The key to avoid procrastination and Start Getting Things Done is to simply follow these 9 rules. These 9 rules are the secrets you need to finally realize your dreams and GTD!
Each rule below can (and often is) much harder, and complicated then the few paragraphs given to the topic, but I have expanded reading and additional information to help you apply the rules to your life. Please take the time to dive into each rule more and find ways to apply it to your life. Don’t just read about it and move on. Take real action and you can change your life.
If you follow these rules, you will easily avoid procrastination and start getting things done with much less effort and time. In fact, I will not be surprised if you get 4 times more work done in your day. I have easily multiplied my accomplishments every week and making great progress to the lifestyle I want to live, and you can too. This is because you will remove the unnecessary and focus on the important, and dramatically make progress on your goals.
Lets get started!
How to Avoid Procrastination and Start Getting Things Done
1. Get Up Early
How many times have you over slept and felt like you wasted a good part of your day. Many people will tell you its no big deal, and you are just catching up on lost sleep. Sorry to tell you this, but you cannot “Catch up” on lost sleep.
A recent Harvard Medical School study highlights the effects of chronic sleep loss on performance and demonstrates that it is nearly impossible to “catch up on sleep” to improve performance.
If you create and stick to a regular sleep schedule, your focus and energy will improve, and you will be able to accomplish more in less time.
The goal here is to get up earlier with a proper nights rest. Some easy ways to accomplish this are to.
Create a Sleep Schedule
As simple as it sounds, give yourself a bedtime and a wake-up time, and never break it, even on weekends and holidays. To create a sleep schedule, you just need to build better sleep habits and routines. Reduce your exposure to blue light several hours before bedtime. Eat earlier, drink less, and having a regular bedtime routine will prepare your body for sleep, allowing you to have a better quality sleep.
Quite Your Mind 1-2 Hours Before Sleep
Build in habits to stop working at a certain time and give your brain time to process events of the day. When I commuted to and from work, this was my time to process thoughts and when I arrived home, my mind was relaxed and geared for family time.
Today people tend to work more hours and are always on their phones or laptops, and never creating a separation between work and rest. To correct this, simply stop working at the same time everyday and give your brain time to settle down before going to sleep.
Reduce your exposure to blue light a few hours before bedtime. Most devices now have the ability to automatically make the screen a warmer color and helps a great deal with reducing your exposure to blue light. Also use warm lights, 3000k, in your house and bedroom and not the brighter 5000k versions.
Monitor Your Sleep
I have been using a Fitbit to track the quality of my sleep for years and have made adjustments to my lifestyle to produce higher quality sleep. Better quality sleep produces better focus and energy during the day. Below is a link to the Fitbit I use but any sleep tracker should due. I just don’t have experience with other brands. Remember to monitor this every week and make adjustments to your sleep routine to improve your sleep quality.
Create a Morning Routine
The first 3-4 weeks of getting up earlier will probably be the hardest part of your day. You are warm and comfortable, and your brain will think of every excuse in the world to keep you there. Mel Robbins wrote a book called “The 5 Second Rule” which addresses this problem perfectly. She came up with the idea when she wanted to get herself out of bed each morning.
I won’t go into the science behind how this works, just to say your brain needs 3 things to create a habit. It needs a trigger, an action, and a reward.
When your alarm goes off, you simply count down to yourself, “5-4-3-2-1-Go”, then get up. The count down is the trigger, the action is getting up, and the reward is starting your day (with coffee!).
The trick is to make this an unbreakable rule in your life. You count, then you react. No second guessing or debating, just do it! When this becomes a habit in your life, your doubts will never try and step in and take you off your path to your goals. We all have unbreakable rules in our lives, and this counting will simply become one of them we never have to think about, just react to. After just a few days, it will become second nature.
After you are out of bed, start your routine. Mine goes something like this. I wake up, get out of bed, do 50 pushups, workout, and hit the shower. This is the first 2 hours of every single day and it never changes. Routine!
2. Rework Your To-Do List
I have written a few articles and many have whole books on how to recreate your work flow, or To-Do lists, so you can focus on doing what you need to in order to accomplish your goals.
My method involves following the Getting Things Done and the Agile Results method. I also recommend using Microsoft’s OneNote to manage your tasks, but you can easily just use pen and paper, sticky notes, Outlook, or any other method of writing things down.
