It can be challenging to stay productive on a consistent basis, especially with all the distractions of the internet at our fingertips. I'll describe here a few tricks that I use personally to beat procrastination and spend more time creating.
1. Start easy.
Starting is often the hardest part of any task. By choosing a simpler task at the start of your day you get over that initial struggle easier and build decent momentum for the rest of the day. You'll also feel a lot better having already got that dopamine kick from having ticked one or two items off your to-do list.
There's also a psychological principle called the Zeigarnik effect that suggests you are more likely to get distracted the more unfinished tasks you have as your mind will repetitively wander back to those pesky unfinished items.
I usually start with three very easy tasks to begin the day that takes no time at all to complete but fill you with enough accomplishment to move forward through the remaining day. Simple tasks such as making the bed as soon as you wake up, exercising in the morning and answering emails are all productive ways to get started that don't take a lot of time to complete.
2. Keep a To-Do list.
This ties in with the first point, by having small actionable items to complete at the start of the day you will start building momentum to become much more productive with each task. By crossing items off your list you will add a visual-physical element that tells your brain that you have completed a task, this then triggers the reward centre of the brain further increasing your motivation to continue.
You should also order the list so that you have a few easier tasks to complete to start you off with, one or two larger tasks and then prioritise them in order of importance. This makes sure that you always get the most important work done each day and keeps you ahead of the curve.
I used to use a weekly planner for this, making a list of tasks to do each day and another list for the week with bigger tasks, but I always found that the larger weekly tasks weren't always completed as I hadn't allotted time specifically for them. I now plan using Google's calendar app, this lets you schedule in tasks throughout the day in any order you like and has the added bonus of being accessible from any phone, tablet or computer so you don't need to carry a lofty planner round with you wherever you go!
3. Set one or two Daily Non-Negotiable tasks
There should be a few items on your list each day that are essential to your daily practice, or responsibilities that you cannot avoid. These non-negotiables are tasks that you need to do every day to form such a strong habit that you do them without thought or hesitation. For me, this has been daily drawing practices and developing a strong morning ritual. After a few weeks of consistently repeating tasks like these, you will automatically feel compelled towards completing these tasks. We are creatures of habit after all.
Your choice of these non-negotiables are entirely up to you, but they should always be tasks that will further progress you towards your goals. Practicing a skill is a common task to pick as even experts in their respective field must practice every day to continue achieving their high results.
4. Break large tasks down into smaller units.
There is little more daunting than starting a massive, time-consuming task. Hopefully using a few of the methods listed above will ease you into larger tasks like working on long term goals such as creating an illustrated book, or launching a product or web course.
If not however it pays to break the task into much smaller actionable milestones. This helps break up the anxiety that comes with working on long term goals and gives you rewarding steps throughout the creative process and gives you a more accurate vision of how long exactly the entire process will take.
5. Identify the Positive Outcome From Your Action
This is a great way to overcome the resistance you will face when starting a new task and reduce procrastination greatly. Focus on what the positive result of the action you are about to complete is, this could be the satisfaction of the task itself if it is particularly enjoyable, or perhaps the fulfilment of having a finished piece of artwork for example, or even selling an art piece you've worked hard on marketing.
By identifying the positive outcome you trick your brain into focusing on the end goal of the work you are about to do rather than the hours of labour you will need to sometimes put in. For me this has been a useful tool on particularly useful; but less enjoyable tasks, such as admin, and record keeping.
6. Determine a good reason why you have chosen to do a task.
By determining the reason behind you are doing the task you find out exactly what you mean to set out and accomplish.sometimes task isn’t as important as you think they are when you set out to do them originally and can be deleted from your tasks for the day. I often do this when organising my calendar, I set a specific job to do at some point using reminders but if it always seems to fall behind to other more important things it can usually be safe to assume that the task does not be completed and you can stop worrying about its delivery.
Of course, this will be case-by-case and you'll have to use your best judgements but by finding the reason behind the tasks you set yourself you give greater clarity to the more important things and free up a lot of precious time.
7. Be mindful.
Mindfulness means to be consciously aware of the present moment, your surroundings and your inner self. Using mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation you can safeguard against common causes of procrastination such as perfectionism and the fear of failure. This works by reducing the inner monologue through careful listening, by limiting this monologue you have more control over your concentration giving you greater freedom to work on the most important things in the present moment.
Personally, when I feel like I need to recentre my 'monkey mind' I use short breathing meditations to refocus and get back to a more productive mental state. You can try this by sitting in a comfortable position upright, many people like to cross their legs while they do this, however, I usually do this from my desk or at a chair, and taking long controlled breaths. Ten seconds in hold for two seconds and then 10 seconds out is a common rhythm to start with, however, you should try and breathe at whatever pace feels most comfortable. By slowing your breath down in this way you also help to regulate heart rate variability which has also been found to be very beneficial for mental and physical health.
8. Write down the next days tasks the night before or first thing in the morning
Not only does this help keep you organised and focused on your goals, but has been proven to help settle the mind before you go to bed, allowing you to rest much more soundly. You shouldn’t think too deeply about the tasks you put down here as you can always replan in the morning, just spend 5 minutes thinking about the tasks you'd like to complete the next day to give yourself the most rewarding day you can think of and it will do wonders for your mood and motivation.
9. Shut Off Your Phone And Set A Timer