It’s hard to be productive when you can’t concentrate. As a response to this, I’ve developed a few techniques in order to artificially boost productivity.
Some would say this is cheating. At the end of the day, if the work gets done, it doesn’t matter to me how I got it done, just that it’s done.
If you are going to be free, you’re most likely going to want to be working for yourself. That creates an interesting problem if you have been used to people telling you what to do for your whole life.
If you suddenly are thrust into having no deadlines and no one over your shoulder, you may find yourself easily distracted. This certainly has happened to me and to many others. If you don’t get a handle on this soon, you’ll find that you will develop really negative habits.
If you find youself surfing facebook, youtube, or answering emails that don’t contribute to your bottom line, you aren’t actually working.
I have developed a number of ways to combat this. The answer is to artificially create restrictions and deadlines in order to get stuff done in less time.
Create a to do list
If you have been reading any kind of productivity advice, you’ll notice that people are often recommending using a to do list. The reason is because it’s effective. You need to establish what you actually need to get done for the day.
Write down a list of items that you need to do, and be very specific. Don’t put vague stuff on there that can’t be answered one way or the other whether it got done or not.
What I do is get an actual pad and paper out and jot down my list. It will look like this usually
-Write Blog post on lifting for skinny guys
-Insert links on blogging post
-Have article edited
-Edit youtube video on nameservers
Notice I can definatively answer at the end of the day whether I completed those tasks or not.
Take your list and give a realistic estimate of how long it will take you to do them. It’s alright if you don’t know, just assign a number. For instance, Write Blog post on lifting for skinny guys-1 hour.
Location, Location, Location
When I first quit my job I found myself distracted working from my house. People in the background and televisions on made it difficult. I noticed that when I went to a coffee shop I got a lot more work done. I’m not exactly sure why this was, but I was able to zone everything else out and just sit there working. Use this if you are also distracted.
Point is, if you find it distracting to work at home, change your location.
Find out where all the coffee shops and free wifi areas are in your town. Turn these areas into your new office.
Now that you are in a spot where people you know are less likely to bother you, it may be important to eliminate noise. Some people like the sound of people talking in a coffee shop. Personally I find that if I listen to some smooth background music I work best.
For a long time while working at home I was using the default Mac earplugs. They are really shitty at blocking out background noise. Then I remembered I had noise cancelling headphones that my dad gave me years before. I never opened them and decided to give them a shot. They worked like a charm and I found I was more productive.
Here’s the pair of headphones I use. So good!
Add soothing sounds
Like I said, I enjoy smooth background music when I’m doing my work on my laptop. A really great resource for this is a site called Focus@Will. The idea is that most music you listen to will sap you of your attention because it’s speaking to you. Focus@Will plays soothing sounds in the background intended to increase productivity.
If you are interested in the science of this, check this out. I use this service and it’s really upped my game in terms of getting stuff done.
Use two browsers technique
I used to use Firefox as my primary browser back in 2012. Then my friend Cheese turned me onto using Chrome. I found that Chrome was much better but I was so accustomed to using Firefox that I only used Chrome for doing business stuff.
The idea is that you have one browser set up for all your casual web viewing, stuff like youtube and facebook or whatever. You then set up another browser strictly for business stuff. I currently use Chrome for all my general internet usage, and have Firefox set up with one tab open for writing in my blog. If the browser doesn’t load with all your last tabs that you had open, you’ll be less likely to go surfing I’ve found and just focus on getting stuff done.
Use different “offices” for various tasks
Once you get to your first free wifi location, start your first item on your to do list. I’ll typically sit down, order a coffee, open my computer and get to work. Pop on the headphones, turn on Focus@Will, and get writing.
After I complete the task, I’ll turn my computer off, get up, and move to my next free wifi location.
I usually will hit up Starbucks, then Whole Foods, then a different Starbucks. Usually if I get 3 big items done this way, I will have made huge strides on getting important stuff done.
Something about getting up and moving to a different location after accomplishing a task resets my brain and allows me to get hyper focused again at the 2nd location to accomplish another task.
Keep doing this until your items are crossed off on your to do list.
Apply Parkinson’s Law to your routine
Parkinson’s Law is as follows: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Back in college I did an internship in which every 30 days I had to hand in a paper that chronicled what I did every day. A smart strategy would be to write a page every day for that day. That’s not what I did. I would usually start writing the paper at 11:00 PM that night. I remember staying up til 6 the next day, taking a half hour nap, then going back to my internship to start a new day. Bottom line is that I wrote like a madman and got the paper done in a short amount of time.
The basic premise is that the less time you have to do something, the more productive you’ll be in completing the task.
Use this technique to artificially make yourself more productive. The way you can do this is by giving yourself a set amount of time in order to complete your tasks on your to do list.
How I like to implement this is after I turn on Focus@Will, I’ll set a timer on my phone for 45 minutes. The idea being that I have 45 minutes to complete this task. I know this take a bit of suspension of belief, but really allow yourself to believe that you only have a certain amount of time left to complete the task.
If you aren’t able to suspend your belief, set hard deadlines for yourself with something on the line. Find an accountability partner and set up a system that if you don’t complete your tasks on time, you have to fork over money to them.
Use the Pomodoro Technique.
Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique in the late 1980’s. This was done in response to frustration over not being productive while studying.
The Pomodoro Technique’s premise is that short breaks help the brain to focus on a specific task. Francesco took a kitchen timer and measured out 25 minutes on it. He would then work for the 25 minutes and when the timer went off, would take a 3-5 minute break. After every 4 25 minute intervals, he would then take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
This technique goes hand in hand with Parkinson’s Law so use them together if you so choose to get maximum results.
This technique works best if you have a task on your to do list that you know will take a good amount of time, anywhere from 1-2 hours. Set your timer for 25 minutes and start cranking out pomodoro sessions. Make sure to be taking the neccessary breaks though as they are critical for your brain to stay focused.
The last part of this technique is to record how many pomodoros you go through in a session in order to gain a sense of achievement.