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

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techbizgurl
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This is such a great post! Thanks for sharing the tips and tricks you use to get things done. The part about systems is key. I think that is what I really need so that I can keep track of all the tasks that come at me during the day. Also I need to go directly to work like you said because I often get sucked into email and social media for sure. Great points all around!

Jackie Lee
Guest

I love the concept of “starting” I definitely tend to focus on finishing, which absolutely makes it tough to get started when I don’t know all the steps that will need to be taken. Getting started… and asking what next step will move this forward are going to make a huge difference for me. I already feel lighter. :) Thanks!

JonathanMead
Guest

@Jackie Lee Yeah, I think Marcus Aurelius (or some famous dead guy) had something smart to say on starting. It was definitely smarter than me. :)

TalkingPuffins
Guest

Wonderful Post! Thank you very much for sharing your “not strong points” and how you get over them. I don’t feel quite so alone now!

JonathanMead
Guest

@TalkingPuffins Absolutely. We all have room to grow.

michaelramm
Guest

One way that I firewall my work is to create a special profile on my machine and only load the barest of apps on it. I don’t have any notifications for ANYTHING going off and really the only reason that I have network access is for the machine to connect to Dropbox (which is where I store most of my docs). I also use Byword text editor as a great distraction free full screen text editor (for the Mac).

Great stuff, Jonathan!

JonathanMead
Guest

@michaelramm That’s actually genius Michael. Might have to try that next week.

Jon_Wilburn
Guest

Wow! So it’s great to know I’m not alone in the distractions of this world. It’s also encouraging that there’s hope. Jonathan thank for making yourself vulnerable and pushing through, man.

JonathanMead
Guest

@Jon_Wilburn you’re definitely not alone :)

JonGiganti1
Guest
Great article, Jonathan. Discipline is the key for me and I don’t always win, that’s for sure. The biggest eye opener was tracking my energy throughout the day and understanding my peak energy times. Then, making sure the most challenging projects/tasks I’m working on are worked on during the periods of high energy. This is when my creative juices are flowing and I get “shit” done. I used to struggle with the fact that I wasn’t very productive in the afternoons or evenings. Now, I know those aren’t my peak times so I move lower tier thinking stuff to those… Read more »
JonathanMead
Guest

@JonGiganti1 Great insights Jon. I consider you to be kind of a master on this subject, I so I really appreciate you taking the time to give your thoughts.

mattmedeiros
Guest

I just met you and I feel like I’ve known you for a lifetime!

Some of the tools I use for tracking myself: Evernote, wunderlist, rescuetime

Depending on how you organize yourself (especially the GTD method) the most important part for me is the review. That’s one thing I still struggle with. Getting one day or time down to do reviews. Sift through all the stuff I have accumulated in the “some day” list and especially the “follow up” list

This is a great list of fundamentals! Keep it coming!

JonathanMead
Guest

@mattmedeiros Haha, that’s awesome man. I feel like we’d have fun grabbing some beers.

Thomas Yates
Guest

I have just downloaded the wunderlist app too, hoping to use this to become more productive. I have also downloaded Trello for the same thing. Good to hear you use it and are benefiting from it. Do you have any Wunderlist tips to help me get the most out of it?

Martina McGowan
Guest

Discipline is the key to getting things done, and getting where we want to go. I like that you have listed some tools to help with this task.

And I completely agree. the first actions of the day set the tone. If you get sucked down that well of checking email, twitter, G+, etc, it is almost impossible to regain your footing.

Thanks.

Martina
@martinamcgowan

JonathanMead
Guest

@Martina McGowan@martinamcgowan You’re welcome Martina!

ChristineAdnani
Guest

The actual starting is what gets me. I get to thinking “procrastinating” thoughts. Then I realize that I just have to jump into it and I’m always glad that I do. I could do all the moaning I want but as soon as I jump in and get to it, I’m good.

And also if I’m not sure what I’m doing then it’s so easy to get off task. So I totally agree with #5 Clearly defined tasks! You gotta know what you’re doing!!

Thanks man!

JonathanMead
Guest

@ChristineAdnani Yep, starting is the hardest part. Once you overcome inertia, things get easier. “An object in motion tends to stay in motion.”

studio651
Guest

@JonathanMead @ChristineAdnani

studio651
Guest

@JonathanMead @ChristineAdnani I’d also add that once you start, and start crossing of the first item on your GTD list, I find there’s an extra boost of confidence that energizes me to WANT to continue, no forced focusing required.

