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Want to be more productive? Create a NOT To-Do list!

Last Sunday evening, I was all pumped for the first week of being in complete control of my day.  Over the weekend I had compiled a list of topics for the next 3 months, had my color coded to-do list done and had all the books I wanted to read arranged on my reading shelf.

I imagined how my work day was going to be –

44.7% of the more than 10,000 people polled cited web surfing as their #1 distraction at work. Total salary cost to companies : $759 billion. Source : SFGate

  1. Get up at 6 in the morning
  2. Pray, exercise and eat breakfast
  3. Cook a healthy lunch
  4. Start working at 9
  5. Research and write for 3 hours
  6. Have lunch at 12
  7. Work on freelancing tasks from 1-3
  8. Write for another 3 hours
  9. Go for a walk
  10. Come back, take a shower, plan the next day, shut off the computer, read a book and write until I slept.

Sounded perfect to me. If I had this much time to write, I could drastically improve my writing. Great plan!

But that is not what really happened. My day went like this –

There are more than 800 million Internet users on Facebook. 200 million joined in 2011. Source : Business Insider

  1. Got up not-so-refreshed at 8.
  2. Didn’t have time to cook so asked my husband to eat out.
  3. Checked email.
  4. Checked my Facebook, Twitter and my reader.
  5. The time was 12. Tried to cook something quickly.
  6. Decided to watch one episode of NCIS re-runs, just while I was having my lunch.
  7. One more episode wouldn’t hurt right?
  8. The time was 3. Looked at the to do list, freaked out seeing the list of tasks spanning 3 pages, promised to concentrate and write at least one introduction.
  9. Even on a great day, I don’t get words pouring out of me, add in anxiety, all I had was a title, which now that I thought about it, didn’t even make sense. What was I thinking? Well, the day was a “wash”, I decided to at least get some admin work done.
  10. Went back to email.
  11. Someone asked for tech help in the forums. Answered that and while I was there checked other threads. Thought, “Oh I have not read this person’s blog in a week, let me see what they are up to”. Read the post and the comments. “That was an interesting comment, let me check the commentor’s blog. Ohh he just did a round up!” Down the rabbit hole I went…
  12. The time was 2 in the morning!

As someone who spent pretty much 16-18 hrs in front of the computer, what did I get done? Nothing. How many of the tasks in my to do list got checked off? Nada. Zilch.

What just happened?

Why was I wasting my time when I was charged and dreaming about changing the world?

To figure this out I allowed myself to waste a day.

  • I tracked every single site I visited and the time I spent on them. Tip : I used RescueTime plugin for Chrome to accomplish this.
  • I went over each one of them to remind me of why I went there and what I accomplished.
Site Start time End time Purpose of the visit Task accomplished
Gmail 9:03 10:15 Answer emails Ummm
Twitter 11:13 12:10 Re-tweet interesting tweets, find new information for future articles Re-tweeted a few articles. But no new information.

What a goldmine of information!  Turned out I was more emotionally unstable than I thought.

  • Email provided me with a feeling of self-importance, starting from the third day of my self-employment!
  • Answering someone’s question in the forums satisfied my need to be needed. Their “thanks” gave me the instant gratification I needed.
  • Constantly checking out the news/Twitter feeds gave me an illusion of not missing out and not being alone.

Now that I know what emotional needs I was fulfilling with my timesuckers, I came up with some alternate habits to give me the same satisfaction.

There are 3.146 billion email accounts around the world. 71% of worldwide email traffic was spam. Source : Business Insider

  1. First, being aware of my distractions and the reason I am spending so much time on them itself was enough to steer me on the right track. As I have already thought about the “fake” euphoria of self-importance from getting a forward, it didn’t give me that feeling anymore.
  2. I changed my location of work. Instead of working at home, I took my work to the library.
  3. I set myself some rewards. If I successfully accomplish what I wanted to get done that day, I allowed myself to watch up to two episodes of my favorite shows.
  4. Create a list of 3 most important things I want to accomplish that contributes the most to my goal.
  5. Finally, have a NOT to do list. Nothing proved more effective than this.

Creating a NOT to do list to improve productivity

There are 225 million active Twitter accounts and 250 million Tweets per day. 100 million of them are actively used. And 18.1 million of those Twitter accounts are following Lady Gaga. Source : Business Insider

This lists consisted of my time suckers and tasks that didn’t contribute to my overall goal. Here is a sample of my NOT to-do list –

  • Not take calls from unknown number. Tip :  I have set up Google Voice to transcribe all the voicemails and send it via email.
  • Not check my email first thing in the morning. It spoils my plan for the day, I kept shifting my priorities as I heard back from different folks. Check off at least one planned prioritized task before checking email.
  • Not check certain sites in the morning. I have a list of sites that I get easily sucked into and spend hours at a time. I installed apps to block the sites during my work hours. Tip : If you are using Firefox, leechblock is an excellent add-on to block site during specific times. For Chrome, StayFocusd or Nanny for Chrome works well.
  • Not check social media sites at times other than when I have specifically set aside time for them.
  • Not watch any TV in the morning. Sometimes I feel like taking a 10 minute break and when I go get myself some tea, I feel like watching one of my favorite episodes of NCIS. But the problem is I can’t stop, 10 minutes becomes one full episode, which leads to the next episode and before I know it, it would be evening.
  • Not check accounting everyday. When I was bringing in more money, it used to be my motivator. Now, due to some recent events, even my freelancing income took a nose dive. It is easy to get suckered into looking at the empty income section in Mint and feeling self-pity or getting discouraged.

This has been working beautifully for me. Have I become a productivity queen? Nope. Far from it, but I feel great to have failed and started on the right track the first week instead of not getting anything done for months at a time.

Being mindful of my time lets me concentrate on accomplishing things that are important to shape my life the way I want it to be.

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau.

Here is an interesting infographics I came across showing what importance we give for our actual works vs everything else.Social media distractions

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