Personal Productivity
August 28, 2014 5:49 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone read any good books that have actually helped them get more done on a daily basis? I am procrastinating with many things that I need to do and the procrastination doesn't occur by doing nothing but rather by doing low priority tasks, or thinking, or even reading. If anyone has a system that they have used to be more productive, please share.
posted by nidora to Education (31 answers total) 327 users marked this as a favorite
pomodoro technique worked for me. Quick read and very simple. You set a timer for 25 or so minutes for whatever your highest priority task is and work during that time. What makes it work is that you keep a list of your distracting thoughts. So if you think, I should go do laundry, you write that on your list and can review afterwards and change your priority list as needed.
posted by neematoad at 6:03 AM on August 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

I did an online course called the Finishers Formula I found useful. I am not sure if this link will work (if it doesn't I can email a copy), but I wrote up the notes here. If you like the notes I recommend you take the course though, I probably didn't do it justice with my notetaking and the videos were good and the camaraderie among the takers was good.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:03 AM on August 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

I really enjoyed this book:

Total Workday Control by Michael Linenberger

I actually owe the author a positive review. I'm using this method using the Enterprise Outlook 2007 and it's a very useful and powerful Task Management solution that doesn't require additional software installation. It also removes guilt of not getting unimportant work done. I'm two months into it and pretty committed. Feel free to me mail me if you have questions.
posted by Draccy at 6:07 AM on August 28, 2014

Eat That Frog helped me with procrastinating with things I knew I had to do eventually, but put off as long as possible (with the result of much dread and stress).
posted by getawaysticks at 6:08 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reading books is one way to procrastinate. Do what you need to do to get inspired, but don't be seduced by them. If you feel energized by watching TV or playing a game with your friends, which also nurtures your social connections, that might be a better use of your time.

1) The low-priority tasks are easier to do because they seem smaller and more achievable. For any task that you find yourself avoiding, make a list of steps to accomplish that task. For any step that you tend to avoid, break that down into smaller steps.

2) Believe that every step is important and will give you satisfaction when done. The smaller steps might seem negligible, or unimpressive, but they *are* important.

3) Imagine (make mental images, visual and emotional) again and again the happy, triumphant state you'll be in when the task is done.

4) Don't stay busy all the time. 2 and 3 don't look like you're doing anything, but they are *very important*. Just stop what you're doing now, and a few times per day, and make sure you're not keeping yourself busy unproductively. It's easy to get caught up in checking e-mail, reading the web, etc. because it "feels" like we're doing things. Stop, clear your mind, and think about what you want to think about.

It's easy to get caught up in trying to accomplish things by buying stuff (storage bins, labelers, etc.) and by spending time preparing (reading, eating, organizing). Make sure you have what you need, of course, but you probably have most of what you need already.

The novelty of a new system, whether it's Pomodoro technique, Getting Things Done, or any other, might help keep you focused for a while, but the novelty will wear off and they all involve a tiny bit of overhead. Letting yourself think a bit will make your obstacles clearer and is at the core of many of these systems.

Do what preparation is necessary in your mind (3-5 minutes max), then do it.
posted by amtho at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2014 [28 favorites]

Constructive Living
posted by Ideefixe at 6:15 AM on August 28, 2014

This isn't a book, but the website Kanban Flow has totally changed the way I work. It combines the Pomodoro technique (linked to above), with a method for prioritizing your "to do" list.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:42 AM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

At the end of the day, plan your next day's work.

Before you take a break, plan the work you'll do after the break.

For your personal life, plan the next day in the evening, but not last thing before you go to bed.
posted by sevenstars at 6:45 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

What sevenstars said, plus the book Streamlining Your Life by Stephanie Culp. It's a fast read.
posted by jgirl at 6:58 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's what I do. It's subtle, but it works.

