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September 8, 2014 4:36 PM EDT

Answer by John Chan, designer and founder of Dayboard, on Quora.

1) Write a daily to do list
Long to do lists don’t get done. They make us feel overwhelmed and even guilty if we know we’ve been putting them off.

So instead of staring at 30 or 40 items at a time, make your to do list super short but turning it into a daily to do list of 3-5 items.

Having only 3-5 items does a few mental tricks:

  1. It makes us prioritize based on what we feel we can accomplish in a day
  2. It’s much more likely to be achieved
  3. Makes us feel like we’re making a lot of progress every time we complete one item (you’re crossing off 20-33% of your list off at a time!)

2) Turn your to-do into a 2-minute task to get started
We often dread getting started on a task sounds when they sound daunting in our minds.

Here’s a few examples of stuff we would have a hard time getting started on:

  1. Get a job
  2. Write a book
  3. Write a 40-page paper
  4. Build a website
  5. Eat healthy
  6. Create a portfolio
  7. Go for an hour long run
  8. Go to the gym 4 times a week

It sounds like a lot of work because it is a lot of work. Yuck.

Instead, break it down to a two-minute task. Here’s the new list:

  1. Find one job opening on the web
  2. Write a chapter title
  3. Write one sentence
  4. Create a blank web page
  5. Drink a glass of water
  6. Take one photo
  7. Put your running shoes on and go outside
  8. Do 10 push ups

It’s not our final outcome but once we get started, we’re much more likely to keep going. This helps us break the pattern of stalling or dreading our work. See Zeigarnik Effect.

3) Interrupt your distractions before they occur
Often times, we don’t realize we’re procrastinating until it’s too late.

Distractions starts from one, seemingly harmless distraction, but quickly spiral out of control.

Say you’re working on something. Here’s a few scenarios for how things can go wrong:

  1. You go on Facebook/Reddit/Tumblr to quickly check what’s new. You open an interesting link in a new tab, or two, or three. You read something that leads you to Google more about it. You stumble upon a Wikipedia entry. Twenty tabs later, you realized you forgot what you were working on.
  2. Your phone buzzes. You check to see who’s looking for you. It’s a text message/email/reward for 20 gold coins. You drop what you’re doing and start responding/reading/collecting. Another notification comes in, so you switch apps. You’re toast.
  3. A song comes on and you forgot the lyrics so you go look it up. Then go on YouTube to look up the music video. Then come across related songs. Which prompts you to look up photos celebrities. Then you find out about their latest scandal/breakup/movie trailer. Next thing you know, two hours have gone by and you got nothing done.

We’ve all been there.

Instead of hoping to catch yourself in the moment (which rarely happens), it’s much more effective to prevent it from happening in the first place.

  1. Use a browser add ons like Dayboard or StayFocusd to interrupt unproductive web browser (bonus points: Dayboard also happens to be a daily to do list)
  2. Turn on Airplane mode, or Do Not Disturb, or disable notifications on your phone temporarily as you spend periods of time to focus.
  3. Listen to music without lyrics (e.g. classical, accoustics, meditative), or my personal favorite, musical podcasts that last an hour long. Or try ear plugs to tune out distracting sounds.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the best life hacks to tackle procrastination? More questions:

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