How to be productive / fight procrastination / focus
Decide in advance what you're going to work on and how many hours you're willing to spend to finish it
- This is just a way to help you focus on a single project, avoid feature creep, and see it through to completion.
- Others' experiences:
- Leonardo Davinci
- 2018.05.21 - Gates Notes - Leonardo is one of the most fascinating people ever
- There was one downside to having such broad interests: He often switched his focus to new domains right in the middle of a project, leaving works unfinished. Here’s a classic example: After Leonardo won a coveted commission to create a large statue of a nobleman perched on a horse, Leonardo procrastinated by going down multiple rabbit roles. For example, he dissected horses to understand their anatomy, created new systems for feeding horses, and designed cleaner stables. He never completed the statue, and he never published the treatise on horses he started.
- My experiences:
- I have a serious problem with switching projects and feature creep.
Consider limiting the number of projects you take on at once
- 2023.09.15 - I'm thinking I'm going to only study one job skill at a time and limit myself to ~30mins per day to prevent myself from burning out. Right now I want to finish a Golang course, do the fast.ai course, and memorize the Neetcode 150, but to prevent burnout I think I'm going to just focus on one at a time. So maybe finish the Golang course, then do a first pass through the fast.ai course (taking notes on the videos but not reading the full chapters), then do a month of Neetcode, then maybe go back to fast.ai. I'm so happy with how much progress I've made with Duolingo from just studying 3-5 minutes per day, and I owe it to never burning out. My #1 problem is that I burn out and then go for months or years without starting up again.
Set up your body to help you be productive
Get enough sleep
- I've noticed that getting enough sleep helps me to avoid procrastinating.
- My experiences:
- For the past few weeks I had not been getting as much sleep as I should have (~3-7 hrs/night).
- In the evenings I would always feel this kind of mental pain / anxiety that would compel me to try to relax by reading the NYT or RPS or Kotaku.
- Last night I got more sleep than normal (~8-9 hrs?) and I felt much more concentration today at work, and it's now 10:20pm and I'm still being very productive without feeling a compulsion to go read the NYT / RPS / Kotaku.
Don't use an alarm clock
Consider taking a 90-minute nap after your first four hours of work
- Others' experiences:
- Joel Spolsky talks about how people can only do four hours of productive work per day. Find the quote.
- My experiences:
- I've noticed that I tend to feel a bit burned out after about four hours of work, and I've also noticed that taking a 90+ minute nap can help clear that 'brain stress' and make me feel refreshed and ready to go for another four hours.
Consider using stimulants
- How to:
- Stimulants people have used:
- Dark chocolate
- ~6.61mg per square of 90% dark chocolate.
- Lindt says 30g of dark chocolate has ~20mg of caffeine. Their 90% dark chocolate bar is 3.5oz or ~99.22g, so with 10 squares each square is ~9.92g, and so each square has (20mg/30g) * 9.92g = ~6.61mg of caffeine.
- 20-50mg per cup (seems to vary by the type of tea and how it's prepared)
- 64mg per shot (30g / 1 fl oz)
- Caffeine pills
- 65mg per capsule, the same as a shot of espresso.
- Alcohol initially acts as a stimulant and then acts as a depressant (making you want to fall asleep). So it's maybe not the best stimulant to use if you need to do work that requires you to be awake for many hours (like programming 12 hours).
- Alcohol's ability to reduce inhibitions may make it good for work where you need to bond with other people, like sales jobs.
- Others' experiences:
- Tony Hsieh
- He used Excedrin while writing his book.
- "I found it was easy to write once I was in the mood, but it was hard to get in the mood. So I tried various things based on feedback from writer friends. Vodka first, then coffee and then, yes, I actually soaked coffee beans in the vodka. But I found the most effective technique was taking Excedrin when I didn't have a headache because there's actually a lot of caffeine in Excedrin. I ended up writing the whole book in about two weeks' time."
While Hsieh found it relatively easy to put his life on paper, the schedule was grueling. “We would write for 24 hours and then go nap for an hour,” Hsieh said. So how did they stay energized? “We tried coffee. And alcohol. And then coffee and alcohol,” Hsieh laughed. Said Lim, “We actually put coffee beans in a vodka bottle.” But according to Hsieh, Excedrin worked best. “When you don’t have a headache, it gives you a lot of energy.”
