How To Actually Get Things Done

Whether you are a student or work a full-time job, the only way to achieve results is by putting in work. Once you have overcome the the resistance to doing work, how do you ensure that the work you are doing is meaningful and free of distractions?

In this article, I explore effective strategies for doing work, helping leave you stress-free, more productive and with more free time to do the things you enjoy.

Why This Matters To Me (And Why It Should Matter To You Too)

I am currently studying for a master’s degree. I am also working freelance online as my primary source of income.

This means that I am in control of my own time, deciding how many hours I put in to university and freelance work, and when those hours are.

Whether you are a student, you work freelance or work a job that requires you to get things done, the ability to put in solid, undistracted hours of work is essential.

Even if your job isn’t based on how much you get done in a specific day, wouldn’t it be great to finish your work without distraction, putting in more solid hours of work than the rest of your team, earning the respect of your boss and potentially getting a raise/promotion in the process?

Below are four strategies that I have implemented myself to get more done when it comes to university and freelance work.

Remove Social Media Distractions

Sites like Reddit, Instagram and Twitter provide immediate, enjoyable distraction and are inevitable time drains. They are not a useful tool to have in your arsenal if you want to focus on getting work done.

Such sites and apps are designed to hijack as much of your attention as possible, using features like ‘Snapchat streaks’, which encourage people to spend more time using the app, rewarding users for constantly sending messages back and forth to one another.

While I’m not anti-social media (I think it’s an invaluable tool for connection), checking these sites when you have work to do is one of the most destructive things you can do for your productivity and attention span.

I recently deleted my Reddit account. After weighing up the benefits and drawbacks, I realised that I was checking Reddit any time I felt bored, and that included when I needed to get work done.

If you notice that you are checking these sites when you need to be doing work, or you find yourself compulsively wondering if there are any new notifications, then the best thing to do is to delete your account.

If you think this is too drastic, and you find that you do get some value out of these sites, then I would suggest deleting their apps from your phone, and limiting the time you can spend on them, which leads nicely to the next point…

Limit Your Hours on Distracting Websites

Recently I discovered Inbox When Ready, a fantastic Chrome extension which adds a simple “Show Inbox” button to the Gmail interface, allowing you to compose messages without getting distracted by a full inbox.

All too often we login to our email, or social media, to complete one task, but then find ourselves distracted by our news feeds, inboxes and other distractions.

One way to apply the Inbox When Ready principle to social media would be to not stay logged in to your social media accounts. It’s all too easy to open a new tab, type “f”, have “facebook.com” auto-complete, and be immediately presented with your Facebook account.

However, if you put just one more task between you and your news feed, you are more likely to catch yourself, realise “Ah, I’m getting distracted”, and close the not-yet-logged-in Facebook page.

Blocking yourself from accessing these sites at all will help boost your productivity massively, and there are several other apps to help limit your time spent on social media.

Put Away Your Phone

Even if you still feel the urge to use social media sites and distracting apps, if you cannot access them from your pocket it will be easier to get work done.

When I know I have some “deep work” (see below) to do, I leave mine in a drawer, in another room, on silent.

This makes sure that I don’t impulsively reach for my phone whenever I feel like the work I am doing is challenging, or boring.

If you are out of the house, you could turn your phone off and leave it at the bottom of your bag, or in a coat pocket.

If the distraction of a novel and entertaining device such as a smartphone is easily accessible, then all that is stopping you from succumbing to picking it up is your own willpower, which, let’s face it, isn’t great in the face of boredom.

Keeping your phone nearby when doing work is like going on a diet, but leaving the cupboards stocked with chocolate. The best thing you can do is to remove the negative distraction completely.

Track Your Deep Work Hours

In his book Deep Work, professor and productivity guru Cal Newport describes a system he calls ‘Deep Work’ – dedicating specific hours of your day dedicated to solid, focused, undistracted work.

Deep Work is invaluable in today’s modern society, especially when so many of us work at computers, where checking email and social media takes no effort at all. To achieve peak productivity, it is essential to schedule these Deep Work hours, making sure you let people who may be trying to reach you that you will be unavailable during this time, and to remove all distractions from your workspace, perhaps using some of the tips outlined above.

