I’ve been testing and adjusting various productivity techniques for the past five years, read lots of books (most of them repeating) and here’s some of my findings:
It’s not about time. It’s about energy.
We try to squeeze as many hours in one work day, to be “productive,” but in the end everything depends less on time, and more on your focus, motivation and overall well-being (all of them linked directly with energy levels).
I’ve recently talked about my productivity techniques obsessions in an internal presentation at Grapefruit, and the resulting presentation is on Slideshare:
Some of the key findings:
- Decide what’s important because in 5 years, 80% of what you do today will not turn into anything. It’s just busywork, no useful outcome.
- Sleep, food and exercise can help you triple your outcome, because they increase focus, motivation and energy levels.
- The 2-minute rule: if you can do something (like replying to an email, or a house chore) in 2 minutes, do it now. Planning it for later, remembering it, doing it in the future will take 5 minutes or more.
- The 5-minute rule: the biggest cure against procrastination is to set your goal not to finish a scary big hairy task, but to just work 5 minutes on it. You’ll find out that most times it continues well beyond the 5 minutes, as you enter a flow state.
- Seinfeld’s productivity chain: if you want to be good at something, do it every day. Including on Christmas, Easter and Judgement Day. No exceptions.
- Tiny habits ( ), highly linked with the 5-minute rule, helps you create good habits quickly. It works, I tested it.
- Your memory sucks. Get everything out of your head, even if you’re a genius. Write it down in a notebook, put it in your to-do-list app, on your phone, talk to Siri, I don’t care.
- As few tools as possible. I’ve tested most of the to-do managers and finally stayed with ‘s Things app and Google Calendar (iCal is ok, but Google Calendar integrates well with Gmail, my default client). It doesn’t matter what you use (pen & paper are fine) if you understand the next rule.
- Routine beats tools. You need discipline, and this means for me two things: I plan my day first thing in the morning, and I write a short daily log every day. This helps me stay sane, prioritize well, scrap useless tasks, and do what matters. This saves me hours.
- Pomodoros. That’s timeboxing—for 30 minutes do only the task at hand. Nothing else: no phones, email, talking to people, Facebook, running out of the building in case of fire. Nothing else.
- Always wear your headphones. You don’t have to listen to music, but it will discourage people to approach you.
- Email scheduling and inbox zero. Don’t read your email first thing in the day, don’t read it in the evening (it ruined many evenings for me), and try to do it only 3 times a day: at 11am, 2pm and 5pm. And your email inbox is not a to-do list. Clear it: every message should be an actionable task (link it from the to-do app), a reference document (send to Evernote or archive), or should be deleted now.
- Same thing for phone calls. Don’t be always available. I always keep my phone on silent, and return calls in batches.
- Batch small tasks. Like mail, phones, Facebook etc.
- MI3. Most important three tasks. Start with the most important first thing in the morning.
- Willpower is limited. Don’t think that willpower will help you when you get in trouble. Make important decisions in the morning and automate everything possible (delegate, batch etc). US presidents don’t have to choose their menu or suit color everyday — otherwise their willpower will be depleted at that late hour when they should push (or not push) the red button).
- The most powerful thing. Always ask yourself what is the most powerful thing you can do right now. Then apply rule #4.
- Ship often. Don’t polish it too much — as they say in the startup world, “If you’re not ashamed of your product, you’ve launched too late!”
- Pressure can do wonders. Use rewards or social commitment. We’ve recently done this with the new Grapefruit website. The previous one took 2.5 years to launch. The new one took 2.5 days and we did it over one hackathon weekend (+ Monday).
- Scheduled procrastination. Your brain needs some rest, and sometimes that new episode from Arrow can do wonders that the smartest TED talk won’t.
- Delete. Say No. Ignore. Don’t commit to schedules. I love the last one, it’s from Marc Andreessen, because it allows him to meet whomever he wants on the spot. A lot of people will hate you for this, but you’ll have time to do relevant stuff. Do you think you’ll regret that in 20 years, or doing something for someone you don’t really care about, just to be superficially appreciated.
- Fake incompetence. It’s a diplomatic way to apply the previous rule.
That’s it for now. My procrastination break is over, I’m going back to work.