How to be really good at getting stuff done, according to science

Reading Time: 8 minutes These techniques will help you be more productive with fewer anxiety-ridden, caffeine-induced late-night study sessions.

Apps + podcasts we love: myHomework

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PabloPablo N., second-year graduate student, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador 

myHomework
By Instin, LLC

myHomework is a time-management app designed specifically for students, from high school to graduate. On the surface, it seems like a scheduling app, but it’s much more. myHomework integrates homework, classes, and personal calendar information, but it also helps work out timelines for projects, gives reminders and warnings, and integrates teacher information (through Teachers.io). The app helps students with not only time management but also stress management. The app has a lot of directly relevant features and hardly any irrelevant or unnecessary features.”

Useful?
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
myHomework is incredibly useful for procrastination-prone students who find it difficult to be organized or who get anxious about tests and papers. It’s also really good for students, like myself, who have a lot of extracurricular demands, whether that’s having a job, being an athlete, or having a family, because it lets you work in those time commitments, too.

Fun?
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This app is rewarding mainly because it helps me feel in control of my life. It pretty much takes away the fear that I’m going to forget a big assignment and only remember it the night before. That relief means that I can put more energy into doing the work instead of worrying about it. For someone who gets anxious about having too many commitments, that kind of relief is the best.

Effective?
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The myHomework app is effective as is, but this category would earn a 5/5 rating if my university and teachers were integrated directly with the Teachers.io platform. That would make getting set up much faster and easier. Once the information is in myHomework, it really helps to plan out your time and avoid crunch periods (as much as possible, anyway).

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5 ways to get more done

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Based on This is how to be productive; 5 new secrets proven by research by Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree
Productivity infographic

Priorities

I don’t have time  =  It’s not a priority

Good procrastination  —  Postponing less important tasks

Fixed-schedule productivity
What time are you done for the day? Plan backward from there. What MUST get done?

Context

Find a safe place to hide

Environments free of distractions lead to productivity

Silence gadgets
Use apps that restrict web browsing

Stakes

Purpose
Why you’re doing this: be honest with yourself about what you really want

Remembering significance & meaning leads to motivation

Rewards motivate us for dull tasks

Responsible for three-quarters of why you do things

Habits

Prefrontal cortex:
“Complete the assignment.”

Nucleus accumbens:
“Yes to email and Instagram! No to the assignment!”

Dorsal striatum:
“Wait, gotta check email and Instagram.”

Help your prefrontal cortex stay in charge

  • Identify the bad habit
  • Make it inconvenient to do
  • Use a checklist to form a new habit

Mood

Do something quick to get happy  —  Looking at puppy pics works

Look for ways to lift your mood in the morning

[survey_plugin] Article sources

This infographic is based on a design by Satoru Hirose, which is in turn based on a blog post by Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

Barker, E. (2016). This is how to be productive: 5 new secrets proven by research. Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Retrieved from https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/07/how-to-be-productive/

Hirose, S. (2016, July 19). Sketchnote #9: This is how to be productive. DoodleUnlimited.com. Retrieved from https://doodleunlimited.com/2016/07/this-is-how-to-be-productive/

Mind your mind: A mindful solution to the procrastination problem

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Q: Procrastination is killing me. I just can’t get started with my work. I even put off asking this question. Can mindfulness help?

A: Procrastination is a clever strategy for avoiding discomfort. Often, the thought of getting started with a big project (or anything that even resembles a project) creates feelings of impending doom and anxious dread. Nobody has time for dread and doom, so then we distract ourselves with Grand Theft Auto or trying all 280 flavors of fro-yo.

How to stay on track

Dr. Holly Rogers codeveloped the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and coauthor of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The unpleasant feelings that lead to procrastination are usually fed by negative thoughts: I’m not in the mood for this now—maybe I will be later. I’ll never get this 25-page paper done. I don’t know how to start on this abstract painting. What if I can’t explain this economic theory? What if I fail? 

Avoidance and distraction get rid of the head-crushing feelings, but they don’t get the work done. (And no, you won’t be in the mood for it later.)

Yes, mindfulness can help. Give this a shot:

  1. Get off autopilot
    Take a deep breath. Try to notice the thoughts and feelings that fuel the procrastination.
    Once you’re aware that they exist, you don’t have to be controlled by them.
  2. Recognize that thoughts are just thoughts
    Think about it. They have no substance. Even the uncomfortable
    ones are temporary. And besides, what’s a little discomfort?
  3. Get in sync with your (physical) sensations
    Notice how your body feels. Feel your feet on the floor or your fingers on the keyboard. Feel your breath moving in and out.
  4. Give your environment a makeover
    Eliminate distractions, then turn your attention to your work. Decide to get to it for 20–30 minutes, no matter how many thoughts urge you to do otherwise. Make a commitment to get started.
  5. Take a second
    After you have worked for half an hour or so, take a short break—a few minutes to post a #tbt pic to Instagram or make a green smoothie. Then start again with step 1.

+ Check out Koru Mindfulness for tips, meditations, and more.

How to stop procrastinating tomorrow

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Hold on—I gotta check Facebook just one more time before I finish this sentence. OK, I’m back. So! Procrastination: It’s bad.

Most of us want to be efficient, but time after time we find the day melting away as we watch “just one more” TV episode or click on “just one more” video of baby animals.

Good news! Procrastination isn’t just in your head. Experts have found that making some tweaks to the way you work can make it easier to buckle down.

Breaking up is easy to do

A task can seem easier if you break it into small segments, says Dr. Jesse Crosby, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Try doing one bit a day, and start small.

“I always feel I can do anything for five minutes, so I set a timer,” Gail McMeekin, author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women, told WebMD. “Once I start, I usually go over five minutes and may finish the job.”

Crack the door

Completing just a small part of a project creates momentum and helps dispel fears that a given task is too difficult or complex. Think of that quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” After you take a single step on that assignment, you’re moving.

Buddy up

Working with others can hold you accountable for making steady progress, says Gail McMeekin. Be sure, though, to discuss with a professor what sort of teamwork is kosher. You don’t want to be accused of cheating or plagiarism.

Find a Hermione

Find someone who’s consistently proactive, and stick close to that person. You could soak up some of his or her good habits. “Surround yourself with people who are doers,” Joseph Ferrari, a DePaul University psychology professor, told US News & World Report.