How to get (at least some) work done
When I'm putting a piece of work off because it's difficult (or I'm making it difficult), I've found that this simple process helps a lot.
- (Optional) Make things easier with the right conditions. I start in the morning before emails, but you might find yourself most productive at another time. Eat if you need to, but not too much. Have coffee if you need, but not the super-caffeinated stuff, which makes it hard to focus. Try to ensure that you're in a quiet place. If you're not, use noise-cancelling headphones or maybe some instrumental music. Make sure you're not too hot or cold. This step is optional because if you really need to get some work done, you can do it pretty much anywhere under any conditions by following the next four steps.
- Promise to yourself that you'll do 25 minutes uninterrupted work, then take a break. If it's a really tough piece of work, just promise yourself that you'll do 25 minutes anyway then see whether you want to continue. 25 minutes is better than nothing, and the chances are that once you do that first chunk, you'll have built up some momentum and will be able to carry on much more easily. But do have that break after 25 minutes! If you don't, you're not honoring your promise to yourself, which doesn't bode well for the next time you try this technique. By the way, this technique is essentially what's called the Pomodoro technique, which started with a kitchen timer and is now big business. The basic principle has helped me, though.
- Do not, under any circumstances, start to research new productivity tools when you're about to do some work. Save it for your break, or some other time.
- Consider whether you can get some of your work done on paper. There's nothing less motivating than staring at a blank editor page on a screen. Writing and doodles on paper seem to get the ideas flowing much better. Try to do 25 minutes work on paper, without doing anything else.
- Even if you need to start on an electronic device, stop reading stuff on the internet. Close this page, close your browser or news reader, start a timer and get your first 25 minutes work done.