen your attention spans and improve your concentration.
Turn off the social web. Shut down Twitter, Facebook, Messages, Slack, and email. If you don’t have the discipline to do this, make technology work for you. I use, love, and recommend Freedom.to. Instead of closing everything down, it allows me to selectively disable apps and websites for specific lengths of time. It also allows me to keep my browser open for research. And it works for both Mac and PC.
Do one task at a time. Multitasking is a myth. Instead, you need to focus. Starting, stopping, and switching tasks before you finish costs you time, energy, and productivity. Do one discrete task from beginning to end. Block time for it. As you check tasks off your list one by one, you’ll start feeling momentum and satisfaction grow.
Batch similar tasks together. You can build on the gains of single-tasking by also batching similar tasks. 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 breaks, including naps. This is one of the secrets behind the Pomodoro Technique. Work intently for a defined period, then take a break. Be as rigorous about the breaks as the work. You’ll find that this actually increases your concentration and productivity. And if you really want to up your ability to focus, take a quick nap in the middle of the day. That’s my secret weapon.
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!