We've all been there: a huge to-do list at work, but buzzing cell phones, never-ending messages on social media, and cat-themed slideshows consume much of the day. Procrastination affects everyone at some point, making it hard to stay on task and get things done. If you find yourself putting off the inevitable, try these 10 tools and strategies to help you get back to work and be more productive.
10 Tips and Tools to Fight Procrastination
A 2013 study by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers found that users unlock their cell phones an average of 110 times a day. If you're constantly checking your phone at work, try putting it away. Turn it face down on your desk or place it in a drawer so it's out of sight. You'll be surprised how much more you'll get done when you're not constantly looking at alerts and text messages.
Opening multiple browser tabs makes multi-tasking on the Internet easy. However, having too many tabs open can be distracting and makes it hard to focus. Try limiting yourself to only one browser window with one open tab until you finish the task at hand. If you have a second monitor, pull up your to-do list to help stay on task.
It's nice to be busy; we feel important and needed in our organizations. That said, it's easy to get trapped in an exhausting cycle of endless to-do lists and action items. To gain control of all that work, take it one item at a time. Prioritize tasks and work on them in order. Before you know it, you'll have a list of completed tasks.
Complex projects require clear definition and organization, and Post-it notes on the wall don't cut it anymore. To get a handle on your projects, try Trello, a popular project management tool that's taken the tech world by storm in the last few years. Trello offers organizational tools such as boards, lists, and cards, which provide a quick visual outline of a project's tasks. It's free and can be used for everything from simple solo tasks to complex projects involving multiple team members.
When a project has no formal deadline, the work sometimes drags on with no end in sight. To solve this problem, estimate the time it will take to complete a given task. Perhaps reviewing a contract will take 30 minutes or responding to an email will take 10. Once you have an estimate in mind, set a timer. This helps create focus for that one task. Try Egg Timer, a free countdown tool that can be used in any browser.
The Pomodoro Technique calls for working without distraction for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break; repeat until all tasks are complete. You can take the Pomodoro method a step further with the Strict Workflow browser extension. A click starts a 30-minute timer; non-work-related sites can be blacklisted. Timers can't be stopped unless the extension is disabled or the browser restarted. The browser extension works only in Chrome, but both the browser and the extension are free.
If you find yourself spending a lot of time on Facebook, personal email, or Twitter, consider the Productivity Owl browser extension for Chrome. This tool defines time limits for various websites. Once you hit the time limit for a site, the digital owl starts shrieking. Work-related websites have unlimited time; distracting websites are timed and the owl will close the site if you fail to heed its warning. During breaks, which are defined in advance, all sites are spared from the owl's angry gaze.
If the idea of an angry owl flying around inside your computer sounds too aggressive, consider the StayFocusd Chrome extension. StayFocusd lets you set an allotted time per day to visit non-work related websites. Once the allotted time is used up, those websites are blocked for the rest of the day.
REMIND YOURSELF OF THE TASK AT HAND If you like Trello's project management features and the time-management technique of Pomodoro, you can combine the two for a high-powered procrastination solution. Pomello is a Chrome app that displays your selected Trello task next to a timer. The task lists float on top of your windows as a constant reminder of what you should be working on for the next 25 minutes, before your well-deserved five-minute break. Syncing with Trello takes a few seconds and tasks can be selected easily for each 25-minute timer.
If you're feeling a bit lethargic, it's hard to get motivated to get things done. Many studies show the effect of exercise on brain stimulation; exercise releases endorphins for a quick surge of feel-good energy and alertness. So the next time you're feeling tired and distracting yourself with anything but work, go outside for a fast-paced stroll. You'll feel better immediately and will return refocused and ready to work.