How to Make Myself Work During Designated Times

In today's video I want to present to you a scenario that is probably pretty familiar and in this scenario we're going to talk about ways to break past the barriers that we run into when we're working on it.

So today's scenario, I want you to imagine that you have something important you need to do like writing a research report, finishing your dissertation, starting your dissertation, writing a report for work – any kind of activity that's got that you know is going to require large amounts of your time and it's difficult to make it happen in 10 minute bursts.

You know you need a stretch of time. So think of that activity that you might have on your plate and often a lot of people struggle with making the time to find that block of time where they might be able to work on that, but today’s scenario is about you actually found the time.

You made a schedule something like Tuesday, Thursday afternoon you're going to commit to this paper that you have to write and make it happen and you can't wait to get there. But then Tuesday afternoon rolls around and you realize, “Oh, here I am at my designated time and I actually don't want to do this” and I'm going to procrastinate, look at that Facebook post, look at that Instagram picture, and there are a lot more other exciting things to do like, maybe I should just clean the house actually, go talk to a colleague or do anything other than what I'm supposed to be doing right now during this designated time. So this happens a lot across a wide variety of domains and I find it happens to me sometimes too, but a couple of the strategies I wanted to talk to you today are about how to avoid those moments.

So, the first thing I like to do if I have that time, I actually use Tuesday and Thursday mornings right now on my schedule because I know that I work best in the mornings, so I can commit to that kind of time. So let’s say it's 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning and do one of the first things I have to do for myself is to make sure that I shut down all the distractions. This helps if I can close my door. Nobody's going to come into my office or I'm actually at home working – whatever it might be. No distractions. I see a lot of people with cell phones up like, “Oh look, somebody sent me a notification.” I've got the cell phone put away. I've installed the Freedom app on my computer, so that I can shut down all of the Internet and all the distractions that come with that – so Freedom or the StayFocused app. So nothing is going to get in my way. I can't look at my e-mail. I can't look at anything distracting. That gets my whole environment ready to be able to work on the thing I need to work on. Now even if something is tucked in your email, I'm still going grab all those documents or whatever I need so I don't have to go searching for all the things. I've got it already loaded. So eliminating distractions is the first step.

Then the next thing I do is make sure that if it's something I'm really dreading like I cannot even handle the thought of writing the words for that piece or whatever might be, I make sure I set a timer to just get started because if I know something takes me three hours to do – I need a good three hour stretch of time to make progress on this project. That still seems really daunting and all of us it's like, “Well, I have a lot of time to work on this” and times slips away from me. But instead, I set a timer, I say, “Alright. It’s go time. I have to work on this. The timer is set. I have to spend the next 20 minutes working on this.” And of course the trick to that is it spurs me to keep working. Once I'm in the groove, it doesn't seem that painful usually. Setting the timer is the Pomodoro Technique and if you haven't heard of that, make sure you look it up. But it's one of those simple techniques that really helps and when you get out of the habit and then you start doing them again, you remember like, “Oh yes. This is a really helpful technique.”

So Pomodoro Technique, we said avoiding distractions, getting yourself ready, setting a timer so that you launch into the activity. I'd also say with that making sure you do something easy first that isn't as complicated and you've broken down your steps to be able to say like –if your overall goal is to finish that paper you can break it down into smaller groups and say, “Okay, I know I need to write this paragraph” and “I know I need to do this part on the analysis” or “I know I need to create this table.” Little details and starting with an easy one can also help with those timer settings.

And then the third thing I remind you or give you a tip on are about actually writing down the reasons why you're doing this. So things like finishing your dissertation seem like “Well yeah, I need to do this, so I can finish my PhD. Well, that's kind of obvious, but actually writing down the reasons about why is this important.

Do I actually want to do this?

Because sometimes we have all these barriers, so like actually making the time happen, when we have the time we don't want to do it. But if we really get to the root of it, sometimes we just don't want to do it at all. I don't actually want to write this paper, it doesn't actually matter if it happens and that's why I've been procrastinating for the past six months. So remembering why and starting to list those reasons and put them somewhere where you can see them as you work to say, “This research paper is really important for me to read. Even if only one graduate student reads this paper some day when it's published, that's going to be meaningful to me because I feel like I really contributed to literature here. This is important for my scientific endeavor” – all of these different things that are important to you and kind of the reason why you’ve even gotten into this situation in the first place.

And then, if it doesn't seem like there are any good reasons and you really don't want to do it but you still feel like you have to, I always like the phrase that Jenny Blake uses when it's something really difficult she says, “What will bring me joy in this task? How can I do this joyfully and with ease?” Is there any way that I could make this task enjoyable or kind of have a place of joy for it because maybe there's something little in here that writing this report will help the students in the future or getting this finished and completed is going to be really meaningful, some tiny little piece of joy so that it doesn't have to feel so painful.

So those are three tips of avoiding distraction and making sure you set a timer and remembering your reasons why you got into this project at the beginning. So stop procrastinating. Get that accountability partner and stop procrastinating. Stop this video and get back to work on that project that you're excited about.

Leave a comment below after you make some progress, so that we can hear what's working for you and how you pushed through your own projects!