19 More Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity

Don’t miss the first part of this article: 21 Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity.

In the previous post I listed 21 of my best tricks and tips for keeping up your productivity and motivation, all of which I’ve used and improved over several years of working at home as a self-employed developer. Many of those 21 methods deal with motivation and higher-level issues, which of course are important parts of productivity.

The 19 items we’ll go through in this post are more practical in nature and relate more to the flow of working. These tips assume you’re already super motivated and know exactly what you want, they deal more with how to get stuff done.

Again, don’t feel you have to use all of these methods. The lists are only meant as an inspiration for things to look into. Also, some of the items may be somewhat situational, and I don’t personally use all of them all of the time. So feel free to pick and choose the ones that apply to you.

On the other hand, if something appears completely new or alien to you, don’t be afraid to try it out either. It could be the solution to a problem you don’t even know you have. It’s important to accept the fact that we aren’t always aware of all the issues holding us back, and often experimentation and trying new things can be the best way to move forward in life in general.

So here are my 19 more “practical” productivity tips:

  1. Stop multi-tasking. Research shows that multi-tasking is even worse for your concentration than smoking pot. To avoid this, force all your work sessions to focus on one task and one task only. Even better, pick one focus for the day, or even for each week. Push back everything else. You can schedule some “planned multitasking” time later to catch up to small neglected tasks.
  2. Work for 45 minutes. I love this method. Use a timer, and as long as it is running you are on the clock, in dedicated work time. When the timer runs out, you are DONE. I love it because it allows you to disconnect completely from everything while working, and then disconnect completely from work between sessions. Polarize your time into either 100% work or 100% free time. You don’t have to do exactly 45 minutes, but somewhere in the 45-60 minute range is optimal for most people.
  3. Make interruptions impossible. During your 45 minute work time, no interruptions are allowed. You are completely single-tasking during this time. That means no surfing, no cell phone (turn it off!), no conversations (lock the door!), no background TV or radio, no email or messaging (except if it’s part of the work), and certainly no Facebook, Twitter or similar. You’re not even allowed to go to the toilet, unless it’s an emergency. Yes it’s hard at first, but that’s why you’re limiting it to 45 minutes.
  4. Make procrastination impossible. Simply telling yourself “I have to stop procrastinating” doesn’t do anything. That’s the equivalent of buying a bunch of candy, putting it on your desk in front of you and saying “I’m not going to eat it.” Deal with procrastination by removing even the possibility of doing it from your life, or by putting significant hurdles in the way. You don’t have to eliminate everything, just find the ones that drain the most time and energy from your work, and block them. For me, it’s video games and certain websites. I deal with it by uninstalling the video games and using BlockSite on the sites.
  5. Worship the “zone”. The zone happens when there is an ideal match-up between skill and challenge. Not so easy that it’s boring, not so hard that it’s frustrating. This is where your maximum motivation and productivity lies. Align your tasks to match your current skill, and make sure the challenge gradually rises over time so you don’t get bored. Recognize slumps in productivity that come from either doing something too repetitive or from being overwhelmed with problems you don’t know how to solve.
  6. Drop tasks. Use the 80/20 rule, and ask yourself: Do I actually have to do this task? Will doing it (and all that depends on it) actually make my life better? Do things really depend on it, or am I just accepting that assumption without question? Don’t be surprised if as much as half of your planned work could actually be ditched without significant consequences.
  7. Outsource or delegate tasks. The number one biggest mistake people do, especially entrepreneurs, is thinking they have to do everything. Instead, give tasks to employees, partners, coworkers, people on Elance, or crowdsource it. Outsourcing only begins when you’re willing to say “I’m not going to do this boring sh*t myself, no matter what.”
  8. Higher-level optimization. Premature optimization is the root of all evil. We spend so much time trying to be “effective” at small tasks, when we overlook the bigger structural changes we could do that would make all those small tasks irrelevant. In the programming world, optimizing something before you know for certain that it’s necessary, is considered the highest of sins. Before getting lost in details and minutiae, ask yourself if that’s really the most important work you can do right now.
