In Practice

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15 Psychology Experts Share Their Best Productivity Tips

Experts share their favorite tips for being productive.

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I asked a group of busy psychology experts to share their best tip for being productive and beating procrastination. Here's what they said.

Take breaks from your desk to stimulate your productivity.  "Walk Away: Without realizing it, I spent years trying to be productive in the most unproductive way--sitting at a desk for hours. Now I 'walk away' from my office after a few hours (or less). Moving, if only to get a cup of coffee, water a plant, or walk outside for five minutes, made me sharper and more focused.  With short breaks, improvement in concentration and productivity soars. Try it."  - Susan Newman, Ph.D.

Don't be afraid to close your door.  "There are a couple, seemingly simple things that I do to ensure that I am productive. The first is simply closing my door at the office! Although I am extremely welcoming, I am often approached by colleagues, peers, and students about various topics ranging from sports to clinical considerations. Closing my door ensures that I remain productive. Second, I schedule "avoided" tasks; when I block out time (and get reminded on ALL of my Apple devices), this ensures that I engage in productive action. Action precedes motivation; these small steps facilitate more action and lead to me feeling accomplished." - L. Kevin Chapman, Ph.D. 

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The George Washington Method. "I use the 'George Washington Method', which I learned from one of my literature professors in college. Washington, a farmer, always carried a portable sundial with him. His method entails picking an arbitrary point deemed 'Noon' and moving forward in segments from there, keeping your focus only in the 'hour' in which you are working. The White House cleaning staff still use this method today." - Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM.

Stress relief helps reduce distractibility. "Plan exercise breaks: stress leads to binary (either/or) thinking, distractability, and procrastination. Taking time to reduce stress enhances productivity by keeping you sharp and boosting your capacity for creative problem-solving." - Craig Malkin, Ph.D. 

Buck conventional wisdom if something else works better for you. "I think you really have to know yourself. For example, conventional wisdom says to do your most important task first; however, I find that if I start with a few easy tasks, I feel better and get on a roll because I get something checked off my list right away. Then, I'm motivated to tackle the harder things." - Barbara Markway, Ph.D.  

The Pomodoro Technique. "When I don't want to do something, or my confidence is low, I use a productivity technique called The Pomodoro Technique. You set a timer for 25 minutes of work, then take a five minute break, then set the timer again. I know I can do anything for 25 minutes (and starting is the hardest part) so it works great for me. For more information: PomodoroTechnique" - Heidi Reeder, Ph.D.

Work until you complete one chunk. "I'm most productive if think in terms of getting a task done as opposed to spending a set amount of time on it. Most people allocate a certain amount of time to a task; I do the opposite. I break the task down into doable chunks and then work until that chunk is done. So, if I'm working on an article for Psychology Today, instead of saying, "I'm going to work for an hour on it," I say, "I'm going to work until I have a first draft done." If that draft is done in 15 minutes, that's when I stop working; if it's done in an hour, that's when I stop working. I take the same approach to gardening and other household tasks." - Toni Bernhard, J.D.

Make a plan to deal with unresolved issues to free up your cognitive resources. Outstanding minor complaints (e.g., having to call a customer service hotline to dispute a charge) often nag at us for days when they remain unresolved, and interfere with our ability to be productive in the moment. Making a plan to address the issue (e.g., deciding on a specific time to make the call later) will quiet the nagging, free up our intellectual and emotional resources, and maximize our productivity in the moment. - Guy Winch Ph.D.

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A shitty first draft. "My top productivity tip for blogging, and for all writing challenges, is: Write a shitty first draft. This advice comes from Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird by Bird, and I bring it to mind every time I write the first draft of a blog. It's so freeing and motivating to tell myself, "Just write a shitty first draft now and make it great later!" - Meg Selig, Ph.D.

Use conditioning techniques. "Work in a place that you associate with work, such as an office building or library.  Don't try to work on something that requires sustained attention in the place where you play and relax, such as your bedroom or family room.  Your surroundings set the stage for your focus--if they are associated with work, you will focus on work." - Amy Przeworski, Ph.D.

Use an app to cut yourself off from the internet. "If you’re like me, you dip in and out of social media and e-mail all day while doing bigger tasks. There’s a fabulous Firefox plug-in called Freedom that prevents your computer from connecting to the internet for a programmed period of time, thereby removing temptation and allowing you to focus. If completely going off the grid is too limiting (or too scary!), LeechBlock is another handy tool that allows you to block specific sites at certain times." - Beth Buelow, ACC, CPC

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Small blocks of time. "My biggest challenge is finding blocks of time to do tasks that are labor intensive. Now I break things up into segments. I start with half the time I need; an hour becomes 30 mins, 15 mins becomes 7. Anything to begin! This makes hard tasks more digestible, and less likely for me to procrastinate on. Once something is started, I have more motivation to finish it." - Geralyn Datz, PhD.

Passion. "You may not always be able to choose the projects on which you work, yet when you do have a choice (e.g., of college major, range of assignments our boss needs helps with, committee memberships), go with that which you are most interested. Being passionate about what I do means that juggling the demands of teaching, writing, mentoring students, conducting research, and serving on committees is not necessarily always effortless, but certainly gratifying." - Kristine Anthis, Ph.D.

Put your phone away when you really need to get something done. "I’m most productive when I eliminate as many distractions as possible and focus on one time-limited project.  When I really need to get something done, I close my web browser and my email program, put my smartphone in my purse and give all my attention to the task at hand: the less multitasking, the better." - Gloria M. Miele, Ph.D.

Don't overestimate how much you can get done in your available time. If you plan to do an unrealistic number of tasks, you'll end up dreading the day ahead. Before I get out of bed, I mentally identify one important task that I will judge the day's success by. I prioritize this task and any small but critical time sensitive tasks. - Alice Boyes, Ph.D.

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photo credits:  CloudsBrightonPink Sherbet PhotographyAjith (അജിത്ത്) via photopin cc

Alice Boyes, Ph.D. translates principles from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and social psychology into tips people can use in their everyday lives.

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