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See How Easily You Can Minimize Distractions and Maximize Efficiency

See How Easily You Can Minimize Distractions and Maximize Efficiency

If you maximize efficiency, you will provide more value to yourself and others. You will meet goals faster and more consistently. You will live a fuller life, whether that means increasing your wealth, leisure time, or time with family. Fortunately, you can max out your efficiency, or “get in the zone,” by following three simple rules: establish a conducive environment, pursue intentional focus, and eliminate inevitable distractions. These key actions direct your focus to the task at hand and minimize attention to distractions.

I teach and lecture at a major university, write scholarly articles and computer programs, and take PhD. level classes. That is just my “day job.” At night, I like to spend time with my wife and our families, read, write for my blog, and participate in outdoor activities. Just like you, I have big dreams and must work efficiently to meet my goals. But I don’t have the will power to relentlessly work long, mind-numbing days. Perhaps you don’t either. If I want to meet my goals, I must work efficiently.

I haven’t always realized this—it’s actually a new insight for me. In the past, I believed the nonsense about “putting in the hours.” The standard advice goes something like this: “Write down all that you need to do and then do it!” This is most unhelpful because I can’t do that. I am too easily distracted.

I realized that to-do lists, while they have their place, are not the key to efficient production. Instead, I simply needed to annihilate the enemy of productivity: distractions. I knew that if I eliminated distractions, then I would achieve my goals and have more time to pursue other interests.

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Since this insight, I’ve reduced that idea of annihilating distractions to three simple keys. If you do these things, then you’ll maximize efficiency.

Establish an Environment that Is Conducive to Productivity

First, you must establish an environment that is conducive to productivity by removing potential distractions. This means that your desk must have nothing except what you need, including your desk drawers and computer desktop. Any unnecessary item in your work area makes you less efficient. It can physically, mentally, and emotionally hamper your productivity. You have to move the book you don’t need to make room for a needed document. The unfinished spreadsheet on your computer desktop distracts your attention and you need a few seconds to re-establish your momentum. Your cluttered desk drawer makes it harder for you to find what you need and adds more stress to your morning.

Decluttering your workspace is simple. Simply take everything in, on, and around your desk, put it into a huge pile, and put back only the things required for your daily tasks. Throw away everything else or store it somewhere else. It’s that simple.

Application: My desk has a computer, lamp, and whatever I’m working on at that moment. That’s it. I also keep my computer desktop uncluttered. I have no permanent icons on my desktop. When I start working on a particular project, I create shortcut icons to the important files and add these to the desktop. When I am done, I delete them. My desk drawer contains only the supplies that I need on a normal work day (pen, highlighter, labeler, stapler, paper clips, alligator clips, and rubber bands). I keep a legal pad and “collection” basket on a shelf below the desk and out of sight. My waste basket sits beside my desk.

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Remove the clutter from your workspace. This frees your mind, allowing you to be more creative and productive by eliminating many potential distractions before your work even begins.

Achieving an Intentional Focus

Focus rarely appears unexpectedly. Instead, it is intentional. You can achieve focus through a willful effort, but only for a limited time. Fortunately, the “limited time” is enough.

Parkinson’s Law tells us that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This law is a consequence of distractions, which continuously steal value from our lives. What could have been two hours writing a blog post and two hours playing Frisbee with my wife turns into four hours of blogging. You must intentionally counteract this tendency.

Contrary to some who recommend strict deadlines for work (i.e. I’ll stop working on this project at 3 p.m.), I recommend working on projects for as long as you like, but working intensely. This gives you needed flexibility to make intuitive judgments about your time as the work moves forward but eliminates feet-dragging. Working in short intense bursts and taking frequent breaks, known as “pulsing,” allows to work efficiently while maintaining your mental energy. You must defeat Parkinson’s law not through strict deadlines but by working intensely or not at all. Commit yourself to working intensely for a manageable period of time, taking a brief break, and then starting over.

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Application: I use the Pomodora technique, working 25 minutes, taking a five minute break, and then repeating. During my short break, I might get a drink of water, check my e-mail or Twitter feed, or step outside. I only have five minutes, so I don’t worry about these activities getting out of hand. These breaks are refreshing and allow me to start another 25 minute session with a renewed focus. I use the Tomate Timer for Ubuntu to manage my sessions; CherryTomato timer is available for Windows and Mac. But it doesn’t matter what software you use, just find a system that works for you.

While working, make sure that you maximize your focus by working in intense, short sessions with deliberate breaks. This leads to tremendous efficiency, gives you more time to pursue other interests, and adds value to your life and others’.

Develop a System for Dealing with Inevitable Distractions

Despite your efforts to build a distraction-free workspace and work in short, focused sessions, distractions appear that you must deal with. You think of an idea for another project or someone interrupts with a bit of important information. You must collect this information for later, but in a way that does not disrupt your current efficiency. I find the collection system proposed by David Allen helpful for this.

