4 Overlooked Productivity Tools That Help Me Avoid Procrastination

Jonah Malin


How do you go from being a professional procrastinator to someone who gets things done ahead of time?

In college, I thought that I possessed the unique skill to put things off until the last minute and then pull it all together right as deadlines expired. This worked great when I needed to study for a quiz or write a paper. Then I graduated and realized that this habit wouldn’t last.

I put off applying for jobs and ended up working as an intern in an industry I wasn’t interested in. I put off checking on my financial situation and ended up with less than one hundred dollars in my bank account.

I quickly had to learn how to be proactive rather than reactive out of fear that my twenties would be wasted playing catchup. It wasn’t always an easy transition, but I’ve come along way since then. And I want to share some of the resources and tools that helped me eliminate procrastination and become a productivity master.

That said, here are a few of my favorites.

Nootropic Supplement

Coffee is by far the most popular beverage in the world with more than 450 million cups consumed in the United States every day.

While it is tempting to reach for a cup of coffee every time you need to complete a task, several sustainable alternatives can produce better results. One of these is nootropics, often referred to as “smart drugs.”

I am an avid coffee drinker and I can confidently say that when I need to complete an important task, nootropics outperform coffee every time. With coffee, there is usually an immediate spike in mood and behavior followed by a slight crash. This is especially true if you drink sugary coffee drinks loaded with syrup and milk. On the other hand, I always experience a longer and more stable boost of energy and focus when consuming a nootropic.

How to apply it:

In the past, I have tried Alpha BRAIN® Instant, In Focus, and a customized “stack”. A nootropic stack is combining two or more supplements that have beneficial effects on memory, learning, focus, or motivation, to create a synergistic effect in the brain. You can either buy a pre-formulated stack from a manufacturer or create a self-formulated stack on your own.

Nootropics require research and testing so I highly recommend the book Beyond Coffee: A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms which breaks down the safest natural energy sources for you to consider based on scientific studies.

Timed Flow States

Experiencing a flow state is one of the best feelings in the world. When your mind and body are absorbed in a single task, time moves slowly and you become completely immersed in whatever you are doing.

Deep flow states evoke a variety of benefits including feelings of happiness, concentration, and clarity while relieving stress and self-doubt.

“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback.” — Csikszentmihalyi in a 2004 TED Talk.

As Giovanni Moneta, an academic psychologist at London Metropolitan University told Business Insider, we need to engage in activities that are meaningful to us, that we find challenging, and for which we feel that we have the skills required to come out as winners. We are also more likely to access a flow state when engaged in tasks we have already practiced.

You aren’t going to be able to achieve optimal flow states all of the time. Even if you can aim for 50%, you will get a lot more done than you are used to.

How to apply it:

There are several measures that I take before entering a flow state like locking my phone, closing extra tabs on my laptop, and turning all notifications off. Occasionally if there is a project that has a hard deadline, I will go as far as deleting social media, sports apps, and news outlets for several days to eliminate any urges. Even the smallest of interruptions like a text message can disrupt your focus and tempt you to take a mental break.

Once I have finished the necessary pre-flow work, I complete five to ten minutes of light yoga, make my nootropic stack or a cup of coffee, change from my sleepwear to normal day clothes, and slip on my noise-canceling headphones.

I then spend about an hour writing a Medium article or freelancing in my peak creative time to create an optimal environment for experiencing a flow state.

Everyone has their own triggers, so it is important to experiment with different activities that will activate your flow. I found these articles to be immensely beneficial in finding mine:

Deep Focus Playlist With Noise Cancelling Headphones

When you need to immerse yourself in a world of solitude, nothing does the job better than a pre-built focus playlist and noise-canceling headphones.

Anyone who has worked in an open office setting knows how distracting background noise can be. Sometimes you just need to get stuff done and slipping on a pair of noise-canceling headphones is like a universal signal that you’re occupied.

When choosing the songs you listen to, research shows that different types of music will impact your productivity in unique ways. Will Tottle, mental health expert and author of the article series Mind Boosting Benefits, suggests classical music, nature sounds, funk, and video game or movie soundtracks over songs with really fast tempos or slow tempos and lyrics that are overly-engaging, ultimately drawing away your attention.

“Available evidence indicates that music favored by the listener can temporarily improve arousal or mood as well as elevate cognitive performance.”- Daniel Barolsky, associate professor of music at Beloit College

It’s also important to watch your noise levels. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, found that moderate noise levels are just right for creative thinking. Noise levels that are too high can decrease the brain’s ability to process information.

How to apply it:

I have found that making a playlist with a group of songs that I can listen to on repeat all day works best. If you don’t have time to make your own, I recommend Spotify’s Low-fi beats, Deep Focus, and Hans Zimmer playlists.

Handwritten Journal

Organization and order are not natural to my personality. I enjoy writing sporadically and finishing tasks in chaos. As I get older, I am trying to break those habits — journaling is one of the few practices that pushes me to remain grounded and feel better throughout the day.

When I first started writing and freelancing, I would always write down a to-do list in my journal. It was extremely beneficial in keeping me honest with how much I was completing and ensuring I hit every deadline. When I moved to DC in March, I dropped this habit for no real reason.

Last week I purchased a new journal and have already noticed a change in my productivity. It’s not that I am getting more done overall, but I am finishing the important tasks first and then completing smaller tasks when everything else is completed.

How to apply it:

On one page, write down your three most important tasks that need to get done each day over the course of a week. On the page beside it, write down every little task you need to get done as they come up. For example, the left page on Monday may include:

  • Finish Medium productivity article and submit
  • Prepare work schedule for the rest of the week
  • Add YouTube series to personal website

These are all things that need to get done. The other page includes dozens of smaller projects like brainstorming article ideas, reading fifty pages of a book, or researching new writing platforms.

Final Thoughts

The path to becoming a productivity master isn’t going to be linear.

I have tried dozens of different practices, read productivity books and articles, and changed the way I work multiple times. The combination above is what I have found works best for me to remain engaged, focused, and most importantly, invested in what I am doing.

To recap:

  • Nootropic supplements offer a steady release of energy that can be customized to fit your desired outcome. While coffee remains a great way to boost your energy and mood, a nootropic stack brings more options and stability to your work.
  • Finding your flow state triggers will help your mind and body become immersed in a specific task. Whether you are preparing to write an article or need to finish a big project at work, getting into your flow will allow you to get substantially more done in less time.
  • A deep focus playlist paired with noise-canceling headphones is a proven productivity combination that elevates cognitive performance. Stay away from lyrics that will be distracting and opt for tunes in the classical music, nature sounds, funk, and video game or movie soundtracks categories.
  • Handwritten journals are an inexpensive way to keep track of your tasks and focus on completing bigger, more important items. I use the left page to visualize three daily tasks that are essential and then the right page for lists of minor things that can be pushed off to a later date.

Hopefully, you try these four habits out and notice a life-changing difference in your productivity as I have.

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I am a content strategist, career advice author, and contributing writer based in Washington, DC. Join me as I explore health & wellness, productivity, philosophy, and life. Find me @Beyond Definition // Medium // Ladders // jonahmalin.com/barelyweekly

Washington, DC

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