- Mark Zuckerberg - He had blog posts while at Harvard where he mentioned drinking alcohol while coding.
- Infer guys (Yang and Chung)
- They were big into drinking espresso. Chung was an espresso fanatic.
- Investment bankers / traders
- These guys apparently work grueling schedules and my understanding is that cocaine use is prevalent. I'm not sure why it would be used more than caffeine / amphetamines, though. Maybe it gives people the courage to take risks or something, which could be more important in finance/trading.
- My experiences:
- Personally, I currently (5/27/23) only use dark chocolate (which has caffeine in it) because I think anything stronger messes with my sleep too much. Beyond chocolate I've only ever tried coffee and tea.
- I made a video talking about how I've noticed that a lot of successful entrepreneurs are heavy users of stimulants (coffee, Adderall / amphetamines, and/or cocaine): YouTube - Nathan Wailes - Stimulants may be a secret to financial success
- One thing to consider alcohol / caffeine to make yourself productive during your free time!
- Don't use it while at work, save their effects for your personal projects.
- I did this while playing CS but it only occurred to me recently (2016/01) to use it for programming.
Consider getting some in-person talking time with friends
- 2023.09.02 - I think I noticed today that after spending a couple of hours chatting with other people for fun, I found it easier to focus on doing my own work, without feeling agitated about not having fun. I'll keep an eye on this to see if I notice it in the future.
Set up your work environment to help you be productive
- "It's a lot more effective (albeit tricky to pull off) to alter your environment so that it pushes you towards doing what you need to be doing, than it is to try to force yourself to do it." - François Chollet (src)
Consider using a powerful computer
- Having a powerful computer will reduce lots of small points of friction that make work less pleasant, like needing to wait a few seconds for apps to start.
- Others' experiences
- My experiences
- 5/27/23 - I've been working on my powerful gaming PC the past few days and I like it a lot more than working on my laptop, because all the software works faster. Like if I open a new tab, or open a new PyCharm project, etc. That reduced friction makes it a lot more pleasant to work.
Consider getting a powerful internet connection
- This reduces friction / waiting time when downloading stuff.
- This can also be useful if you're doing calls with people or coworking in VR.
- Others' experiences
- My experiences
Clear your desk
- A lot of successful people have said they keep their work environment clear of clutter. I need to compile the quotes/examples.
- My experiences
- I've noticed that when I have objects on my desk that are unrelated to work, they have an immediate effect on my brain where they get my brain to load thoughts related to that object. So, like, if I have a videogame controller on my desk, it'll make thoughts related to those games pop into my head when my eye randomly looks at that controller.
- If I turn off the lights in my room, I can just move stuff behind my PC screen and they'll be in the dark where I can't see them well.
- Others' experiences
- "scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute have used fMRI and other approaches to show that our brains like order, and that constant visual reminders of disorganization drain our cognitive resources and reduce our ability to focus. They also found that when participants cleared clutter from their work environment, they were better able to focus and process information, and their productivity increased."
Have enough airflow to keep the CO2 levels down / oxygen levels up
- My experiences:
- In my apartment I've achieved this by just keeping my door to the hallway ajar and my window open (assuming there's a window open in the hallway which can allow for airflow).
- I've also bought a CO2 monitor in the past and found it well worth the money.
Have the room at a comfortable temperature
- My experiences:
- I've noticed that if I'm really hot or really cold I can't focus as well.
- I like the combination of having my windows open for fresh air and having the air conditioner on to keep the room cool.
Prevent visual distractions
Consider turning off the lights in the room you're in
- This has helped me stay focused / remove distractions.
- I did this at Infer.
- I also did this while working in my room (5/26/2023).
- I also do this while playing PC games to get more immersed in the game.
- Movie theaters do it.
Consider using a trucker hat to restrict your vision
- I've noticed that the hat can help in at least two different-but-related ways:
- During the day, using the hat to block my view of the sky seems to help reduce eye strain caused by bright light from the sky.
