I am a motivational mess and an organisational nightmare.
I am not a natural student, or a natural practicer, if something’s tough the first time I do it, then my usual reaction is to lie on the sofa and eat a multi-person bag of Doritos and never do it again.
But I’m also a perfectionist and I want everything I do to be the best it can be which means that I never finish anything because it’s never quite good enough.
On top of that I’m astoundingly lazy and find it difficult to find the drive to start anything because it always feels like it’s going to be a lot of work.
So, between not being able to start anything, not wanting to work at anything hard and not being able to finish anything I’m pretty much screwed.
It took me 27 years to figure out how to get my shit done. I’m sure that if you ask me in five years then all my systems will have changed and adapted but right now I’m getting more work done in a week than I would have done in a month at uni so here are some of my tricks.
All hail the Pomodoro! It sounds dramatic, but this time management technique has transformed my practice.
The idea is simple.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work throughout that time, no distractions!
- When it dings, write a tally mark and walk away.
- Set timer for 3-5 minutes and chill.
- Repeat 3 more times.
- After completing 4 sets take a longer break.
I use an oven timer to keep track of the sets – the physical act of getting up and setting it makes it feel more ritualistic than just setting one on my phone and separates me from getting caught up on social media.
No distractions mean no distractions! Put your phone in a separate room, if someone tries to talk to you tell them you’ll get back to them in 17 minutes (or however long it says on the timer) and don’t, whatever you do, get sucked into a Facebook black hole.
In your short break go and do something completely different. Go and water your plants or do a short Yoga burst, play with your dog or have a spontaneous dance party but make sure you stick to your prearranged time!
I count my tally marks at the end of the week so that I can compare my productivity and see what days or times I’m best at.
The best thing about the Pomodoro is that it’s so short that you don’t mind doing it. For a procrastinator like me I trick myself into by thinking ‘Hell, 25 minutes ain’t so bad, I can spare that’. But before I know it I’ve done 3 hours of solid work.
If you want to find out more about the Pomodoro Technique check out this website from it’s creator.
Sam talked A LOT about Redbooth before I started using it, and it’s a source of deep annoyance for him because I only started using it after someone else recommended it.
But I wish I’d listened to him earlier because it’s amazing. It’s a task management app that lets you organise you’re whole life into really simple, easy to do tasks.
You divide your life into different work spaces or things that you want to improve on. For example, my four spaces are: Flute, Online, Relationships and Other. I’ve gone really broad because my entire life is a mess, but you could just do it for work, or practice, whatever you need organising!
These then divide into different task lists. So, for flute I’ve got fingers, articulation, vibrato, tuning, studies and the pieces I’m working on. Every week I then add everything I want to do to those task lists. So for Articulation on Day 1 I write Taffenel ex. 185 with metronome, Day 2 Telemann in B minor etc. Each day you’ll have a list of all the things you want to achieve that day, in one place, broken up into small, easy to manage tasks.
And when you finish it you get to tick it off and it disappears and you feel like a boss.
AND you can see a list of all the tasks you’ve already achieved and then you feel like the King of the Bosses.
Plus it syncs up with all your devices so you can use it on your phone, your laptop, whatever has an internet connection.
You can download Redbooth from here
On top of being lazy I’m also a perfectionist and I have a big problem finishing anything. I have 500 different projects that I started but never finished and now are mouldering somewhere in a garage or an old computer or in my broken dreams.
Set deadlines and Stick To Them.
Yes of course you could do some more research, there’s always room for more research, but you said you were going to move on to planning today, so move on!
Nothing will ever be perfect, and in that quest to find perfection, to get every detail just right, we lose the momentum of the overall project and never finish.
Set realistic deadlines that are achievable and once you hit that date, move on. Don’t set yourself up for failure by under estimating how long it takes you to do something- remember to take into account that you have a life as well and need to socialise and eat and be human.
Shake It Up
These systems work for me 75% of the time. But everybody’s different and every day’s different. Most days sitting down with my task list, setting my timer and getting my tally marks is enough to motivate me but some days it’s just not.
Humans crave routine but every now and then we want to break out.
If things aren’t working out for you today try changing your environment. Move into a different room, take your laptop outside or your books to a coffee shop. My flute sounds totally different in different rooms so if I’m having a bad day in my practice room I’ll move things over to the bathroom which always sounds amazing, or the kitchen- which is more convenient for people I live with!
You could try changing how you do something, rethink your approach to your everyday tasks. I had hardcore writers block with my last essay and just the thought of sitting down at the computer filled me with dread until I shook up my normal writing routine, cracked open my drawing pad and designed a beautiful plan, complete with different colours, doodles and random thoughts. Having all my sources and ideas on one page, the physical act of picking up a pen and fitting it all together made it so much easier when I did sit down at the computer to write it.
Or do something completely different. We all have a looooong list of “to-do’s” and we all have something that we’ve been putting off. Start it. Or start something out of the blue. Or do something totally new and unrelated.
And don’t beat yourself up for this.
Give yourself the space to leave your tasks to one side for an hour, a day, a week. Relax and let go of your guilt. Coming back with a clear head and no tension will let you approach your task with fresh creativity and drive.
How do you get everything done? What motivates you when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Let me know your tips below!