After reading Cal Newport's book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World I once again got re-inspired to use my time more productively. Productivity in this case refers to producing more than consuming.
Producing something useful is physically and mentally demanding, whilst consuming is easy. For better or for worse, humans are wired to take the path with the least resistance. Thus, for most of us in this age of technology when so many businesses main goal is to capture your attention and keep you engaged, staying productive does not come naturally.
In this blog post I hope to share some tools & tricks I personally use to stay productive. Since vast majority of my work happens in front of a computer, lots of these tools & tricks incorporate software. So let's get started with it first.
Small but very helpful Google Chrome plugin that gently reminds you not to procrastinate and spend time productively. It works by letting you setup your own wormholes - actions that happen when you visit websites you know you should not.
It works by either redirecting you to a chosen website i.e. if you visit Facebook, you will get redirected to Coursera; or you can set it up so you see your own text such as a quote when visiting a website; or simply a timer that reminds you of the seconds that are ticking away that you will never be able to get back again.
One feature that I like so much about the plugin is that it starts working as soon as you start typing the domain name on the URL.
Application that runs in the background and logs everything you do on a PC and sums all your activities in a productivity score.
It helps to not fool yourself on how productive you are. There are days when I feel like I have done a lot and my productivity score is only 50% meaning half of that time I just spent surfing aimlessly. That's not good. I recommend to aim for at least 70% productivity score unless you are deliberately spending time on PC to relax by watching a movie or similar.
Plus, it has a great API which can be used for further analysis, integration with other tools or gadgets like FitBit and similar.
Another Google Chrome plugin. This one seems to take the most discipline to use properly as it makes you incorporate Pomodoro technique in how you work by blocking off completely all distracting websites for a period of time when you are supposed to work. When the timer finishes, you have time for a break. After a break, time for work again. Completing 8-10 Pomodoris a day would be considered impressive!
Using Pomodoro technique in this manner is supposed to enhance your productivity but since I never read about it fully, I also probably to not understand all its nuisances.
Thus, I use Strict Workflow only occasionally when I want to trick myself into working by telling to myself - "this work period is only 25 minutes, surely I can work this amount of time, right?"
Ultimate productivity hacks
There are many tips & tricks one can learn about productivity as there is no shortage of information about it. However, very few seem to stick and actually be helpful. So here is the two most important ones:
Break it down
Often people procrastinate because the size of a job unit they need to do seems too big, consists of too many steps and it's hard to fathom where to start. One of productivity tips that definitely helps is breaking down a task into smaller tasks, as small as needed. If these tasks also seem too big, break them down even further. Once you reach the level of job unit which seems easy enough to do in one Pomodoro, start the Pomodoro timer and do it!
To truly stay productive, what works for me and most other people 100% of the time is this - switch off the Internet, forget about work completely and get a good night's sleep. Then, the next day all the distractions become easier to stay away from and work happens much more smoothly. Try it out, you won't regret it! Unfortunately, this one seems the hardest one to implement but like often in live, things that are the best are rarely the easiest.
There are many productivity techniques that people use, with Getting Things Done methodology popping up in my head as a first example. While most of them turn out to be useless because too many rules are overwhelming, I see no harm in studying them. Because what works for me, does not necessarily work for you, and vice versa. Thus, read all you want and see what sticks, that would be the best advice.
Staying productive on the Internet does not seem to differ too much from being productive in general. Being well rested is key. One differentiating thing about the Internet though is that it is much easier to succumb to distractions on it than elsewhere, for example, when doing woodwork.
Additional tools such as Timewarp and Strict Workflow should also help in dealing with distractions on the Internet. At the same time, RescueTime may be useful to evaluate your productivity and see if you are on track.
Finally, doing work should make you content, not miserable. Thus, if you are feeling miserable doing your work, no productivity hacks will help. In that case, in my humble opinion, the best course of action would be not to try increase productivity but rather evaluate whether the things you are working on are the right ones for you. That's just my 2 cents.