Most people in 2013 have a nasty habit of placing too much on their to-do lists. Each day, the list grows longer and we struggle to get even half of it done. Day in and day out we disappoint ourselves, and those around us, with our persistent lack of productivity and and palpable absence of achieved goals.

However, there are things you can do to make that to-do list an “all-done” list.

Why Can’t I Get Anything Done?

If you’re visiting this web site, you’re looking for ideas and inspiration. If you’re like me, you’re looking at this site when you ought to be doing something “productive.” If you clicked this article, you’re really trying to avoid some work. Is that you? It’s okay. It’s me, too.

How was your drive to work this morning? Did you get stuck in traffic (if you didn’t and for some miraculous reason have never experienced traffic, bear with me)? Did you know that your brain acts in a similar way? It’s true—if you have too many things to process, it will clog up faster than the freeway during rush hour. How many times have you caught yourself just staring at your monitor, doing nothing in particular? Plus, the guilty feeling that follows isn’t very helpful, is it?

Well, guess what? Let it go.

Let Your Mind Wander

It seems counterintuitive, but if you have a hard time focusing on one particular task at a time, this method could work for you.

If you have 8 tasks that need accomplishment in a given day, what’s your plan of attack? Do you order them from easiest to hardest? Hardest to easiest? In either one of those scenarios, there’s a point where you’ll freeze. A task that should take an hour now takes three or four because it’s hard to maintain your focus for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Don’t Fight Your Own Brain

Rather than try, futilely, to muscle through task #1 before moving on to task #2, allow yourself to move on to another project whenever your attention wanes. You’ll maintain your interest throughout the day and minimize the time you spend staring at your monitor. 

By cutting the “down-time” out of your day, you’ll get that list checked off a lot quicker. You may not check anything off until the afternoon, but as you wrap up your day, all your projects get completed with no feelings of guilt or wasted time.

The Shower Principle

So—how and why does this work? Well, your brain never really shuts off. Your subconscious can work wonders when it’s not jammed up with unnecessary worry.

When your mind is otherwise distracted, your subconscious is freed up to process obstacles you might be trying to overcome. This method is referred to as “The Shower Principle,” and oddly enough, is best explained by Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock:

The Shower Principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand. For example, when you’re showering, if the cerebral cortex is distracted by showering then another part of the brain—the anterior superior temporal gyrus—is activated. This is the site of sudden cognitive inspiration.”

Okay, granted 30 Rock is a sitcom, and “Jack Donaghy” isn’t actually real, but The Shower Principle certainly is. In fact, it works for me so frequently that when I’m writing on a deadline, I’ve taken up to 5 showers in a day. Other popular distractions include taking a walk, a drive, and even a quick nap.

So if you’re the kind of person who is constantly looking for a distraction (ahem, I caught you reading this so you’re already busted), try this technique. If you work in an office you might not have the opportunity to take a shower in the middle of the day, or your bosses might not understand just why they caught you napping underneath your desk, but allow yourself to take breaks when your attention span requires them. Watch a YouTube video. Do some jumping jacks. Find out what sufficiently distracts you and do it for five minutes. It’s like a reset button.

And if you get in trouble for doing jumping jacks at work, show this article to your bosses. While they are reading it, take a little nap under your desk. You’ll feel better.

Want to improve your focus? Here'a a related article: How Can I Improve My Focus?

Featured photo credit: Black leather armchair in room. Business background/a> via Shutterstock

Love this article?