Bye Bye Procrastination, Hello Productivity! Part 3: Focus for 25 Minutes with BreakTime

Bye Bye Procrastination!

The Pomodoro Technique® is something familiar for those of us who want to improve productivity, and we have a wide range of options and apps that allows us to implement this technique.

My personal favourite is BreakTime app on Mac. It lets you set how long you want to focus on an activity and how long a break you want to take between activities. You can see the detailed settings below:

BreakTime screenshotThe screenshot of the Preferences window

What I really like about this app is that it forces me to take a break from the computer. Unless you choose to “enforce break” in the Preferences, you can always finish a break by clicking “Done” or go back to an activities for 1, 5, or 15 minutes as you can see in the following screenshot:

BreakTime screenshot 2

I find this app particularly useful when I am making notes from readings. After reading a book or an article, I annotate quotations in Scrivener and this process takes me quite a lot of time. This process is usually exhausting but taking five-minute breaks in every 25 minutes seems to make it less wearing.

You can try BreakTime for free, so I highly recommend you to try it out!

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Bye Bye Procrastination, Hello Productivity! Part 2: Internet Diet with WasteNoTime

Bye Bye Procrastination!

While the Internet, including social media, is a useful tool to find various types of information as well as to communicate with people, it can easily distract us from focusing on tasks that we are trying to achieve and reduce overall productivity.

If you use Mac, you may want to try WasteNoTime, which is a browser extension available for Safari and Chrome.

WasteNoTime Screenshot 1
WastNoTime from the Safari toolbar

Here is the description of WasteNoTime from its website:

WasteNoTime is a browser extension which is designed to help you manage your time spent on the Internet more efficiently.

Time Tracker feature gives you reports on what web sites you spent most of your time. Instant Lockdown feature allows you to focus on your work for a period of time with limited Internet access. Time Quota feature automatically blocks selected web sites when you have spent a preset amount of time on them each day.

Time Tracker shows top 5, 10, or 20 sites that you access for the day, the past 7 days, and the past 30 days. In its setting, you can specify sites to exclude from being tracked.

In Block List, you can not only add sites that you want to block but also set how you want to block them—”global time quota,” “custom time quota,” and “always block.”  The time quotas are particularly useful when you want to block some sites that you want to access for limited time or you do not want to access for a specific time of day. Similarly, Allow List lets you indicate which sites to be allowed.

You can set global time quote under Time Allowed. You can see its options in the below screenshot:

WasteNoTime Screenshot 2

You can further tweak the settings under Advanced Settings, make it difficult for you to change the settings through the Challenge setting, and even import or export all the settings under Import/Export.

If you are struggling to deal with distractions from the Internet to be more productive, you definitely want to give a shot at WasteNoTime! The less time on the Internet, the more time for research!

If you do not like WasteNoTime or use Safari, you can try either StayFocusd for Chrome or LeechBlock for Firefox.

Bye Bye Procrastination, Hello Productivity! Part 1: Tracking Weekly Progress on an Ol’ Good Whiteboard

Bye Bye Procrastination!

Since I finished the coursework for my PhD degree requirement, I’ve been slowly and persistently developing and going through my comprehensive exam reading lists. If everything had gone as I planned, I should have finished much more readings than I have actually finished so far, but hey that’s life. The obvious reason why I’m not making as much  progress as I want is procrastination. I may be googling something continuously, checking books and some other interesting items on amazon, or watching some cooking shows on the Food Network website. Moderate procrastination may be a good way to relax during short breaks, but I definitely need a means to control the amount of procrastination.

Then, I thought that I need to have a system that makes me accountable for my (lack of) progress in the reading lists. I can do this by making to-do lists on a sheet or paper, or using to-do apps, but I wanted to have something visible but unobtrusive all the time for this.

I was initially searching for a regular whiteboard that I can hang on the wall, but then I eventually found Wall Pops! White Dry-Erase Board. It is basically a sheet of film that you can stick to (and peel off from) almost any surfaces, and you can write on it as you do on a regular whiteboard. (I bought mine at a local Home Depot store but you can easily buy one online as well.) As some of the online reviews were pointing out, it was not easy to stick the film on the wall nicely; after several tries, I gave it up and ended up putting in the side of my bookshelf. 

And, this is how I’m using it right now:2014 Week 1

Several Positive Outcomes from Tracking Weekly Progress

Since I was little, I always loved making daily, weekly, and monthly plans, but I barely stuck to them—I just felt I had accomplished a lot just by making such plans. For the past few years, I still plan my study in my head but have stopped writing/typing down the actual plans. After I started tracking my weekly progress, I’ve re-realized that what I need to do for these plans is to keep tracking the progress of my work and re-evaluate my working patterns and habits. I have noticed some positive outcomes from tracking weekly progress so far:

  1. The visible indicator of progress encourages me to keep working.
  2. This allows me to see how much work I can usually handle in a week.
  3. Lack of progress on a specific day makes me really accountable for that.
  4. It reminds me that I am making progress!

I think that the last point is particularly encouraging and crucial for PhD students since we often feel that we are not making enough progress at all.

On the top of this weekly progress section, I’ve written major deadlines such as an upcoming conference and conference abstracts, but I still need to add a section for monthly goals. I do not have much extra space on this whiteboard, so I may need to write my monthly goals somewhere else, like in my lovely Moleskine. I hope that this way of tracking progress will encourage me to work more and make me forget to procrastinate!