TalkingPuffins
Guest
 @JonathanMead  @ChristineAdnani I have the “procrastination”/inertia tendency sometimes as I well…I know it.  I also know it is not going to be as “bad” as I think it is to just get it done….so why do we still procrastinate when we know these things?     I sometimes think, in my case, it might be a self-sabotage because of a fear of success.    I have found some success in saying to myself, “OK.  You can delay the start of this must do task until 1pm, then, no excuses, you WILL get started!”     Maybe we procrastinate (sometimes), because deep down… Read more »
PaigeBurkes
Guest
That last item is the most important to me. Before prioritizing and starting, make sure that all the things on your list should be on your list. I continue to struggle with the email in the morning thing. My brain isn’t very focused first thing and I’ve got my 3 little kids running around so I think mornings are my best time for email. I just need to learn when to shut it off. I have the same feelings in the area of starting. I tend to put the big, important stuff off until all the little things are done… Read more »
JonathanMead
Guest

@PaigeBurkes Glad that it was useful to you Paige. Thanks for sharing your input.

paulettereesden
Guest

Yes, you hit it good, especially number 1 and 2 for me. It is easy to sabotage myself before I even get started! But when I do, I ‘m usually on fire!

Thanks for laying it out to read.

CindyCummins
Guest

I somehow missed out on the PDX gathering with you … hoping to stay in closer contact for the next one … @JonathanMead @LoriPainter Thank you for your tips on kickass getting things done. Helpful for me, I also find that if I don’t run first thing in the morning my day gets shot all to hell.

LynnHess
Guest
These are all great tips (and I’ve been meaning to do the firewall thing) — but the one that will make or break me is “clearly defined tasks.”  I have proven to myself time and time again that unless I have a very specific list of short, discrete tasks to refer to, I will quickly sink into complete confusion and overwhelm and get absolutely nothing done — yet leave the desk feeling as exhausted as if I had just put in a full day’s work in a coal mine or something.  It’s insane!   And this is off-topic, but I… Read more »
Thatmanstu
Guest

Some great points for issues that never really go away. It is always good to hear that most of us are fighting the same battles and that we can get things done when and how we want and need to ….

CrystalsQuest
Guest
I love that your posts always have great stuff I can use, but I also love that you have such quality people reading and I get even more great tips out of the comments!     For me, it’s noticeable that if I slack off when I first get up, it’s pretty much guaranteed the day will be largely a write-off.  I use timers lots myself, since it’s easy to get going when you know it’s only 10 or 15m, and on the weekend when I have way too much to fit in (commuting 3-4hrs daily during the week) I… Read more »
PositiveParadise
Guest
The vast majority of people in the working world have no option on what time to get up. They have to ‘go directly to work’ They have to take the kids to school, be at work for 9, get a half for for lunch and are back home at 6. They just get on with it.  Most of the time they have a boss telling them what to do and when. This is the world most people inhabit. They can’t see a way out, they work hard, and generally they make it a few years past retirement if they’re lucky,… Read more »
Thatmanstu
Guest

 @PositiveParadise A very interesting and refreshing take on establishing your own reality and the belief in your own human abilities.The human mind created this tech world. Another human mind created the marketing which leads us to believe we need these creations and in fact need tomorrows creation today and that yesterdays creations could not possibly be of use today ….

Stuart Mills
Guest
Hi Jonathan,   Strong and useful tips, and yet how much of it is common sense that we don’t take? In logical terms, the best way to start a project is to…start, but we find a number of other things to do that look shiny and appealing at the time. Our brains don’t want to think about the big project in front of us – instead, it tries to find an escape from ‘hard work’ and seek something immediate and pleasurable. And this can go on for an entire day.   Giving a damn about the task definitely helps in… Read more »
sparklyscotty
Guest

Amazing article that any freelancer needs to read.  Thanks to @Stuart Mills  for mentioning!

anneso87
Guest

Great tips, Jonathan. One more thing that keeps me being productive is setting myself a deadline. This makes me write faster, think more focused and stay on track. Of course, you must be very self-disciplined in order to not cheat yourself and simply postpone the deadline or you can tell others about it, so that there is no way to back out. 

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[…] “The battle for focus is one that I wage daily. And the fight never ends.” (I hear […]

PJ_Ferguson
Guest

Great tips! Planning helps me lots. If I prioritize everything at the beginning of the day, I can stay focused because I know I will get to things in their due time. Planning may seem distracting to some because that time could be used to being productive, but without it we can just end up being busy. 

PJ_Ferguson
Guest

Thanks for the great list! Planning can be a great tool as well. Sometimes I feel reluctant to plan my day, but have found that when I don’t quickly plan ahead, I end up just being ‘busy’. When I plan, I know I can get to everything that needs attention, so I can focus on the task at hand, and end up much more productive.

NiGHTandRei
Guest

Thanks for the great tools and apps. I feel that I am mindful of all these tips on a regular basis, but often have trouble physically organizing….