Simply put, this is all about applying your effort on tasks that produce results on the goals that matter to you the most!
My method is simple:
Every Sunday, Review Your Goals
This is all about focusing on Agile Results and Getting Things Done, meaning I am very focused on my long term outcomes but not very focused on how I will get there.
For the week view, I don’t look at my Getting Things Done tasks but rather what category I want to spend more time on to make sure I can meet my yearly goals. If I am falling behind on any of my yearly goals, these are the tasks I will focus more on for the week. When I prioritize my tasks later, I will give these projects more focus and energy.
How do I do this?
- Have goals in life and break them down into yearly and monthly goals: Every January, I create my goals for the year and make sure they align with my lifetime goals. Then I simply take those larger goals and figure out what smaller goals I can create that will help me reach those larger goals.
- Make sure weekly goals line up with your overall lifetime goals: My yearly and lifetime goals are pretty general in nature which I know is not what most people recommend. For example, I usually have a goal to read 25 books for the year but I don’t say what books or even narrow my list to a topic. I like having the flexibility to choose. Some times it might take longer to get through a book and therefor I may need to dedicate more time the following month. This is the alignment I try to balance every Sunday to make sure my long term goals are being met.
- Get better at saying “no”: In order to meet my goals, I will need to say “No” to a lot of other things. For example, last year I didn’t plant a vegetable garden because I used that time on a different goal. This year I decided to focus more time taking training classes instead of exercising. I cut my exercise time from 60 minutes to a little over 30 and now spend 60 minutes a day doing tech training.
Every Morning, Review Your Getting Things Done List
Every Sunday, I update my Getting Things Done task list from the past weeks and add any new tasks that I want to focus on. This very large list, or brain dump, is too much to get done in a week. I manage this huge list by evaluating my tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix to figure out which tasks are important and need to be prioritize lower.
All my Getting Things Done tasks are grouped into 1 and 2 hour blocks. If a task will take longer, I break it up into smaller tasks that will fit into these window sizes. This is to avoid starting something and not being able to finish it.
The Eisenhower Matrix is just a simple way of figuring out what Getting Things Done tasks you should focus on and which you should avoid. The goal is to spend time on your 1st and 2nd quadrants, and over time try to avoid urgent tasks by getting ahead of them before they become urgent.
Eisenhower Matrix to identify long-term priorities
1st Quadrant – Do First, “Important” and “Urgent”
- These are the fires in our lives that have deadlines.
- These often are the tasks most people focus on most of the time.
- Mark Twain’s Eat the frog first principle.
- These tasks are prioritized as a 1 on my task list
2nd Quadrant – Do Later, “Important”, but “Not Urgent” tasks.
- These tasks contribute to long-term goals and life values.
- Completing Important tasks avoids Urgent tasks later.
- These tasks are prioritized as a 2 or 3 on my task list
3rd Quadrant – Delegate or Automate, “Not Important”, but “Urgent” tasks
- These are urgent tasks that don’t help you accomplish your long term goals. I prefer automation over delegation.
- These tasks are prioritized as a 4 on my task list
4th Quadrant – Don’t Do or eliminate, “Not Important” and “Not Urgent” tasks.
- Important to note as they will come up and you must ack your need to avoid them as needed.
- These items on my list are not to be avoided forever but addresses only when time permits.
- These tasks are prioritized as a 5 and 6 on my task list
Free Download: Eisenhower Matrix pdf
Using the Eisenhower Matrix (also in the GTD book), I number each of my tasks using the scale below. Of my 20+ tasks for the week, I will number them between 1-6:
- Must be done today
- Should be done today
- Must be done this week
- Should be done this week
- To be done when time permits
- To be done someday or delegated to someone else
In addition to reviewing my list and updating my priorities, I also add to the list with a brain dump after reading email and attending any meetings. The point is not to get distracted with your task list because of an email or phone call. Stay focused! We cannot allow ourselves to remember all the little things that pop into our heads throughout the day. My brain is for doing stuff, not remembering to do stuff.
I also like to stay informed with the news around the world but only allow 5 minutes every morning while getting dressed. I use the google “Good Morning” routine to give me the highlights and that is enough to keep up to data with the basics.
