At this strange time, we can’t deny that there’s LOTS of things causing us anxiety. I have spoken to a number of clients about their biggest concerns – unsurprising are their concerns around health, finance and the future of work. Surprising is that one of their biggest concerns is procrastination and their loss of focus and ability to concentrate.

How so?

Well, we are all lacking the normal structure of going to work, school etc. and may now need some new toolkits and frameworks to take control back – so, I thought I’d lend a helping hand and offer a practical tip.

At the core of being more productive is overcoming distraction. Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you want to do. Many people sitting down at their laptops to complete important work will find themselves searching the web for news, checking emails (again!) or scrolling on their phone looking at social media – sound familiar?

None of these things is evil and all have their role to play, but the trick is to do everything with intent. And, the secret to doing things with intent is plan how to invest your time – not through traditional lists but by using ‘time boxing’ – a concept originally introduced by James Martin, writer of Rapid Application Development, as part of agile software development.

Lists kill productivity

My view and experience are that ‘to do’ lists actually kill productivity, because when you create that list and don’t get done what you said, you reinforce your own negative self-image as someone who doesn’t get things done. Here are some of the other dangers of list writing:

·       Most ‘to do’ lists don’t truly distinguish between what is important and urgent

·       We find ourselves avoiding the tasks that we have low or no motivation to do

·       Lists are just the outputs we want to achieve, but it’s the inputs that deliver those outputs – the vital input being time. Research has shown that people are terrible at estimating how long a task will take.

·       The unintended consequence of list writing is that we can often feel guilty and don’t enjoy our leisure time because we have still got things to complete on that list.

Using a time boxed calendar means allocating a period of time to work on what you said you want to work on, without distraction, including activities such as Netflix, social media etc…  And you don’t focus on the goal of finishing anything. You behave more like scientist than a sergeant major – experimenting, assessing your results, and adapting as you go. While this may seem counter-intuitive, research shows that people finish and achieve more when they timebox.

A quick guide on how to timebox

1.     Find the tasks – including those you have low motivation to do and are future focussed

2.     Define your goals

3.     Set the time

4.     Work and assess the results

The world is full of productivity writers, tools and hacks, but I have personally found timeboxing to be the single most powerful tool in improving my productivity – maybe it could help you as well?