Creating Productive Habits and Avoiding Procrastination

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Developing and maintaining good habits to be productive can be a challenge. On the other hand, it’s easy to develop a procrastination habit. For me, I suddenly feel hungry when I am about to start working on a project I am not excited about. Since I work from home, I wander into the kitchen, roam through the pantry, stuff something in my mouth that I shouldn’t eat (chocolate chips from the giant Nestles Toll House bag has been a recent source). Then, I say to myself, I am ready to tackle the project … until I suddenly notice a new email in my inbox. Two hours later, I still haven’t started that “priority” project. Hello, procrastination, my old friend.

Habits For Productivity

A few years ago I read the book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear, and I subscribe to his weekly email tips. I am inspired by books about productivity and habits. It helps to be reminded that other people struggle with maintaining productive behavior, and to learn techniques to be more productive. The psychology behind our actions is fascinating to me.

Ultimately, productivity results from good habits.

When I employ good habits that result in productivity, I feel great. I feel in control and am happy and proud of myself.

Procrastination is the force behind some bad habits.

When I am procrastinating, I let go of good habits. I am pretty hard on myself when I succumb to the temptation to procrastinate and when I don’t accomplish what I set out to do on a given day.

Consistency is a challenge

Of course, I know the things I should do to develop and stick to healthy habits. I am inconsistent about long-term follow-through. For several days in a row, I will be on my game, and then a day or two where I get off course. I cut myself some slack – I am only human – but I still feel like I failed. I think I sabotage a winning streak because I want a break from the routine.

Planning and Tackling Priorities are Keys to Productivity

Without a plan based on priorities, it is hard to be productive. Planning helps you create an environment that makes it easy and satisfying to develop good habits.

4 Steps For Productivity and Avoiding Procrastination

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Boomerang for Gmail, Outlook or Mobile helps you keep your inbox under control.
  1. Plan and Prioritize
    Review your plan for the next day the night before, noting appointments and commitments first. In the morning, before you start working, write down 3 gratitudes. Choose a focus for the day and plan physical exercise for the day. Flesh out your daily plan before starting work to outline priorities and DO THOSE THINGS FIRST.
    It is easy to set too many priorities which results in a feeling of failure. As a business owner, there is always something on the To Do list. When making a plan, make your list and your goals manageable and realistic.
  2. Turn Off Distractions & Use Apps Wisely
    Put your phone in another room and close any social media browser tabs that are open to avoid temptation. If you need more help, there are apps that will limit your social media use during focused time. Check out and configure the Stay Focused extension for Chrome and Screen Time, which is automatically installed on iPhones. You can get a measure of how you spend your time using Rescue Time, which tracks your time on your computer to help identify unproductive time. Inbox Pause or Boomerang will help you avoid your email inbox during your focus times.
  3. Set A Timer & Take Breaks
    A recent experiment showed that our brains can only focus on a task well for 52 minutes. Set a timer on your phone or watch, use and egg timer, hourglass or an app like Tomato Timer to remind you to take breaks. While it is hard to stop when you feel like you are on a roll, enforcing breaks will ultimately improve your performance.
  4. Wrap & Score Up Each Day and Week
    The best way to improve is to review and make adjustments to your process. Every day, review how you did in sticking to your schedule and habits before your plan the next day. Find or create a group of friends or colleagues you can check in with weekly to hold each other accountable for your goals.

Productivity Tools & Apps

In addition to the apps listed above, here are some of my favorite tools and techinques I use to help maintain productive and healthy habits:

  1. Panda Planner or similar hand-written planning book/paper for daily planning (I fill this out every night so I don’t forget about meetings the next day – writing it down embeds it in my brain).
  2. This tracking sheet to plan and score each week in a 12 week cycle
  3. Fill two large water bottles in the morning and put them on my desk so it is easy to drink at least that much water.
  4. Anpp for tasks, especially for following up on things I don’t want to fall through the cracks and that are not “next day” tasks for my daily planner. I use this often for blog posts I don’t have time to read, but want to read later. At my agency Design TLC, we use Nifty for project management (I also use it for some personal lists, such as a list of movies and TV shows I hear about and want to watch later), and I also have adopted the use of Google Tasks for smaller tasks that are not related to a big project.

Here are some things I ASPIRE to do to improve my productivity. Most of the things on my wish list have to do with consistency. I love flexibility. I like routines, but I also crave a break from routines. This means it is hard for me to stick to a “every Monday I … “ commitment. While I would like to be more consistent, I like the unpredictability and flexibility that comes with working for myself and not having many strong demands on my time.

Habit Wish List

  1. Set and Enforce Time Limits: Take Breaks
    Use a timer to remind me to take a break every hour or so and then TAKE A BREAK. I sometimes use a timer and then ignore it because I don’t want to stop what I am doing.
  2. Use Discipline To Limit Email Checking
    Use Inbox Pause. My inbox is my drug. I use Gmail, which is helpful because it is in a browser I can close. I end up opening it to reference something in an email that relates to what I am working on, or to access Google Drive, or some other reason. Then I notice an email that would feel satisfying to respond to, and my attention is diverted and productivity lost. I am scoring myself on my ability to enforce email habits and while I am getting better, there are still days where I check it every few minutes and spend most of the day answering emails, taking care of questions/requests from emails, or writing new messages.
  3. Block Schedule Concept For Days Of The Week
    Assign a day of the week for reading email newsletters and blog posts and commit to reading these on that day. I save blogs and articles I want to read later in the Pocket App but I don’t check that often. When I do check it, there are too many articles to read and I end up deleting them without reading because I am overwhelmed. It would also be helpful to have a day of the week and time for exploring shiny object and rabbit holes. I would like to better use Nifty or Google Tasks to easily note things I want to explore. My process is there – I just need to use it better by setting aside a time every week to go through this list.

I’d love to hear about your favorite tools and techniques, and see your wish list to improve your productivity.


  1. Matt Ryan on March 11, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Guess what my biggest distraction is when I have a big project in front of me?

    I go down that rabbit hole of reading awesome blog posts about productivity and learning about new productivity tools and productivity techniques and …. well, you get the point.

    I need to learn a lot more about the 12 Week Year. You’ve noted it a number of times. Time to get it in gear.

    Keep ’em coming.

    • tara on March 11, 2019 at 3:04 pm

      Sorry to distract you with a new blog post in your inbox? One of my tips is to filter blog post emails that you receive regularly and have them skip your inbox and go into a “Read Later” folder. I don’t always remember to check that folder on a weekly basis, but it does help me stay focused on important emails and it is a fun break for me on a Friday to go through all the blog posts at once.
      The 12 Week Year changed my life. Truly. I am so much better at being me when I pay attention to what I am doing and what I plan to do!

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