Want to up your productivity and overcome procrastination for good?
I interviewed Erik Fisher for my podcast, who gives amazing tips and hacks which will help reduce procrastination and help you become more productive.
Erik worked in social media for over 10 years as a community manager and a social media manager. He’s also the producer and host of the long-running ‘Beyond the to-do List’ podcast.
What You’ll Learn
[5:02] How Erik started his podcast
[12:29] How to overcome procrastination
[18:48] The importance of mindset and environment
[21:25] How coaching can help overcome procrastination
[24:02] How we can go beyond the to-do list
[29:35] A methodology to overcome procrastination
[32:47] Erik’s top productivity tools
[36:19] Using the to-do list to plan your time
[41:39] Should you use pen and paper?
[44:55] Other ways to be productive
[47:36] Wearable tech and other tips
How Erik Started his Podcast
Listen at [09:40]
When Erik started his podcast in 2012, he had no idea how big it would get or that he would still be doing it 10 years later. He was already interested in productivity for a while, looking for ways to make the most of his time.
In high school he even carried a notebook and pen to make notes wherever he went to help him track activities and tasks. He did the same in college, and found it helpful to support his undiagnosed ADHD.
Erik says that as soon as he heard about podcasting, he started learning about it and found himself instantly hooked. He started a comedy podcast in 2007, which hit the top 10 iTunes list.
From there, he co-hosted ‘Social Media Serenity’ with Cliff Ravenscraft. It taught listeners how to use social media without using yourself, and there was a big productivity element to it. When Cliff decided he didn’t want to keep the show going, Erik went solo.
Talking to experts on productivity was a great way to learn from them for free, and he could share their value with his audience too.
Erik says his productivity has improved greatly, but he’s not perfect at it. Three years after the show started he began working from home, and he had to adapt to working in a new environment.
He adds that there are seasons to your productivity and what your obstacles are. Your workflow changes with the season too. You finally figure something out and then everything changes again.
How to Overcome Procrastination
Listen at [24:34]
According to Erik, procrastination never fully goes away. In the same way as you might improve your diet and adopt a healthy lifestyle, you don’t put in a lot of hard work and then let things slide. You keep in a maintenance mode where it becomes a muscle memory and you don’t have to think about it.
We can use the same approach with procrastination. It’s something we can strive towards. When we procrastinate, there are usually two reasons for it. Either we don’t know what it is we should be doing, or we do know but we don’t feel like it. It’s an emotional thing, a head or an energy thing.
You know you should be doing something but you don’t feel like it right now. And that, says Erik, is where deadlines come in, especially the external ones. We can sometimes make our own deadlines and continue to put off doing whatever it is we should be doing.
In order to get onto the path away from productivity, we need to use hacks to help us. Moving to a different space, even if it’s just a different room in the house, will make a difference. Or go for a walk. You can even walk and dictate emails at the same time.
Because you’re moving, your brain is getting some endorphins, you're feeling better rather than sitting still and feeling lethargic. By breaking up the monotony and moving away from the way you usually do things, you’ll notice a difference.
If you find something out of the norm that works, try it again. Change your ritual and routine of working so that when you don’t feel like doing something, you can change your environment and find your motivation.
Erik says he gives himself a pocket of time after the school run to get started. He has a predetermined task that he’ll do in the first hour, and then he takes a break.
"If I’ve got something on my mind and I’m feeling distracted, I know I’ve got a break coming and I can deal with it then. But I’ve still ticked off one of my definitive tasks for the day."
The Importance of Mindset and Environment
Listen at [37:12]
You can use a tool to help you get work done, but if you can't stay focused, then you're not going to get anything done. Ideally what you need to do is actually deal with those external distractions, says Erik.
Put boundaries in place, turn off your phone notifications and put it in do not disturb mode. But of course, you’re still human and you have thoughts going round in your head.
When that happens, it’s helpful to have some rituals and pre-work that means you can plan ahead of time. They allow you to know what your day looks like and you won’t be shaken off course.
There are variables and urgent, unexpected things will pop up, but you need to have the correct amount of energy to deal with things. Once you’ve done the homework, you can use whatever productivity tool that will help you get tasks done.
How Coaching can Help Overcome Procrastination
Listen at [42:26]
Nobody knows everything, and sometimes you need outside help from someone who has expertise in a certain field. We need eyes on the problem because we don’t always see the solution that’s right in front of us.
You might join a mastermind and have the support of other business owners to help you with challenges, or you might look for a business or productivity coach who’ll work with you on procrastination.
How we can go Beyond the to-do List
Listen at [47:40]
Erik explained that he started the podcast as a way of finding out how people do their work, but also how they self-manage. It’s not just about to-do lists, it’s about going beyond the regular trappings of productivity.
You should definitely be using a to-do list, but keep it short. For a lot of people, the overwhelm is caused by putting too many things on their to-do list each day. Then they don’t complete it, and tasks get moved to the next day, and the next day.
David Allen came up with the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, and there are two key parts to this.
The first is to capture everything that’s going on in your head onto a master list. But, this is not your to-do list!
Next, parse that big list into several smaller lists. Some lists may be made up of things you’ll come back to in a week, a month, 3 months, etc.
When it comes to your actual to-do list, each day give yourself three or four of the most important things to deal with.
If you’ve got four things on your list, you can decide to do two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Once the final thing has been completed, you can leave everything else until another day. Or you can do the majority of the work, but not all of it.
