how to get things done in spite of computers

Today I had the thought that I should do some productive things, so I sat down with my computer.

That is the end of the story.

I did some stuff for a few minutes, then got stressed out, and then the Internet took over. My thoughts of writing, designing, planning or even just learning something completely dissolved into pictures of The Trumpster and Instagram updates on other people’s vacations.

I repeat this boring story nearly every day, and then feel bad about all the things I don’t get done. I watch other people (on Instagram) doing way, way more cool stuff than me. Then I keep scrolling. And still, when I want to be productive, I instinctively reach for my computer. Somehow that one object has come to represent for me all the things I should do, all the things I don’t want to do, my entire capacity to do them – and all the distractions I’ll ever need to pretend I can alleviate the pain of to-dos by prolonging them with useless not-that-fun “breaks”.

I’ve known for a while not to do this with personal writing. Going to the Internet for inspiration is like going to a buffet for its pleasing variety of diet-friendly food. You might find it eventually, but not before thirty-two other things have caught your eye and you’re so full you need a nap like NOW.

I’m starting to think of my computer – in all situations – as that friend who can be funny and helpful sometimes, but also keeps you sitting around gossiping or whatever long after you’ve dropped several hints and glanced ever more often at the door until you finally fake a phone call to extricate yourself from the needy situation which is that friend. Every meeting needs an exit strategy. wpid-img_20150923_155407753.jpg

The computer doesn’t actually contain productivity rays that make things get done. YOU DO. And your new (reliable, nice,
emotionally healthy) best friends are going to be a pen and paper. Maybe a planner if yours is really swell with lots of writing space, or if you are one of those people who gets crazy eyes about their planner, takes it to cocktail parties, and occasionally gives it a fond stroke throughout the day.

Write down all the things you have to do. I don’t usually think of these things in any manner of logical order, so I leave space for putting like tasks together.

Prioritize your tasks.

Set a high but realistic goal for today, and envision a reward for getting it all done (even if it’s just “stop working and go outside/eat with family/drink eleven beers.” whatever.)

Put your smartphone in another room. BE STRONG. You are going to do all the things you just said you are going to do. This requires you to not do other things.

Before you start on any task, figure out exactly what you need the computer to do for you in order to complete it. You may need some facts from the Internet, but be able to analyze the data or have a phone conversation about it without the computer! It is often more helpful to extract the information from the light-box and walk away. Sure, it can feel like handily skipping a step to just refer constantly to the thousand tabs you have open, using the computer as a Portal to All Times and Dimensions – but who really, deep down, wants one of those? (hint: not your brain). You look like a rat playing a game of “Where’d I Hide My Cheese” in a lab experiment to study mammal confusion and desperation. Organize the information in a way that’s useful to you – printed or written – and you can stop “accidentally” clicking on the “GIFs of Raccoons Doing People Things” tab.

Don’t do all the computer things at once. Work on one project or set of tasks at a time. When you get to a point where you really need the computer, think, “time to pull out my fact-finding/word-processing/advertising/telecommunication machine!” and only use it for that fact, that document, that email. Distractions are your enemy! Funny/compelling/worrisome off-topic emails are the barbarian hordes threatening your productivity Rome! THEY CAN WAIT TIL AFTER LUNCH.

At least do a better job of using one program at a time.

Do email for specific chunks of time during the day.

Tick off your to-do tasks with markers, stickers, or by tearing them off and burning them! Whatever makes you happy! Stay focused. Gettin’ stuff done feels good.

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1 Comment

  1. I can relate to this in so many ways. 🙂


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