I pick a task (the notion of "many tasks to do" is too diffuse/abstract to stir pragmatic action; you've got to select one). And I concentrate on it. Not in the proven-ineffectual manner of "I really should do this", but in a more dynamic "Ok, time to do this". No "should", no shame re: the greater situation, just the same way you'd ordinarily tell yourself the next thing you're about to do ("Time to get out of bed!", or "I'll go get the mail").

And then keep prodding, not in a trying-to-convince way. Just in an "okay, this is the next task" way. Pleasant. Chipper. Not authoritarian or annoying or angry.

That's a subtle change of tack and tone. Procrastinators shame themselves, and conflate any given task that needs doing into the big blob of queued tasks. They repeat the same ineffectual self-commands to themselves that they've previously trained themselves to ignore. It's the classic "doing the same thing and expecting different results" scenario.

So make a change. Talk to yourself differently, unravel one single task from the big scary blob, don't make it about your procrastinating ways and resultant shame. Strip all that complicated baggage off, and......time to do this. Time to do this. Okay, let's just do this. Next: this.

And then DO it. Why? Because if you do, you'll know you have a way out, a shortcut, a secret weapon. By responding well to this strategy, you are training yourself to perform a useful trick. Protect that training by responding well.

Don't, at any point in any of this, think about procrastination, or the blob, or the shame, or your life. Keep your mind on the one single task du jour. Not because it towers significantly, but just because it's the next thing, that's all!
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:03 AM on August 28, 2014 [79 favorites]

Getting Things Done is a good book/system, but the book itself is somewhat dated and centered around the belief/assumption that you're a business guy with an office (office used as a noun, not a verb).

If you're computer-centric (and I assume you're at least somewhat, since here you are asking for advice on the internet), I found this mash-up of Evernote and GTD useful:

I wish there were an app simply built on this principle, because in essence you're creating a lot of notes where often all you need is the title (the thing on your to-do list), but I found that I could get the categories/tags made in Evernote in just a few minutes and then what took hours was getting all my notes out of Outlook tasks, etc. and into this. But I now have a prioritized to-do bucket that I can access or edit almost equally well from phone, tablet, or PC.

I myself have not made much use of the "place" tags, but then most of my work can be done from whatever computer system that I'm sitting at.

And then I found looking at it all was sort of like staring into the Total Perspective Vortex. But then I dried my tears and started working on the category 1 items...
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:27 AM on August 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

I have also had some success with Kanban Flow, but lately I've been using the Bullet Journal technique and it is working so well for me -- I'm basically obsessed with it!
posted by katie at 7:33 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm in your boat, and have been poking around here for thoughts. I like occhiblu and oliverburkeman's tips on tolerating and working through the distress that motivates avoidance, and rue72's very recent one on getting down to brass tacks. I agree with rue72 (and others above) very much on the importance of finding a good place to work that's distinct. I can't locate the advice I found another time to set an alarm (watch, phone) to go off every hour, the idea being that it ought to bring your attention to the fact that you're wasting the time it's marking.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:32 AM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

GTD as mentioned above. I found The Now Habit useful for getting on top of procrastination.
posted by crocomancer at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know how applicable these notes are to you personally, but I've started keeping a collection in Evernote of quotes about procrastination and productivity, and specific tips for getting work done. (They also include notes about impostor syndrome, because I find that and perfectionism is one of the issues behind my procrastination problems sometimes).

I made the notes for myself, so (a) they might sometimes be a bit cryptic, and (b) they include quotes from Metafilter and elsewhere that don't always have the proper attribution included. Sorry about that. But I am linking them here just in case they are helpful.
posted by lollusc at 6:16 PM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Quick note because I just went to buy it and was pleasantly surprised - Eat That Frog is on sale for $0.99 today at audible.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:15 PM on August 28, 2014

Seconding The Now Habit. I started with Getting Things Done, which helped me keep track of all the stuff in my head. But The Now Habit helped me tackle the stuff on my to-do lists that just kept getting put off until it either was an emergency or too late to bother with.
posted by harriet vane at 12:24 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

one of my professors, Dr. Dick Malott, wrote a book for his students called "I'll stop procrastinating (when I get around to it" which is still available on his website. It's a great book that applies the theory of Behavior Analysis, which states that all our actions are based on the contingent effects of those actions, that act as rewards and punishments for those actions.

