We've all been there. You've got a deadline coming up, and you're behind on your work. So you set up shop at your desk. You've got an unreasonable amount of browser windows open, a few terminal windows, Textmate projects and the good old CSS spec at your side - all with a copious amount of coffee, too. But after a while, it begins to dawn on you that out of the last 5 hours of 'work', you've spent an hour setting up your workspace, another hour tweeting about the work you aren't actually doing, and the rest of the time looking at pictures of cats.
It seems like when we need to work most is when we can't bring ourselves to concentrate on the task at hand. I'm not going to give a definitive guide here - Trent Walton and Meagan Fisher have both written fantastic articles to stand by (I urge you to go and read them immediately. It's ok, I'll wait) - here I simply give a little insight into the techniques and practices I've been keeping up to get myself into a more productive state of mind.<!-- more -->
Keep your work at the office
If you're like me, you'll find that an awful lot of your work is actually done at home - perhaps even in your bedroom. Working on the same computer that has all your photos, music, games and 'fun' stuff on can be difficult. You get distracted easily, and since it's not your office or a different computer, you'll sit at it with a more casual mindset.
When I know I need to do work on my computer, I set up a separate space on my iMac purely for working. It has a different desktop wallpaper, but that's the only major difference. Doing this will gradually help to divide your work and play more thoroughly, and you'll get used to moving over to your 'workspace' to get into a productive mindset.
As soon as I move over to this workspace, I close down all my social networking tabs, quit twitter and turn off my music. It really helps me to concentrate. My wallpaper background is plain and simple. Another thing I find that tends to help is using a different web browser. Particularly as a web designer, I can use one browser for personal things and another for work related things. This will help filter out distracting bookmarks and links to procrastinating websites like Tumblr.
All habits are bad
Up until very recently (somewhere in the last few days, in fact), I was almost certain that working with something in the background - be it a movie, tv show or just some music - was helping me get things done.
Then one day, I just started working without anything. No music, no video, just silence. I found myself far less distracted and completely engrossed in my work. Of course, it could be the other way round for most of you - you've always found that silence and solitude are best for your work. But slipping into routine can be a dangerous thing, it would appear. Try a few different things. If you usually start working by finding a particular playlist on iTunes, try a different one every now and then. You might just find yourself working better.
My last productivity pointer is a simple one - switch off your phone (or at least put it into silent mode). Completely turn off any notification systems you have enabled - Growl, Push notifications, iOS notifications - the lot. Notification systems like this are built for a reason - they help users see to something with immediate attention. But when you're trying to get work done, the last thing you need is something taking your immediate attention. One thing would lead to another, and before you know it you're laughing at YouTube videos of cats.
This is another one I've started doing relatively recently, and it's made the biggest difference. Your tweets will still be there when you've done enough work. Those cats aren't going to leak out of the intertubes just yet. Take it easy.
What are your productivity boosters? Full screen applications? Simple writers? Mathcore? Let me know in the comments - I'd love to hear.