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How to trick yourself into being productive

We all struggle with this. Getting to work when we don’t feel like to, finishing tasks we kind of dread or just crossing out the very last point from your weekly to-do list that keeps nagging you somewhere on the subconscious (damn you, Zeigarnik effect).

Productivity is a fastidious thing. Here you are ready to crack one task after another and than something happens (e.g. your Internet glitches epicly or you tap into Facebook) and all the magic is gone. You no longer feel like you are ready to change to world and conquer Mt. Fuji today.


Previously, I wrote about being productive on the weekends, which sometimes gets hard as your whole mind and body seem to oppose your bold decision to get things done on the day when you are supposed to do nothing.

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week. – Spanish Proverb”

When those things don’t work I try to trick my brains with the following tricks to get into work mood.

1. Go work outside

If the weather’s nice, getting outside tricks my brain into thinking we are going somewhere fun.


Indeed, we do - to a park, to work.

Typically, while I’m on my way walking/biking/driving I start thinking on how I will deal with the task, so by the time I arrive I already have a couple of ideas to start working on.


Besides, fresh air gives our brains a good boost of endorphins and nature is one powerful stress-relievers out there available for free. Also, trees usually make a great focal point when you need to concentrate on something.

Alternatively, I hop into a nearby coffee shop. It seems like I’m among the people whose brains appreciate the ambient noise and bustle as an extra kick to focus on task.


Another huge benefit: coffee shops can create deadlines for you if their free wi-fi is limited to 1 hour or the waiters are particularly good at shooting those “it’s time you leave” looks.


2. Voice your commitment

Make a promise you will finish this task someone else. For extra motivation, promise that you will pay for the drinks to your witness if he calls you at 7 pm and hear you haven’t done anything yet.


Got a long project you can’t particularly focus on? Post a status on FB/Twitter etc that you will buy a coffee to anyone who would message you during the week and hear you haven’t yet devoted at least an hour to the task. The rule should also apply to everyone in your household. Now you have a dozen of people who can effectively nag you when you lack the willpower.

Similar option: start a StickK contract. State your task or goal, set the amount of time to complete it, and then put up some cash as stakes (optional). If you complete your task on time, you keep your money. If not, it goes to charity.


3. Keep all the interesting stuff for later

Often I can’t concentrate because I have seen that someone shared a post I want to read or published yet another thrilling research or some new app list. I let myself browse through all my daily reads and newsletters for 10-15 min, grab them all into Pocket and promise myself I will read all of them for as long as I like once I finish task X. It’s one of the great tips I’ve recently picked up from this infographic.


4. Got a complicated task you dread? Chew it into bite-sized pieces

When I have a major project at hand (that I should have already started last week), but procrastinated for some reason unknown, I trick myself with saying: ok, now I will write just 3 steps how I plan to do it. While I write them down (pen and paper works best), I typically add some additional comments, details, thoughts and notes. In the end I have an action plan ready and my brain now thinks “wow, that won’t take long as everything is so clearly laid out. Why don’t I do point a and b just now?”.


5. Visualize your progress

I had one amazing teacher when I was a kid. She draw a leader board each lessons and added ticks next to your name once you have shouted the right answer the first or finished your test first or did great with something else. In the end of the day everyone could see how much they have accomplished today (and how they out beat everyone else).


Today, I still use the same technique to see all my hard work. I keep one file with all the tasks I am doing, done or need to do this month and money earned (expected to earn). Everything’s color coded in green, yellow and red. My goal is to get rid of the reds and yellows the fastest possible.

When I look at the list, I can immediately see how much I have already done (feel proud and motivated) and quickly analyze how much is still on hand (and start doing something about it). Afterwards, I can easily compare different month in terms of my overall productivity and analyze why and how I failed/succeeded.


6. “Get back to work” mantra

Made tea? “Now back to work!”. Answered a phone call? Back to work! Looked on cute baby animals photos (that’s actually productive), but still - Get back to work.


I keep telling myself this phrase whenever appropriate, to the point when it pops up in my mind automatically whenever something distracts me.


8. Nothing helps? Got get some rest

When I have tried a dozens of things on my list and nothing helped at all I just give up and go to rest. I mean quality rest when you get up from your chair, go away from your computor and do something else - sports, cooking, cleaning, playing the cello, basically anything else that helps your brains rest and re-boot for another round of work.


What are your tricks for being productive when you don’t feel like to?

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