This was all done before the "gamification" craze. I don't much care for gamification because it seems a little too arbitrary, but for some people it's perfect. "I'll stop procrastinating" will seem a lot like gamification to some, but it goes deeper than that, and should allow you to create your very own systems that meet your specific requirements.

I don't remember if there's any jargon in this book that might be confusing (I don't think so because it was written for intro students) but if there is please feel free to contact me for explanations.
posted by rebent at 2:03 PM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not good with systems. I apply them for two, three weeks, then they slowly fade away. What I've done is flipped the whole thing -- I've sorted my to do list into mindless/thinking/etc tasks. When I'm feeling tired or just brainless, I pull out the mindless list and start renaming files or cropping photos. When I'm "up" it's time to pull out the thinking list.

I mentioned somewhere else that repeatedly lying to myself that it's "almost done" seems to do the trick sometimes. I started doing this after reading Why Procrastinators Procrastinate.
posted by user92371 at 9:41 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Late to the game a bit here, but I have permanently broken my procrastination by playing the count to five game. That is, pick something you know you need to do, and then count to five, and if you don't start your task immediately after saying five then you lose. Dumb, right? Yep. But here's the catch, the goal is to never lose this game. Not even once in your entire life. Once you start playing, and you've strung together a bunch of wins, it becomes a point of inner pride to never lose. I would personally feel very bad about myself if I lost, like I'd let myself down. There is no way to fix the loss, so I just don't even contemplate losing. It's a totally weird motivational force, but procrastination is stupid.. why not let a stupid game defeat it?
posted by pwally at 10:18 PM on September 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

I find really, really helpful for prioritizing to dos via drag and drop, and for breaking down big tasks into smaller digestible nuggets. I keep everything there: work to dos, shopping lists, vacation planning. Tagging helps sort tasks and projects and they're supposed to add a date functionality soon.
posted by Brittanie at 5:36 AM on September 2, 2014

When I was working on my PhD I had a method I would apply with varying degrees of success: I felt it might be effective to decide that x,y,z would get accomplished that day, rather than that I would work all day. The deal was that I could take the rest of the day to do whatever I liked. Theoretically I would get the tasks done, and get bored enough afterwards that I did more stuff. Not only that but I would do this "more stuff" without pressuring myself to conform to The Plan, hence more serendipity.

Quite often this would even work. When I do work I usually burn through stuff fairly quickly.

But I say that today having spent literally all day in bed with brain weather. The binge goes both ways.
posted by aesop at 6:16 AM on September 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

In my recent research into productivity methods (which isn't procrastinating, I swear, I was checking out Quora and Buzzfeed), I found Lifehacker's Flowchart to Identify What Type of Procrastinator You Are to be helpful in determining at least a starting point for identifying which methods work better for which kinds of procrastination.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:06 AM on September 2, 2014

I am a "perfectionism" procrastinator, as is my husband. The problem with that is no method will ever be "perfect" enough for us to get off our asses and actually accomplish anything, so we need to address that quirk before we even begin.

And of course the failure of many of the "hacks" or "techniques" to getting around procrastination is that they, in themselves, offer yet another super-shiny excuse for never getting anything accomplished because I spent SO MUCH GODDAMN TIME trying to find that one "perfect" method of handling it.

Instead of, as Quisp Lover so elegantly pointed out above, just fucking doing it. And doing it all the way done instead of just getting distracted and wandering off in the middle.

