My Best Secret for Killing Procrastination and Getting Stuff Done

I’m pretty sure there is absolutely no new information you could ever come up with as it relates to productivity and procrastination.

Just about anything I could tell you has been written about at some point, by someone, and in many cases at many points by many someones.

So with that in mind, knowing that you’ve heard some variation of this advice before, I’m going to share what works for me personally.

One of the most common questions I receive is “how are you productive when you’re working for yourself.”

Let me tell you, it’s not easy – and no matter how polished someone looks on the outside, I have yet to meet anyone who has it completely dialed in.

I’ve tried a lot of different things. I’ve read Getting Things Done, checked out the Pomodoro Technique, productivity apps – the list goes on.

Yet when I look at my most productive days from the last couple years, there’s one very simple thing that they have in common – and that’s what I’m going to share with you today.

On any given day, there are going to be tasks you don’t want to do. It doesn’t matter how great your work is, or how much you love your life, plain and simple, there’s going to be shit that needs to get done that you just don’t want to deal with.

What usually happens? If you’re me you’ll put that stuff off until all your creative energy is gone for the day – and it inevitably gets pushed to the next day.  Now, I’ve been working hard to minimize that stuff as much as possible – but no matter how much you try, it’s impossible to rid these things completely.

So, how do you make sure you get these things (and others) done on a daily basis?

It’s actually pretty simple, and I call it “The Top 5 Method”.

Every night before I go to bed I make sure I’ve got a list of “my top 5 things” that have to get done the next day.

I order them like this:

  1. Something easy and or fun. By crossing something off early, I can build momentum that makes me want to cross off more things on the list
  2. The Hardest Thing (and/or least fun thing). If you do this first, it can be tough to gain momentum. But if you put it off too long, you’ll have no energy or motivation to do it.
  3. The Second Hardest Thing – Build off your momentum and knock the sucky things off early.
  4. Something else that has to get done – By now you’ve already knocked off something creative/fun and the two things you wanted to do least, so it gets a lot easier from here.
  5. Something Fun – For me this is often something that isn’t work related. I try and have fun everyday, and according to my good friend Peter (who is much smarter than me), there’s a huge psychological benefit to this. So maybe it’s going golfing, going to the gym or something else that is fun, but still has positive benefit.

The reason we so often get hung up with procrastination is because we don’t know what to do next. 

Decision making can be really hard, so you have to take that aspect of your schedule out of it.

By waking up and knowing exactly what you have to do, and in exactly what order, you can make your coffee and get right down to business.

By ending with something fun you’re also adding extra motivation to get your work done early.

Whenever I’m able to follow my “No work after Noon” rule, it’s always because I had this list setup the night before.

That night before part is crucial. You can’t trust yourself to make these decisions in the morning. You’ll inevitably put off the things you don’t want to do and not get them done.

So tonight before you go to bed, give it a shot. Create your top 5. I bet you’ll find that tomorrow is one of the more productive days you’ve had.

Image Credit: To Do List via Big Stock

Robyn January 13, 2014 at 8:34 am

Such great ideas Sean! I’ve always found that I’m more productive when I make a to do list, both for my 9-5 job, and for my own projects, but I’ve never put much thought into the order I should be doing. Building on momentum makes a lot of sense. I’ve also never really prepped the night before either, I’ll have to give it a shot!

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Caelan January 13, 2014 at 9:27 am

I like this prioritization method. I’ve also heard it called ‘Eat The Big Frog First.’

If you have to eat a bucket of frogs, start with the biggest one first. The rest will be easier, in comparison.

But if you keep putting off the big frog, you’ll put it off indefinitely.

Starting your bucket of frogs with a tasty treat – now that’s a new idea that I like. What would make the best frog appetizer?

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Sean January 13, 2014 at 9:30 am

For my “frog appetizer” it’s usually either: planning social media for the week, writing a blog post, going through email and getting to inbox zero.

It’s totally going to depend on the individually, and “what gets you in the zone” but these are all productive things that I’ve found help focus.