  9. Monitor your energy. Nothing works if your body does not cooperate. Are you tired? Unfocused? Hungry? Are you’re really in a state to produce top notch results right now? I sometimes visualize my energy as a percentage between 0% and 100%, with 100% being laser focused and 0% being unconsciousness. You should refuse to ever work at percentages below 70%-75%. And when you’re not working, do things that recharge your energy levels as efficiently as possible.
  10. Take naps. If the thought of faceplanting into a pillow sounds like heaven to you right now, chances are that’s exactly what you need to do. If you work in an environment without a ready supply of pillows, bring your own :)
  11. Take real breaks. I have short breaks and long breaks between work sessions. Short breaks last 10-30 minutes, or until I feel like working again. Long breaks are a minimum of four hours, and have to include eating, resting in a horizontal position, minimal computer time and ideally some form of physical exercise. The goal is to recharge those batteries and be well rested for the next work sessions.
  12. Guilt-free play. When you have time off, make it real time off. Don’t get stuck in the “gray zone” where you’re not really working, but still thinking about work. Create dedicated times every day where work ceases to exist and you can do whatever you want. Also take some days off every week. Some people do one week on, one week off. Remember that your work is there to support your life, not the other way around.
  13. Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this one enough. Besides having a severe impact on productivity, sleep deprivation has been linked to everything from depression and hormonal disturbances to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Get enough sleep.
  14. Exercise regularly. Exercise has both short-term and long-term positive effects on productivity. Getting fresh oxygen pumping through your body increases your mental energy and clarity. Many highly successful people swear to starting every day with a run. Long-term cardio exercise has an enormous impact on your general energy levels as well.
  15. Keep a level blood sugar. Your energy and focus suffer greatly from dips in blood sugar. Try to eat regularly and avoid high-carb foods and snacks if they make you tired. Fixing your diet is one of those things (along with exercise) that people never expect to make a big difference, but that almost aways does. It’s worth a try.
  16. Avoid painful injuries. Chronic pain will make your brain associate work with pain, and it will subconsciously start pushing you away from work to protect you. You won’t know what happened, you’ll just not “feel like working” a lot of the time. It took me a long time to realize how much my stiff neck and shoulders were hampering my productivity this way. Do exercises to counteract repetitive strain injuries, stretch often, and find a good ergonomic work position that works for you. If your work is computer based, make sure you take breaks that are NOT in front of the computer.
  17. Focus on habit building. New years resolutions and sudden bursts of “motivation” to exercise, work more, eat healthy food etc rarely work. We are creatures of habit. Only by making these practices into regular habits will they actually get done. New years resolutions and other such feeble attempts are usually based entirely on guilt, not on any serious attempt to change anything. Instead, focus on only one new habit at a time, maybe for a few months each, and spend your energy on building it into a natural part of your life rather than on straining to do some activity you hate. And for Zeus’s sake don’t wait until January to get started.
  18. Study productivity. Thousands of highly successful and productive people have shared their very best thoughts on productivity in books, seminars, blogs and so on. Read some of them! My personal favorites include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (though it covers a lot more than productivity), The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, and a video program called Wake Up Productive by Eben Pagan, which I unfortunately couldn’t find a link to (maybe google will be kinder to you.) This blog post also counts :)
  19. Make your own list. The final tip is to figure out what works for you, and write it down! It’s all too common to start doing something good, do it for a while, and then forget about it. Write down your own solutions and keep them around to be rediscovered later. Often when rereading you will go “Oh yeah, I forgot about that one! That DID work for a while, lets try it again.”

Make sure to also check out the previous post in this series and the follow-up, both linked below.

Related articles:
21 Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity

21 Ways To Supercharge Your Productivity

For the last few years I’ve been working solo from my own home as a software developer, on my own projects and being my own boss. And in my experience the absolute biggest challenge you face when working from home is to keep yourself motivated and productive, especially in face of the inevitable difficulties and uncertainties that come with trying to make it on your own.