I have been keeping a Deep Work calendar, tracking the hours that I spend doing focused work every day. It’s not great so far, but it’s a start, and it’s make me realise how much time I actually spend distracted.

 

Do you have any productivity tips for the times when you need to get things done? I’d love to hear them below!

image source: 1.bp.blogspot.com/-qcAM3BlGEsY/Ue0xkNhGXbI/AAAAAAAABG0/m0nWh5rA4_8/s1600/Distractions.jpg
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Summer Update #3

Summer is finally over. The weather is turning, kids are heading back to school, and I’m going to be back off to uni in a week.

For a final summer update, I’m going to reflect on what I had intended to achieve at the start of summer, and compare those goals to where I am now, and what I’m planning for the future.

Driving Lessons

One of my main goals this summer was to pass my driving test. After I failed my theory test the first time around, I managed to pass it easily the second time – all that’s left to do now is take my practical test this Thursday!

I feel as though my confidence with driving has increased by a huge amount. I used to be incredibly nervous every time I had a driving lesson, however recently I’ve actually started to enjoy it. All it required was putting myself in a variety of driving situations over and over again, and getting more experience behind the wheel.

Freelance Work 

My original aim was to make money over summer by learning web design, and reaching out to clients who needed websites building.

However, I realised that designing a website would require much more knowledge than just a basic grasp of CSS and HTML, and I started to look for other ways of making money.

After plenty of research, I am now offering my skills managing people’s Google AdWords campaigns, as well as consulting clients with regards to their Google Analytics and SEO.

I landed my second job yesterday optimising a client’s website so that it was more SEO-friendly, and I think that with positive referrals from clients it will be much easier for me to land clients in the future.

I actually feel like I’m helping people so much more than I was when I was freelancing doing simple office tasks online like transcription before I settled on AdWords, etc.

Hopefully as my skills grow, so will my online business, and I will be able to support myself this way throughout the next year of university.

Master’s Degree

I am moving to a new city next week to start my Audio Engineering Master’s course. It’s incredibly exciting (and, at the same time, nerve-wracking), but I am really looking forward to learning about something I am passionate about and looking towards the future to see where I will end up a year from now.

Exercise 

In my last update, I said I had been keeping a regular exercise schedule, and this month has been no exception. I have been exercising every day (apart from when I literally couldn’t fit in a workout), and I have been increasing my sets/reps when doing kettlebell and bodyweight workouts.

I am seeing more improvements in my overall strength and stamina, and when I miss a workout I feel bad that I don’t get a chance to move about my body and be active that day.

In the new house I am going to implement a room specifically for doing work, as well as doing exercise and meditation. I think having a dedicated space free from distractions is key.

Anyways, that’s all for this month (and the whole summer!). Overall, I think the summer has been a lot more successful than I anticipated. I have found a decent way to make money without getting a full-time job (especially essential when I have a master’s to focus on), I have pursued creative interests (DJing, piano), and I have done some travelling!

Have you achieved anything big this summer? I’d love to hear it below in the comments!

Summer Update #2

One month down. 2 to go. Here’s the list of things I achieved in July, and what I’m hoping to achieve in August.

DJ Desk

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One of the coolest projects I’ve completed in a long time. I’ve wanted a specific place to listen to music, store all my records and DJ at for ages now, but moving around every year at university meant that it was really hard to set up something permanent.

Originally following Scott Donovan’s guide, I had to make a few adjustments (the main one being that IKEA don’t sell the brackets shown in that link anymore), however I think the desk is sturdy and completely adequate for DJing at. It’s worked out very successfully, if I do say so myself.

Web Design

My original plan at the start of summer was to learn HTML and CSS (check) and a bit about web design (check) and then start looking for clients to design for (… the hard part).

I feel like I’ve successfully learned all the theory of web design, however actually putting it into practice is proving to be quite a challenge. There is so much more to learn, and so many better people out there with years of experience, that I’d feel bad charging someone for a basic website, especially when I’ve only been doing this for a month.

