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. […]

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.

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  1. Good stuff here –absolutely resonate with item 2. Even if an incoming email is obviously low-priority auto-feed msgs from assorted business groups, I STILL will open it and thus distract myself.

    For me, another trick to getting myself ready to work is to set expectations, ideally writing them down but most importantly setting them intentionally low. This way you know you can likely get the task done without the of fear putting time in and still not finishing, AND anything you complete beyond that bar is gravy. A sub-trick here is to not explicitly inform your conscious mind that the unconscious set a lower bar. I almost always end-up doing more than the low bar, and feeling great about it !

  2. I’m internally motivated, so timers and other external things don’t work well for me. So what I do is plug the macbook into the LCD, hook up the external mouse and keyboard. That way I’m Siting At The Desk vs lounging on the couch.

    Now, the desk and the couch are in the same room… but sitting at the desk means work… the couch means casual time.

  3. Amie Gillingham Wednesday, April 4, 2007

    I am glad you mentioned the Flylady; I have used the 15 minute timer thing to keep me from using housework to procrastinate over doing my work work. Similarly, I’ll do a long administrative chore like cleaning my inbox or processing closed accounts for the duration of a single album on iTunes and then stop, feeling that I’ve accomplished something. Either “timer” method, I’ve found that I am much more focused and in a sense, racing against the clock to see how much I can accomplish in that short span of time.

    Something I do with my painting is to listen to a single album for the duration of a piece, on continuous replay. Putting on this music cues my brain into painting mode, since this is the only context in which I listen to some of the things in my collection. While this doesn’t work as well for me personally with my daily computer grind, it may work well for someone else tackling a project when they want some good zen going in the background that they can either listen to actively or tune out because it has become synonymous with the task at hand.

  4. Jean MacDonald Wednesday, April 4, 2007

    I would add “Turn off your RSS reader” to the list. :-)

  5. Anne,

    as you very well know – this is a big problem for us who sit infront of computers for a long time. I think our brain is constantly seeking stimuli from new new things and that does have an impact on our productivity.

    I think to get myself in the mood, i found that the best thing to do is just print out the stuff i need to refer to, get a scratch pad and go sit outside. the thoughts become more coherent and clarity comes within minutes. by the time you are done with the outline, you are suddenly in the mood to work and that surge is more real.

    Frankly, I just am beginning to hate email, and i groan at the sound of more email. It just is the biggest productivity killer. What start-app apps are to windows, email is to productivity.

  6. Great tips here, particularly the one about setting a timer. I find that I go through manic modes of checking e-mail obsessively, checking web stats, refreshing things that don’t need to be refreshed, all in an effort to avoid setting my mind to a larger task. The old writer’s bit from Adaption really applies: do you treat yourself with a muffin and coffee before accomplishing the task, or wait until after?

  7. eBusinessblog.ch – Hilfe für den Start in den Arbeitstag Wednesday, April 4, 2007

    [...] Verschnaufpause ist, wieder einmal ein bisschen Arbeitspsychologie. Web Worker Daily empfiehlt fünf Schritte, um morgens in die Gänge zu [...]

  8. How to concentrate. at MadeByJake.com Wednesday, April 4, 2007

    [...] at a blog I read daily, Web Worker Daily, an article was posted that addresses the “Five Steps to Get Yourself in a Mood to Work” and overpower procrastination. My particular favorite is number 2: Turn off your email [...]

  9. 1. nice and calm music in my headset
    2. big cup of strong coffe
    3. written down and clarified tasks , so I can strike them out one by one
    4. plans for the evening!

    these four things motivate me when I need to get the job done!

  10. Harshad Joshi Thursday, April 5, 2007

    A self motivated person is the best employee.

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