How I Stay Productive and Get Massive Amounts of Shit Done

How I Stay Productive and Get Massive Amounts of Shit Done

Just like anyone else, I battle distraction and opportunity overwhelm on a daily basis.

There are so many things I could do, that might be worth it. And there is always a deluge of interesting things passing by that pique my curiosity. A funny video on Facebook, an interesting article on Twitter, a new opportunity in my inbox.

The battle for focus is one that I wage daily. And the fight never ends.

I’m always curious how other people stay productive, focus on what matters and finish what they start.

So, what follows is every tip, trick, and hack that I use to stay prolific, get shit done and win the battle for focus.

1. First, go directly to work

The first battle of the day often determines how the rest of the day will play out. If I can resist the temptation to get sucked into checking email in the morning, I can often get something meaningful accomplished right away. A quick win in the morning sets the right tone for the rest of the day.

I’ll admit, this isn’t always easy for me. Sometimes I struggle to not check email or Facebook. But if there’s one high leverage habit I’ve developed, it’s this.

If you’re working on developing your focus muscles, I would start with this simple practice and master it before moving on.

2. Start, often

The hardest part is often just starting. I’ve found that it’s especially hard for me to start when a task is difficult or complex. The more importance and weight a certain activity has in my life or business, the more I seem to put off starting.

However, if I can just get moving on it, even for a few minutes, it tends to get easier.

Because I know this about myself, rather than setting the intention to finish something, I resolve myself to start. The more often I start, the easier things get finished. Overcoming that first bit of inertia is the biggest challenge (just like getting started on a run, or the first push of getting a car moving).

Once things are moving, momentum is on your side.

3. Systems, systems, systems

For the longest time, I used to rebel against all forms of systems. I thought they’d limit me and get in the way of my creative spontaneity. Now, I can’t work without them.

The two main tools I like to use are Omnifocus (for my Mac and iPhone) and Basecamp (for team communication). I have them synched together with a service called Spootnik. It simple and gets the job done for me.

Whenever a task comes up that I need to make sure gets done, I simply enter it into Omnifocus and schedule it. Done. Now I don’t have to think about it anymore.

If you don’t have a system in place for getting things done, you’re likely losing a lot of productive time to repetitiveness and inefficiency.

4. Holding myself accountable

This is a big one for me. It can be hard for me to stay focused on what I really intend to do, and accountability helps with that a lot. Without accountability, fear, uncertainty and procrastination can get in the way.

There are two ways I hold myself accountable: with my team, and with a small, weekly mastermind I’m a part of.

Both help me stay focused and more importantly, follow through on what I intend to do. Community means everything to me.

(As a short side note for anyone that’s interested: I’ve tried the whole reward and punishment system many times before. But rewarding myself for doing something or punishing myself for not doing something just doesn’t work for me. However, knowing that I’m going to let someone else down if I don’t follow through is particularly powerful for me.)

5. Clearly defined tasks

I need to know what needs to be done, right now. However, if I just have a very vague, nebulous idea of what I need to do — like “writing” — I’m not very likely to follow through. In the book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath talk about the importance of shaping the path. The clearer the path is, the easier it is to get moving. I find this to be true for myself.

Whenever things are a bit fuzzy, I try to ask “What needs to be done next to move this project forward?”

Sometimes the answer is planning, sometimes it’s making a call or sending an email, or creating an outline. Whatever it is, I define it and then get started.

6. Firewalling

Every now and then I need to take drastic measures to ensure that I stay focused. Sometimes the battle for my attention is too much, and I need to admit my own weakness.

When that happens two things help me:

  1. Changing my environment. Usually a coffee shop or even moving to another room in the house does the trick. However, if that doesn’t work I…
  2. Firewall distractions. Because I work online it’s easy to get sucked into the social media black hole where all time is lost forever (until the end of time). I use an App called Focus that allows me to block social media websites and other distractions for a set period of time. It’s like training wheels for building focus. It helps limit my number of choices so I can buckle down and do the work.

7. Giving a damn

If I don’t actually care about what I’m doing, it’s very unlikely that it will ever happen. I have a very low zero tolerance for doing things I don’t like to do. It’s pretty much impossible for me these days. I have to be constantly making sure that what I’m doing is in alignment with my reason why and relates to my long-term vision. Without that, what I’m doing right now has no context.

As much as possible I try to spend the first few minutes of my day thinking about the life that I’m creating, the people that I’m serving and why I care about what I do. Keeping those things in the front of my mind helps me stay synced with my reason why.

