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How to Eliminate Procrastination (The Surprising Strategy One Man Used)

How to Eliminate Procrastination (The Surprising Strategy One Man Used)

In 2009, Fred Stutzman was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina. He was trying to grind out some important work on his thesis. But there was a problem.

His favorite coffee shop, which had previously been a quiet sanctuary where he could escape distraction and get work done, had just added a new and very dangerous feature.

Wireless internet.

Now Stutzman found himself constantly distracted by the endless supply of entertainment and social media on the web — even if he really wanted to get something done. He tried disconnecting from the internet, but it wasn’t that simple. He was always clicking it back on to “take a break.” He was constantly fighting the urge to check his messages and updates.

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Thankfully, Stutzman happened to be a programmer studying Information Science. When he went home that night, he decided to create a software program that would solve his problem.

The program he created was simple. You turned the application on, told it how long you wanted to focus, and it prevented your computer from going online for that amount of time. If you wanted to get back on before your time was up, you had to turn your computer completely off and reboot.

The program was called Freedom. Not long after Stutzman created it, the application went viral. It was picked up by NPR, The Economist, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Time, and nearly every major news outlet you can imagine. More than 500,000 people downloaded it.

It seems that many people were struggling with online procrastination.

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Why did Freedom work so well? And what can it teach us about sticking to better habits and mastering our willpower?

The Power of Decision Elimination

Making decisions over and over again will drain your willpower. This is true even if it’s the same, tiny decision — like constantly resisting the urge to check your email. (Another example is continually trying to follow a new, strict diet.)

You might be able to resist for 5 minutes or an hour or maybe even a week, but eventually, your willpower will begin to fade and you’ll give in. This is known as decision fatigue. In a previous article I discussed how it has a measurable impact on your willpower and the choices you make throughout any given day.

The Freedom app that Stutzman designed is effective not only because it prevents you from reaching the web, but also because it reduces decision fatigue. It eliminates your options and, as a result, doing the right thing becomes much easier. In other words, the application places a constraint on your behavior.

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This brings us to an important point: constraints can make it easier to stick to good habits by eliminating the number of decisions you need to make to move forward.

Constraints are a Good Thing

People often say that they want options. When it comes to getting things done, however, options aren’t always a good thing. When everything is a possibility, it actually becomes harder to make the right choice (or any choice at all). This is the paradox of choice.

Meanwhile, when we place a constraint on ourselves, it can become much easier to get something done. This is especially true if it is a constraint that forces us to start small.

  • If you want to start exercising, set a rule for yourself where you are not allowed to exercise for more than five minutes. You have to stop exercising after five minutes. I talked with a reader named Mitch who used this strategy to make his first six weeks of exercise very easy and then gradually built up to doing more. He ended up losing over 100 pounds. (Nice work, Mitch!)
  • If you want to become more creative, you can use constraints to drive your creativity. For example, you could write a book by only using 50 different words. This is the strategy Dr. Seuss used to write Green Eggs and Ham. (Full story here.)
  • If you want to eat more vegetables, you could limit yourself to only one type of vegetable this week. By limiting the number of choices you have to make, it’s more likely that you’ll actually eat something healthy rather than get overwhelmed trying to figure out all of the details of the perfect diet.

We often think that we want an open road and the ability to choose any direction for ourselves. But sometimes, what we need is a tunnel that can reduce our choices and send us in a focused direction.

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How can you eliminate the need to make the same decisions over and over again? How can you use constraints to drive your habits forward — even if it’s in a very small way?

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: Lynn Friedman via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

10 Best Task List Apps to Boost Productivity in 2020

10 Best Task List Apps to Boost Productivity in 2020

Organizational drag is anything that eats up time and keeps people from getting things done in time. Companies that wish to boost productivity do so by creating more efficient processes.

This also applies to individuals, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. Whether you work alone or as part of a team, it is important to use the right tools to boost productivity, and having an accessible and easily manageable task list can go a long way.

Here is a list of the top ten productivity apps that you can use to achieve more.

1. ToDoist

    ToDoist is an awesome to-do task list app that is used by over 10 million people. To use the app, you just have to write down all the activities that you plan to do. The software will then interpret these activities and categorize the tasks accordingly.

    For instance, if you create a task to go for lunch at noon with a friend, the app will automatically categorize this task as a meeting and will send you a reminder at the right time.

    However, this app is more than a personal activity planner. You can use it to plan activities for the entire team. It is also good for planning entire projects, discussing details about the project, and monitoring the deadlines.

    The basic functionality is free, but you can unlock premium features for $36 or $60 a year for full access.

