On Working Less and Other Productivity Ideas from Twitter

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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

Book List 2017

Last year I promised myself I won’t get stuck in any one book. If I am not enjoying a particular book, I will move on. Since I am a slow reader, this single act has enabled me to read whole a lot more books then I imagined. But again I didn’t read all these from page to page. And Audible has a fair share as well.

The books are ordered according to the format I read them i.e. Paper, Kindle, and Audible respectively. And are linked accordingly as well.

Sapiens The second best book I read this year. But probably the most important one since it inspired a lot of others on the list.

The Icarus Deception Skimmed through in two hours.

The Ultimate Sales Machine

Creativity I spend the most time on it without completing. Somehow I never connected to it which is a dangerous thing to say about a book praised so much. One possible explanation could be I read so much about it beforehand. It happened with The Hard Thing about Hard Things for me as well, a book I read after two years while it sat on my bookshelf staring at me every day. I will probably give it another try this year.

Elon Musk Breathtaking. But I still like Tim Urban’s blog series more which I read last year.

Option B Good. But not as good as Lean In. I dropped it halfway and picked up again to complete after one month.

The Sovereign Individual The book of the year for me.

Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders The Kindle version gets updated automatically with the new letter every year. I didn’t read all of them.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

Parenting Hacks

Go the F**k to Sleep For parents only. Audible version is more fun because of Samuel L. Jackson’s narration.

The Republic of Tea You can’t spend a $1 more worthwhile than this.

Love yourself like your life depends on it Just Ok.

Autobiography of a Yogi Left it early.

HTML 5 for Web Designers HTML 5 is so adequate.

Read this if you want to take great photographs So damn good.

Design is a Job Must read if you are a typical artist who does not like money/business talk.

The Road Ahead It’s amazing how wrong Bill Gates was about the Internet in the early 90s.

Don’t Make me Think

Tools of Titans I never finished any of Tim Ferriss’ books. Ever.

Sprint Yup, a sprint read.

The Inner Game of Tennis Best self-help book I read this year.

Between You and Me

The Master Algorithm Best overall book on AI. I didn’t get all of it the first time. Will probably pick up again this year.

The One Device Story of iPhone, I didn’t finish it.

Churchill

Lying

Our Final Invention A relatively fun read on a depressing topic.

The Third Wave

High Output Management Finally.

A Mind for Numbers Still reading.

The Dip Listened to it again this year. It’s short but powerful.

The Art of War Listened again for the third time. It’s amazing.

The War of Art Best book on controlling your sarcastic mind and getting back to work.

Steve Jobs This time in audio.

On Tennis Great, if you are a tennis or David Foster Wallace fan. I never seem to get enough of it.

The Great Stagnation Repetitive if you are a regular reader of Marginal Revolution. Brilliant otherwise.

Think and Grow Rich

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World He is so misunderstood.

This is Water David Foster Wallace at his best.

In the Plex At times repetitive mainly because so much about Google is now common knowledge.

Debt

Codependent No More

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Principles

Tribes Repetitive if you are a regular reader of Seth Godin’s Blog. I bought it because I like listening to him every now and then.

The Singularity is Near

SuperIntelligence

Perennial Seller

Along the Way

God’s Debris Not recommended if you have strong religious beliefs.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

The Other Side of History You will love this if you liked Sapiens.

The Phoenix Project You know you are a nerd when the only novel you read in the whole year was about IT operations.

The Big Burn Sapiens has basically turned me into a history buff.

The Butterfly Effect The story of Porn and the Internet.

What If

The Obstacle is the Way I lost the count of how many times I have listened to this. The reason is most certainly personal though.

Writing Great Fiction

The Friendly Orange Glow Basically no one ever invented anything useful in this world.

Overdiagnosed My obsession with healthy living.

I will teach you to be Rich

The Wizard of Menlo Park Amazing.

 

Aside

Making Hard Choices

Nerves are good. They are a sign that you are onto something. The way to tackle them is not to assume that you are not nervous. But rather in accepting that you are.

Being emotional is fine too. Until you don’t dread. Let your emotions be genuine and come in short bursts.

You (or your life choices) don’t matter as much as you think you do. Most people will be fine with or without you.

Take good proteins just before. And exercise.

It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride. Be patient and humble as you move along.

Aside

Smart vs Hard Work

It’s a long standing debate which is yet to settle down. Perhaps because the proponents from both sides don’t understand each other. I am on the smart side. Being smart does not mean that you choose less effort over more. It’s about choosing better results. It has nothing to do with how much effort you put in, its more about the output you gain in result. Aren’t two the same thing or at least directly proportional? No, they aren’t. E.g. If I have an idea or concept which I need to translate so that someone else can understand. It’s better for me to put it in words than to sketch. Because I am better at writing than sketching. And even if I put more effort into the later, the end result will still be poor.

Doing smart work means putting your hard work in the right direction. It means finding your leverage and building on top of it.

For startups the leverage is normally an innovative product or marketing idea. From Breaking Smart:

There is a whole painful genre of entrepreneurial motivational commentary based on fetishizing the pain, blood and sweat of certain kinds of struggle into something sacred and noble. This is smarmy bullshit. You should not avoid hard work where it is the only path, but you SHOULD use every available trick and hack to mitigate the need for Sisyphean efforts.

Do read the entire newsletter.

Aside

Apple, now you are hurting me

I love iPad. More than any other product from Apple. And that says something because my work life is dependent on MacBook and iPhone. I cannot function without these two. I can, however, without an iPad. But I don’t want to. That’s the beauty of it. Yet, like so many other people, I can’t help to ignore it. And Apple is to blame for that.

Yesterday, Apple made an existing remarkable product even better. iPad Air was super awesome. Every iteration after that is plain brilliance. And yet that’s not iPad’s problem.

Ben Thompson wrote a three piece series on the topic back in 2013. The conclusion makes me cry even today:

The “why” of the iPad, then, lies in its magic. It’s in the experience, and, crucially, it’s in the apps.

The iPad is not an iPad, yet-another-Apple device to weigh down your bag and your wallet. Rather, it is whatever, and exactly, you need it to be.

If you are a musician, the iPad is your instrument, your studio.
If you are an artist, the iPad is your paint brush, your easel.
If you are a student, the iPad is your textbook.
If you are a child, the iPad is your storybook, or your entertainment.
If you are a grandma, the iPad is your connection to your family.

If you are human, the iPad is your magic wand. And, honestly, who does not want a magic wand? And why isn’t Apple selling it as such?

And yet Apple insists on selling me specs. A replacement for PC. I don’t want that. Since when you started championing corporate productivity, Apple?

Video

Mossberg’s last appearance

Most of my memories of Walt are from All Things D. I don’t know why but Code Conference never clicked with me as much as its initial carnation. Though I really enjoyed some interviews. But for me his interviews with Steve Jobs were definitive. Somehow he used to get best out of him without pissing him off.

Legend. I will miss him.