If you are a human being and have a job, it's likely that you've had to struggle with procrastination at one time or another. You're not alone, friends.
Even the most productive people can become stuck in a cycle of dilly-dallying, and proven methods to break free from the rut aren't cutting it. So they give in to their idleness and hate themselves a little for it.
If this describes you today, it might be time to shake things up! If you're finding your usual motivational tricks are falling short, then it might be time to step out of your comfort zone.
Last week, I went online and asked folks to give me their best productivity hacks. Within minutes, my inbox was flooded with emails from professionals who have gone to great lengths to turn their brain from "weekend" mode to the "ass-kicking" setting.
In reading through their experiences, I found some definite themes. Here are the five main culprits, according to this little experiment, that seem to be smacking the productivity right out of us:
- The glamour of mindlessly scrolling through social media
- Traveling days putting us behind
- Eating on a regular schedule cramping our style
- Getting our brains fried from staring at the computer too long
- Well-meaning individuals interrupting our workflow
Surprising? Not really. What was fascinating, however, is how creatively entrepreneurs are solving these problems. Here are some thoughtful ideas from my new pen pals:
1. Going Old-School
Wasn't it glorious to be in middle school? You always had a bell to tell you what time it was, where you should be, and what you should be doing. So why not carry that effective system into our productive adult lives?
"I put a Post-it on my laptop with my objective and the timeframe I want to work with focus," says productivity consultant Helene Segura. "Then I set the timer on my cell phone."
She gives herself a time limit. By doing this, she has gamified getting through her list as a race against time! When I tried it, I had a strong sense of satisfaction that I made it through all of my tasks before the alarm went off. If you're a kid at heart, this might just be a good exercise for you.
2. When Traveling, Don't Be a Lemming
Traveling days can be wildly unproductive if you're not careful. Sure, it might only be a two-hour flight, but between getting there ahead of time, waiting around, gathering your bags--it can take half a day.
Shaharris, founder of HackerNest, has discovered a workaround. "Always be the last person to board the vehicle," he says. "That doesn't mean showing up at the last minute. To the contrary--show up really early, sit down with your laptop, and get work done. When they call for boarding, stay seated. Only once you see the last person get checked in do you get up, pack your stuff, and head over."
This way, you don't waste 30 minutes of possible work time standing in lines to board or exit the vehicle. Logic at its finest!
3. Control Your Social Media Urges
This is tricky because social media is such an integral part of most businesses, so of course many people have to look at it throughout the day. But it can be easy to get sucked into Facebook or Twitter for nonproductive reasons. So what do you do?
Tarique Khan of Rip n Go suggests creating a schedule. "I only use Twitter during downtime, such as 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at lunch, or 30 minutes before bed," he says. "I used to try to stay on top of tweeting throughout the day, but it would get me off track or cause me to lose focus."
By scheduling your social media activity during the day, you can be sure that you're maintaining your business activity without getting glamoured into the land of cat videos and BuzzFeed lists.
4. Assess and Address
Dave Waring, editor of FitSmallBusiness.com, hit upon a very important point: getting to know your habits.
"Even though I am the owner of my company, I treat myself like an hourly employee for productivity purposes," he says. "I track where I am spending all my time, using the free time-tracking tool Toggl.com. Then at the end of the week, I look back and see where I spent my time. This gives me a great picture of whether I am spending my time in areas that will be the most effective for my business and what I am spending time on that I can either stop doing or delegate to others."
Knowing is half the battle, friends. Understanding what your specific unproductive tendencies are will help you cut them off at the pass.
5. Eat Well
You need to eat to avoid becoming hungry. Powering through and skipping lunch will probably end up making you less productive because you won't be at top form. But sometimes you don't have time for lunch. Richard Storm, a photographer in New York City, suggests planning ahead.
"Homemade smoothies save me time from getting food on the road when I travel to photography gigs, as well as time at home when I have to edit," he says. "You get all your nutrients in one glorious green container."
No excuses for not eating (or drinking!) your lunch. Keep your blood sugar regulated and save yourself from a productivity-draining headache or a rumbling tummy.
6. Create Strategic Distractions
Sometimes when people are trying to finish a project, they glue their eyeballs to the computer and lose all concept of time. Then their brain gets fried and they hit a wall. The solution to this problem might just be to plan mini distractions.
"I keep desk plants, and they, like all plants, need maintenance from time to time," says Alexander Ruggie, PR director at 911 Restoration. "Taking a quick moment to prune my spider plant, or reposition my pothos for better light, allows me to separate myself from the action of the office for a moment so that I can collect myself and regroup. It seems small and simple, but in truth, this actually gives me just enough of a break to get back to work without feeling like I've been slacking."
Ruggie happens to love plants, but you don't have to have a green thumb to try this productivity method. You can take a walk around the block every couple of hours to reset your brain and rest your eyes--or maybe set a standing time with a co-worker to catch up for 10 minutes in the break room. Whatever you do, keep your distraction enjoyable, brief, and away from your computer.
7. Dangle a Carrot
Having a light at the end of the tunnel will help make you more productive. "Even something as simple as getting up to get a cup of coffee can motivate you to get more done," suggests Emmy Award-winning television producer Paula Rizzo.
"I often give myself a reward (like drinking my favorite tea, checking Twitter, or texting my husband) when I'm in the middle of a task," she says. "I do the task and then I know I'll get a reward. Making that deal with yourself ahead of time is very effective."
Rizzo has tapped into a strong human quality here: the love of the reward. Find what reward will motivate you and use it to your advantage!
Trying something new today might give you the boost you need to get in the groove. Remember that what works for you might change over time, so it's important to change your regime now and again. Never stop searching for better ways to be productive--and if you find a good method, share it with us!