3. Take Action and Complete Your Tasks
The most important part of avoiding procrastination, and actually Getting Things Done, is to actually do your work!
I have found it best to block off a window of time, and grab a task, and just do it. I aim for the biggest and hardest task first and work it until its completed. The key is starting and remaining focused (and undistracted) until its completed. Not starting and not finishing is basically the same thing.
Depending on your work, it is best to set aside 1-2 hour blocks of time to accomplish your most difficult work. If you did your planning right, everything should be able to be completed in a 1-2 hours window of time.
If you are like most people, the hardest part will always be getting started. This is where habits help.
The Now Habit
Another way to bet Getting Things Done is to develop your “Now Habit”. This is work can only be done right now. Planning is great, but it really doesn’t accomplish any of your tasks. The only way you can get work done is by working on it Now.
Using your task list and ordered with the Eisenhower Matric, you know what needs to happen first. Then you simply:
- Focus on most important tasks first
- Move and Work in Blocks
- Develop and improve your “Now Habit”. If you get stuck, take note of the 5 second rule below.
4. Measure Your Results, Not Your Time
I never shoot for perfection on any task. I like to follow the 80/20 rule to make sure I finish my tasks. If my 20% isn’t good enough, then I continue to work it until I am successful.
I had a friend who spent hours in the gym and spent most of the time socializing, wondering why he was not losing weight. He was measuring his time and not his results. Time in the gym and not fitness level achieved.
I did it differently. I never went to the gym and focused all my effort working out at home. I avoided the drive to and from the gym, any socializing, and I focused all my effort on circuit training at home (moving from one exercise directly to the next). This gave me great results in just 30 minutes of exercise, compared to his 2 hours.
If you focus on your results instead of time and energy spent, you can achieve more in less time.
Starting and Getting Stuck
The goal is forward motion and avoid getting stuck at all costs. Remember, results matter!
The first step to getting results is getting started. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. or when you get stuck, getting restarted. If this happens to you, you are not alone. There is a really easy way to deal with this. Mel Robbins wrote a book called “The 5 Second Rule” that will get you started and on your way to Getting Things Done.
Her books is all about creating triggers and programming your mind with triggers. Once the trigger happens, you take an action. Her trigger is (no surprise), count from 5 to 1 (one is the trigger), then you jump into action. No thinking, procrastination, or delay; just do it.
I personally have tried many triggers in the past and found this is the easiest and simplest to do. Simple things work! I have found this simple approach is the best way to move forward on just about anything.
Distractions and Mindfulness
Once you get started, the second and equally important thing to remember is to always keep moving.
There are too many ways to derail your progress but most will always start with a distraction. This could be a phone call, IM, text message, or a million other technology enhanced notifications we have programmed to “help” us.
Let’s be honest, these technologies are not helping us at all accomplish our tasks and goals.
Recognize this as a problem and turn your digital distractions off!
Turning off distractions will not work if you look for other things to distract you, but this at least will prevent them from hunting you away from getting your stuff done.
To help prevent your mind from creating distractions, I have found practicing mindfulness to be an incredible way to remain focused while working your tasks.
Being mindful means you focus 110% of your energy on your task and are not distracted with memories, multitasking, or anything else.
Cultivate Deep Work
Most people spend their time in what I call busy work, or ‘static’. This is not something that will change the world, or even accomplish your goals, but it will make you feel you are making progress on your tasks. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Deep Work, according to Cal Newport in his book, ‘Deep Work’, is “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skills, and are hard to replicate.”
He also gives advice on how others can improve their ability to do deep work. Here are a few points to remember:
- In the future of humanity, there will be three types of people who will survive and prosper:
- Owners of capital, or those with access to it
- Anyone who can work with intelligent machines and technology
- Superstars in their field of work (The focus of his book, Deep Work)
- High-Quality work produced = (time spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
- Focus on the Wildly Important: have a small number of really critical goals
- Schedule blocks of time for both shallow and deep work. Adjust as needed.
- Cut out as much shallow work as you can to make room for deep work.
- Build productive habits into your life to accomplish great things.
- If you can’t learn you can’t thrive; deep work helps you quickly learn hard things.
- Deep Work needs large blocks of time and cannot be divided into several smaller ones.
