I don’t know about you but sometimes I look at my ever-growing to-do list and I feel a sense of dread. The number of tasks on it seem overwhelming to the point that I don’t even know where to start.
Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone!
Often we feel that it’s easier to not to do a task at all because it seems so difficult.
We’ve spoken many times in the past about some of the best ways we can get into a productive mindset by understanding how our brains work but understanding isn’t the same as actually doing.
As we’ve had an influx of new readers recently, I thought it would be a good idea to go back to the basics of getting things crossed off your to-do list and feel like you’re making headway into your tasks.
A Bit Of History About Me
I have to admit that in the past I was terrible at managing my tasks, projects, emails and more so back in 2005 I decided I’d start to look into various organisation systems and settled on “Getting Things Done” (often abbreviated to GTD), a productivity system by David Allen.
This worked well for a few years but it was a bit “old school” and didn’t lend itself to me working in a mainly digital environment.
I tried to stay with my paper planners which I started using back in 2007 and carried on way into still “Getting Things Done in 2017” and “Getting Things Done in 2018“. There was something so satisfying seeing a physical notebook fill up with completed tasks, but trying to balance multiple tasks across multiple lists started to become problematic.
I also realised that I was concentrating more on finding the perfect system and blaming the fact that the system wasn’t working for me and that’s why I wasn’t being as productive as I thought I should be.
The minute I stopped focussing on finding the perfect notebook or list taking method or perfect break between tasks and actually concentrated on the tasks themselves I was a lot happier and by extension a lot more productive.
So, how did I start my move towards task nirvana? It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy and it’s still a work in progress but here are a few things I’ve found out in my almost 20 years of seeking out productivity.
Figure Our Your Energy Levels
You might have heard someone say that “they don’t have enough spoons” to do a given task. If you’re not familiar with “Spoon Theory” the basics are that we each have a finite number of spoons for a given day.
The spoons represent your overall energy levels based on how you feel mentally, physically and emotionally.
For some they might have 10 spoons, for others it might be five – it’s completely personal to you. And you may not have the same number of spoons each day either.
Every task will take a certain number of spoons. For example, firing off a few quick emails might be one spoon out of your (for example) 10 allotted for the day. You then might have a further email from an argumentative client that needs some research and a lot of diplomacy and that single email alone might take up 3 spoons.
So you’ve already used 4 spoons out of 10 just on your emails.
With your remaining 6 spoons you might choose to done one large task or several smaller ones, but it’s important that you don’t go over your energy allotment your you’ll feel run down and if that happens too often you’ll get sick.
Start with the Easiest Part
When you start a task, look at getting the simplest part of it out of the way first. This will make you feel as though you have accomplished something and will get the ball rolling on subsequent tasks.
Break it Down
Let’s use the our email response to the problematic client as an example.
If you look at it as a whole, where you need to email the client and lay out facts and figures as to why they are wrong and that’s why they’re not getting a discount on your service, that can seem like a huge daunting task.
But how about if we broke it down into smaller parts?
- Read Email From Client
- Note Down Client Concerns
- Research Costs Involved
- Research Processes Taken (Same as usual)
- Research Previous Issues (John said they had complained before)
- Show that cost is fair with breakdown of service rendered
- Write Reply to customer listing above facts
- Read Email From Client
Now each of those points is a lot easier to handle as it’s own task rather than being lumped in with everything at once.
Also, going back to our “Spoon Theory”, you might be able to do the first 3 points under one spoon and then have to wait until the following day to have the energy to complete the rest of the tasks.
And do you know what? It is completely and absolutely flipping fine to give yourself a pass on completing a task if you don’t have the energy. There is no point in putting out substandard work jus to feel terrible about the quality of work as well as physically run down.
Give yourself permission to give yourself a break.
Use The Pomodoro Technique
As well as breaking your larger tasks down, setting time limits when working on these tasks can greatly help your productivity as well.
We’ve written extensively on the Pomodoro Technique before so I won’t go into great detail here, but it’s proven that setting a defined time limit to work on a task – say 25 minutes – and then having a short break (5 minutes in this case) can greatly help productivity and efficiency,
Check out our “Ultimate Guide To The Pomodoro Technique” for more information and links to apps to help you. We also have a free download for you to track your Pomodoro’s too:
Pomodoro Time TrackerIf you're a fan of the Pomodoro technique and paper-based planning then this planner is for you. The FlipPomodoro allows you to write down all of your tasks and mark off your Pomodoros and breaks against them so you can keep track of how
Create A Schedule
As well as using the Pomodoro Techniques, you may want to consider blocking off time for certain tasks.