- If there's a fair amount of foot traffic or people moving around where I'm working, I find blocking my vision with the hat helps me fight the urge to look at who's walking by (it feels like an instinctual defensive urge, like to make sure the person isn't a danger).
- When I use the hat, I wear it unconventionally: the hat is too small for my head, so I have it on the front of my head, with the front of it resting just above my eyebrows, and the brim level with the top of my laptop. It's like how you see Marine drill instructors wearing their hats.
Consider listening to music
- My experiences
- I spent a few days playing FF8 and then asked myself why I found myself getting swept into it, while that doesn't happen with work. I think part of the reason was that FF8 has constant music, so I don't get distracted by other thoughts creeping into my mind.
- Later: FF8 also doesn't really require much effort. It's like an interactive novel. I find that I often stop doing work when I get stressed out about it, and the same thing happens with games (e.g. 'rage quitting').
- I tried applying this to work by listening to a Magic Tape and it worked. I had previously used Magic Tapes while programming but I can't remember having considered them for non-programming work.
- I think one nice thing about music is that it provides some experiential variety that keeps you from feeling bored. I talk about that in a YouTube video here: YouTube - Nathan Wailes - Experiential variety may be a secret to productivity
- I like listening to mixtapes or radio stations where I don't need to constantly be choosing the next song.
Consider having your tasks on one or more physical piece(s) of paper on your desk
- If you combine this with otherwise clearing your desk it could be a powerful way to have your mind return to your tasks when it starts to wander.
- Others' experiences
- Pieter's a big proponent of having his tasks on individual yellow post-its.
- My experiences
- 2015.03 - For a day or two I was finding it extremely effective to start the day by writing out a list of tasks I wanted to get done that day, and then keeping that list in front of me while I was working on each task.
Remove distractions on your computer
Block distracting websites
- These are sites that you never have any productive reason for visiting. Examples: facebook.com, nytimes.com, washingtonpost.com. StayFocusd actually provides a pretty good list of distracting sites to start with.
- How to
- On Windows you can totally block distracting websites that you never want to be able to visit via your hosts file.
- You could also use StayFocusd for potentially-distracting sites that you still want to be able to access.
- Examples: YouTube, Wikipedia, Quora(?), Reddit(?). I recall being frustrated on occasion that StayFocusd was blocking some useful information on those sites, but I'd already run down all my StayFocusd time on nytimes.com.
- My experiences:
- I use my hosts file to block news / gaming / video websites.
- An idea: I could have two users on my computer and do work on a non-administrator account, so that I can't change the hosts file from within that account. It adds just a little more friction, hopefully enough to get you to think about whether you really want to procrastinate. But that would make it hard to do stuff like install new software. So maybe have an admin account but have the account load without all the distracting software (like games).
Uninstall distracting software
- My experiences:
- In the past I've uninstalled Steam and GOG Galaxy, and all other videogames.
Prevent email and chat apps from interrupting / distracting you
- How to:
- You could quit / turn off the chat apps.
- On Windows you could move the chat apps out of the visible part of your task tray.
- You can enter 'Do Not Disturb' mode to prevent being notified.
- Note that there are two ways these things can interfere:
- one is by actually popping up a notification / sound, and
- the other is by having a visible indicator of a new message/email that you happen to see when you look at the email tab or app icon.
- Others' experiences
- This is mentioned in Joel on Software
Consider working with others
- My experiences:
- I've noticed that when I'm working in public where people can see what's on my screen, I feel more embarrassed to watch YouTube, play games, or browse Twitter.
In a coworking space
In a VR coworking space
On a screenshare call
- My experiences:
- 2018.05.11 - I took on an Upwork assignment where my client was a programmer, and we were kind of pair-programming the entire time (I was sharing my screen and he was giving me instructions of things to try), and we did a 16-hour day. I was pretty impressed at how long I was able to go. So maybe one way to help get yourself past procrastination is to pair-program, either by watching someone else code or by having someone else watch you code.
- 2023.05.27 - For the past two weeks John and I have been meeting up in Horizon Workrooms or ImmersedVR and taking turns sharing our screens as we each work for 30 minutes on our respective business ideas.
