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: Productivity porn
Some of the key findings:
Decide what’s important because in five 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 two 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 five minutes on it. You’ll find out that most times it continues well beyond the five 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 (Tiny Habits w/ Dr. BJ Fogg), highly linked with the five-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 todo-list app, on your phone, talk to Siri, I don’t care.
As few tools as possible. I’ve tested most of the todo managers and finally stayed with Cultured Code‘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 todo list. Clear it: every message should be an actionable task (link it from the todo 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 (or the alternative one must – three should – five could). Start with the most important first thing in the morning.