    Available on iOS and Android

    2. monday.com

      This productivity app lets you manage your workflows and tasks. It is a great tool for creating a task list and helping you have a clear view of your work and the status of each task.

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      The app is a bit similar to a spreadsheet. However, it looks much nicer, and it allows you to toggle between multiple views. It gives you alerts and notifications, and it allows you to attach files as well as communicate with colleagues.

      The features of Monday.com include a task board that can be customized to manage due date, hours spent, task status, and much more. Users can upload and attach files, make comments, mention members of their team, and more. It can also be integrated into Google Drive, Slack, GitHub, Jira, Dropbox, and many other platforms.

      If you have problems setting it up, you can contact the customer via email or phone.

      Available on iOS and Android

      3. CloudApp

        CloudApp is a great app for boosting productivity. It offers highly intuitive communication, which can help you save up to 56 hours a week. Your only problem will be deciding how you can utilize all the extra time.

        Whether you are talking with a customer, colleague, or client, this app has all the features you need. With GIFs, screenshots, and image annotation, you no longer have to write lengthy emails. Instead, you can show people what you want them to do.

        The app has over 3 million users. It has proven quite reliable when it comes to helping users to boost productivity. You can opt for the free version or you can opt for a $9 a month upgrade to access premium features.

        Available on iOS

        4. Quip

          If you are working closely with members of your team, Quip is a great app for team activities. The platform combines spreadsheets, documents, slides, and chat. Its main strength is that it comes with a suite of Live Apps. You can use them to increase the functionality of Quip.

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          Moreover, you will waste less time by being able to streamline the use of various tools. Quip is one of the most adaptable productivity apps in the world.

          There are options to use connected tools to track time, manage work, and much more. Some of the integrations of Quip are Dropbox, Github, Slack, Salesforce, and much more. The app costs just $30 a month for 5 users.

          Available on iOS and Android

          5. Trello

            Trello is an app that makes managing projects an easy task. This is made possible by the app’s Kanban philosophy. It is a visual and intuitive platform.

            Users can break huge tasks into small chunks, making it useful for creating a task list. This is made possible by creating cards for each task. The cards can be organized into different columns, which are representative of various stages of the project. Once a task is complete, a card is moved from one column to the next.

            The app is free but it comes with a premium plan with $9.99 a month.

            Available on iOS and Android

            6. Focus Keeper

              This app is perfect for those who wish to improve their work habits and minimize distractions while maintaining focus on current tasks. Focus Keeper is based on the Pomodoro technique. This method utilizes timeboxing to ensure each task is complete.

              This is more than a task list app. If you wish to understand how you work best, the app delivers a suite of tools that you can use to set up your workday. It tracks your hours, analyzes, checks interruptions, and much more. Some of the integrations of Focus Keeper are Trello, Asana, Todoist, Basecamp, Outlook, Google Keep, and many others.

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              The app costs $2.99 a month for those who wish to access premium features. It is accessible on Linux, iOS, Android, web, macOS, and Windows.

              Available on iOS and Android

              7. Quire

                This app is designed as a professional and personal to-do task list manager. The app has a very efficient and optimized design due to the developers’ philosophy on visual task management. It allows you to easily get updates and work with your teammates.

                The app also allows users to customize and choose templates based on their preferences. It is easy to use, but it helps you get things done. The app is currently free.

                Available on iOS and Android

                8. Asana

                  This Kanban-style app is quite popular. It helps you visually organize your tasks. With this app, you can set deadlines, tasks, assignees, and visualize your workflow. It is quite popular and used by many people.

                  The app features a sleek clutter-free design and comes with several integrations. As a result, it can be adapted to a wide range of projects. The app costs $9.99 a month.

                  Available on iOS and Android

                  9. Toggl

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                    You can use this simple time tracker to help boost your team’s productivity. It works on different devices across several platforms, and it comes with numerous friendly reminders to ensure that you remember to keep it on. It usually sends you a report once you complete a task to help you make improvements next time.

                    The app is free and those who wish to access premium features pay $9 a month.

                    Available on iOS and Android

                    10. Omni Focus

                      This app is considered the gold standard of the to-do apps. Omni Focus delivers a huge number of features that can be used to sort, prioritize, and plan tasks. It features several ways to categorize tasks such as location, energy needed, and priority.

                      It is only available on Apple devices and it costs $39.99 for the standard package.

                      Available on iOS

                      Summary

                      All the apps above are great for boosting productivity. However, you will need to pick one that best suits your needs. Try a number of them out before you decide to settle on one.

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                      Featured photo credit: Bram Naus via unsplash.com

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