Consider deciding in advance how long you'll spend on a task
Set a budget/schedule for larger goals
Consider using OKRs ('Objectives and Key Results')
- Use OKRs or something similar: have yearly goals, quarterly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals, and daily goals. For each objective, define success in a measurable way, usually with several "key results".
- How to:
Consider setting a budget/schedule for smaller tasks
- Others' experiences
- Tom Francis, when working on Gunpoint (and presumably Heat Signature) would decide ahead of time how much time he wanted to spend on various tasks that he needed to complete. (Source)
Use Task Lists / To-Do Lists
- If you don't have all of your daily goals in front of you, it's easy to spend too much time on one task. But if you see the list of things you need to do, you speed up how quickly you get minor tasks done, since it's clear that there are X number of other things to do. By having all of the tasks clearly in front of you, your conception of "the whole task" changes from just the task in front of you to the set of all tasks for that day.
- Not using these makes you just forget what needs to get done
- The problem with forgetting what needs to get done is that different tasks may be best suited to getting done at different times / places. So you need to be able to know what all of your tasks are so that you can choose the task that is best suited to getting done at that time and place. For example, if you only have 5 free minutes and don't have a computer, you need to know all of the tasks you have that can get done in 5 minutes without a computer.
- How to:
- Others' experiences:
- pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity
What you do is this: every time you do something — anything — useful during the day, write it down in your Anti-Todo List on the card.
Each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet.
And then at the end of the day, … take a look at today’s card and its Anti-Todo list and marvel at all the things you actually got done that day.
Consider using the Pomodoro Technique
- What the Pomodoro Technique has made me realize is that the biggest problems I have are that:
- If I don't have a set deadline to finish a task, I'll drag out the time I take to do it (eg reading a book, coding a problem). The 25-minute deadline really keeps me moving as quickly as I can move.
- I have a tendency to get sidetracked with reading articles which aren't that important. It's like a new form of watching TV. Now that I'm thinking in terms of 25-minute segments of productivity, it makes me look at reading articles in a whole new way: I think, "What a waste to spend 2 hours on those articles! I could do four 25-minute sessions in that time!"
Paper productivity systems
- Wikipedia - Franklin Planner
The planner pages are drilled, loose-leaf style pages in different sizes and formats. Formats have been updated through the years, but most planners contain areas for an appointment schedule, prioritized daily tasks, and notes. A key section at the rear of the planner contains addresses. Other inserts include ledger sheets for tracking finances or vehicle mileage, exercise logs, and other individualized reference materials. Smith named his planning system after Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) who kept a small private book, as detailed in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. A core technique of the Franklin Planner system involves beginning each day with 15 minutes of "solitude and planning".
- Original Ring-bound Daily Planner
- 2010.03.12 - YouTube - OfficeArrow - How to Create and Use the 43 Folders System
- Summary: get 12 folders for the 12 months of the year and 31 folders for the days of the month, and put any papers you need to refer to on a future date in either the month-folder (if it's more than 31 days away) or the day folder (if it's within the next 31 days).
- This method seems to be totally replaced by modern technology (e.g. Google Calendar).
Frequently check in on / monitor your mental/physical state to prevent exhaustion
Try to keep your next small step (i.e. not requiring intense thought to execute) written down on a yellow sticky note or in Notepad++ to reduce strain from frequently trying to remember what you're trying to do
- 2023.09.21 - I'm working on a somewhat difficult and intimidating programming task in an unfamiliar codebase for a client and I'm finding that writing down each idea I have for my next step immediately in Notepad++ and then focusing on trying to relax while doing it slowly is helping me slowly move forward. I have the full list of thoughts that I can review if I need to come back to the work later.
- I think about this with the same climbing analogy as when using git commits: when I write down that idea immediately, I'm putting a stake into the wall to catch me if I fall (i.e. by writing my idea for the next small step down I can always just go back and read it if I forget what I was trying to do, which is likely if I'm dealing with mentally taxing stuff).
