I worked on this blog post for longer than I expected to work on it, but I don’t think it’s because I’m procrastinating (meaning that I don’t think I have a fear of results or block against writing). Instead, my time has had other demands placed upon it last month for family travel, book promotions, writing another cookbook, and other client projects. These are worthy reasons not to be super-productive and I’m not telling you anything new unless you live in a vacuum and don’t have demands made on your time. But, I hate to say – that’s not the point here. The point is that even with all of these activities and demands on my time, they didn’t fill my entire calendar. What about when I sat with my iPhone and scrolled through Instagram? What about when I drifted off track and checked how many people were visiting my blog? What about when I rewrote my to do list and then rewrote it again the next day. I’ll discuss this more in detail, but what I’ve learned is that many of these actions are called “rut activities”. Scrolling on the iPhone is usually a signal that I could be doing something else a whole lot more productive and that better uses my time.
If you’re not able to focus, or feel less productive than you might like, I encourage you to study this list below (and the list on my next blog post that will go up next week). It’s my list of tips that help me focus and raise my productivity at times when I lack focus and times when I’m procrastinating (fear-based avoidance of a project). I hope some of these tips help you improve your focus and your productivity as well.
1. Acknowledge that you are procrastinating or wasting time. More often than not I know when I am procrastinating or wasting time – I feel unsettled. It’s as if a cloud follows me around. The cloud is the “presence” of my unfinished projects, blog posts, or cookbook research. I find myself busy much of the time, but when I’m busy with the wrong tasks, I know I could be avoiding what I need to be doing.
2. Identify “rut activities” that you turn to when you procrastinate. For example, I tend to scroll through Facebook on my PC, or Twitter on my iPhone, or leave my office to run errands when I’m avoiding something. This is a trigger moment. This is when I know I’m either wasting time or avoiding the next step in a project.
3. Keep track of the time you spend on your ” rut activities”. Each time you turn to your rut activity, write down how much time you spend or put a hash mark on a piece of paper. Track your time for the day and for a week. It’s easy to burn up the clock with activities that seem worthwhile, but in the end these keep you from writing or completing other actions toward meeting your goals.
4. Acknowledge that you can’t control time and how fast it passes. I’ve learned that for me the idea of time management is a misnomer. Time and its passage is always the same. It ticks away at the same rate, all the time. The secret to unlocking this for me it to learn to effectively manage myself and my focus, not time. I can’t change time. I can only change myself.
5. When you sit down to work on a project set a timer for 25 minutes. Work on one task for 25 minutes. Don’t do anything else and then stop the task when the timer goes off. The Pomodoro Technique suggests using this 25-minute increment tool as a way to focus and even to estimate how much you can accomplish in a given time.
6. Be realistic about how long it will take to complete a task. I have a client who frequently says, “This took me a lot longer than I thought it would take.” The reality is that any large project, such as writing a cookbook manuscript, keeping up with a blog, or any other ongoing writing project takes sustained writing, testing, and research. And for a book, a six month estimate of time might be on the low side. In order to be successful, it’s important to first be realistic about how long your project is going to take.
7. Create more deadlines. Offer a promise to deliver an article or a chapter by a certain time and on certain day. High expectation situations motivate me. I want to be seen as reliable and I want to meet others expectations of me and my work, so deadlines are great motivators. They move me forward and enhances my productivity.
8. Pay someone to help you stick with what you need to do. I am more productive when I have someone else waiting on my work. If you work alone, pay to work with a coach, or hire a virtual assistant, to help you manage your deadlines. The attachment of money to a deadline can be a motivator because none of us like to waste our money.
9. Make a plan for each day. Every morning I select the most relevant “money-making” task that I need to accomplish for the day and focus on that task. Maybe it’s finishing an article for a client, or doing research for my cookbook manuscript. When I know my work will help with the cash flow, I prioritize that work.
10. Write down tasks that make you uncomfortable, anxious, or restless. These are the tasks that I can’t quit thinking about when wake up early in the morning or in the middle of the night. I write these down rather than dwell on them. Then, even if I feel resistance, I schedule time to complete these tasks. Maybe it’s making a series of phone calls. Maybe it’s answering some emails or putting some important dates on my calendar. I block out 25 minutes and focus on these items first thing that day. This helps me get moving on other projects, because I needed to clear my head of these sources of restlessness with some focused action.
This blog post identifies the first ten ways to enhance focus and increase productivity. I’m curious, what are your rut-activities?
If you’d like to read more about the common reasons why you might be procrastinating, check out this blog post on “Eight Reasons Writers Procrastinate”.
In my next blog post, I’ll cover the next ten tips to enhance your focus and and productivity.
Cookbook author and culinary dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors in the process of writing cookbooks, cookbook proposals, and building their author platform. Download her checklist “Am I Ready to Write A Cookbook?”.