By Leo Babauta
You’ve read a bunch of different productivity posts, blogs, books, and magazine articles — admit it — and yet it’s always so complicated. You just want to accomplish great things, without all the fuss.
And while there are many great systems out there — GTD, Zen To Done, The Power of Less, and more — it always takes a lot of work. You want to focus on the doing, not the upkeep of your productivity system.
Look no more. This is all you need to know about productivity, all you need to know about getting amazing things done, doing important work … in three simple steps.
I guarantee you — if you follow these three steps, you’ll be productive, and you’ll accomplish great things.
1. Find Something Amazing to work on. Seriously — amazing. Not just regular tasks, but something that you’ll feel good about, that excites you, that will have a high impact on your job and goals and life, that will make a difference. Do this at the beginning of each day, or even at the end of each day so that you don’t have to think about it the next morning — you already know what you’ll be working on. If you do this, at the end of the day, you can even prepare all the materials and tools you’ll need first thing in the morning, and clear your desk so you’ll be ready to go.
Get excited about this work. You’re going to accomplish great things.
2. Hole yourself up and just work on the Something Amazing.This is the key. Well, aside from the first step, because if you don’t do the first step, this step isn’t going to work as well. And also the third step (below) is incredibly important, more than you might think, so don’t skip that one. But aside from the first and third step, this is the most important step in the system.
Here’s how it works: clear your schedule for a good chunk of time — maybe 30 minutes if that’s all you can spare, an hour is better, and 2-3 hours or more are even better than that. Schedule this chunk of time first thing in the morning, or at least early in the morning, if you can, so it doesn’t get pushed back by other things during the day.
Then clear away ALL distractions: notifications for email, IM, Twitter, and anything else that might pop up or make a noise, your phones, all mobile devices any clutter in front of you (just shove it in a drawer or put it on the floor to clear away later), and most importantly, The Internet. Yes, turn off the Internet. Well, not the whole Internet, as other people might be using it, but just your connection to it. If possible, go somewhere where there are no distractions and no Internet connection. Tell everyone you work with that you will be incommunicado for an hour or three working on an important project. If you can, make this a regular thing on your schedule — 2-3 hours in the morning every day, when people know you can’t be disturbed.
Once you’ve holed yourself up, don’t work on anything except the Something Amazing. Seriously. Resist any urges to switch tasks or check on something or get up and talk to someone. Those urges will come up, trust me. It’s like an addiction — you just have to get through them. Steel yourself, and just sit there breathing deeply (with your head between your legs, if that helps) until the urge passes. Then get back to work on the Something Amazing.
Focus on that one thing until you’re done. Really, just the one thing.
3. Take a nap. Or reward yourself some other way — take a break and walk outside, or play WoW, or check the email you’ve been itching to check, or read through your brilliant Twitter messages, or go for a run (not everyone’s idea of a reward, perhaps, but I love it). And celebrate your accomplishment! You’ve gotten something amazing done.
Now repeat Steps 1-3 until your workday is over.
But … what about all the other tasks and things I need to do? How do I track them and get them done?
First, those less important tasks will get done, but the world probably won’t end if you put them off for a few hours or even a day or two. Unless you happen to be Mr. Obama, and one of those “less important” tasks is something like “Solve crisis with nuclear weapon malfunction”, in which case don’t you think you should have put that task at the top of your list, Mr. President? For the rest of us, the world will go on without every single task getting done.
Second, keep a running list of every task you think of. When you’re done doing your Something Amazing, take a look at the list and see what really needs to be done. Maybe it’s another Something Amazing, maybe it’s just a routine task that needs to get done. Maybe it’s a bunch of smaller tasks that you can get done all at once before moving on to the next Something Amazing. Also look through the list and cross off things that don’t really need to get done — usually things you’ve been procrastinating on for awhile.
This system isn’t as comprehensive as other, more complicated, productivity systems, I’ll grant you. But it’s simple, and it works. Try it today, and let me know if it doesn’t make a difference.