If you notice you're feeling mentally stressed, make an effort to slow down your rate of work to an extremely relaxed and step-by-step process to reduce the mental load
- Just as I constantly mentally monitor my exertion when doing long-duration cardio to pace myself and not burn out, when programming I need to constantly mentally monitor my stress levels and pull back / slow down when too stressed to prevent mental exhaustion
Respond effectively to intrusive thoughts / distractions
Don't allow yourself to spend time thinking about / worrying about the results of your work while you're working, just focus on going through the work process
- Others' experiences
- Ira Glass
- ...nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me–is that all of us who do creative work, like y'know, we get into it, and we get into it because we have good taste. But it's like, there's a gap–that for the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good, OK? It's not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you, y'know what I mean? A lot of people never get past that phase, a lot of people at that point they quit. And the thing I would just like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, they could tell what they were making wasn't as good as they wanted it to be, they knew it fell short. It didn't have the special thing that we wanted it to have, and the thing what to do is–Everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you're going through it right now, if you're just getting out of that phase, you gotta know it's totally normal and the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you're gonna finish one story. Because it's only by actually going through a volume of work that you're actually going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions. In my case, like, I took longer to figure out how to do this than anybody I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It's gonna take you awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. And you just have to fight your way through that, OK? (Source)
- My experiences
- 2018.05.20 - I did a pair programming session with John a few days ago where I watched him for an hour as he learned Angular, and then he watched me for an hour while I worked on Rhymecraft. While working on Rhymecraft I was thinking out loud, and I was relating how anxious and stressed I felt as I was working on it, and John at one point said, "Dude, relax." And from there on I focused on just trying to relax my body. A few days later I decided to work on Rhymecraft on my own and I focused a lot on my anxiousness and stress-level, and I just focused on making sure I was as relaxed as possible: so, not allowing myself to worry about how much more I needed to do, or how much I would be able to get done in that session, but instead just "putting one foot in front of the other" for two hours. And it worked! It was a productive two hours and I didn't feel at all stressed out while working, and the next day (today) I'm having another go at it. So: it may be a good idea to focus on your anxiousness levels and make adjustments to whatever you're doing and thinking to reduce them. It's a lot like when I was training for the marathon and would spend my time focused on how taxed my heart felt, so that I could adjust my intensity to not tire out my heart before I'd finish the distance I was going for.
- Later: getting enough sleep could help with this.
Use a task app or calendar to schedule tasks/chores for after you finish working
- If, for example, you notice you're almost out of toilet paper or water, then rather than stop working to go buy it immediately, add it as a task in your task app (I use Google Tasks).
- My experiences
- For the past few weeks I've had two Google Calendars open on my second desktop, with my Notepad++ "notes" file open on the right side (of the second Desktop). So what I do is: when I have a random thought or thing I want to file on my wiki, I instead just switch to my second desktop and put it in the "notes" file so I don't lose sight of whatever task I'm working on. I have the month-view of Google Calendar in the top-left quadrant, and the week-view in the bottom-left quadrant.
Add random thoughts/ideas you want to remember to a simple text file to be filed away later
- Use Notepad++ as a quick way to dump all your random thoughts so that you don't waste anymore time thinking about them. You can always return to them later to file them away if you don't want to forget them.
- My experiences
- I have a misc.txt Notepad++ file that I use to dump all my random thoughts into. If I hear a good song, I'll note the name (or link and timestamp if it's part of a set) there.
Work habits of successful people
Articles / videos
- David Foster Wallace (Source)
- Charlie Rose (CR): What will you do with that year?
DFW: If past experience holds true, I will probably write an hour a day and spend eight hours a day biting my knuckle and worrying about not writing.
CR: Worrying about not writing. Not: 'worrying about what to write'?
DFW: Right. Worrying about not writing.
- Tom Francis
- A thing I've got better at lately is getting a lot of work done without burning out. Here's what I'm trying:
To avoid burnout: any time you're stuck, frustrated or distracted, be very willing to stop work and do whatever you want.
To get lots done: any time you're not working, occasionally ask yourself if you feel like working.