5. Every Minutes Matters
I worked at a company where I supported computers that, when offline, could cost a company millions of dollars every minute they were offline. My managers had a saying and drilled it into everyone, “every minute matters”.
If we were to add up all our wasted minutes every day, I am sure for most people would account for several hours each day. This time could be their commute to work, cooking diner, exercise time, watching TV, surfing the Internet, daydreaming, and countless other minutes that can be redirected to be more productive.
For example, I have a goal to read 25 books a year and live a healthier lifestyle. When I exercise and cook dinner (as apposed to eating out), I always have an audiobook playing on my phone.
This seems a contradiction to the mindfulness stuff above, and it is, but when used carefully, is a huge time saver in my life. In my life, there are times when my mind needs to be focused, and times when its OK to work on autopilot and multitask with an audiobook.
Other great time savers are ordering takeout, doing weekly meal planning, and hiring a cleaning service or lawn service. These are the tasks you could delegate from the Eisenhower matrix above. All this costs money but provides me lots of extra time in my week that I use to be more productive on my core goals which in turn, bring me happiness.
6. Manage Your Energy
You energy level is more important to your productivity then the time you spend actually getting things done. Do you recall Cal Newport’s formula.
Productivity = Energy x Time
When you look at this formula, you would think both Energy and Time are equals, but I have a different approach when it comes to brain activity.
Productivity = (Energy + Focus) x Time
Focus is your ability to remove distractions and devote your energy and time to a single task, and we touched upon this in “Measure Your Results, Not Your Time”. Simply put, you need to be completely mindful and apply all your energy and focus on your current task in order to be your most productive self.
But how can you keep up your energy and focus? Here’s my approach.
Take Scheduled Breaks
We talked about scheduling your work into blocks of time. I typically use 1-2 hour blocks throughout the day, depending on the task. Tasks that require deep thought will get bigger blocks and easier tasks get smaller ones. Every one of my blocks have a built-in break, usually the last 5 or 10 minutes.
Its important to take these breaks away from your desk, move your body, change your focus, and maybe get a little sunshine. Its even better if you can go outside and get some fresh air. I work from home and usually take my breaks checking the mail, bringing in or out the garbage, or doing another small chore. The key is to get off your chair and move!
Get a Good Nights Sleep
If you are working off 5 or 6 hours sleep, your brain will not have enough energy to focus on anything for any length of time. You must get enough sleep to make sure you are operating at peak efficiently. On these days when I had to work part of a night shift, I schedule small 15-30 minute naps during the day as an alternative way to recharge.
This is not a replacement for a good night rest but will get me through the day.
Eat Well, Avoid Sugar, Caffeine, and Simple Carbs
Your body is a machine and just like your car, it will perform with better fuel. If you are relying on the quick insulin spiking foods like simple carbs, sugar, and caffeine, you are doming yourself later in the day.
These foods borrow your energy later in the day and give it to you earlier. When you drink caffeine all morning, your body will naturally crash in the afternoon. But when you eat complex carbs, quality fats, and natural foods, your body gets a steady release of energy and maintaining your focus all day long.
Keto is a bit of an extreme for most people but the energy and focus you get while on a keto diet is incredible. Keto replaces your body’s fuel source from carbs to fats, and if you are like most people, you have an abundance of fats in your body.
For most people, getting into ketosis is difficult and takes a while to convince your body that there are no more cards and it needs to dip into its energy reserve and start using fats. Plus, keto is not good as a long term diet, but I have found it is great in the 2-4 month window.
I wrote a great article titled Incredible Keto Salads for Lunch and is a great way to eat well doing Keto.
Exercise needs to be a critical part of your life. Not only should you be getting 30 minutes every day, but you should be doing some form of exercise throughout your day.
I have a small stepping machine I keep next to my desk and when I am in one of my many company meetings, I usually hop on the stepper and move my body for about 10-15 minutes. This is a great way to get the blood circulating and deliver me a quick burst of energy with that fresh supply of oxygenated blood.
I am a bit mixed on the use of music and believe it can both help create energy and focus, and also can be a distraction. The difference is often determined by the task.
When I am in deep thought, I prefer classical or relaxing natural sounds to keep me focused and energized on my task. If I am working on some lighter tasks, especially in the afternoon, I love to have something more energetic playing.
This can also be a distraction so you need to make sure you are providing something that will energize you without distracting you at the same time.
