As we dive into the final quarter of 2014, it may do well to look at some of the goals you'd set for yourself for this year.* In my case, it actually turned out that while what I've done throughout the year weren't exactly what I expected myself to have done this year, I'm still pretty satisfied with it. But along with the end-year comes the reality of the amount of work that still needs to be done. And as with any good metaphorical monster, the illusion of an easy, far-off deadline will fade. So with a mountain of stuff that you need (or, alternatively, want) to do, and only three months to do them, I've compiled a list of 5 of my personal tips for getting your butt of the couch and your eyes off of social media, getting some stuff done.
1. Smaller is better than Bigger
The way our brains are wired, we tend to perceive smaller things due earlier as more urgent and easier to complete than big things due later. If you need something to be done by a deadline, try your best to divide that into smaller steps that you can take to get to the final goal, and then set more immediate deadlines for those smaller goals. For me, rather than to keep telling myself that I need to finish the entirety of a programming project in a month,** I set deadlines for each small piece of the program, so I can just tell myself I have to finish writing a much smaller piece of it by, say, the end of this week.
2. Stat now
This may sound like common sense, and it is. But it's amazing how many items you can put in my little to-do list app and then persuade myself out of actually doing. Often, I'll write down a list of things that I want to complete today, then I'll look at the list and say, “That looks nice. Now I'll be productive today.” and proceed to happily not complete as much as I planned to do. The key to crossing off things from your to-do list is to start NOW.** Not in 5 minutes. If you sit down to get something done, don't unlock that iPhone, don't check Facebook, open that document or that email and start. I think it's one of the most under-appreciated tricks to be productive.
3. Turn down that music.
Oh what's that, you work better when you're listening to your favorite songs? Yep. I was under that illusion once.**** The truth is, in exceptional cases, where you're drawing or doing something else that doesn't require you to think too much, having a song on in the background is incredibly distracting. Even if you feel like you're focused on the work itself, you'd notice if someone suddenly changed the song, and that means some part of you is still listening to music. So I suggest you turn off that music in the background, and you'll probably find yourself focusing better on the task at hand.
4. Not when, but what next
Many people write a to-do list of some sort. There are two main ways to do this. The first is to set somewhat of a time table, of when you'll do what, and how much time you'll have for each. The second is just a generic list of what to do, possibly in a certain order. I've generally found that giving yourself a time limit or a time table doesn't work out. Sometimes something urgent happens (like, I don't know, your server crashes when you're uploading stuff to it?), and other times, things just end up taking more time than planned. And if you're schedule is based on everything happening on time, it's extremely easy for a slight deviation to make it fall apart. So if you're choosing between a time-table schedule and a simpler, to-do list, go with the latter.
5. Notifications off
I carry around two phones, a tablet, a laptop, and I often have a second laptop next to the first for programming purposes. On top of that, I wear a watch that buzzes on my wrist every time I get a notification on my phone. I don't know about you, but that makes me rather susceptible to distraction when anyone does anything in the world that results in a notification coming to me. So I generally turn off notifications whenever I turn off music to work.
* You don't set new year's resolutions? Well, this is awkward…
** Which enables me to do the classic, “Meh, I've got X days left” excuse…
*** I mean, finish reading this post, then start.
**** I swear, I definitely do not mean I have Spotify on right now.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, Learning in the i-generation.
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