If the answer's no many times in a row, take a look at your to-do list and find something tiny, or break a bigger thing up into tiny steps. (Source)
- Lesson I have learnt a million times but still frequently forget: always seriously consider doing the bare minimum effort version of a thing
So often assumptions about standards it has to meet, or flaws that would be unacceptable, are obviously false when you step back a bit. (Source)
- 2017.05.15 - Twitter - Tiago Forte - Twitter thread
- I'm increasingly convinced that THE most important thing in productivity is to end every cycle with a clear milestone or deliverable
- TODO: Copy over the rest of it.
- He that pursues two Hares at once, does not catch one and lets t’other go.
- The hardest thing is...When you think about focusing, right, you think, "Well, focusing is...is saying 'Yes'." No. Focusing is about saying 'No'. Focusing is about saying 'No'. And you've got to say, "No, no no"–and when you say 'No' you piss off people. And they go talk to the San Jose Mercury and they write a shitty article about you. You know?
- The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say 'No' to almost everything.
- Warren Buffett (Source: I can't find any website that mentions the original source.)
Break up the task into many subtasks
Don't think too much about it, just get going
- I remember when I spent two months in Spain I had some kind of epiphany at some point where I stopped caring if my grammar or pronunciation was bad, and I would just spit out my best guess. And I remember that I started learning a lot faster once I started doing that.
- Tom Francis
Do what you want to be in the mood to do. You can also get stuff done that you don’t feel like doing, just by starting to do it. Your brain only resists up until the point you actually start the job, at which point it starts to focus on doing it. You do what you want to be in the mood to do, and soon you’re in the mood to do it. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s the single most useful piece of information I’ve discovered about the way my brain works in 29 years of having one.
Misc articles to categorize the advice for
- Extract the information from this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/relax-youll-be-more-productive.html?emc=eta1
- 2009.10.04 - Kalzumeus - Work Less, Get More Done: Analytics For Maximizing Productivity
- Working Longer Hours Is Not A Competitively Defensible Advantage
- Why Smart People Keep Falling For This
- Poor Metrics For Productivity
- Good Metrics For Productivity
- Just assign an arbitrary value to tasks, based on your best guess of how much value they add for the business. Then, track how long it takes to complete the tasks, and figure out where you’re adding disproportionate amounts of value and where you are spinning your wheels. Do more of the former, less of the latter. When in genuine doubt about the value, guess what it would cost to have somebody else do it for you.
- The Pseudo-Wage
- If you want to earn $100 an hour, you’d better not busy yourself with $5 an hour tasks.
- You’re Measuring Productivity. Now, Improve It
- Productivity Technique #1: Outsource.
- Outsource anything that your personal presence does not add value to. Equivalently, outsource anything where the replacement price is less than your desired pseudo-wage.
- Productivity Technique #2: Automate Your Processes.
- A startup’s most important product is the process the startup uses to create products.
- Productivity Technique #3: Eliminate Unproductive Uses of Time.
- I use RescueTime. If you don’t, install it today and spend some time aggressively categorizing what websites are worthwhile for you to be on. Consider this a very, very effective process improvement.
- I used to spend much, much more time on blogging than I do currently. The shorter articles typically take me about an hour to write, whereas this article took me about four. However, my long essays produce more traffic, more discussion, more links, and better writing than the shorter articles — and vastly out of proportion to the time invested.
- Worker Smarter, Not Harder. Then Go Home.
- 2010.08.25 - Kalzumeus - The Hardest Adjustment To Self Employment
- 2016.05.17 - NYTimes - Where does the time go?
- You can do some boring, repetitive task for 5-10 minutes to get yourself used to doing a boring repetitive task (which is a lot of what success is). I got this idea while creating calendar events every 30 minutes to remind me to log my time.
- When you consider what you want to get done in the next week, you may know that certain tasks are large enough that they need to go on separate days from each other, and thus it may make sense to assign a task to a particular day without having actually scheduled a time for it (e.g. "I want to play chess one day, bridge another day, poker a third day, so I'm going to add one of those to each of several different days"). So you should have "buckets" of tasks for particular days, where the tasks don't have scheduled times.
- I should really have a set daily routine where each morning I decide what I will get done that day and each evening I review what I have done that day.
- The value you add when working is the product of the importance of the task you're working on and your level of effort on that task. So it may be better to work on some lower-importance task if you'll be more motivated to work on it.
