I often find myself sitting in front of my computer staring blankly ahead, zoning out. I’ll have a to do list written up and staring me in the face, but I’ll still be browsing facebook, digg, twitter, all of these sites, even though I’ve already read everything on them. So when I’m sitting there in that sort of downtime, there’s a few tricks that I use to get productive.
1. The Twenty Minute Trick
This is an oldie but goodie. I certainly don’t claim to have invented this myself, although it has helped me hundreds of times. Basically, when you have a task in front of you and the amount of time it would take to do it looms overhead like storm clouds and daunts you from attempting it, what I do is tell myself “I’m going to do this for only twenty minutes, and then I’m going to take a break”. Even though the task is going to take a lot longer than twenty minutes, I realize that even if I only complete twenty minutes of it, then I’m going to be twenty minutes closer to finishing when I start it up again later. Once I’ve sat down and started working on it for twenty minutes, I’ll generally have enough momentum built up that I can continue on, ignore the break, and actually seriously sit down and accomplish the task.
(Full Disclosure: I seriously seriously love Skagen watches. I originally called this the fifteen minute trick, but then I found a skagen watch with twenty minutes between its hands, and decided to change the name of the post.)
2. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize
This one’s pretty easy. As long as you have a sense of purpose ;). It also only works if the crap you’re trying to do actually fits into your larger goals in life. (Math homework probably won’t work here). You need to picture yourself where you want to be in life; picture the job/possessions/people that you want in your life. If you want a lamborghini and a swimming pool, think about that and focus on it, and then realize that standing in the way between you and your expensive cars and lifestyle is the stuff that you’re avoiding doing. So sit down and start doing it.
Or, if you’re a cat, stop staring at the goldfish and just grab it already.
3. Promise Yourself A Reward
This is the one that your parents tried desperately to get you to do your work when you were younger. Or at least my parents did. I remember when I was in sixth grade, Pokemon had just come out on Gameboy, and most of my classmates were getting and starting to play it, so I wanted to get it and try it. I went out and bought Pokemon Red, and on the way home from the store, my mom took my copy of Pokemon Red, and gave me a copy of Moby Dick instead. Then she said “When you finish Moby Dick, you can play the game”. A dastardly trick, to be sure, but I was sure happy about it when I got to A.P. English in 12th grade, and flew through the Moby Dick section of class.
Anyway, enough about Moby Dick. More on the technique: Whatever it is that you really want to do, or want to get, if you want to go shopping or watch a movie, or eat, tell yourself that you’ll reward yourself with that after you finish the task at hand. Using the carrot instead of the stick.
And yeah, I caught them all.