Sometimes it’s okay to surf the web all day — you’re learning new things and connecting with people, right? — but other days you need to get some real work done. Maybe you’re on a deadline. Maybe you won’t get paid unless you produce something tangible. Maybe you just want that sense of accomplishment that comes from having moved a project significantly forward.
Here’s a five step process for putting yourself in a productive mood. Modify it to suit your needs and temperament.
1. Shine your sink. Just metaphorically speaking, of course. This idea comes from Marla Cilley, a.k.a. FlyLady, a productivity pundit for the homemaking set. She recommends that her followers start with a shiny sink — it gives a sense of control and motivation with a minimum of effort and time.
When you’re getting ready to do your web work, you need an initiating task like shining your sink that gives you a boost of confidence and a small sense of accomplishment. Choose a task you do every time you start to work — at the beginning of the day, after a lunch break, whenever you’ve gotten distracted — that sets you on track for productivity. You might choose emptying your inbox or straightening your desk. Choose something you can get done in relatively short period of time. Then make sure you keep that sink shiny: keep the inbox empty or the desktop clean.
2. Turn off your email notifier and shut down your email. Don’t worry; you can turn it back on shortly. This tells your email-mad soul that it’s time to do something other than respond obsessively to whatever arrives in your inbox.
3. Declare yourself. Tell your world you’re working. Set your IM presence to unavailable with a description of what you’re working on. If you’re a Twitterer, tell your friends what you’re planning to accomplish. If you have a Tumblelog, write it there. Now you’ve made an external commitment, and, if you set your IM presence appropriately, people will know not to bother you.
4. Set the mood with music or other sounds. Which music or other sounds work best to get you in the mood to work will depend on many factors, including your current emotional state, your temperament, and what kind of work you need to get done. Some people like loud, energetic music that motivates. Others do best with ambient tunes like you can find on the Internet radio stations Drone Zone or radioAmbient.
I’ve been experimenting lately with nature sounds as a relaxing cue to work. Suzanne Doucet and Chuck Plaisance have recorded a number of great CDs in this genre. Alternatively, if you need to drown out other sounds like construction across the street or the loud talker in the next cubicle, you could try white noise. You can buy ambient white noise CDs, often marketed for managing insomnia or soothing babies. On the Mac, you can use Blackhole’s Noise application.
5. Start your timer. Seems like every productivity guru I know recommends using a timer for motivation. Merlin Mann of 43Folders suggests eight minute timed procrastination dashes. Gina Trapani of Lifehacker says she used 60 minute work sessions while writing the Lifehacker book. FlyLady recommends 15 minute cleaning increments.
If you have a particularly unpleasant chore ahead of you, set your timer for only five minutes and promise yourself you can take a break afterwards. In bits and bites, you’ll get your work done, and you might even find you want to keep working after the timer rings.
You can use a kitchen timer or set something on your computer. The Mac OS X Egg Timer 2 dashboard widget is pretty cool — it will say a custom phrase when the time goes off like “take a break.” Windows users could try TimeLeft. Or try a free web-based timer.
Now you’re ready to work. If you get off track again or have just taken a break for a cup of tea or coffee, start again at step 1.