Time blocking (or Time Boxing as it’s also known) means that you block out a set amount of time to work on a task (or tasks) which allows for additional focus which would be lost if you were switching between tasks.
Task Switching is extremely inefficient and can actually make you less productive even though you may feel like you are accomplishing more.
Blocking out time so that you spend x minutes/hours on emails then x minutes/hours on phone calls can really help your productivity.
Scheduling this in can also help so you know that when you get into the office each day the first hour is a cup of coffee and emails, followed by project organisation for the next hour and so on.
Some people may find this system a bit rigid, but with work you can build flexibility into your schedule to accommodate most events.
Set Clear Goals
Without knowing what the end result is supposed to be, how do you know you’ve achieved it?
Ensure that your goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time Bound.
This will ensure that you’re always working towards a measurable and defined end goal
So instead of “Code a WordPress Plugin” you would have “Code A WordPress Plugin that enables users to add notes and tasks to a list, and assign those tasks to other WordPress users”. You would then break this down into small sub-tasks as we discussed previously.
This is the one I struggle with the most! I always have a YouTube video or movie on in the background when I am working and the temptation to get drawn into what is happening on screen is huge!
Have a designated working area (which is especially important if you’re working from home) and try to keep distractions such as listening to audio books/podcasts etc. to a minimum.
You might want to look into apps that block access to specific websites during certain hours of the day and consider listening to white noise or music aimed at helping you focus if you need something on in the background.
Find Your Peak Productivity Time
Think about how you feel during the course of your working day.
Maybe you’re full of energy when you get into the office first thing, or maybe you feel most productive after 3pm.
Try to schedule your most “spoon intensive” tasks at a time when you feel you are most able to accomplish them.
Sometimes no matter what we try we just can’t seem to find the energy or passion to get something started or finish something that’s been lingering with us for a while.
Having an accountability partner can really help motivate you to focus on getting stuff finally done.
They can be a colleague, spouse, friend or even be a virtual accountability partner. By using them to keep you on track you will (hopefully) be able to steam through your task list in no time.
There’s absolutely no shame in giving yourself a pat-on-the back for a job well done.
You can set yourself a reward when you’ve finished a big project or as you complete various smaller tasks – the latter of which I think is a better option to maintain productivity and keep you moving towards the final goal.
We’ve written about this in the past on how you can gamify your tasks so that you can give yourself micro rewards as you progress or save up your “points” for a bigger treat later on.
The Ultimate Guide To Gamification: How To Trick Yourself Into Being More ProductiveGamification: What is it and how can it make us more productive? In this post we take the ultimate look into how gamification can make you more productive, how gamification works and what apps are available to help you manage your tasks and goals,
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Too often we feel as though we have been handed a job and therefore it’s our sole responsibility to complete it.
Asking for help can feel like we have failed, that we are somehow “less than” or perhaps we’re suffering from imposter syndrome and aren’t worthy of our position.
We may feel that it will impact our chances of a promotion, or that our co-workers will disrespect us for seemingly not being able to do our jobs.
I’d counter that the opposite may be true: surely your co-workers will be happier to help out sooner rather than trying to scramble to make things right just before a deadline.
If you don’t tell your boss you have too many things on your plate, they’ll likely just continue adding to the pile of tasks until you are completely unable to cope. Telling them you need to offload some tasks/projects or can’t accept anything new at the moment could be seen as good time management rather than being ineffective at your job.
Finally, visualise what the complete project would look like. Think about how happy and relaxed you’ll feel once it’s complete.
Maybe there’s a payday for you once the project is delievered, or a promotion.
Visualisation is a powerful tool for helping you achieve your goals. and you can do this by simply picturing the outcome and feeling in your mind or creating something more complicated like a physical vision board.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Change
There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to getting your tasks done and overcoming procrastination. What works for one person might not work for another and you might need to mix and match in order to see results.
Do think that because you’ve chosen one method or system you need to stick with it – heck, I’m still working on mine 20 years later and am adapting it as I go and grow.
Over To You
How do you overcome your procrastination? Do you use any of the techniques I’ve listed above or is there something else you do?
Let us know in the comments below how you fight your procrastination demons.