Action: What helps you get things done? Leave a comment and share with the community.

photo courtesy of chris corwin

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148 Comments on "How I Stay Productive and Get Massive Amounts of Shit Done"

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m.
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Good post! I found out that I need a to do list to help me with stuff. It used to be a classical paper one but later I moved on to http://tasck.com which is lovely, minimalistic and simple as hell to manage :) And I divide the tasks into smaller pieces, everytime. People usually need to do that only with the big ones but I’m really struggling with procrastination and doing basicaly anything so I need to divide even the smaller things. But that doesn’t matter. Nobody is to judge you on how you do things as far as it… Read more »
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Nina
Guest

@JonathanMead – I JUST wrote a post on this today about my shock when i used the history button to look for something and SAW what i had spent my whole day on – mainly gmail, FB, other peoples sites that had nothing to do with my work – just compare and despair type of stuff

so now im on parole – no email or FB till 7pm

Nina

John Corcoran
Guest

Jonathan: You had some great recommendations in here of stuff I haven’t heard of before, so I appreciate that. Honestly, switching to using Productive Flourishing’s planners helped me become far more productive. Whenever I get at a loss for what to do next, I go back to them. I can also plan out each day and what work I’m going to do during that part of the day, so I do the key stuff when I’m most productive.

Angelique
Guest
Thank you. Just stumbled across you while desperately searching for something – ANYTHING – to help me get out of the unfocused,overwhelmed, drowing in a to-do list on steroids muddle I am currently in. I have a job I ADORE but which is very diverse – I do a lot of social media, a lot of writing and a lot of client work – and I am a writer and blogger outside of work hours. I also have a family and cats (the latter are more demanding than the former). My brain feels like it’s running in overdrive all the… Read more »
www.filmmetro.com
Guest

I feel this is among the most important information for me.
And i’m happy studying your article. However wanna statement on few basic things, The website taste is great, the articles is actually great : D. Just right process, cheers

Max
Guest

Clearly defined tasks : I like to use the term “baby-steps” like Zen Habits does. I think the more we divide the task, the more it clarifies, the more concrete it becomes and the easier it gets to accomplish it.

The ONE thing that helps me get things done is my TODO list. Every morning, I prioritize 1-2 items that are “must” items. When I have cleared those items, I recheck my list and complete more easy or fun tasks.

http://essentialrelationships.com
Guest

Awesome! Its actually awesome paragraph, I have got much clear idea regarding from this article.

namenamenom
Guest

“In front of computer in the light of the computer reading the screen”
I hate to laugh at certain times but you really are a genius and hope you do exceptionally well in whatever it is you are choosing to choose. present me, in a different form time and place space time continuum

Robin
Guest

I set the alarm on my phone for 30 to 45 minute sessions. When I goes off I can linger through one snooze, and then I have to move onto the next type of activity/task. I also have a basic outline and I rotate the tasks. I also find that music can make almost any task alot more fun.

julia
Guest

Hey!
Do you know? It all seems like children are taught exacly the reverse of all your great strategies in school!

like/ shaping your own path? non-existant in school.
/ focusing on the subject? Yes; for like 45 min max.
/ creating community? Well, outwardly. But only with people EXACTLY your age. and no copying! No helping durin a test! No talking to your neighbour!

etc. you get my point; and now we have to unlearn all this.

xxx great blog!

Laura Simms
Guest

Great ideas. I’ve started a morning ritual where I don’t check email or get on social media until I’ve done 2 hours of work. I’m amazed at the difference this makes for my productivity and my mood.

Maria Paulina Mejia
Guest
Awesome post! Besides the information being useful, what I really loved about it is how natural, spontanous and transparent you sound. It’s not rigid at all… hate rigid posts where people seem to be making a huge effort to sound like intellectuals. I work online, too, so I can easily understand what you mean. I’ve had the tendecy to push myself too hard and I can find myself working for hours and hours non-stop. Now, I’m learning to break my work into 90, maximum 120-minute blocks in order to give my brain a break, refesh it and keep going for… Read more »
Ilissa
Guest

What if you really can’t find any reason to care at all? Like I’m havering a lot of trouble caring about anything such as my appearance, what I want to be doing, where I want to go… Nothing. I find myself just staying in bed and not doing anything for days… I don’t have any motivation anymore.

Happy
Guest

Hey there! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? With thanks

Matthew T
Guest

Thank you for this wonderful post!

Particularly good ones the ‘Start, often’ and the ‘Firewalling’.

For me also the best solution if I changing my enviroment, this method is boost my performance! :)

jesna
Guest

This one is so inspiring and detailed. Thanks for the share!!

More
Guest

Great article. That is certainly precisely what I was looking for. I like your blog and My spouse and i liked your energy. Ones write-up is quite of great help for me personally or anything else to work out. I am going to definitely keep coming back on your own website for a lot more things. Best of luck for the future threads.

Aaron Morton
Guest

When I am at my most productive I find I:

– Know exactly what I am doing
– Time box what I am doing
– Blank out distractions
– Keep fluids high and food intake frequent
– Review the work I have done.

Aaron Morton

Tierra B
Guest

Thank you so much for this post, it brought a lot of things that I am guilty of to light.

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Stevie
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speed helps too!!
Hahaha just kidding

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The Dude
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Sounds exhausting.

Sophie | Spark
Guest

I get the most done when I make it a habit – for me, I’m most productive if I get up every day at 6am and sit down to write. If I break this habit I quickly lose the momentum and hit the snooze button instead. At my computer, my favourite productivity helpers are Self-Control (to block distracting websites) and Ommwriter, which is a beautiful clean interface to write on.

Thanks for sharing your tips!