A Methodology to Overcome Procrastination
Listen at [58:46]
To get out of procrastination, ask yourself what’s the one thing you keep putting off. Imagine that it’s a pie that you’re putting off eating. What’s the smallest slice you can eat without being overwhelmed?
Likewise, what’s the smallest component of your task that you can break down and do? Most people can’t see the forest for the trees. They don’t drill down into the pieces that make up a big task so they can do a bit at a time.
If you’re trying to write a blog post, for example, you only focus on getting it done. Instead, think: What’s my topic? What’s the title? You’ll start to find that you have those things, and they lead on from each other.
Maybe there are three to five bullet points to include, and once you come up with those you can write a paragraph for each one. You’ll quickly gain momentum without feeling that it’s too hard to do. Just break the seal and start with the easiest step.
Erik’s Top Productivity Tools
Listen at [05:10]
When it comes to tools to help with productivity, Erik uses a Mac and iOS app called Things 3. He loves the way it looks, works and feels, but of course it might not be right for everyone. It doesn't matter what to-do list app you're using as long as you will use it.
He recommends downloading a few and trying them out to see which ones you like. How easy is it to use? How good does it feel when you check things off the list? If that good feeling will encourage you to use it, then that’s a good thing.
You could use a tool such as Evernote alongside your to-do app that will help with the capturing of your thoughts and ideas. Erik uses it as an archive of things he’s not actively working on but acts as his own personal Google to store important paperwork and information.
He uses the Drafts app as his own capturing tool, particularly because it syncs across his Mac and iPhone, which are the two places he’ll use it when out and about.
"If I suddenly have an idea for a tweet, a social post, or a piece of content, I'll get as much down as possible, and it syncs to my desktop. Then, when I’m ready to work on it, I can pull it out and start straight away."
The to-do list is a mini calendar. It’s utilitarian and you don’t do work in or on it. There needs to be a distinction between the to-do list, the capture system and the place where you do the work.
Using the to-do List to Plan Your Time
Listen at [12:14]
There’s nothing wrong with using a calendar as a to-do list, because if you’re not putting a lot of things on your to-do list each day, then really that's a day on your calendar. And if you’ve assigned when you’ll do each task, then it’s perfect. Drop in your own notes on what you’ll do.
Erik uses his calendar for appointments only, and occasionally to block-off time there for himself. Everything then gets transferred over to the to-do list. He never deletes anything from his calendar, but uses the to-do list to check things off as he goes. That makes him feel motivated and organised.
You can also use tools such as Asana and Clickup alongside. Erik uses Asana for his podcast, with different columns which go beyond the to-do list – things he’ll come back to at a later date. The columns let him track the status each show is in.
You might want to explore to find the right environment for each task and also the best time of day. You might go to a coffee shop in the morning and do admin, and do the creative stuff in the afternoon. Find what works for you.
Should You Use Pen and Paper?
Listen at [22:54]
David Allen describes a process called the brain dump. You’ve captured every idea and task in your head, so now you need to get it out and onto something else. From there, you can decide whether it's even something you should be thinking about or doing anything about at all.
You can do the brain dump with pen and paper. Erik uses a large legal pad and jots down everything he’s thinking of. It’s like a mental detox of your brain; you get it all out of your system.
Leave it alone for a couple of days, and then come back and go through it. Decide if something it’s a good idea and how long it will take you. You might see that there are lots of short tasks that you could assign together to a time block and work through them at a set time.
It’s a mix of admin and creativity, and it helps you avoid the habit of having an idea and being distracted by it. You can focus on the task at hand and come back to them later. You’re less distracted and more focused, and the procrastination goes away.
Other Ways to be Productive
Listen at [29:26]
Erik says that pressing pause is underrated, and we all need to start doing that more. We’re constantly distracted by things, and we feel like we've got to fill every single second and minute of the day instead of letting our brains breathe and have thoughts that bubble up to the surface from the lower regions of our brain.
Some of your best ideas may be waiting to come out, but you're so busy picking up your phone in between meetings that they never get a chance to do that. You might find that it’s helpful for you to give your brain some downtime by taking a walk and leaving the tech at home.
Intentionally do less and give yourself a gap between appointments, calls, meetings and even the time between finishing work and being present with your family. It's about having margin instead of an overwhelming pace.
Wearable Tech and Other Tips
Listen at [34:48]
Wearable tech, like an Apple Watch, can help you to be more productive, but nobody needs to have one. They can be good for tracking your health or checking the time, but turn the notifications off so you’re not constantly distracted.
When you then go back to social media and see all the notifications, think of it like an answering machine. Set yourself a time to go and check the messages, and then walk away again. Don't take the whole internet with you everywhere you go, or try to take steps to not be jumping into it every single moment that you pull out your phone.
Erik recommends two books to help with this: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and Indistractible by Nir Ayal. They help you to put the right boundaries in place so you’re able to use technology for all its pros, but not be overwhelmed by its cons.
Erik says the best thing to do to help you with productivity and procrastination is giving yourself a margin. The best way to do that is by allocating a block of time on your calendar where nobody can claim it and use it for yourself to brain dump.
Don’t feel pressure to use that time to consider whether what comes up is worth doing – that’s for another time. After you’ve done the brain dump, allocate another block of time to review it.
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Who is Erik Fisher?
Erik has been working in social media for over 10 years as a community manager and social media manager. He is also the producer and host of the long-running Beyond The To-Do List Podcast for almost 10 years.