From: Gregory Ciotti, The Psychology of Getting More Done (in Less Time) (edited)
Why We Procrastinate
When we look at a big project we focus the hardest parts. This makes us see disaster ahead and we feel repelled by it.
Just Start Anyway
The best way to get over this bad feeling is to simply start anyway. Once started, we have a natural desire to continue a task so once you get going you will automatically keep going at least for a while.
But how do you see it all the way through? Willpower won't do it. It's a limited resource that can be used up. So what do successful people do?
When Anders Ericsson studied top violinists he found that when they practice they actually focus on the hard parts. So how do they maintain their commitment to hard work? They schedule breaks in the practice session.
If the brain knows that a break is coming it won't it won't be so afraid of hard work that it can't sustain. These fiddlers work 90 minutes and then break for 15. Apparently, this matches the natural requirements of your body.
Tim Ferris, however, favours the Pomodoro Technique which recommends 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of rest. Then, after 4 work sessions you take 15-30 minutes of rest.
Deadlines also help you get work done. When drug addicts had to submit an essay on time those who wrote down when and where they would complete the essay were 90% more likely to do so. Students who set dates on their assignments also do better than those who don't.
Track Your Work
Apparently, people who make ongoing notes about their progress toward a goal do better than those who don't. Tracking progress improves performance because you become very aware when you are doing very little or wasting time. You can track your work on an Accountability Chart.
Column 1: lists the time-span of your work sessions.
Column 2: lists the tasks you completed during the session.
Don’t create any columns for your breaks.
Planning At Night
Selecting up to five priority tasks for the next day is better done at night than planning in the morning because when you are in a rush to get to work you'll easily cast it aside.
Since we shy away from big projects, it makes sense to split them into smaller segments. Instead of listing “Work on research project” as a daily goal, you only target parts of the research process like "finishing the introduction".
The Science Behind These Ideas
The Zeigarnik Effect - The tendency to keep thinking about something you did not complete. It varies due to the importance of the thing left undone. If the task is important you want to continue.
Roy Baumeister. - He believes that willpower is not inexhaustible. He'll give you a temptation like a cookie and if you resist it you won't be able to to resist the next temptation because your willpower will be worn out. He calls this depletion of willpower, ego-depletion which just seems confusing to me.
Anders Ericsson - He studied the practice sessions of top violinists. They didn't spend more time practicing. They focused their practice on solving specific problems. He called this “deliberate practice”. If you were trying to get better at basketball, you’d be better off practicing specific drills that target your weak points for a couple of hours instead of merely playing all day long. Deliberate Practice requires more attention and therefore brainpower than busywork.
Peretz Lavie - He studied ultradian rhythms, the patterns of behaviour that your body performs on a regular, cyclical basis and he came up with the idea of the 90 minute work, 15 minute rest cycle being innate.
In the source article you can find more links to summaries of psychological experiments but they don't, at a quick glance, have a clear relation to the ideas stated here.
Focus on Process Not Results
Do Bad Plans Cause Procrastination
Rigid Rules For Productivity
The Virtue of Short Term Goals
How To Succeed Without Willpower
20 Minute Rule for Productivity