This post lists some of the best productivity tricks, methods and mindsets I’ve found since I went solo a few years ago. I’ve had big challenges with my own productivity at times, so over the years I’ve seen and tried a ton of different tips and suggestions from various books, seminars, blogs etc. This is a list of some of my favorites, the ones that have worked consistently and that I’m still using to this day.

You don’t have to be a home worker or self employed to benefit from this list. Just think of self employment as a special case, where you have to make all the decisions as well as do the work. Some of the points below deal with strategic decision making, but most are just about getting the work done and aren’t specific to either case.

The list takes a bit of a shotgun approach, as it covers a lot of varied topics and doesn’t go into too much detail on any of them. Some might be familiar to you already, while others might be new. Some might seem completely out of left field.

Remember you don’t have to do or read all of them though! The list is only meant as an inspiration for things to look into. Feel free to pick and choose what works best for you in your current situation.

  1. Do work you love. This is the most important one by far. Many so-called “productivity” issues are really about lack of motivation. Trying to be “productive” when you don’t like what you’re doing is going to be a tough uphill struggle – at best. I recommend that you don’t waste your life on pointless, non-motivating activity, and instead go look for more inspiring work. That could mean changing projects, changing jobs or changing your entire career field, whatever it takes. The stress from non-motivation alone is enough to qualify it as a serious health hazard.
  2. Follow your inspiration. Try putting less emphasis on your current plans and the things you have “decided” to do already. Instead move more in the direction of your current inspiration. This requires possibly breaking some commitments and promises, or at least refraining from making any more promises. If you want to take it all out, you can do as I did and do a full 30-day trial where you explore only inspiring work and put aside all existing commitments and plans. It’s harder than it sounds, but very interesting. :) This blog post is one of the results of that experiment.
  3. Follow your happiness. What makes you happy about your current work? Decide to reorient all your goals around those things. Orient away from things that make you unhappy. For example, if you really like selling and marketing your own products but don’t actually like making them, find a way to sell other people’s products instead. Or it can be something small, maybe you just don’t like the tools you are using. Move away from activities you don’t like because they will only drain your energy.
  4. Speed up. Sometimes we’re not productive simply because we’re not forcing ourselves to be. Set shorter deadlines. Push yourself. Double your planned results for this week. Try it, it’s fun when you view it as a personal challenge.
  5. Slow down. Do you feel you have to get results, NOW? Pushing desperately for results will kill your motivation like nothing else. Slow down, stop pushing, take the time to do things properly. Relax and enjoy your work. One hour of calm focus is worth more than ten hours of tense straining.
  6. Ship more often. Create a process that is focused on shipping faster. “Shipping” can mean releasing software, publishing a blog post, sharing results with coworkers, or anything that pushes your work out into the real world. Seeing your work come to life is incredibly motivating for productivity. Sitting on it is not. Look into lean methods and do everything you can to apply them to your work flow.
  7. Daily goals. Create regular goals – daily, weekly, monthly. Always have some immediate goal(s) in front of you that inspire you to push just that little bit extra to meet the deadline. The effect of something as simple as inventing a random “goal for the day” can be magical.
  8. Make work fun. Refuse to accept that work is boring. That’s not a life for you. Sure, not ALL work is fun, but on the whole it should be. The goals should inspire you. The visions you have for the future should energize you. And the boring parts along the way shouldn’t be horrible either. If all this sounds like an impossible pipe dream, you probably need a career change.
