Ryan Hover posted a question on Twitter asking what’s your favorite productivity hack. There are around 300 replies in the thread. And it’s a treasure trove. I will try to summarize the overarching themes here. Be sure to read the thread yourself (here is a nice coffee table book version of it).
I will start with something I am currently experimenting i.e. to be productive by having less work. Being a freelancer gives you room to work with more than just one company. While the time efficiency and resulting money is satisfying in the short run, it kind of gets you in a vicious cycle of hopping from one project to the next. You can’t go deep into any one task. In other words, you start to stretch yourself too thin. I first realized this when I stopped experiencing satisfaction in my work. The only thing keeping me going was money to time spent ratio. And I find that to be a negative sign. I have essentially cut down the number of projects I am working on at any given time.
Cutting down projects is deeply unsatisfying and kind of scary in the moment. The selected deep work has rewards that are obvious only in hindsight. The feeling of not trying hard enough makes you feel like you are missing out. This conversation between Naval and Kapil Gupta could not have been more timely. The argument here is hard work for the sake of hard work does not yield anything. You should work hard only on something that’s truly and uniquely enabled by you. If the thing you are working on could be done by someone else just as good as you, it’s not going to give you any leverage. A good indicator if you are working hard on the right stuff is work won’t feel like work to you. You will feel like playing.
Seemingly Naval and Gupta are not alone. The idea appeared in the twitter thread more than once. While the idea of having less work resonated with me the most, here are some repeated often with my unsolicited commentary:
The easiest way to increase your productivity is to lower your standards. David Allen, GTD — I haven’t read Allen’s book myself. But I have read/heard so much about it. I suspect by lowering your standard he means to work on an MVP version of the task in hand. Most often we are handicapped not by the task itself but by thinking how big it is. To start working, however, we need to think smaller.
No Social Media. Distraction-free environment — I can’t get any serious thinking done if my phone continues to buzz or while multitasking. But these creative tasks are only for 2-4 hours max depending on the day. I can multitask especially the organizational stuff pretty well.
Write tasks on scrap paper and put them in red paper holder. Put them in green when done — This is an interesting idea. Writing on paper is definitely more visceral.
Work as Play — If what you are doing does not feel like work you don’t need to plan around it.
Starting on Saturday and Sunday — I do start work on Sunday. Not anything intensive though. Just small things that can make Monday blues go away to some extent. It works most of the time.
Using social media to advantage. Tweet what you will be working on — I started using Makers a while back. I didn’t use it much. One thing I did notice though was the encouragement aspect from the community despite I being a sparse user. But I can’t generalize that to social media. It might just be something specific to Makers.
Eat, Exercise and Sleep really well — Definitely must for me. If two of these three are missing on any given day, my productivity level drops significantly.
Make Lists — I use them when I am overloaded with stuff to do. But I don’t like to have a preset agenda especially for the first couple of hours of the day.
Most important thing first — Definitely must if you are stressed out about some task in particular. To deal with it though you will have to lower your standard of what completing that task means (tip# 1).
Small goals every day — A variation of lowering your standard. Instead of one big lofty task, have smaller subtasks that you can complete on that day.
Doing the dishes — It does clear the mind.
Wake up early. Utilize mornings — I have mixed feelings about this. I do enjoy mornings but not necessarily because of work.
Have Kids — Kids are anti-bullshit agents. For big matters in life and for smaller ones.
Planning the day the night before — I have little experience with this. It gets recommended a lot.
Do not disturb — Obvious, for creative tasks.
Focus on sharp Razer than Swiss army knife — Building a sharp razor might be doable. There is no way you can make a Swiss army knife on any given day. Again, lower your standards.
Bose QC35s — Amazingly, I have never tried Noise Cancelling headphones as yet.
Being away from work when you are not working — If you are thinking about work while trying to do something else, it’s normally a sign of unfinished task. Finish that. The other way around is also true. That’s probably the reason I feel closer to work-life harmony promoted by Jeff Bezos compared to work-life balance. I find my mind to be too fragile to follow the arithmetics implied by balance.
Brain.fm — Haven’t tried as yet. I do listen to GoT music over and over. But not all the time.
Make Bed in the morning — A habit I learned from Tim Ferris. It gives you a sense of accomplishment within the first few mins of waking up. I feel off now when I don’t do it.
Going office early — When I used to have an office, I liked to go there before everyone else. And it did help.
Remote Work — I don’t know if being remote is more productive than going to the office. But it does save the costs and time associated with traveling to work. Which I can use more productively. I am also the kind of person who likes to organize himself so it does suit me better. But I know people for whom managing home office is a nightmare.
Sleep after lunchtime for 30 mins — Nap refreshes my mind every time. Problem with me is I can’t nap that easily.
Remote Work — I don’t know if being remote is more productive than going to an office. But it does save the costs and time associated with traveling to work. Which I can use more productively. I am also the kind of person who likes to organize himself so it does suit me better. But I know people for whom managing home office is a nightmare