Perfect is the enemy of the good. Really. That isn't just some pat cliche politicians use for a sound byte, it's actually a good maxim to adopt for daily survival if you're a procrastinator like me. Whatever your excuse is for not starting that project, forget it, because it's very likely overkill. Keep telling yourself these exact words: "It's okay - [X] doesn't have to be perfect, just done." Don't let distractions like having the perfect shelf solution or the exact ten different colors of post-it-notes or markers or the "best" Pomodoro book or WHATEVER the hell it is you're "researching" on Amazon (with ten other simultaneous tabs open full of cat videos / macrumors / bike blogs / tumblr / social justice blogs / o hai reddit how did you know I needed a gif of Danerys looking dire to complete that snarky forum comment.....

yeah. Don't be me. Right now I am at work and I've been actually pretty productive this morning but I feel the siren pull of MetaFilter, so right now, as soon as I hit "post" I'm off to the next task. It doesn't have to be a big deal, and I don't have to neatly organize my to-do list first, or login and check gmail either, because that's yet another delaying tactic.

OK. Hitting "post". And then it's off to finish cleaning out the PDL, because I promised myself I'd accomplish that today, I'm over halfway through it, and it's not yet noon.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:40 AM on September 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Try a low-carb, Atkins-style diet. Go into a persistent state of ketosis. It seems completely bizarre, but since I started an Atkins/Intermittent Fasting dieting approach, my chronic procrastination (plus low level depression, I think) has vanished. (read Grain Brain, btw.). I have not only constant dedicated energy, but a persistent, fearless desire to just get in there and get stuff done. I'm sure it's diet related. I know this sounds completely weird, but my whole life has absolutely been procrastination dictated, and this dietary change has really shaken things up.
posted by Auden at 1:23 AM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, Auden's onto something there -- when I'm intermittent fasting, my fast days are my most productive. AINEC.

I've attributed it to all the coffee I drink to compensate, but obviously something else is at work.
posted by notyou at 8:57 AM on September 3, 2014

Two things we know about humans is that we have trouble exerting willpower for extended periods of time (see ego depletion) and that we are highly influenced by habits. With that in mind, my goals are always:

1. Remove the need to have self control instead of relying on sheer willpower.
2. Foster productive habits and try to replace, work around, or just accept counter-productive habits.

Fighting against yourself is a losing battle. People assume they should have some inhuman source of never-ending willpower and bash themselves when they don't, which only further depletes their energy to get shit done.

For example, my problem has always been taking "quick breaks" by visiting Metafilter after something as insignificant as writing a sentence or two. Before I know it I've killed half an hour. Instead of fighting against this habit for hours on end, which is exhausting, I downloaded an extension that blocks all of my favorite sites (StayFocusd extension for Chrome). When I need to buckle down I set it for an hour or two and I have no choice but to work or take a break that's less of a time sink. The only willpower I need is for resisting the urge to open up a completely different browser, which is a lot easier to do (especially because it's a complete deviation of my typical habit).

Another example: I recently noticed that when I'm working at home I work better sitting on my balcony. It may sound simple, but because of this I've been trying my best to foster the habit of going out there right after I eat breakfast. The more I do it, the less I have to remember or even think about it.

There's no panacea and it takes constant adjustment as your habits and preferences change, but that's ok. Everyone is engaged in this constant game with themselves, no matter how productive and amazing they seem to outsiders. Be nice to yourself about it.

Other than that I heartily second Quisp Lover's advice of breaking the big task into smaller ones. Finally, I'm very fond of ambient coffee shop noise.
posted by Defenestrator at 9:25 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Turn off the Internet. And don't just turn off the Internet, turn off your phone too. Like, power it right down. And then: Do the thing you're supposed to be doing.
posted by bicyclefish at 7:09 PM on September 15, 2014

Pay the Piper! (I made this)
posted by rouftop at 1:29 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is nothing wrong with procrastination. Procrastination is nature's way of fighting fragilistias. Do whatever you like whenever you like whichever the way you feel like.
posted by godugu at 4:51 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Update - David Allen just released a new version of his GTD book. I'm procrastinating today by reading it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:37 PM on March 19, 2015

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