When an important distraction appears, you must get that information off your mind quickly, but ensure you deal with it later. I quickly jot down these distractions and toss them into the collection basket that sits on a shelf under my desk. I go through my collection basket a couple of time each day, reliably, efficiently, and deliberately addressing these potentially disruptive distractions.

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Application: While writing this blog post, a couple of other good ideas came to mind. I simply jotted those ideas down and tossed them into my collection basket under my desk. Since then, I’ve added them as post ideas in my Nevernote software. Because I put the ideas into a system that I trusted, I freed my mind to continue working on the current task without trying to remember it for later or taking care of it now.

Distractions are inevitable. You must build a system that allows you to quickly continue your current work session, but ensures the information is stored and used later. A simple collection basket allows you to do this.

You Can Maximize Efficiency and Offer More Value to Yourself and Others.

You can and should work more efficiently. You deserve more than dragging your feet for eight hours every day. Fortunately, efficient work doesn’t require super-human willpower. It simply requires setting yourself up for success. You must take three steps to maximize your efficiency. No step is difficult, but all require deliberate action. First, you must remove potential distractions from your workspace. You need to deal with these distractions before they slow you down. Second, you must work in intense bursts. If you don’t, your work expands to fill the available space, infringing on time for family, leisure, and entrepreneurial side projects. Finally, you must plan for dealing with the unavoidable distractions that might disrupt your otherwise productive sessions. Quickly jotting down the information and tossing it into a collection basket allows you to get back on track while trusting that you’ll take the necessary actions later. Take these steps, maximize your efficiency, and create relentless value.

What do you think? Have I missed any important keys? How have you implemented these ideas? How else do you maximize efficiency?

Featured photo credit:  chess via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

If you have so many things to do that you often find yourself struggling to finish projects and tasks and move on to other stuff, you’re certainly not alone. Studies show that over 20 percent of the adult population put off or avoid doing certain tasks by allowing themselves to be overtaken by distractions.[1]

So what is procrastination? And what can you do to prevent procrastination?

In this article, I am going to explain to youwhy procrastination is so difficult to beat and how you can stop procrastinating once and for all by following a step-by-step guide. But first, you need to understand how procrastination happens.

What Is Procrastination?

Piers Steel, the author of the book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, defines procrastination in this way:[2]

“Procrastination is to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

In other words, procrastination is doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones. The end result is that important tasks are put off to a later time.

This comic is one of the typical examples of procrastination:

    The Challenge of Getting Over Procrastination

    Human beings have limited self-control. Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist from Florida State University, has been studying self-control and he has found that just like any muscles, human’s self-control is a limited resource that can quickly become exhausted.[3] When self-control is close to being depleted, human tend to choose what’s more pleasurable– the immediate procrastinated tasks instead of the actual works.

    At its core, procrastination is an avoidance strategy. Procrastinators choose to do something else instead of doing what they need to do because it’s much easier to choose pleasure over pain.

    In short, procrastination is so difficult to beat because it is a battle against human’s natural enemy, a human weakness that is in-born.

    How to Stop Procrastinating (Step-By-Step Guide)

    Despite the fact that it’s human nature to seek for immediate rewards and procrastinate, here I have a step-by-step guide for you to follow so as to stop procrastinating.

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    1. Identify Your Triggers: The 5 Types of Procrastinator

    Identifying the type of procrastination you personally experience is an essential step for you to fix the problem at its root.

    Take a look at this flowchart here to find out what type of procrastinator you are:

      Which type of procrastinator are you? Let’s take a look at the triggers for your procrastination type:

      Perfectionist

      Being perfect is the pleasure perfectionists want. But often this leads to them being too scared to show any imperfections. Because of this, they frequently fail to complete things, as they’re forever seeking the perfect timing or approach. Tasks end up never being completed, because in the eyes of the perfectionist, things are never perfect enough.

      Instead of finishing something, perfectionists get caught up in a never-ending cycle of additions, edits, and deletions.

      Ostrich

      An ostrich prefers to stay in the dreaming stage. That way, they don’t have to work for real, or deal with any negativity or stress.

      Dreaming gives this type of people a false sense of achievement, as in their minds, they envision big, ambitious plans. Unfortunately for them, these plans will most likely stay as dreams, and they’ll never accomplish anything truly worthwhile.

      Self-Saboteur

      A self-saboteur has bought into the line that ‘by doing nothing, bad things won’t happen.’

      In reality, self-saboteurs have developed a fear of making mistakes or doing anything wrong. Their way to avoid these mishaps, is to do nothing at all. In the end, they may make few mistakes – but they also see few accomplishments.

      Daredevil

      Daredevils are those who believe that deadlines can push them to do better. Instead of having a schedule to complete their work – they prefer to enjoy time doing their own thing before the deadline comes around.

