January 18, 2020
For at least the last 10 years I remember being obsessed with being productive. Unfortunately, there are different levels of being productive and I’ve lost a lot of time doing things that weren’t that important.
This post is a reminder to myself of these things, all I’ve learned over the years.
This page is not yet complete, I treat it as a draft, but decided to share it anyway.
I’ll keep updating this page as I go, expand on other topics, and add resources. Might turn each item in a separate blog post.
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I associated being productive with doing a lot of work. But that’s not the case at all.
Being productive is all about doing what’s important.
Yes, some things need to be done which are less important, but overall - we either prioritize wrong things or spend too much time on less important items.
One of the strategies to understand if the task leads to being busy or to productivity is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix
A simple tool for deciding what to do with the todo item.
- Urgent and Important - do now.
- Urgent and Not Important - delegate.
- Not Urgent and Important - schedule.
- Not Urgent and Not Important - drop.
In reality, it’s a bit more complex, as something not important to you might be important to other person asking you to do it.
This one is something still I’m trying to figure out. Always thought it’s a finite resource and it gets depleted over the day. But that’s not quite true as I observed my behaviour.
If there is stuff I need to do I’ll do it whether I have willpower or no. And you can get more willpower when you change your framing of the situation.
Or, you can breathe deep for a few minutes and saying to yourself you want to do what you planned is enough to get more willpower.
I find it useful to have a todo list.
Your todo list isn’t a place to dump anything you need to do.
It should be a list of things you’ve committed to doing. Also, it’s useful to go through the todo list and delete stuff no longer important.
If you don’t have good hygiene for the todo list, with time the entropy takes over and it becomes a mess.
One of the best ways to keep the list organised it to have clear next actions on the todo items.
Clear next actions
Make sure each item in your todo list has a clear next action point. Whether it’s to call someone or to get more info from somewhere.
By looking at the todo item you need to know what to do or if you are still waiting for something.
I’ve noticed that if I have an important todo item, but there is no clear action - it’s easier for me to procrastinate on this item.
Schedule any activity that has some link with time. Any appointments, work meetings or meetings with your friends. And keep scheduling more.
Reminders are very important, and some tasks you need to do well in advance. For example, you can schedule to find all Christmas presents in September, and buy them on Black Friday.
Another useful tactic I use is to put all attachments and relevant information to the events. Have a flight? Add all flight details to the calendar event. Are train tickets emailed to you as a PDF? Attach them to the calendar event.
You don’t need to focus all the time, you can if you want to, but it should be your choice.
If you want to be focused at all times and get distracted - you will end up with more stress.
Instead, schedule a few long (90-120 minutes) distraction-free sessions. Turn off your mobile, turn off your internet, and do the deep work.
On Pomodoro technique - I know some people like it, but I find it distracting. 25 minutes is too short for me if I’m in the zone. 50min is the sweet spot, not too short, and at that point, the brain isn’t fried yet.
Weekly reviews and planning
This has been one of the most important productivity boosters for me. Once a week I schedule a time to review what I’ve done during that week (calendar + todo items), and plan the next week.
I’ve even created a simple weekly review app that pulls calendar events and todo items and lists them per day to aid the process.
This session is important to check if I’ve done what I’ve planned. If I haven’t done something - why?
And plan the next week. If I see I have a trip, or some social events, I know I won’t have enough time to do some deep work around these, so I need to prepare and shift my work sessions around.
Getting Things Done by David Allen and 12 Weeks Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington have a good overview of this process.
Limit active projects to 3
By project I mean anything happens in your life. It can be preparing your tax returns or painting a wall. Usually, it’s larger than a single todo item and takes more than a week to complete.
If you look around you have many projects going at the same time, you don’t even realise it.
Forcing yourself to do three or fewer projects at once allows you to finish these projects faster, and usually with less stress.
Most of your life goals will be tied to your habits.
Eating well is a habit. Having less stress in life - a set of habits. Keeping healthy habits and eliminating bad ones is a great long term strategy.
Some of the bad habits are automated and hard to get rid, as you might not even realise you have them.
It’s easier to have a clear list of your goals, and designing your habits around these goals. For example, if your goal is to eat healthily or lose weight, having sweets and sugar around the house won’t help your goal.
Best book on habits: Atomic Habits by James Clear.
It’s a large topic in itself, but your body generates the energy you use to do the stuff. Healthier you are - more energy.
Sleep is very important. It’s the most important bit for my productivity. And I bet it’s the same for others.
Fixing your sleep will boost your energy, mood and productivity.
It’s counter-intuitive as you need to sleep more to be more productive. Around 7:30-8:30 hours a day, but it generates you more energy during the day.
If you sleep less than 7 hours a day, increase your sleep time to 8 hours for a week, and see how it affects you.
When I’m sleep deprived I tend to procrastinate more, eat unhealthily, and have less mental capacity.
One-two days of 5-6 hours of sleep are not that bad, anything longer derails my energy and good habits.
The best investment in the last 6 months was buying light-blocking curtains, the room is dark and these curtains absorb some sound too.
Quick check if you need more sleep - do you want to get back to sleep after a few hours of waking up?
A good book on sleep - Why we sleep, by Matthew Walker.
Has a huge impact as well. Sugar and meat were most noticeable. Cut down and it became easier to live throughout the day.
Also, I’ve started to eat less meat. I won’t ever be a vegetarian or vegan as I love steak fillet. But, it’s not healthy eating meat 3 times a day. Right now I’ve decided to eat meat only when I eat out, which is only a few times a week.
I’ve started to do it recently, so can’t vouch for it and not sure it will stay on this page.
The idea is to eat in an 8h window during the day and fast for 16.
I’ve added it here as after a few weeks when I’ve started to use it I have more energy during the day and also keep my morning distraction-free as I don’t need to eat. I eat from 12 pm to 8 pm.
I’m quite slim, so I was worried I’ll lose weight, but I check my weight every few days and it seems to be stable. The main idea is to consume the same amount of calories per day but eat in a shorter window.
Meditation is about observing what happens at this moment. 20 minutes of breathing in and breathing out. Observe your breath around the nostrils.
If you are starting, try Calm, Headspace or Waking Up, but only for introductory courses. You don’t need it for meditation once you familiarize yourself with the main concepts.
Once you get used to meditating 10 minutes a day, keep increasing time to about 20 minutes.
There are different types of meditations, many of them ask you to visualise something. But in reality, if you want to get the effect as soon as possible, focus on what happens right here and now - your breath.
Exercise is beneficial for you on many different levels. Productivity is one of them.
It doesn’t affect how productive you are, but helps your body to generate more energy.
You don’t need to be a gym rat to get the benefits. In fact, you might not need the gym at all to start.
15 minutes of morning wam ups and three 30 minutes sessions a week will be enough to start. Online you can find many different workouts you can do at home, choose the type you want to do.
One of the most effectives workouts are High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). 20 seconds of high activity followed by 10 seconds of rest.
Another effective type of workouts is strength training. It helps you build muscle mass, which is linked to overall health, especially as you get older.
This list is not exhaustive, there are many things to include in each section.
Let me know if you’d like me to expand on any of these topics.