Productivity. How to get things done and slay the procrastination monster.
Top 16 best practices that work for me and will work for you too
The productivity is a pet peeve for many people who are bumping into corners in the process of self-development.
Here is the list of best practices that work for me and might as well work for you too:
1. Wake up early
If I could give you just one advice on productivity this would be it.
Waking up early not only gives you the serenity of the early morning but most importantly it gives you 3–4 hours of time that you can dedicate to focused work.
Have the most important work done while the world is sleeping.
The most beautiful thing is that it is the time that is truly YOURS, the time of blissful solitude.
You can do things that you have planned to do for a long time: run, exercise, meditate, cook food, write, read, study, work, learn a new skill.
The feeling of fulfillment that comes with the knowledge that you crossed out the task of the day by the time when everyone is just about to have their morning Earl Gray is unmatchable.
Practicing mindfulness meditations is the best thing that you can do yourself not only to increase your productivity but to improve all aspects of your lifestyle.
Essentially mindfulness meditation is a training of your attention and self-discipline.
You learn how not to get carried away by your thoughts returning to the single point of attention be it your breathing, which is my personal choice, a heartbeat, sensation in the part of the body, beads, mantra or anything else that can serve as an “anchor”.
The focus is a muscle and meditation is your inner gym.
Regular meditations forge your ability to channel your attention at will and make it laser sharp.
Once attained you can use it anywhere in your life.
The primary objective of the intense physical activity is not to train the body.
The objective is to train the brain.
Whenever we step into discomfort zone where we need to overcome deliberately chosen pain, the part of our brain that is responsible for willpower and discipline starts to develop and get stronger.
Of course, the endurance of the body gained in sports grants the resilience of the brain allowing you to work for longer periods of time without getting tired and not giving.
Grit is the key to success.
4. Choose the right setting.
Don’t stay at home.
There is high risk you will slack. At home, you are too relaxed. There are too many distractions in disguise.
Place yourself in the place with a study vibe — a library or a Starbucks depending on whether you prefer silence or a coffee shop buzz as a background.
Find a place that gives you the working mood.
5. Use Pomodoro technique
Pomodoro technique is a time pattern.
In a nutshell, you work for 25 minnutes and take 5 minutes break. After 4 cycles, you take a long 15 min break.
You can find a special Pomodoro apps as there are plenty of them.
I tried this method and it works ok but maybe suits better to people who have a hard time to focus their attention during long spans of time. For starters, it can be a good assiduity trainer.
6. Loop the music
There was a lot written about the positive effect of listening to repetitive musical patterns in order to get in the state of flow.
Try it. It works.
The choice of music is very individual and strictly depends on your inner speed and probably the character of the work you are willing to get done.
Some people like fast-paced soundtracks to games, some people like ambient and binaural rhythms, some people like classical music. Tastes differ.
I recommend an app called Tide (android). It is a combination of a looped background music and a Pomodoro timer.
7. Use Earplugs.
To be honest, I stopped using both Pomodoro and Tide as I’ve found another way that works personally for me.
I started to prefer long sessions of focused work over 25 minutes periods and to value silence over music.
I use earplugs all the time to cut off the external noises during my meditations. So my brain developed a habit of higher focus when I use earplugs.
I taught myself how to get in the state of flow in the silence learning how to stay aware of my breathing and heartbeat.
Working in a complete noiseless medium is something you should definitely try.
8. Make a routine
Having your own routine and a part of the day dedicated solely to your work is important.
Make your own schedule.
Having a regime will be bringing you back on track.
9. Write the plan
Don’t keep anything in your head. Make a pool of ideas and to-do items.
Just turn your mind inside out and put it all on the paper.
List and prioritize the things that you want to achieve the next day.
People are not sure about the exact mechanisms behind this but somehow your brain is processing your plan while you sleep and optimizing the possible solutions for you.
Make the input of tasks before going to bed and leave the problem-solving and decision-making for the morning.
In Russian, we say: “Mornings are wiser than evenings”. Indeed they are.
10. Use productivity apps.
I would recommend Trello or Dropbox Paper.
This is something that I use a lot and they help me to organize my thoughts in a visual way.
11. Call a friend or Turn on the Youtube.
If you are a student, you might call someone to work with you.
Having a buddy who will not let you bail out and for whom you will also have to look after can be a good productivity hack.
Sharing a common goal of a focused work and unwillingness to let down your friend will keep you grinding and solve your procrastination frustrations.
Pick a nerd :)
If you don’t have anyone to study with, get yourself a virtual company.
There are plenty of videos on YouTube of people studying for hours and encouraging you to join them.
Give it a shot.
12. Find a mentor.
Find a person in your surroundings who is known for his discipline and time-management skills.
Ask him to coach or guide you.
Watch, mimic the best practices and learn.
13. Make an artificial deadline.
If you are a kind of person who needs a deadline — make a deadline.
Make sure you make yourself a penalty too and for that
14. Write a public declaration.
Make a document about your intentions to finish the task/project/work.
Make it public and find a trustee (friend) who will make sure you pay your penalty if you don’t close your declaration.
The penalty can be a sum of money that you are obliged to pay him in case of failure. It should be formidable enough to motivate you.
A friend of mine made a declaration with his friends.
He stated that they can shoot him in the leg if he fails to achieve his declared goals before the deadline.
Do you think he failed after a motivation like that?
He closed it way before the deadline.
15. Try fasting.
Recently I wrote an essay about why I practice fasting.
Here, I want to talk about it how fasting can be used to increase productivity.
Eating is a distraction. We spend a tremendous amount of time on finding food.
When you fast you deprive yourself of the need of cooking, buying grocery, washing dishes, waiting in the line or for your order.
One might think that the absence of incoming energy causing the brain to become slow, sleepy and stupid.
The brain gets enhanced cognition in fasting mode.
It basically thinks: “oh oh…food stopped to enter the body. Something is wrong. Go find some food! Hunter mode ON!” giving you the sharpest state of mind and releasing the energy from body fat which is in fact much better fuel for the brain than our so beloved carbohydrates.
You can use the clarity that comes with fasting and channel it to solve your task at hand.
Of course, it doesn’t work as the everyday practice and it’s not the way to go if you are a foodie and consider fasting a lethal torture.
But if you are willing to give your willpower and stress-resistance an additional upgrade and build a stoic body it works perfectly fine as a one-day working session on the weekend.
16. Study about productivity
Here are some books that I consider a must-read for everyone questioning how to increase productivity:
“The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal.
This book is as entertaining as it is useful. The part about the correlation between working out and willpower capacity of the brain is taken from there. You can find a lot more insights about the willpower muscle and the ways to make it stronger.
“Deep Work” by Cal Newport.
This book is gold. It completely changed the way I think about the productivity. The most important work can only be done in very long intensive sessions. Deep work is a skill that will keep growing in demand in a job market in the age when ADHD among young people became as common as acne.
“Eat that frog!’ by Brian Tracy.
In one line — do the most important/ugliest/scariest thing first. Kill the big black hairy boss and his minions will fall.
“Getting Things Done” by David Allen.
The best point practical tip was: never keep things in your head, make a pool of all your ideas.
So this is the list of things I used and applied.
All of them are proven to work in practice.
Productivity is not an easy path but it teaches us how to better ourselves as human beings and maximize our efficiency in taking the best of life.
Learn about yourself and implement the tools that fit your psychological profile and daily regime.
❓ Do you have a question? Ask me! I answer daily on Quora.