Sometimes it’s hard to focus. We may have lots to do but have a hard time just getting things finished. Doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, student, or long gone from school and off in the working world. It’s just a “human thing”.
Yet, there are those moments in life when procrastinating is the worst possible thing you could be doing. For a student, it might mean not being able to “find the time” to study for five upcoming exams. For a professor, it might be right after finals, with loads of tests that need to be graded and semester scores that need to be calculated and turned in.
No matter what your situation, here are some tips that might help you get and stay productive.
- Schedule time for not-so-important tasks. It’s always those little things that seem to get in the way, isn’t it? Checking email, taking phone calls, a nap. Don’t let these things get in the way of accomplishing your more important tasks. Set a specific time aside to do the little things, and then only check your email and take calls (and naps) during that time.
- Get away from distractions. This might be the TV, a colleague down the hall, or a family member. If it is distracting you, turn it off or get away from it. Go to a library, close your door and lock yourself in, or just slip away to the most productive place you can find.
- Stop distractions in their tracks. Often our brains will come up with distractions from within. We’ll be chugging along working on a special project then out of nowhere you remember that you forgot to call Joe back or you need to pick up some bread and milk from the grocery store. When these little distracters pop into your brain, quickly write them down on a pad of paper or sticky note, then get right back to work.
- Keep reminders around. Sometimes we need a little inspiration. Maybe it’s a photo, a saying or quote, or small keepsake. If it’s what keeps you going, keep it somewhere visible so you can look to it to give you a little push. A quote from Abe Lincoln that I always love to keep around: “Good things come to those who wait, but only things left behind by those who hustle”.
- Break it down. Taking on a big project can be daunting. That stack of papers that needs grading isn’t really six feet high, but it sure feels like it. Make it easier on yourself by breaking whatever it is you’re working on into smaller parts and focus on one section at a time.
- Just get past the starting line. Often the absolute most difficult part of finishing a project is simply starting it. You know it’s true! So, give your self a single task pertaining to your project and do it. You’ll find it’s much easier to do the second task after the first one has been completed.
- First things first. When you have lots to do, make sure you get the most important (and not necessarily most urgent) ones out of the way first. While that makes sense, not everyone does it. The most important things are not always the simplest or the most fun to do. So, put your to-dos in order and complete the most important ones first, even if you don’t want to.
- Pat yourself on the back. It’s easy to get burnt out when you have a lot going on. Make sure you have at least a little time to take a break. Or, give yourself a little reward after you’ve really gotten something accomplished. Perhaps you’re a Tootsie Roll lover. Pick up a few before you start grading and don’t let yourself have a single bite until you’ve reached the half way point.
- Get creative. If you have gotten yourself into a sticky situation, it might not hurt to get creative. Ask for help. Tell your students they’ll have to wait just a few more days (forget the sighs). Do what it takes!
- The Cardinal Rule. The cardinal rule to any go-getter or someone who just gets things done is simple: just do it. Nike fan or not, you have to admit, they had it right. Sometimes there is no other way to get something accomplished than to force yourself to do it.