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Minh January 13, 2014 at 10:41 am

Good suggestions! Oftentimes if we just stop thinking about what we need to do and “just do it” like the Nike motto, we find that we can accomplish so much more than we originally thought.

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Richard January 13, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Happy New Years Sean!

I implemented the No More Zero Days mindset a a few weeks ago and so for it’s been a massive help. It’s ridiculously simple.

A guy on Reddit (Ryans01) came up with it and it went viral on Reddit a few months ago.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Rule numero uno – There are no more zero days. What’s a zero day? A zero day is when you don’t do a single f****** thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros. I’m not saying you gotta bust an essay out everyday, that’s not the point. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didnt’ do anything all f****** day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero. You feel me? When you’re in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behaviour is keeping the vortex goin, that’s what you’re used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn’t happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON ZEROS. That’s rule number one. Do not forget.”

On another note, I referenced your new years goal setting post in this blog post. Just thought I’d share: http://www.abetterlemonadestand.com/17-things-every-entrepreneur-needs-prepare-for-the-new-year/

Happy New Year!

Richard

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Jack Shone January 13, 2014 at 2:41 pm

I like that idea a lot, seems like there’s actually something to it rather than the standard boring advice for things like this. Great stuff.

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Chris January 13, 2014 at 4:06 pm

By waking up and knowing exactly what you have to do, and in exactly what order, you can make your coffee and get right down to business.

I will just tweet this because I find it very true!!! Thanks man!

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Robert Bell January 14, 2014 at 12:35 am

This is actually better than the “eat the frog” method mentioned above. It’s more like “eat the chocolate first” and then move on to deal with the frog.
Your system makes perfect sense. I’m going to prepare my “5 top things” list tonight to see if it works for me too. Thanks Sean.

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Taz January 14, 2014 at 7:11 am

Good article with some interesting ideas. I’ve written a short article on the steps I’ve taken to overcome procrastination too.

http://makingandtaking.com/4-steps-overcoming-procrastination/

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Paindoesnthurt.com January 14, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Writing things down is the best way to go about something and putting the most important priorites first. When you put your most important priorities as the first ones to do for each and every day it’s just a matter of getting things done. Time management is also a pretty big factor.

If anyone’s interested I also did a little article on getting things done here: http://paindoesnthurt.com/tomorrow/

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Todd Dosenberry January 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm

I’m almost doing this. But I think I could take a step further. I’m going to do that tonight. I use wunderlist which I love and have been using for more than a year. Again, it’s time to take this a step further. Thanks Sean!

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Scott January 14, 2014 at 7:20 pm

You gotta find what works for you. I put everything I need to do (I mean literally) in my iPhone on reminders in my calendar so I never have to think about what to do. I also have a numbers/excel sheet of all my contacts in my network, organized in categories and color coded based on how I last contacted them. Some people think it’s anal, but I think it’s efficient. Thanks for sharing what works for you!

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Mariana January 17, 2014 at 2:22 am

Wow, so simple it all makes sense haha! Love it, I will definitely be giving this a try.

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Roxana January 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

Hi! I just fell upon your wonderful website :) I am actually a financial analyst at the moment and I am going through what you were going through a few years ago…so I find your insight really valuable. I read your post on the Pioneer Nation Conference and I’m debating whether to join or not as I don’t currently have my own business (trying to figure out how to make that happen) but I will have a website up and running for my own personal greeting card line. Do you think that this event would be accepting of those who aren’t living the freelance lifestyle (but that want to!)? Also regarding accommodations as I’ve never been there, is there anything set up for the attendees?

Thanks!

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Sean January 19, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Roxana, Absolutely!

We’re essentially going to have two different tracks for attendees. The ones who don’t have a business yet, but are ready to get going. And those with established businesses that are looking to grow.

Both groups of people will be extremely well taken care of. Shoot mean email if you have any other specific questions!

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Anthony January 28, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Unless we actually make an effort to do the action and take positive daily action steps we just remain dreamers.

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