Figuring out what to do
Tools I use: Google Calendar.
Every task that has a set date and time to be executed is on my calendar. If it’s not a recurring task, I’ll turn on the alarm on the calendar.
Time investment: less than 30 seconds each time I add an appointment.
Return: not forgetting about an appointment.
Tools I use: Trello.
If something is not on my routine checklist or my calendar, then it’s probably a task that is part of one of my projects (like the blog or my dissertation). If it’s part of one of my projects, it’s on one of my Trello boards. The key here is to be specific:
- Know the goal you want to achieve;
- Determine the steps you need to go through to achieve that goal.
- These steps should be the smallest possible.
- No step that is unnecessary should be here (or on your mind).
- Don’t forget to delegate all the steps possible.
Time investment: less than 15 minutes (to figure out the specific steps you need to go through to achieve a given goal).
Return: getting back all the time you’d procrastinate for not knowing specifically what you need to do.
Being more efficient
Ok, now I know what to do. But what if takes too long? Procrastination is sometimes a problem of not knowing what to do (the specific steps) like we addressed above. But sometimes it’s a problem of knowing your tasks are going to take too long to give you some kind of gratification.
Then what we can do to solve that part of the issue is to do things faster. If I enjoy doing it, I’ll probably do it fast enough (but it never hurts to be faster). If I don’t like doing it, it is crucial to be able to do it fast, because, if not, I’ll certainly end up procrastinating.
Here’s what I do to do things faster:
Tools I use: pencil to enumerate the paragraphs of a text.
When reading a text gets too boring but I definitely must do it, I start breaking it into smaller parts. I enumerate the paragraphs of each section, and then I make a small list of the remaining paragraphs and sections. Usually, I’ll then read one paragraph each 10-15 minutes. That way, since I can do other stuff at the same time, I don’t get too bored with reading that piece (which would lead me to give up and procrastinate).
Time investment: 2.5 minutes enumerating the paragraphs of a text (for a 16 page/10,000 words article, with about 40 equations).
Return: getting back all the time you’d procrastinate because the task takes too long to give you any gratification.
Tools I use: Sprint Reader (free Google Chrome extension).
RSVP stands for Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. It’s a method of speed reading where all the words of a text are displayed on the same place of the screen one after the other. This way you don’t have to move your eyes. With time, you can increase your reading speed, measured in words per minute (wpm).
Time investment: less than 30 seconds to select and copy the text to Sprint Reader.
Return: about 2 minutes and 30 seconds for each 2,000 words article (I usually read at 250wpm, but with RSVP I can now read at 360wpm – and I’m increasing that speed with each article I read).
Tools I use: built-in options in YouTube and in the iOS Podcast app.
Let’s say you’re watching/listening to something, but not for pleasure (like an instructional podcast or video). If given the option of just learning the content without having to go through all of it, I guess you would take it, right? Well, you usually can’t do that, but you can increase the speed with which you listen/watch (and that does not usually affect comprehension). The iOS Podcasts app offers the option of listening to an episode at 1.5x and 2x the speed. YouTube offers 1.25x, 1.5x and 2x.
Time investment: less than 10 seconds to press the button on the app you’re already using.
Return: 20 minutes (if you play a 1 hour podcast episode or YouTube video on 1.5x the speed)
Tools I use: whatever I’m using to write.
Don’t lose time wondering the best way to say what you’re trying to say. Don’t second guess yourself while you’re writing. Leave that for the editing that you’ll have to do later. When you sit to write, just write as honestly and as naturally as you can. If it’s easier for you, talk to a recorder and then write what you said. If you need, ask a friend to talk to you and ask you questions on the subject you want to write about.
Time investment: the time you’d already dedicate to your writing.
Return: not getting stuck with writer’s block.
Tools I use: hands (even though hands are used throughout all of these).
Knolling is nothing more than arranging objects in parallel or 90° to organize them. It helps me better visualize all the stuff I have in a certain area of my workspace. That way, I can access whatever I need faster than I would if I had to go through a pile of unorganized objects.
Time investment: about 5 minutes if your workspace isn’t a complete mess.
Return: not having to spend hours looking for something when you need it.
Some last tips on procrastination
Tools I use: MyHours.
When I do the things listed above, how do I know I’m really getting faster at doing them? Back in the day, I used to use a stopwatch and an Excel spreadsheet. But now, whenever I start a new task, I track my time on MyHours. You can group them by projects, which makes a lot easier to analyze later on.
Time investment: less than 30 seconds to describe the task and start counting.
Return: a better understanding of the time you really need for each activity, so you can plan more realistically and set achievable deadlines.
Distractions can present themselves in lots of ways. Let’s say my work requires me to read a certain article. I’ll use the Evernote Clearly to get all distractions (any recommended articles, ads, banners) of the page out of my sight, so I can focus just on that article.
Sometimes the problem is that I need to focus on something, but I keep checking my Twitter or my e-mail. In that case, I’ll use a Chrome extension like StayFocusd to block access to some (or all) websites during the period that I need to work.
I’ll also put my phone on airplane mode when I have to work so that it won’t beep with every message I get. You should, obviously, let important people that would try to contact know that you usually do that.
Time investment: less than 10 seconds to set up each one of this.
Return: all the time the distractions would make you waste.
Tools I use: E.ggtimer, Pomodoro Technique.
To avoid burnout, I use the Pomodoro technique. It consists of working periods of traditionally 25 minutes, then taking five. After four of those cycles, rest a little longer. You can use any timer to track it. E.ggtimer has it already set up for you (it will stop at the end of each cycle, so just refresh the page to start a new one).
Time investment: less than 10 seconds going to the Pomodoro timer at E.gg Timer.
Return: not falling into procrastination because you’re too tired during working hours.
Tools I use: built-in option (“due date” of a task) at Trello (see item 2).
Deadlines are great to get you to do something. In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson famously said what became known as the Parkinson’s law:
“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
– Cyril Northcote Parkinson
So, the sooner your deadline is, the less time you’ll spend working on a certain project. And that will force you to do only the essential tasks.
Time investment: less than 10 seconds to set it up on Trello.
Return: all the time you’d spend procrastinating because you could do it later and you would still be on time.
Tools I use: myself.
The key to success is doing something. You shouldn’t lose much time asking what you need in order to do something. Yes, you should look for instruction and inspiration, but don’t overdo it. As soon as you feel able to start doing, do it immediately. Refine your process along the way.
Sometimes we’re going to fail. Recently a lot of people have been discussing if failing is necessary, if is a part of succeeding, or not. Failure is a part of success, but just because putting yourself out there and doing more things will probably lead you to fail more than someone who is not doing anything.
Time investment: here’s where you should spend your time. Use every time you have available to do more.
Return: success (even if you make some mistakes along the way).
What were the results you achieved?
Do you have any other tips that I may have left out of the list?
Definitely leave a comment below and tell me about it. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.