We are doing a bit of a deep dive episode this week. I wanted to share with you my 10-11 best tips for staying productive even when you don’t feel like it or may struggle with disorganization. We talk about many different personal tips that work well for me as well as universally good ideas when it comes to productivity and getting stuff done.
Quick tip: preparing for a presentation
Before I get into my productivity tips, I wanted to mention a tip I have for when you’re preparing to give a presentation, talk or speech. While practicing, make it harder than it’s actually going to be. You want to try and practice in a setting, or at least an internal state that’s going to approximate what you’re going to be performing in when you’re actually there. For instance, if you’re going to be very nervous when you do this, then perhaps do some jumping jacks before you practice, or having some caffeine beforehand would be good as this will give you a chance to practice working through that worked-up, nervous state that you will be experiencing when giving the presentation for real.
But back to productivity – let’s get into it.
My Top Productivity Tips
I’m a big fan of lists. At a minimum, I think that you should keep a master list of everything that needs to get done both big and small, and then a smaller list for the day that only has 1-3 of the most essential items on it. Personally, I’m a big fan of Google Keep. It’s an app by Google that you can access on mobile or desktop, which allows you to create multiple to do lists. I have lists for General To Dos, Duff the Psych, Clinical Work, Random Shit that Needs to Get Done Around the House, and Stuff to Look into.
Again, you want to have a small daily to do list so that you don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff on your list. Before you go to bed or when you first wake up, take a few minutes and consider your day. Decide which 1-3 tasks are the most important for the day and see where they might fit into your schedule. These are the things that you’re going to prioritize, the things that if you get nothing else done, you’d be happy that at least you got these things done. You are inevitably going to get more than 3 things done in a day, but all of that is bonus.
2. Keep a notebook or piece of paper around at all times
I’ve made a habit of keeping some sort of paper next to me basically at all times. When I’m working on the computer, I usually have a notebook nearby. When I’m reading a book, I’ll keep sticky notes handy. Even if you are primarily keeping track of things using technology, having paper within reach helps because you have a place to write down the immediate stray thoughts that might come up. For instance, if I’m in the middle of a writing session, but I suddenly remember that I need to call my internet company about something before they close, I can just jot it down on the notebook sitting on the desk so that I don’t have to abandon the task that I’m working on. It’s basically just an immediate staging area for the early thoughts before they escape your brain. You can always transfer them into your major to do list if necessary.
3. 5-minute rule
I’ve written a whole blog post about this before, but when you are feeling unmotivated to complete a task, using the 5-minute rule can be helpful. You can endure just about anything for 5 minutes, so what you do is commit to getting started and trying the task for at least 5 minutes. The stipulation is that you can quit after 5 minutes if it still feels like torture. However, you often find that after you actually get started on something, it’s much easier to keep the ball rolling.
4. Even if you can’t do THE thing, do SOMETHING
Sometimes you plan on writing, or cleaning, or making something and you just can’t get the damn thing done. You aren’t in the right head space to produce the work or you run into some roadblocks. Instead of abandoning ship or just beating yourself up about the fact that you aren’t doing what you had set out to do, just do something related to it.
You can also work backward too, you can subdivide things into smaller and smaller steps until you can find one that is executable for you. For instance, if you want to work on your novel, but it’s just not working out you could always do some outlining. If you can’t outline, you could brainstorm. If you can’t brainstorm, you could research or look for inspiration. There is always a step that you can do so instead of quitting entirely, just serve a different aspect of that thing you were trying to do. Don’t get hung up on the fact that your action plan has changed somewhat, just keep moving.
5. Pair audio
I’ve probably talked about this before, but I’m a big fan of pairing boring activities with exciting audio content. For me this is most often audiobooks or podcasts. It makes the process of doing laundry, cleaning dishes, or even walking the dog less boring. Maybe it is annoying that you have do get some basic boring tasks done, but at least you can learn or get lost in the world of a book while you do it.
6. Don’t wait to be in a perfect state
MANY of us get in the habit of waiting to be in a perfect state before getting work done. You need to have the right drink, the right music, the right body temperature, the right environmental sound, and so on. Often this turns into a type of procrastination or avoidance. At the very least, it trains you to avoid productivity under most circumstances rather than learning how to get work done regardless of the situation. Try to avoid the tendency of “fusing” your feelings and behaviors. You’re allowed to feel off or like you don’t want to work and still get some great stuff done.
7. Trail off…
Whenever you are working on a project and you need to leave it alone for a while, it is helpful to leave yourself a little road map for getting back into it. The best example for me is when I’m working on a book. I may be in the middle of a chapter and need to go pick the kid up from school. If I don’t use any particular strategy to help, I will end up just re-reading a few paragraphs and trying to remember the inspiration I had a few hours before (or a few days before). This wastes precious time and can be pretty frustrating. Instead, I tend to trail off in the middle of a sentence and/or put a few bullet points about what I’d like to do when I come back to the project.
8. Know what your motivators and distractors are
This one comes down to self-awareness and not being stubborn. By studying your own behavior, you can pick up on what sort of things motivate you and help you work harder and which things serve as distractions. For instance, different types of content may affect you in different ways. I know that if I need to get a boost of motivation to get off my ass and just start working, I can watch someone like Gary Vaynerchuk on Youtube. If I need to get some serious deep work done, I know that instrumental music is going to be key. I may want to keep online videos or television on, but depending on what I’m doing, that might be a bad idea. Trial and error.
9. Use a timer
The Pomodoro technique is a classic time management technique in which you work for a specific time interval and then take a timed break. For instance, maybe you work for 20-25 minutes and then take a 5-10 minute break and repeat the cycle. The trick for this is not necessarily any specific time interval, it’s making an effort to work without any breaks or distractions during the work interval.
10. Do a shitty job
This is another technique I often incorporate when using a timer, but not necessarily doing a work/rest interval. If there’s a job that you really don’t want to do, like washing the dishes, organizing clothes or just something you generally hate to do, set a timer for 5 minutes and see if you can get it done in that time! Say, you know what…I’m going to do a shitty job, rock it out as fast as I can and see if I can get it done in 5 minutes. Whether or not you stop after those 5 or 10 minutes, don’t get finished, or need to return to the task another time, it doesn’t matter. You’ve still got a whole lot more done than you would have if you’d spent that 5 minutes just trying to convince yourself to get started.
Set that timer. Blast it out. Do a shitty job!
You know I had to find a way to work mindfulness into this list! One of the hardest things is when you are trying to get to work on something, but you’re so worried about the fact that there is so much more to do or you are beating yourself up about what you haven’t gotten done yet. Training mindfulness as a skill can help you to be more present-focused and stay on task without giving those stray negative thoughts undue attention. I don’t think I would be nearly as productive if I didn’t have the ability to zero in on the task at hand even in the presence of other tasks or distracting thoughts. Learn more about building mindfulness here and find out more in my YouTube video: What the Heck is Mindfulness?
That’s it – those are my productivity tips! If you caught them in my email then hopefully this gives you a little more elaboration on those different points. If you’re not on my mailing list you can subscribe here for access to my weekly email and a whole bunch of useful freebies to support your mental wellness journey – No spam, ever. Promise.
If you guys liked the episode please share with a friend and/or feel free to leave a review on iTunes – thanks!
You may have noticed that I haven’t announced a book winner this week. I’m trying to rework how this is done and perhaps try to make it a bit easier for you guys. I am planning on giving away a lot more free books though so check back next week!
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