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This happens to me so often I've lost track.

I have so many things to do. One thing gets to the frontal lobe (top of the heap, whatever) then something else jumps on top of it before I have a chance to start it. This happens a few times, and so I just tune out and start surfing FailBlog, playing Zynga poker, or something like that.

I've tried writing things down, but it just doesn't quite work. I always seem to fall short of sticking with something long enough to make it a habit.

If you've been there, how did you get out of that loop? How did you finally manage to get methodical about doing your stuff? Heck, how did you get effective at it?


Edit: Thanks everyone for your help. I enjoyed reading all of your answers.

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related:… – user145 Jun 24 '11 at 3:22
You said writing things down doesn't quite work. In what way doesn't it work? It doesn't stop thoughts from bouncing around in it? – Huperniketes Jun 24 '11 at 5:20
up vote 12 down vote accepted
  1. Try to get into the GTD habit, perhaps try out NirvanaHQ. Read 43F - Getting started with GTD...

    This allows you to free your mind by placing all those ideas in an Inbox and forgetting about them, as they are stored in that Inbox and they won't go anywhere. Don't trust online websites? Try to get a GTD workflow in OneNote, Evernote or more specific GTD software tools...

    The next step is processing these tasks into do-able actions, which you will plan for today, later and someday. Read this question I've asked about emptying the Inbox if you have troubles doing so...

    And the next step is to go through what you have to do and iterate and refactor above merciless.

  2. Try to use time management, perhaps try out The Pomodoro Technique with Focus Booster...

    By planning to be working for the next ~25 minutes and getting rewarded a pause of ~5 minutes afterwards you will more easily start with work and manage your time better than just doing no work for the next ~30 of even ~60 minutes. You will get your work done and know that after a few iterations of ~25 minutes work with ~5 minutes pause there will be a bigger pause you scheduled. In those short & long pauses you can plan out all those distractions and longer non-productive activities.

    Other than that, it accompanies your GTD system in being able to decide what you will be able to do in a day. Just like the GTD system it allows you to review your time as well as tasks and refactor it so that the GTD & Time System works better for you...

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I think even getting #2 down will be a big improvement – Dmitry Selitskiy Jun 24 '11 at 12:47
I agree with this comment. Decluttering as you need requires dumping down all the thoughts which distract us from our main task. This exact dumping of thoughts so they can be processed later is taught in GTD technique. I highly recommend GTD practise in some form which suits you. Personally I use mainy forms of GTD from which ThinkingRock[1] is one.<br><br>[1] – Tushar Joshi Jun 24 '11 at 15:03

Before I go do all the stuff that is listed at How can distractions be dealt with when working on a computer I take a moment to relax by doing something completely unrelated to the computer. I usually go get a haircut, have a head massage, clean up my room, cook a meal etc.; anything which you can find relaxing and that clears up your mind. The important bit though is not turn this into procrastination and once you are done, jump back right to your most important task and complete it to success.

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Writing should work, but you need a little discipline around it. For me:

Making sure all your medium to high urgency items are written on one page really helps when prioritising them, and you need to set strict rules around prioritising, eg things to do in next hour, half day, day, week etc - and the way priority may increase as they get closer to deadlines. Once the rules are set, it is very easy to do this with all new tasks.

Once you have this list, a good thing to do each day is to deliberately choose a "quick win" task to get you motivated before tackling the highest priority task.

Don't do anything else until either it is finished, or you hit 90 minutes. At 90 minutes take a small break and a quick walk around to get the metabolism up a bit. Quickly check the priorities on your list to see whether anything else should be looked at. If not, continue on with the same task.

Only check for new emails or other distractions at the end of your second 90 minutes. This helps avoid getting sucked into non priority issues, and to be honest, for most purposes, responding a couple of hours late to an email is not a big problem.

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Writing also feels a little more powerful if you are standing up and writing on a whiteboard rather than sitting at your desk. Try this! – Robby Slaughter Jun 24 '11 at 14:45

Try to set up a timer. Start with small amounts of time. For example - 15 minutes. During this time you can't start any entertainment. Create account at your computer with no rights to visit some sites and start some programs. After this period of time do anything you want to do for the equal amount of time.

After 2-3 days add 5 minutes to the work period, and remove 1 minute from entertainment period. Your goal is 60 minutes of work and 6 minutes for the entertainments. This point is critical, and after this you should just get used to do things this way.

Good luck with that.

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