Stu McLaren
Guest
I smiled when I read the part about creating “systems” because I too avoided them thinking that it would stifle my creativity. Now however, I’ve started to realize that designing these little “hacks” are actually a creative process in and of itself. The question I’m now asking is what system can I create to streamline this process and give me more time to only do the things I’m best at? I recently did this when it came to capturing my ideas “on the go”. I outlined the process here: http://stu.me/an-iphone-voice-memo-app-that-just-works/ I’d love for you to share any other “systems” or… Read more »
Mariana
Guest

Great advice, I find great that you get to keep focused; It turns really hard for me sometimes anyway, thanks for sharing!

Christine
Guest
Finally!!!! Someone understands what I have been dealing with all my life. I am a creative person so I couldn’t stay focused or master one thing that I am creative at and make a living because I wanted to do it all. Thank you so much for the guide lines. I have searched books, magazines and none was helpful than what you wrote. This needs to be published in a magazine to help the masses who are having the same problem. I just shared this sight with my sister who is also sharing it with a friend who is having… Read more »
Anwell Steve
Guest

Getting things done is indeed hard to achieve, especially if you rule over procrastination than priority. Jonathan, your tips are great and I would also suggest that anyone could have a project management software which is a great GTD system that will help you become more productivity with your work. As technology arises, we must think of something that could go along the trend and will help us stay foucs in a productive daily living.

DeciBell
Guest

I read this article while procrastinating ..
And then I left a reply.
I wonder what’s on breaking news?

Isabelle
Guest

Great post! Recently I had problems with self motivation and productivity butthen I found the GTD system. I started to implemeting it using Evernote, but it was tough in some way. Lately I found the app that let me got back to the GTD and it’s awesome. SmartTM app I use is really great and it works with EN so I didn’t have to copy all my recent tasks again to the new tool.

Sebastian
Guest

Working first thing in the morning is BRILLIANT. I’m going to get started right now. Thank you!

jim
Guest

I sometimes shut off the computer, get a cup of coffee and do my work on paper. I find I can be much more creative this way and I usually come back to my computer with a new outline or a new problem solved and then I can knock it out on the computer.

Mark
Guest

After being told I needed to attend an interpersonal seminar and researching sites, I came upon this page. I have to ask, how do you deal with “learning to pick your battles”? I often find this slowing me down, making me less productive.

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Lasse
Guest

This is a great post, I have been working on this aspect myself lately. Knowing what I like to do, and what helps my business and life move forward in the direction I want. Things like meditation and exercise also help me maintain focus, even my dietary choices and my relationships are factors I consider. Can I ask how do you manage to get so many people to engage on your blog, its quite impressive!

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bear
Guest

Like someone mentioned above, it is all about discipline (and habit). I feel like a regular exercise routine helps me to kick start my days. On the weekends, if I am trying to get some work done but just can’t seem to get myself around to it, I go for a jog or a rollerblade run or a swim, etc. Then I come home feeling refreshed and ready for anything pretty much.

ken arroyo
Guest

i really need this… my lifes quickly turning into a mess

Stephanie
Guest
I am a stay at home mom who is fun (at least my kids think so for now at ages 7 and 9) and I like to fly by the seat of my pants. For some reason, I volunteer to you know, clean house, do dishes, laundry, that sort of thing… AND run a Cub Scout Den and be the PTO Room Parent Coordinator for the grade school AND be the secretary for the Scout Pack Committee and coach cheer and teach fitness classes, therefore committing to subbing classes. I realizing that flying by the seat of my pants is… Read more »
Dotty
Guest

I read this to procrastinate. Need more text.

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Ieva
Guest
Amen to #7. At the moment I’m in deep procrastination and I’m realizing that it’s because I feel that I need to do tons of shit which is totally useless in my longer perspective. And, talking about deep procrastination (I’m struggling with my studies), I loved these words from the other blog: It marks that key transition where the momentum of “this is what you need to do” — the momentum that carried you through high school and into college — begins to wane, leaving you to discover a new source of propulsion — not just new, but also more… Read more »
Lucia Williams
Guest

I have no idea how old this post is – it’s very helpful BTW – and I haven’t read all the comments so this might have been flagged already, but your affiliate link to Concentrate isn’t working :(

josh
Guest
How I stay consistently focused on achieving my day. First, before anything else, exercise, I go for a swim or a run each and every morning to prime my system for action. I’m lazy, extremely lazy. I got a gym membership to a gym that is directly on my route to work so I have no excuse to miss a day. I pay a premium for this membership, but because it’s in my travel path and i’ve been doing this for the last six months I haven’t missed a day during the week. Vision and strategy, each night before it’s… Read more »
Emory
Guest

Awesome list! And totally true, especially #1, 2, and 3. The idea of getting started is often scarier than the process of actually completing a task, so we create all sorts of barriers for ourselves.

Hua
Guest

I find myself resonating with a lot of your thoughts here. I used to do reward-punishment system too which left me less productive than before. I really like your tips #1, 2, and 4. I also find myself having a LOT of initial inertia but can remain really fired up after building up momentum, and I also find that having the mindset of caring about my teammates’ feeling also really helps. Thank you so much for the post.

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