How I Stay Productive
Some of these methods for achieving peak productivity I learned over many years, but my belief system around productivity never changed enough to actually implement any of this, until I read two books by Cal Newport which I wrote about in a previous blog post. That blog post laid the foundation for this one, you might get more out of this blog post if you first read the other one.
Things I cut out
I am social, but not online.
I closed every social media account except for LinkedIn and WhatsApp. LinkedIn I might need for work one day, and I can just never check it while I have a job I like (Like right now at SalesLoft). I use WhatsApp to arrange meeting people in person and to voice-call or voice message people and talk that way. In my opinion, these are much higher relational-bandwidth activities than posting a picture or an update for everyone to read and publically commenting on or liking it.
I use a service called Freedom https://freedom.to to help me with self-control. Self-control is a finite resource, and I don’t want to be using it up throughout the day. I have a long list of distracting websites and apps in Freedom that I can block for up to 24 hours. This helps me use my self-control for higher leverage activities that willing myself to not watch a Youtube video during my lunch break. Peace and quiet during my break times become automatic.
My attention is not for sale!
Using any service which tries to make money off my attention, as a form of entertainment. I used to watch YouTube videos as a form of entertainment. I used to browse the internet and read tech news. I used to browse Amazon for things I might one day want to buy.
Minimal phone use.
As I write this, my phone is in a different room. I try to use it as little as possible. If something is not important enough for me to choose to sit down at the computer and do it at 80 words per minute, then I probably won’t do it. Youtube and Chrome are disabled on my phone if I need them for something I have to go into the settings and enable them. I basically only use it for 2-factor-authentication, WhatsApp, Calendar Notifications, Maps, To-do lists (I like Wunderlist for this).
I take some time to be with only my thoughts. I sometimes go to the gym or on a walk without my Bluetooth headphones or go to the toilet without my phone. And if there is an app that I feel myself wanting to use while in the bathroom or standing in line somewhere, I delete or disable it. You NEED to be bored a few times every day, to leave enough space for big ideas, inspiration, focus-when-you-don’t-feel-like-it.
Cut out the noise.
I have Bose noise-canceling headphones. I have a mix of trance and classical music with no words to drown out anything that tries to get past the noise-canceling. My phone only makes sounds for calendar events and for certain people’s messages and for phone calls. Everything else is set to silent.
Do not notify me
My computer is set to not do any notifications. Only Slack can notify on my laptop; this is what people use when they urgently need to get hold of me from work.
Don’t work evenings
I am still working on this one. Having young children and a wife with a business which she sometimes needs to work on at night, means that it makes more sense to take some time off during the day and work in the evening. Generally, a human can do 4 hours of really intense focused work (write excellent code), after that, the quality of difficult work starts to diminish. If I wrote 4 hours of code, had meetings, did administrative work like email, wrote down instructions for how to do something, and set aside some time to learn something, I should really stop. Putting in more hours after that means that the evening hours are not very productive, and the tiredness that sets in during the next day starts to rob some of the best productivity hours of the next day.
Things I do
Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.
If I can avoid sending someone a message that might make a sound on their device, I do. If it’s not urgent, I try to send an email instead of a WhatsApp or a Slack message. That is what I want people to do to me.
Email does not drive my day Check email only once per day.
If I am really into a project at work and I really don’t want to stop working on it, I might even skip a day of opening my inbox. When I do open my inbox, I try to drive it all the way to 0. Seeing an email every day and deciding if today is the day to handle it, takes time and energy, I am looking at it now, I’ll just take the time now to handle it and respond to it. Or if it is a more significant task, move it to a todo list and archive it.
You need 8 hours, if you think you need less, read this https://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Sleep-Unlocking-Dreams/dp/B0752XRB5F/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1557167293&sr=8-3. I have a scheduled Freedom session that blocks all internet use and a bunch of apps on my phone and computer starting at 9:30pm and lasting until 6am. When it is actually 9:30am, I usually don’t have the self-control left to stop wasting time browsing the internet or watching YouTube videos or watching Netflix. Now I have no choice, those things stop working at 9:30, I can now get in bed and read a book. The disappointment usually wears off in less than 2 minutes. After that, I feel delighted with myself for being so on-top-of-life.
Plan my day
I plan my week at the beginning of the week, I am a full-time employee, so I don’t need to plan much here, a fair bit of the week is planned together as a team. I sometimes need to add in work items from my OKR’s (quarterly work goals we set at work) and personal development I want to do. And then I plan my day at the beginning of the day. The goal here is to chunk activities together. I check my work and personal inbox one right after another. I try to have only one or two large chunks during the day where I write code. If I want to read up on a particular bit of technology news, I will pick one time during the weekend.
For the weekly and daily plan I use KanbanFlow https://kanbanflow.com which has a built-in Pomodoro timer. With the Pomodoro technique, you work for 25 minutes on ONE THING ONLY, NO DISTRACTIONS AND NO TASK SWITCHING OR MULTI-TASKING EVER! And then take a 5-minute break. Not all my work is done during a Pomodoro. Right now I am finishing a thought after my Pomodoro ended. I love getting to look at the day at the beginning of the day and knowing “Okay, I can do about 10 Pomodoros and throw in some admin work and communicating with colleagues and have some meetings in between, what do I want to do with those 10 Pomodoros?”. And then at the end of the day, I can know “Okay, I got done what I planned to get done, I can stop now.”