  9. Risk-free starting. The hardest part is always to start. Continuing is orders of magnitude easier. Create an environment where you can start without commitment or risk. Do 5-minute, 1-minute or even 10-second starts, where starting something explicitly does not obligate you to keep working on it. This is particularly useful when you have something boring to do and would rather be somewhere else. Convince yourself that working on it for five minutes is better than nothing.
  10. Work out of order. Reorganize your TODO list so you can work on it in any order. Break tasks into pieces and gather them into sub-projects, each with their own TODO lists. Whenever you are bored with one sub-project, switch to another. Don’t get stuck staring at a problem if you can easily get stuff done elsewhere.
  11. Start from your clarity. What are you MOST certain about in your plans? Start where you see things most clearly. This is usually where you’ll get stuff done the fastest. This can mean working “top-down” and designing the end result first. Or it can mean starting at a random point in the middle because you know exactly how to do that part.
  12. Do the hardest thing first. If there’s a particularly difficult or unpleasant task on your list, it can kill the motivation to do anything else. The more fear you have associated with it the worse it is. Jump into it and get it out of the way. You will feel wonderful afterwards, trust me! :)
  13. Do the easiest thing first. Sometimes what’s really needed is an easy start to get you warmed up. Find the simplest, most effortless thing on your list and start there.
  14. Attack one thing every day. Pick one target task for the day and attack it ruthlessly with everything you got. Aggressive language helps here. Get some real aggression out on that mofo. Every day is wabbit season.
  15. Choose to enjoy boring tasks. Ask yourself: how can I get this done and enjoy it? Tony Robbins has a story where he had a backlog of a hundred telephone calls at one point. When he asked himself that question, he realized that: Wait, I just bought a new Jacuzzi! So he decided to take a bath and call all hundred people from there, joking with everyone about how much he was enjoying his bubble bath and how much fun he was having calling everybody! There is always SOME way you can make boring tasks more enjoyable.
  16. Spend more time on strategy. A common tip to entrepreneurs is to spend more time ON the business than IN it. All of us can benefit from thinking more about WHY we are doing what we are doing, WHERE we are going and HOW we can get there faster. After all, getting stuff done isn’t worth much if it’s the wrong stuff. Strategy means picking the right destination, then figuring out how to get there.
  17. Clarify expectations. Get more detailed clarity about what is expected of your work. Who is the audience? What end purpose does it serve? At what point is it “good enough”? Lack of clarity just leads to misplaced perfectionism and endless fussing over irrelevant details.
  18. Sort out fears and conflicts. We often procrastinate to avoid difficult emotions. Are you afraid what people will think of your work? Is your work not turning out the way you imagined it? Do you have conflicting goals for what you want in your life? Take the time to figure these things out, and count it as work time because it’s worth the effort.
  19. Meditate. Probably 90% of what’s holding us back from performing well are emotions and fears around work. Meditation is an opportunity to “defocus” from your current life situation and get in touch with reality around you. Besides removing stress it also helps you see your own situation in perspective. True inner peace is when you realize that all your problems exist only in your head, they aren’t more real or important than you make them out to be.
  20. Work on your skills. Figure out where you are spending an inordinate amount of time, and get better at it. If you frequently get stuck on one specific task, isolate that task and practice it over and over. See productivity as a skill that you can work on, like a basket ball player works on shooting hoops.
  21. Educate yourself. Whatever you are doing, a big key to getting more productive is to get better at it. Besides honing your skills, you should also stay educated on the latest methods and techniques, and be prepared to put in the effort necessary to become excellent at them. Just because you’ve been doing the same thing for ten years doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it – not by a long shot.

