Today is the day.
I’m (finally) going to get sh*ts done on a bright, sunny day working from home: I have no meetings scheduled, and I have my coffee, music and desk setup ready.
Let’s do some deep work without interruption!
10 seconds later…
Crap – I forgot to mute my phone, and I just got a notification from a food delivery app.
Before I knew it, I had been scrolling for cat videos on Instagram for 10 minutes.
* * *
Does that sound familiar?
I hope this isn’t your story (but let’s be honest – we’ve all been there).
However we define productivity, we still face the same problem: we need to actually start and stick to doing the damn thing until it’s done without getting distracted, discouraged or sacrificing quality.
But we don’t wanna get started, and we can’t stay focused.
Our brain is like an excuse-generating machine and a distracted puppy, always looking for the next shiny object.
Procrastination can affect our performance and quality of work in many ways. There is also a mental burden of the task looming in the background all the time, causing more stress and anxiety.
While I was crossing the road one day, I thought about how the traffic lights guided the cars and pedestrians when to move and stop, and I realised it’s what we can learn from about productivity and focus.
This is how the go vs no-go concept comes into play.
Keep reading, or watch the video here:
Go vs. No-Go: Overview 🚦
Let’s think of productivity, which is actually starting the work, go. you need forward motion. Then you have impulse control, which is the ability to stay focused on the task despite any internal or external triggers, no-go.
This is how the work process looks like:
You prepare to get into the flow, you stay focused, get things done, then get out of it.
It’s kind of a push-and-pull relationship that requires different skills.
Go: Set Yourself Up For Success 🏃🏻
Your tasks and responsibilities might be tedious and boring, but it is your job to make work as fun as possible.
In the Go (a.k.a. warm-up) phase, you want to prime yourself for the task physically and mentally.
Strategies to Prime Yourself for Maximum Productivity 💪🏻
Here are a few strategies – all from personal experience:
#1 Use the “do not disturb” function
- Turn off all notifications. This is key. Don’t let anything, or anyone break your flow.
#2 Be physically ready
- Get your drink, empty your bladder, and set up your desk/chair (if you use a stand-up desk like me) for long period of focus.
#3 Keep a tidy workspace
- “Your workspace is not a place for storing things. It is a place for accomplishing things.”
#4 Optional: pick your focus playlist
- Music affects our brain in many ways. If you want to go down the rabbit hole, read my article here about playlist creation, backed by research 🙂
#5 Mental warm-up
- Watch a video/listen to a podcast episode on related topic to ease into work.
I know, starting is always the hardest part. If you still struggle, try the following tactics:
- 2-minute rule
- Tell yourself that you will do this for just 2 minutes. In most cases you will keep going because you’ve started anyway.
- Brain dump
- List out whatever on your mind, or draw a mindmap if you’re working on creative tasks. Starting from a blank page can be daunting, hence it is beneficial to have templates and prompts in place as part of your creative system so you don’t actually start from scratch.
- Try using the website https://answerthepublic.com/ for inspiration.
No-Go: Impulse Control 🚫
Most of our problems come from a lack of impulse control. We want that donut NOW instead of leaving the couch and going for a walk. We want to reach out to our phone every time we hear a ding.
But don’t stress – you don’t need to blame yourself. Our brain is like a puppy, constantly getting distracted. it is deep in our root to naturally look for threats anywhere. However, there is also this fine line between our human instinct and impulsive behaviours.
Nowadays we don’t look out for lions, but news that trigger cheap dopamine hit or negativity to keep our brains engaged. I recently noticed that i just pick up the phone by default when i’m walking, like even just from kitchen to bedroom, or when i’m about to start writing a report. i realised that it’s not an addiction problem, but impulsive behaviours.
The good news is that impulse control is a skill we can learn, train and get better at. You know that you need to stop when you see the red light. You know that when your friend is talking you don’t talk over him or her.
In order to stay focused, we need to learn how to manage our triggers and regulate ourselves, so that we can align our body and mind to be in the present moment.
We are adults. We CAN control ourselves.
Strategies for Staying Focus & Avoiding Distraction 🙅🏻
#1 Use full screen for the task
- Full Screen, or one tab only. Switching cost is real.
- By using full screen, you literally have this tunnel vision so you’re not looking at anything else.
#2 Train your brain
- Actively refrain yourself from doing something for more than 5 minutes: e.g. getting that snack, checking email.
- Try to train for 20-30 minutes every day. Your brain is a muscle, it needs to be strengthened.
#3 Treat yourself from time to time
- Give yourself small rewards if you really need that. You are not distracted if you are doing something you mean to do, right?
- You can set up small rewards for being in a flow state for a certain amount of time, like getting that (hopefully healthy) snack, another coffee, scroll social media for 5 minutes etc.
Attention is a cognitive skill that we can train and get better at. Activities like playing chess, learning a language, an instrument, or reading, are great tools for expanding our focus and attention.
P.S. Mindfulness practice is also a great way to boost focus. Have a preview of my guided handpan soundtracks here:
It takes some trial and error to find out how long your typical flow state is. It might differ depending on the type of task and environment you’re in. For example, I can sit down all day to work on a song but I can only work on a report for 45-60 minutes at a time.
Pay attention to your energy level. Listen to how you feel. Ifg you sense a drop in energy, if your mind is wondering off too frequently, it’s time to exit flow state and take a break.
Congrats, You Got Things Done ☑️
Congratulations! You have practised both the go and no-go methods to get things done! You totally deserve a break (or a healthy donut ).
If you’re in an intense mode, like studying for finals, rushing through multiple deadlines, don’t go wild during your break. Get hydrated, have some food that are nutrient-dense, change your posture (I sometimes do star jumps), or staring at a blank wall (I learnt this from one of Andrew Huberman’s podcast episodes – because staring at a wall would be way too boring and you would rather get back to your task instead).
Understanding when to go, and when not to, is a great mental framework for you to boost your productivity and focus in order to get things done and achieve your goals.
Guess what? You don’t have to be “productive” all the time.
Work-life balance is a function of proactive self-management. That means we have to be good at self-regulating, at planning and prioritising to manage work and clear the space for life and home responsibilities.
What strategies are you going to try today to boost your productivity and focus?
Let me know in the comment section below!
P.S. Looking for ways to improve your wellbeing? Download all my Notion templates for free here: