There’s no other clickbait I fall for harder than any productivity-related headline. Safe to say I read way too many productivity articles, even though they all expound on the same basic suggestions. That being said, I do think humans need certain tips pounded into their heads several times in different shapes & forms before they finally act on them. So hear it again! Here are some of the only productivity tips that work for me.
Embrace natural light.
It’s just a known fact. Natural light means better sleep, thus alertness through the day and higher productivity. Plus too much artificial light gives me headaches.
Leave the house.
No matter how great of a workspace I try to set up in every apartment, I end up getting almost nothing done at home. The temptation of having my bed less than 20 feet away is too great. Not only that, but apartments with great natural light are hard to come by (I’ve certainly never lived in one). Working in cafes or high ceiling libraries are much better environments. Plus, every time I look up distracted all I see are fellow people working!
Call it time block, timebox, obsessive scheduling or whatever, but it really does work. Plan every minute of your day, break it down into 30 minute chunks, and switch tasks regularly. When I started doing this I was really surprised at how much faster I accomplished tasks than I had estimated, as well as how many tasks I could accomplish in an 8 hour day (to the point where you start to think ‘hmm, I should think of more to do’).
I usually stay flexible after planning, e.g. if I go over time limit on a certain task I’ll shift things around and let it be. The important thing is to start the task and get the menial, easy to accomplish things out of the way. It’s really quite amazing how much you can get done if you just plan (and conversely, how much you won’t get done if your to do list is floating around in your head or living in checkboxes instead of on a calendar. Or if your goals are grand but too lofty to accomplish at once without breaking down into chunks).
Turn off notifications.
Though I’m definitely not at a level where I can stop checking social media or quit gchat altogether, I’ve learned to turn off notifications and block all interruptions (at least, non-work related ones) while trying to get things done. Giving into temptations of checking your phone or email is already enough. Don’t let it bother you first.
I’m still learning this one, but you really can’t do everything. If you’re not at least 90% convinced of an idea, whether that’s a party you were invited to or a new side project collaboration, don’t do it. Same with hobbies or things you’re trying to learn, scheduled activities, and literally anything. Since getting serious about studying web dev I’ve said no a lot more to plans with friends, church meetings, fun Meetups and regular gym time – all not ideal, but necessary.
Make it as easy as possible to begin.
Pack your bags and choose your outfit the night before. Set up your workspace, Sublime editor and dev tools in advance. Write your name in the Word doc. You’ve heard it before and you will keep hearing it until the end of time, just start.
Say no to meetings! (but talk to people)
This one’s just work-related, but try to avoid any meeting where you’re not absolutely needed. Emails, one-on-one touchbases, and walking to people’s desks to have conversations is the way to go.
Write it all down (by hand).
It took me 3 years into college to finally learn how to effectively study with no one hovering or forcing me (and then the ‘A+’s rolled in! #notsohumblebrag). All it really took was me writing study notes/outlines on paper (definitely not on the computer! Don’t do that) and reading/highlighting. As more productivity apps beckon for attention, I still think the best ‘hack’ is to get down & dirty with pencil & paper - this goes for studying, planning, or any high level thought processes.
Discipline, not motivation.
Motivation is a little like runner’s high (maybe, I’ve never experienced it): it comes during & after working, not before. There will be very few times motivation to do hard tasks will strike, most likely after long stretches of time that you haven’t done work that guilt starts to motivate you. Whether I’m motivated or not, I know that Sundays and Mon/Wed nights are times for studying. Embrace habits & routine, displace waiting around for motivation.
Some tips I’m still working on:
- Wake up early: I’d like to say this is impossible due to the very warm nature of my bed, and the very cold nature of everything not my bed (solution: wear more clothes?) But morning time is most alert & productive time, so I’d like to get in this habit.
- Do your most challenging task first: My work responsibilities make trying this tip difficult, but on the weekends I’ve definitely found it works. Tapering off in work flow is natural, so get the hardest thing out of the way and you’ll feel great!
More reads on productivity:
- Why procrastinators procrastinate, and how to beat procrastination (Wait but Why)
- One of my favorite sites, catered toward creatives but really for anyone who wants to be a maker. (99u)
- Straightforward, high impact reads on the importance of building habits (James Clear)
- Go beyond just getting things done - access deep processing on a regular basis (Cal Newport)