A Simple Productivity Trick.

A Simple Productivity Trick
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A Simple Productivity Trick

Last week, I was in one of those irritating places where I had lots of things on my to-do list that were urgent, and no desire to do any of them. I am a superstar productivity queen when I am doing something I want to do… less so, when it’s something I’m not excited about. I am drowning a little bit in 1099 hell (both logging them all for my accountant as they come in, and getting them out to all of the various contractors I work with for my blog). The boring, administrative stuff is where I really procrastinate, right up to a deadline.

Besides the age-old advice of doing the hardest thing first, setting timers is the thing that helps me most. My system is usually 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off. I set a timer for 30 minutes and tell myself I have to do the tedious task (logging 1099 forms, entering expenses into Quickbooks). When the timer goes off, two things happen.

The first, best-case scenario is that I don’t stop. After 30 minutes of doing the undesirable task, I’m often so in the groove that I want to keep going.

The second scenario is that I set a new timer for 30 minutes to do more desirable tasks (writing! working on blog posts (I wrote this during one of those breaks) replying to emails! chores! seriously, truly – anything else!!!). And after that 30 minute period I go back to 30 minutes of the hard thing. And so on and so forth, until the annoying stuff is finished with. It WORKS.

This is literally the only thing that helps me when I have something urgent that I just can’t motivate myself to do!

Curious: what’s your best productivity tip?

photo by Laura Saur.

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31 Comments

  1. This tip is great! I’ve enjoyed trying my own variations of it and it can be very helpful. Another tip that works for me is putting my phone on airplane mode for a few hours or putting it to charge in another room and shutting the door.

    xoxo A
    http://www.southernbelleintraining.com

    1.31.22 Reply
  2. Isabelle:

    I do the timer trick to! Sometimes it’s just that, tricking myself into the groove.

    1.31.22 Reply
    • Isabelle:

      Too*

      1.31.22 Reply
      • HN:

        Cannot wait to out this tip to use! You always have great ideas!

        5.6.24 Reply
    • Liz:

      Great idea if I didn’t share a 12 X 12 office with my boss.

      2.4.22 Reply
  3. Valerie:

    This is exactly what I do for work too! I’m a morning person, but a morning person who wants to do chores not work so I sit down with my coffee/water/smoothie beverage trio, put on some smooth tunes, set the timer for 45, and attack my email inbox!

    1.31.22 Reply
    • Shana:

      I have the same morning beverage trio while attacking email!

      1.31.22 Reply
  4. Grace McCrocklin:

    It feels almost counterintuitive, but I try to break the icky task up over a couple days. That way it isn’t, “ugh I have to finish that report today” – it’s “okay all I have to do is format that report today, and I’ll check the data for errors tomorrow”. Makes it more manageable!

    1.31.22 Reply
    • Sarah R:

      I do the same thing!! I’ll time block a task I don’t want to do for 1 hour in my agenda, and then once the hour is up, check it off the list for the day! It’s so much more manageable to do undesirable tasks in chunks!

      P.S. Hi Grace, I’ve seen you around the FB group and not sure if you remember me from high school! Won’t give too much info over the internet, but go mustangs (lol)!

      2.1.22 Reply
  5. Danielle:

    I try to break things down into smaller tasks. Sometimes getting started is really the hardest part especially if you are prone to procrastinating like me 🙂

    I also try to think of it as doing my future self a favor. It puts me in a better mindset and motivates me to complete the task so that future me has a little less stress on her plate.

    1.31.22 Reply
  6. Kaitlin:

    Hi Grace! I wanted to comment here instead of send you a DM, as I know you get overloaded. I am the crazy person who saw you on Friday in Charleston and yelled across the street “Are you Grace?! I love your podcast!” And while this is true, I want you to also know that we basically built our Charleston trip around your recommendations 🙂 We stayed at Guesthouse, which we lovedddd, we ate at Little Jack’s and Leon’s (tried to do The Ordinary but they were under construction!), and got coffee at Baba’s on Cannon (where we bumped into Julia Berolzheimer and her precious baby and husband–obvi didn’t say anything to her but still). Thank you for all of your lovely recs! We will be back soon!

