RECENT RESEARCH HERE AT LIFE HACKS LABS suggests that it’s creative people like yourself who seem to have the worst time staying focused on their work.
For most garden-variety procrastinators, just removing a few strategic distractions can reclaim focus. Chances are. you already know your distractions better than you’d like to admit. Maybe it’s AIM. IRC. talk radio, or that scrumptious stream of KEXP. Start by dumping anything that proves to be an attractive nuisance for the part of your brain that needs to think just about the work at hand. You’re the best judge of what you need to keep your project moving forward, but the easiest solution may be the most primitive: unplug the router.
If you need internet access for what you’re doing but can’t risk falling into a four-hour, surfin’ safari, try some localized hacking. One popular trick around the lab is to set up a Perl-based web proxy that watches for 15 contiguous minutes of web browsing, then throws a gentle pop-up window to ask if you’re still just looking for that one piece of information you claim to be searching for. (Watch 43folders.com for a link to download this proxy.)
If that devil. AIM. has to be on for your work, consider getting an account with IM Smarter. It’s an AIM proxy that lets you build your own electronic scold. Once configured, you can. among other things. IM their smart little robot (AIM:imsmarter) with a request like “remind me in 15 minutes to quit reading Slashdot.” It obliges by directing your attention back to work.
A favorite nag for all seasons is the humble, digital kitchen timer. You can pick one up for $5 at any drugstore. Try setting it for 5. 8. or 15 minutes
— whatever you consider the maximum amount of squandered time you can afford to lose today — and when it starts beeping at you. get the hell back to work. This can also be useful for “sprints.» where you make a deal with yourself to go heads-down for 15 or 30 minutes of dedicated work in return for the Skinnerian pellet of your choice.
If you prefer more cerebral approaches to your problem — and God knows, most procrastinators think they do — you can try some mental tricks that help alleviate the anxieties and mounting pressure that are making your delaying tactics kick in.
In his popular essay. “Structured Procrastination» . John Perry posits that procrastination is caused by an inability to finish the most important items on your To-Do list. He suggests creating tasks that seem important and urgent (but really aren’t) and then moving them to the top of your list. Since experienced procrastinators find self-deception second nature, they can usually psych themselves into getting something accomplished just by pretending it’s not that important.
“For most procrastinators, removing a few strategic distractions can allow you to reclaim focus.”
We are partial, though, to the inverse model of procrastination espoused by Joshua Bryce Newman, who suggests scheduling regular, short bursts of work surrounded by much larger blocks of deliberate non-work. Give yourself a five minute task starting at 9 a.m.. then get right back to playing Galaga at 9:05. As Joshua notes, removing that pressure and guilt can sometimes lead to an impressive «productivity surge.»
Speaking of “productivity.» it’s time we all admit that the biggest time burglar of them all is excessive Meta-work like rearranging your Day Runner, moving your mail around in Outlook, or fiddling with the endless lists that are meant to help you with Getting Things Done.
Life Hacks Labs has learned that the cardinal rule of productivity cults can be rather painful in its Zen-slappingness: if you’re spending more time thinking about your work than you are doing it. you’re not being particularly productive.
Whenever you feel the bug to stop working and go play with your “system.» fight it off or make it into a reward for reaching a milestone. But don’t let it replace the real work you have in front of you.