I realised that I really wasn’t looking to become a professional web designer, in reality I was just looking to make a bit of money over summer. So instead I’m going to look into something a bit simpler. Perhaps social media management for people, search engine optimisation (SEO) or anything else I can think of. Hopefully I’ll have some success to report on in the next update!

Driving Lessons

These are actually going really well. I’m 4 lessons in (each lesson is 2 hours long) and I have 3 lessons lined up over the next week.

failed my theory test by 1 mark (!!!), but I am resitting that on Thursday and I should ace it without any problems.

My current aim is to have my practical test passed before the end of September.

Exercise

In the last update, I wanted to keep up a regular exercise schedule. Once I realised the positive benefits of daily exercise, I made a conscious effort to do some form of exercise every day. I have been completing a bodyweight fitness routine daily, and I am already noticing great results a month in.

My goals for this month are to look more into diet, and figure out what it is best for me to eat in order to ensure I am getting to correct amount of calories and nutrients. This is something I especially need to pay attention to as I am on a vegetarian diet.

DJing and Music

I haven’t landed any gigs back home, but I have recorded a new DJ mix, which I think is one of my best.

There are a few bars in town which I have reached out to, but have not heard anything back from. So this week I am going to get back in touch with them and see if they are still interested.

Additional Hobbies and Goals

  • I have been playing piano pretty much every day, and I am noticing an improvement in my skills
  • I am going on holiday to Portugal towards the end of this month, which should be fun
  • I am preparing my move to a new city for my Masters in Audio Engineering, which is incredibly exciting

That’s all for my month! Are there any goals that you managed to achieve or have planned to achieve this summer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

 

 

Summer Update #1

Summer is here, which means I have copious amounts of time to spend on personal projects. Without further ado, here’s a list of everything I’m trying to achieve this summer!

Web Design

With the help of YouTube tutorials, websites and e-books, I am trying my hand at learning HTML and CSS so that I can become a competent web designer. I already have experience with C++ from my third-year engineering project, and HTML and CSS are much simpler than C++, so I am picking up the languages quite easily.

My eventual aim is to become good enough so that I can start designing websites for friends, family and local businesses, in order to make some money over summer, and gain some experience in working for myself. Hopefully this will lead to me being able to reach out to better-paying clients as time goes on, but before that is the case, I need to build up my skills!

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One of my first websites!

Above is a picture of a simple website I designed today. It’s heavily based on a YouTube tutorial I followed, however as I learn more skills I will be able to make more impressive, custom websites.

Driving Lessons

I had a number of driving lessons before I went to university, however I did not gain enough experience to pass my test before then.

This summer, I am determined to pass my driving test. I have booked my theory test and I am doing plenty of practice tests, and I am in contact with a driving instructor so lessons should begin soon! As soon as I have passed my test I won’t have to worry about it when doing my masters or any other time in the future.

Exercise

One habit I felt was slipping towards the end of last term was keeping a regular exercise schedule. I am not a member of any gym and I don’t do any sport, so it is entirely up to me to find ways of keeping my body active.

Two daily habits I have implemented are:

  • Walking my dog
  • 20-minute bodyweight workout
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The most adorable form of exercise

Walking Lola every day means I get to listen to a podcast, which is something I rarely do at home because normally I listen to podcasts when on the bus to/from university, and bodyweight exercise every day means that I am improving my strength and stamina.

DJing and Music

By some rather nice circumstances, I have found myself setting up and maintaining  the Twitter for a local record store which is currently undergoing rejuvenation. I have always had the dream of working in a record store, so to be able to be involved with the revitalising of a fantastic old record store is proving to be very interesting.

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Halfway there!

I am also building a DJ desk so that I have somewhere more attractive to mix my records. The desk is about halfway done, the final steps include sourcing some brackets so that a shelf can be attached above the decks for my laptop (for control vinyl) and speakers.

