Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Productivity Secrets

I have a confession to make. I am a serial procrastinator, and I have the attention span of a puppy at a public park. I have low energy, I can't remember what happened five minutes ago, and I can't seem to get organized no matter how hard I try. I'm basically a cautionary tale, so it might seem that I'm the last person in the world that should be writing about productivity.
HOWEVER. Despite my flightiness and my crushing neuroses, I do manage to get stuff accomplished when I want to, thanks to some techniques I use to cope with my damaged brain.
Here are their stories.

15 minutes at a time. I set an egg timer for 15 minutes (or 20 if I'm being ambitious) and I tell myself I must only work on a single task for that time. It might be cleaning, or writing, or editing, or strength training, or what have you. I do this both for things I want to do (and might spend too much time doing otherwise) and things I dread. For things I like, I force myself to stop at the bell. For things I hate, I force myself to keep going until the bell. IT WORKS! Without my beloved egg timer, I would never be able to focus for more than 15 seconds. This means a sudden 60x increase in productivity! LIKE MAGIC!
This technique has the added benefit of helping me figure out how long things actually take. My internal sense of time is completely wrong: I think things I dislike take much longer than they really do. I am always amazed at how much housework I can get done in 15 minutes.

Don't talk about it. I try not to spend too much time talking about what I intend to do in the future. I don't let myself talk to people about my projects until they are semi-complete. For example, I didn't tell anyone outside my family that I was writing a novel until the first draft was complete.
Why? Discussing your goals or incomplete projects with other people can give you a false sense of accomplishment. For example:
You: "I'm writing a novel." (read: I have five pages written and a bunch of ideas, or just a bunch of ideas.)
Your friend: "Wow!! That's amazing!"
You: Wow! I AM amazing!
Not that you're not amazing, but yeah.
I really like talking about myself, so I reward myself with the ability to freedom to talk (incessantly and at length) about my projects once they are actually done.

Don't think about it. The more time you spend ruminating about what you want to do, the less time you have to spend actually pursuing your creative goals. You won't know what works until you try to do it anyway, so stop thinking about it and do it!

Mini-Tip Bonus Round!
Don't watch TV any more!
Don't commit to anything you don't really want to do, unless you need to do it for money!
Quit your day job and become a professional eccentric like me!*
Don't worry about cleaning too much! Life's too short!
You probably don't need to shower every day unless you have a glandular issue! Fewer showers = more productivity time!
Writers! Convert time spent waiting in public to productivity time by bringing notebooks everywhere!
Spend driving time listening to inspiring music and thinking about your projects, or use that time to listen to NPR!
Don't waste time on the webs! Figure out what blogs you like and visit only once a week!
Figure out what you love and make room for it in your life by getting rid of whatever else you can!

*seriously, only do this if you have a trust fund, very supportive parents, and/or a very supportive, saintlike spouse with a great job.

Finally, the biggest tip of all:
Figure out what you want--what you really want, what you'll gladly sacrifice a lot of free time, sanity, and even cold hard cash to accomplish.
And then DO IT!

Go with my blessing!


  1. Alot of great tips! I really enjoyed this post! Thanks

  2. Really enjoyed this! I'm going to try the egg timer thing and see how that works! Thanks. :)

    Hugs and shimmies~Dilara

  3. Oh goodness I completely understand the puppy in a park thing. I get distracted sooo easi - oh look, a butterfly! :P

    I realised too that I have to make myself shut up about stuff until I'm actually doing it or mostly done. It discredits our word when we have so many ideas that we talk about and do maybe one of them or don't finish half of them. And It's totally true that once you start talking about it, people already give you a pat on the back and you subconsciously feel like your work is done! There's a TED talk about that actually...

    Loved the reminder at the end too, know what you want and go for it - focus! Thanks for writing :)