    1.31.22 Reply
  7. Theresa:

    I’ve definitely found that setting a short timer is the best way for me to get going – whether it be with work or with housekeeping! I’ve been using this method since college, I think it’s officially called the pomodoro method. I do vary my timer length depending on what it is I *need* to do, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

    1.31.22 Reply
    • Morgan:

      Oooo I do the pomodoro method too but for some reason I never thought about changing the time length. Smart!

      1.31.22 Reply
  8. Rachel:

    Love this tip and needed it today! Thanks, Grace!

    1.31.22 Reply
  9. Marissa:

    I am reading this blog post while on hold with the IRS because I am also in 1099 hell…ugh!! I feel your pain!

    1.31.22 Reply
  10. Katie:

    Eat the frog. I am learning how to do this.

    And this app- Forest, you plant a tree while you don’t use your phone. It’s fun to see the diff types you can earn and visualize your forest after working on a specific project (you can label them). It sounds really dumb but it’s fun. Free for Android, I think $2 for apple.

    1.31.22 Reply
  11. mary:

    I’m a morning person, so my productivity really starts to slide by noon and I’m practically worthless by 3:00 pm. I try to schedule all of my workouts, chores and meetings before then and allow myself to sleepwalk for the rest of the day–still working but with lower output/expectations. Taking a lot of breaks also helps me. Reading your blog is one of those breaks!

    1.31.22 Reply
  12. Hope:

    I love this idea! I am going to try this when I put my tax stuff together.

    1.31.22 Reply
  13. Julie:

    Love this! Def going to try tomorrow!

    1.31.22 Reply
  14. Katie:

    Pomodoro method! I swear by it. I completely credit it to passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam last summer because it made my study weekends manageable and super productive without being terrifying or tedious.

    1.31.22 Reply
  15. M.:

    If I am really struggling I do the ten minute rule. For personal things that can get hard to get motivated for, like working on my novel or going to the gym, I do TEN minutes. After ten minutes running, or writing, or cleaning the house, whatever it is, if I’m hating it, I get to stop. Sometimes I do (usually when cleaning ha!), but it’s rare at the gym or writing that I don’t get into a good swing. It really works.

    1.31.22 Reply
  16. Erica:

    Great tip! I’m always trying to find coping skills for undesirable tasks and remain productive.
    Do not disturb on my cell device and 80’s music playlist helps me focus!

    2.1.22 Reply
  17. This method you use is a variation of the Pomodoro Technique. I have been using this technique for over 10 years and have always had great results. If you want to take it a step further, check out my YouTube channel. There, I provide several videos with different timers (25/5, 45/15 and 50/10) accompanied by relaxing music that helps to concentrate better by muffling the ambient noises. Go there and meet. I’m sure you will like it!
    https://youtube.com/channel/UCQS4xKfElu0L-SAILpHJTyg

    2.1.22 Reply
  18. Mackenzie KP:

    I try to remind myself that how much better I will feel once the task is completed and that’s usually pretty motivating for me! Especially if it’s a “micro-anxiety” – a task that hangs over my head for EVER but is actually a relatively quick or easy task to complete. Think disinfecting the sink, going through junk mail, etc. Important tasks that kind of suck but you feel so much better once you accomplish them.

    2.1.22 Reply
  19. That is such a great idea! I may try that, setting a timer and hoping I keep going or then rewarding myself with a task I like better!

    http://dianamariaandco.com

    2.1.22 Reply
  20. David:

    Optimise Flow by chunking all easy easy preparations early while you are not really alert. Have a break and rehearse doing the more detailed work, seeing yourself in flow handling the tasks easily and efficiently without mistake.

    2.2.22 Reply
  21. April Gaskell:

    I’m going to try this tip this week, Grace. I’ve been feeling unmotivated to do most things on my to do list lately – defaulting to the mindless, easy things. Thanks for sharing. April

    2.5.22 Reply
  22. Julie P:

    I’m a big fan of timers as well, particularly the Be Focused timer app on my computer. Sometimes though, I have a hard time getting started, especially when I don’t know quite how to do the task. Then it helps to recall the advice that my mom once got from one of her bosses: just give it five minutes. After five minutes I have permission to stop but by then I’m usually in a good enough rhythm to keep going for another 20 minutes at least!

    2.7.22 Reply