      It’s most likely an unconscious thing, but daredevils evidently believe that starting early will sacrifice their time for pleasure. This is reinforced in their minds and feelings, by the many times they manage to get away with burning the midnight oil. Often they sacrifice the quality of their work because of rushing it.

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      Chicken

      Chickens lack the ability to prioritize their work. They do what they feel like they should do, rather than thinking through what they really need to do.

      Prioritizing tasks is a step that takes extra time, so chicken will feel it’s not worth it. Because of this, they usually end up doing a lot of effortless tasks that don’t contribute much to a project. They’re incessantly busy on low-impact tasks, but seem oblivious to urgent, high-impact tasks.

      2. Face Your Triggers and Get Rid of Them

      Whether it’s fear of failure, overwhelming feelings, avoidance or convincing yourself you’re just too busy to get something done, you can improve your ability to be productive by eliminating your procrastination triggers.

      For Perfectionists, Re-Clarify Your Goals

      Much of the time procrastination tendencies form simply because we’ve outgrown our goals. We’re ever-changing and so are our wants in life. Try looking over your goals and ask yourself if they’re still what you want.

      Take time out to regroup and ask yourself what you really want to achieve:

      • What steps do you need to take?
      • Is what you’re currently doing reflecting what you want?
      • What do you need to change?

      Write things down, scribble them out and rewrite.

      For Ostriches, Do the Difficult Tasks First

      Even if you feel you’re not a morning person, the beginning of the day is when your brain is most productive. Use this window of time to get the more difficult stuff done.

      If you leave your difficult tasks to later, you’re much more likely to put it off because you’re tired and lack motivation.

      Finishing lots of simple tasks at the beginning of the day such as reading all the new emails only gives you a false sense of being productive.

      For Self-Saboteurs, Write out a To-Do (And a Not–To-Do) List Each Day

      Writing things down is powerful and psychologically increases your need to get things done.

      Each day, make a habit of creating a list of the tasks you know you’ll try and avoid. By doing this, it brings these ‘difficult’ tasks to your mind’s attention instead of keeping them locked away somewhere in your avoidance mode.

      Remember, think how satisfying and productive it feels to cross of a completed task.

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      For Daredevils, Create a Timeline with Deadlines

      It’s common to have a deadline for a goal which seems like a good idea. But this is basically an open invitation for procrastination.

      If it’s a self-created deadline with no pressure, we tend to justify pushing it back each time it comes into sight and feel we haven’t yet done ‘enough’ to get there.

      Create a bigger timeline then within that, establish deadlines along the way. The beauty of this comes when each deadline completion is dependent on the next. It keeps you on track and keeps you accountable for being in alignment with the overall timeline.

      For Chickens, Break Tasks into Bite-Sized Pieces

      A lot of the time procrastination comes from overwhelming thoughts.

      If something feels too big to tackle and we don’t know where to start, it feels like a struggle. This is also true if our goal is too vague and lacking direction.

      Break down larger tasks into smaller ones and turn them into daily or weekly goals. Smaller steps may seem like the slower approach to achieving a goal, but it often leads you much more quickly to where you want to be due to the powerful momentum you get going.

      3. Take Planned Breaks

      The human brain isn’t designed to work continuously on the same task and this could be a reason for procrastination.

      Make sure you take regular, structured breaks away from your task so that you can come back refreshed and ready to be more productive.

      A break as short as 5 minutes is enough to keep your mind sharp and wards off fatigue. I recommend you to use the Pomodoro Time Tracker. It is a great tool to help you take breaks at set intervals. Simply start the 25-minute timer, and follow the prompts.

        4.  Reward Yourself

        It’s important to acknowledge and reward yourself for achieving even the small tasks. It creates a sense of motivation and releases those feel-good, productive emotions that spur you on to achieve even more.

        Make your reward proportional to the task you completed so getting a bite-sized task done gets you a cup of your favourite coffee or snack. Then plan a weekend away or fun activity for the bigger stuff.

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        Personally I try to make staying focus more fun by using the app Forest. It turns productivity into a game. In the game, you can plant a virtual tree at the beginning of your work time. If you maintain focus for the duration of the timer, you’ll grow a tree to add to your forest. It’s rewarding when you can eventually grow a forest.

          5. Keep Track of Your Time in a Smart Way

          If you want to prevent the bad habit of procrastination from coming back, keep track of the time you spend every day.

          By having a clear idea of where you spend your time, you can always review your productivity and know which areas to improve.

          It’s not easy to keep track of every minute you spend throughout the day so I recommend you to use the app Rescue Time.

          It gets you a categorized breakdown of how you spend your time and helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task. You can even label activities as productive and non-productive so as to block your biggest distractions.

            The Bottom Line

            Procrastination exists for many reasons and only you know for yourself what these triggers are.

            Understanding what procrastination really is and the source of your avoidance tendencies is important in moving them out of the way and help you start the productivity momentum.

            Make procrastination under your control!

            More About Procrastination

            Reference

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