Bronwyn McBride
Guest

thank you for a fantastic article! 

nochnoch
Guest

i might have to firewall too and block distractions so i can get things done!!Noch Noch 

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[…] How I Stay Productive and Get Massive Amounts of Shit Done – Illuminated Mind – Fabulous tips for battling distraction and ‘opportunity overwhelm’! […]

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[…] How to stay productive and get massive amounts of shit […]

MichaelMedlock
Guest

Good advice. I’m writing a book at the moment and I’ve found the best possible firewall – I write with a pen and ban myself from switching my computer on until midday.

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[…] How I Stay Productive and Get Massive Amounts of Shit Done — Illuminated Mind […]

tonyf7
Guest

Hey Jonathan, love this. Very useful. I also love the book Switch. Truly an awesome book. 
 
One thing I’ve found to be a productivity booster is to throw yourself in the fire. 
 
For example, soon I’ll be quitting my job and moving to Arkansas. Having no income and living in a new city will put me under a certain amount of pressure which I believe will allow my vision to focus in only on what is most important. It’s like trying to hit a target with a gun to your head.
 
The pressure heightens your senses and increase your odds of success. 

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[…] an obscene amount of social media in existence (it’s even my JOB and I don’t know!).  Tips and tricks for getting shit done and sticking to your intended […]

Jon_Mills
Guest

Thanks Jonathan, God we are so alike its freaky man  :)  Great advice and reminders I need to hear.

JanusNg
Guest
These are some really helpful tips Jonathan!  I can totally relate to them.  I also use  #1 “going to work directly” which is very effective because you can accomplish more before you get distracted by other opportunities.    I also use my Alexa rank as a way to measure my progress and sort of hold myself accountable.  I think this is huge.  I don’t suggest that the Alexa rank is that important, but it’s a way to help me keep track of my accomplishment.    I would keep a journal and record my daily Alexa rank along with what I… Read more »
FireflyMedia
Guest

Great Great points!!!! I’m going to look into getting that Omnifocus App next month with my Business Account. I just love your blog and your perspective, and so glad that you share it with us! Your article about Giving Up hooked me onto your blog and now I draw constant inspiration from your blogs and emails. I’m looking forward to starting  your seminar with my friend @HauteonVintage on the 29th! I’m working from home doing what I dream and you’re one of the people I am thankful for on this journey!- Take Care, Tiana Star with FireflyMediaServices.com

blainelight
Guest

Hi Jonathan, thanks for this great article. I’ll be sure to 

blainelight
Guest

Hi Jonathan, thanks for this great article. When you “Clearly Define Tasks”, do you write a list of to-do’s? Or is it more of an unwritten plan of action?

JonathanMead
Guest

 @blainelight It’s a clearly defined set of actions, based around a context. Each day I plan my day before I jump into things. 

blainelight
Guest

 @JonathanMead Ya, I saw that in #5; it would be great to see an example of a list that you created. You can even blog about how to create a clearly defined set of actions. Thx

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[…] do you take advantage of the right opportunities and push the others aside? This post from  Jonathon at Illuminated Mind offers up his strategies for staying focused.  Posted […]

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[…] great article about getting stuff […]

DarrenButt
Guest

Hello i am Darren Butt I enjoying reading your articles I am looking forward to read more post from you.

justinmiller06
Guest

I definitely have an issue with doing things I don’t like to do. My motivation and energy for them is simply no existent. Focusing not the things that make me happiest and surrounding myself with like minded people really help me to buckle down

andyenright
Guest

I feel like starting every week by reading this post.  In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. This is the kind of practical advice I need to maintain focus in a world of distractions.  Too many times I’ve allowed a lack of discipline to result in so much wasted time that it can be discouraging to even try to get back on track.  Starting with the end in mind and refusing to surrender to impulse is imperative.  Thanks Jonathan!

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[…] 5. How I Stay Productive and Get Massive Amounts of Shit Done – ah, the 5th wonder of the universe, if only I could figure this one out. This post does inspire. […]

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[…] is a good discussion, I agree with most of it, for most people.  Here is one bit: The hardest part is often just […]

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[…] Cowen quotes Jonathan Mead on getting things […]

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[…] word processing app that I use when I need to focus and just crank out ideas in writing. Another great article about getting stuff done from the Illuminated mind blog. (HT to […]

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[…] Some people find the hardest part to doing something is starting: 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. […]

Michael Wiebe
Guest

Pretty good post, but your site seems too snake-oily for my tastes.

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[…] word processing app that I use when I need to focus and just crank out ideas in writing. Another great article about getting stuff done from the Illuminated mind blog. (HT to […]

GordiPhonekeo
Guest

Jonathan this post helped me blast through my assignments today at home. As an aspiring personal trainer and coach I have to complete my certificates to become one, but they are so boring!
 
I had to dig deep today and use the thought that the sooner I’m finished the sooner I can help people look sexy haha.
 

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[…] of the right opportunities and push the others aside? Jonathon at Illuminated Mind offers up his strategies for staying focused.  Posted by Jen at 1:08 […]

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