Additional Hobbies

There are several habits which were too small to require their own section. These include:

  • Playing piano – The piano has been moved into my bedroom, so I am playing it much more often than I did when it was downstairs
  • Meeting up with friends – Although most of my uni friends live the other side of the country, I am still making a conscious effort to meet up with friends back home so that I am socialising regularly and speaking to people
  • Podcast – My music-based podcast has been put on the back burner for the time being while I focus on more pressing issues such as learning HTML/CSS and driving lessons, but I hope to continue working on it soon
  • Rubik’s cube – My brother has one of these in his bedroom, and I am hoping I can learn how to solve it before the end of summer

So that’s my summer in a nutshell (along with a few holidays and graduating). Do you have anything interesting you’re planning over the summer months? Let me know in the comments below!

Tom’s Travels: Spa Day In Ulverston

Since this is a travel blog, and I’m finally starting to do some travelling now that exams are out they way, I thought I’d write a quick post about my latest little trip.

As a graduation present, my mum booked my girlfriend and I into the Whitewater Hotel in Ulverston for a night. While there we explored the local scenery (even if it was in the middle of nowhere), ate some delicious food, and gave ourselves time for some much-needed relaxation.

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Continue reading “Tom’s Travels: Spa Day In Ulverston”

Overcoming Resistance To Work

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Now that exams are over, I am once again faced with a whole summer in which there is nothing I actually need to do. Already this has been causing a restless, nagging feeling in the back of my mind – a desire to do something big. Something to be proud of.

So I come up with a list of things I want to achieve, tell myself that I’m going to work on at least one of them over the next few days, and when the day comes… I do absolutely nothing.

What’s the issue here? It seems to boil down to the honest fact that:

“I just don’t feel like it”

This mindset is a dangerous one, and it alters my life in several ways, including:

  • Staying in bed all morning rather than waking up early
  • Eating unhealthy, sugary foods instead of healthy ones
  • Sitting in front of my laptop all day instead of being active and exercising
  • Watching pointless YouTube videos instead of doing something productive

When you don’t have anything stopping you from doing these things, they can very easily become habits, and even though we know these things are bad for us, we still end up falling into a vicious cycle.

Continue reading “Overcoming Resistance To Work”

Take One Last Look

I have been living in the small town of Lancaster, England for the past 3 years while I have been at university. At the end of June I will be leaving, so it’s time to sit back, get sentimental, listen to a Tom Waits song and look at photos of some of my favourite things about Lancaster.

I would never have explored the outskirts of Lancaster without my bike. Here are just a few places I discovered while cycling around trying to find somewhere new:

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The path along the canal that leads to university, filled with lovely views, dog walkers and plenty of sheep most mornings. Usually quicker than taking the bus too on days when traffic is bad!

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Another view of the canal path leading to uni

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The result of a cycle down a road I’d never explored before. Flood plains and some very nice views, including this one of the whole of Lancaster, allowing you to see its most famous landmarks from afar.

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A reservoir at Abbeystead, about a 50 minute cycle away. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a nice cycle on a sunny day. I ended up here after a quest to take a very similar picture to one used by a lecturer at the start of a lecture, took a while to find out exactly where it was, but it was well worth it.

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A picture of the path leading up to the reservoir. Absolutely no-one around that day.

Now on to places which don’t require a bike to get to. Above are pictures of the fantastic view from Williamson Park/Ashton Memorial. A must-visit for anyone who finds themselves in Lancaster, even just for the day.

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The view from the 2A bus route on a sunny day always cheered me up. Even if it did take twice as long as a 3 to get into town…

More pictures by the canal, closer to town this time. The canal runs right through the centre of Lancaster, so it’s very handy for getting around.

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Sunset photo from by the castle. Some of the nicest sunsets I’ve ever seen have been during my time at Lancaster.

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The only indoor shot of this post, but it definitely deserves to be here. The Hall is one of my favourite cafes in all of England, and well worth going out of your way to find if you’re visiting Lancaster.

Campus ducks, standard.

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A view of campus taken during my first few weeks at Lancaster.

And that’s it, a brief overview of what I’ve done with my time at Lancaster (apart from a degree) and some of the prettiest place you can find here, you just have to look hard enough.