That’s it for this list! I originally planned 40 elements here instead of just 21, but I decided to follow my own advice and split the post in two so I could ship it faster. The follow-up is linked below.

Related articles:
19 More Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity

30 Days of Inspiration

I was recently inspired by one of Steve Pavlina’s posts to start a 30 day trial of inspiration. The concept is to spend one month where you choose all your actions based on your inspiration in the moment, without following any predetermined plan or even thinking too much ahead.

I’ve actually been slowly moving towards this kind of decision making for a while, and it was just a coincidence that I discovered Steve’s post – which almost exactly mirrored my own thoughts – about a week ago. His version was even more extreme than mine though – so I stole his version and decided to do mine as a 30 day trial as well :)

I am restricting this to my work life for now. I won’t be making any major life decisions on the spur of the moment, at least not for the following 30 days. I want to try how well it works out on a limited area of my life first.

Creativity vs. Structure

Just “doing what you want” sounds very unstructured, but it doesn’t have to be. One big source of inspiration for this trial (besides Steve’s post) was a site I recently discovered called #onegameamonth. While the site itself is probably only interesting for game developers, it was the philosophy behind it that caught my interest.

The site basically encourages game developers to create one whole, new game each month. That by itself could be a great resource for helping people push through perfectionism and the fear of shipping. But it was the site’s fresh “here are the rules, everything is optional” mindset that really inspired me to rethink how I do my work. The site sets up a clear structure you can follow, with submission deadlines, themes and so on, but it doesn’t actually require or enforce any of it. In fact it stresses very clearly that everything is a “personal challenge”, without any obligation to color within the lines in order to participate.

These kind of “optional structures” really help creativity and inspiration, I think, rather than hinder it. They give you a complex surface with many starting points, any of which you can spin off into your own wild tangents. This as opposed to just giving yourself a white, rectangular blank sheet of paper, and expecting to be creative. White sheets of paper are awesome if you already have finished ideas. They’re not very helpful if you need some inspiration to get going – which most of us do.

I think this definitely fits in with the theme of a 30 day trial of inspiration. Because the point of the trial isn’t to abolish all structure and engage in some kind of obsessive-impulsive behavior. The point isn’t to force yourself to use a blank sheet of paper.

The point is make creativity the absolute number one priority for 30 days, by all means possible, and to see what effect this has on your productivity.

So none of this means you have to throw away all your plans, TODO lists etc. It just means not feeling emotionally committed to them.

Virtually everything I want to work on already has a ton of plans, notes and ideas to follow – and these are all important productivity tools for me. However I will allow myself to change any plan, jump to another project, or start entirely new projects at any time. I will treat my existing plans as memory aids for past inspired ideas, and nothing more. Plans are just “optional structures” to inspire more creativity – they can be ignored at any point.

Never Commit to Anything

Committing to creativity also means fiercely pushing anti-creative forces out of the way. This especially applies to counterproductive feelings of guilt, fear and uncertainty that usually follow when you change plans or when you release something new and risk getting criticism for it.

One consequence of following this path is that you won’t be able to commit to any particular plan, project or idea. Commitment means locking yourself down to a predetermined path. In order to be able to jump to a new path on a whim, you can’t already be tied down to the path you are on. So for this to work smoothly, you will have to stay clear of all commitments, obligations and promises – even and especially to yourself.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “to underpromise and overdeliver”. This is more akin to “never promise anything, ever”. If you don’t make promises, it’s also impossible to break promises, and thus you stay free to think and do whatever you want without guilt.

In fact, you will have to stop using guilt as the primary motivator for doing work. You will have to avoid using worlds like “should” and “have to” as reasons to do anything. Those are fear-based words, that focus on the negative consequences of not doing work, rather than the positive and inspiring consequences of doing work.

So in that vein, I’m not even committing to doing this for 30 days. I am making this entire trial itself into an optional structure. I want to follow my inspiration because I’m inspired to do so, not because I said I would. I might change my mind tomorrow, and I am perfectly fine with that.

Pushing the Comfort Zone

So that’s what I’m planning on doing for the month of March. I already started a few days ago, and the first thing I was inspired to do was to write this post.

It’s interesting that most of the stuff I want to do now is somewhere outside my current comfort zone. Doing something new and challenging always comes with fear and uncertainty, and it takes a bit of extra courage to push that fear aside. This trial is not necessarily going to be an easy challenge, even though “doing whatever you want” sounds easy.

As an example, I’m still pretty self conscious about “speaking” in public like this, and it took me over a week just to sit down, write this blog post and publish it. But I pushed through some boundaries to get there, and those boundary changes will permanently make expressing myself easier in the future.

And because of that, getting inspired to do so will also be easier.

I’m already experiencing how much it helps to really want to do everything you do, instead of just doing things because you “have” to or because you’ve “committed” to them. I’m also slowly getting over the early worries that this trial would actually lower my productivity rather than increase it. Maybe the biggest challenge is getting over the fear that you’ll just sit around doing nothing.

You won’t, and I think just trying it for a few days will prove that to yourself beyond a shadow of a doubt if you’re a reasonably creative person. I’ve had so many ideas and inspirations the last few days it’s ridiculous, and I have to fight the guilt of not being able to do all of it. I won’t be able to do all of it of course, but I’m fine with that too.