When you procrastinate, it’s not because you are a “lazy” person, but because your internal energy source is running low. Try any of these tricks to restore your energy levels in a more natural way and see if you can get a few more tasks done today.
7. Building Habits
A habit is a predetermined decision you make once and do regularly without an additional thought. It is the key to success, if you have the right habits.
According to Freud psychoanalytic theory, your brain is divided into 3 parts: the id, Ego, and Superego. In his psychoanalytic theory of personality, the pleasure principle is the driving force of the id that seeks immediate gratification of all needs. In other words, your id wants you to live for today by procrastitating your work.
If you are looking to improve at anything, it will require hard work, and require you to think about your long term goals over your immediate pleasure. In order to overcome your id pushing you towards immediate gratification, you need to develop good habits.
As we touched about above, a habits has 3 parts; a Trigger, a action, and a reward. In order to create a trigger that will automatically happen in your decision process, you need all three.
If you want to develop a habit to get up early. You create a trigger (counting down 5-4-3-2-1), then you take an action (stand up), and lastly you reward yourself (cup of coffee). This can be applied to anything in your life you want to change, including your working habits.
If you want to improve your focus and attention at work during your working blocks of time, then create a trigger (calendar meeting with start time), your action is to work without stopping for 45 minutes, and then reward yourself with a snack, nature walk, or a bit of exercise.
You can easily adjust this to reward yourself when the task is completed instead of the end of the work block. This trigger, action, and reward combination will help develop more focus and attention to complete the task as apposed to just reaching the end of the work window, and this is the approach I take.
There are countless books I can recommend on the topic of building habits. Try this Ted Talk first to learn how simple it can be to get started today. Then I highly recommend developing a habit of reading a book a month (or 2 or 3 books a month) to develop your habit skill even more.
8. Update Your Skills
Developing habits is the key to self improvement if the habits bring you closer to your goals. Another way to make incredible progress towards your goals is to improve your skills.
One of the best ways is to always be learning something. Its fun and will make you more productive if you are focused on learning the right stuff.
Watching TV, browsing the internet, and other types of “entertainment” will not sharpen your skills and take you to your goals. These are considered entertainment breaks and not a form of learning. Learn to recognize the difference so you are not distracted and waste your time.
In today’s ever changing world, you need to always be learning to keep up in your chosen profession; but your goal should not be just to keep up with others in your field. Your goal is to surpass your peers and be a leader in your field.
If you learn new skills in other area’s, you can apply them to your profession. For example, maybe you want to learn about minimalism or organization, this will help you keep your work space clean and free of distractions, enabling you to improve your focus, attention, and energy while working. It’s a never ending source of improvement to help you accomplish more in your day.
9. Prepare for the Unexpected
Things always come up. There is a very basic personal financial rule that everyone should follow called an emergency fund. This is simply setting aside a small amount of money in the case of an emergency so you can quickly recover from a financial emergency and get back to your financial goals.
The same is true for your time management. You need to set aside spare time in your day that you can use it to deal with emergencies that come up. The amount of time depends on your work and in my profession, I tend to need more emergency time then probably most people.
I set aside 2-3 hours each day for emergencies. When unpredicted problems arise, I have time in my day to manage them and then I push back my schedule work for later in the day. If emergencies don’t arise, then I pull in additional work that I was hoping to get to if I had the time.
Using my numbering system, the number 1’s are the critical stuff I must get done that day, and the number 2’s are the stuff I do when I don’t have urgent emergencies. If I do have an emergency, then my 2’s are pushed off to the next day or scheduled later in the week.
The purpose is to make sure you hit all your goals for the day and week, and having flex time in the day allows you handle the bumps in your life and still make progress towards your long term goals.
Having plans are great, but only action will take you to your life goals. Your ability to stop procrastinating and get things done will be your super power to your finding your success in life.
The key to being productive is to avoid procrastination and Start Getting Things Done. These 9 tips will help you if you are willing to take action today.
I have studied the GTD and Agile method for over 2 years and have several other articles that can help you master productivity and get things done. All you need to do is adapt these principles to your work process.
I hope you liked this article and are able to be more productive in your life. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below and I will be happy to answer them. Please also consider signing up for my email mailing list and be the first to know about new articles posted here about how to improve yourself and live your best life.