- Consider getting a log book (moleskin) specifically for tracking your time. It's too easy to ignore it when it's on your phone. It's just like when I had to take the LSAT advice to my wall so that I would be continually prompted to look at it.
- It might help to do some kind of fun warm-up exercise before you need to get work done so that you're in the right frame of mind.
- Playing blitz might get you into a frame of mind of making decisions quickly.
- Set an alarm on your phone for a certain number of minutes in the future (say, 15 minutes). Use that to time-box what you're working on.
- 2016.08.22 - Agh, I've got it! I was frustrated that JIRA doesn't give me a great top-down view of what I'm working on, and it just struck me that I should use Confluence for that: have the different projects I'm working on as different pages, and then link to JIRA tickets where I can get more in-depth on how I'm solving those particular problems. The particular thing I was working on was making my WordPress mobile-friendly, and documenting on the wiki other ideas I had but didn't have time to implement now and didn't have time to create JIRA tickets for.
- 2018.04.10 - Twitter - ajlkn
- Use Notepad to keep a stack of tasks
- The current task is at the top of the list
- As you go down the list, you have tasks that are not going to be relevant immediately.
- Close any windows that are not relevant to your current task.
- Notes from work:
- Close gmail for 30+ mins at a time so you don't keep getting distracted by random emails / gchat.
- Move to one of the offices for 30+ mins at a time so you don't get distracted by noise.
- When working on a bunch of tickets, prioritize those tickets where you need to do something so that a dataset can start running, or a csv can start being scored, or a model can be passed to a co-pilot. Only after those are done should you then work on tickets where someone is asking you to investigate why something is the way it is.
- Keep a piece of paper or Notepad window where you list all of the model builds on your plate right now and what the next step is for each of them. This is really, really helpful for working on multiple model-builds in parallel! It makes it much easier to switch between them without getting disoriented.
- I've been finding whistling to Magician soundtracks to be helpful to keep me in the zone.
- I already knew that listening to house music helped me get in the zone, but it hadn't occurred to me that whistling would also help.
Wikipedia - Time management
- 2015.12.03 - A big thing to learn IMO is to separate the act of remembering that there's a particular thing you need to do and doing that thing.
- In the past I would normally remember I need to do something and then immediately start working on it.
- The problem with this approach is that you can end up getting distracted over and over again.
- I think a much better technique is:
- have a system for organizing your tasks
- whenever you think of a new task, instead of working on it immediately, write it down and come back to it later.
- refusing to work on it immediately may be a helpful way to get out of your old habit of allowing yourself to be distracted over and over again
Prioritization / Focus
- I think one of my major weaknesses is not having an organized method of prioritizing my efforts.
- 2015.03.07 - today is Saturday. Before I started doing anything I forced myself to write up a list of things I wanted to get done today in Notepad. After I wrote the first thing I wanted to jump in and start doing it, but I forced myself to keep trying to remember other things I had wanted to get done today. Having all of them up in front of me definitely helped me to spend an appropriate amount of time on each.
- Get the quote from Tim Ferris(?) that talks about the four boxes: urgent / not urgent, important / not important.
Being Productive with Email
2014.07.14 - Infer.com CEO Vik Singh - 3 Gmail tricks that can save you hours every week
Take 20 Minute Breaks With Fun Stuff
2014.10.17 - One thing that has been working really well for me recently is that I'll read 10 pages of a book (which maybe takes 30-60 minutes) or work for 30-60 minutes on my AutoRespond program, and then watch 10-20 minutes of a fun YouTube video on how to make games with GameMaker. The video-watching relaxes me and I think it gives my brain a break, and then I can jump back into reading / working.
From John T Reed's book "Succeeding":
Making a daily to-do list is one of the best yet simplest time management tricks. I once had an apartment complex in Fort Worth where I employed a resident manager and a half-time maintenance man. The new manager was foaming at the mouth at me. She told me there was such a huge backlog of work that I needed to hire a second full-time maintenance man for at least three months. She said the current maintenance man agreed with her. I fired her and went to Texas and took over her job while I looked for a replacement. I made a list of the stuff that had to be repaired at the complex, prioritized each item by numbering them 1, 2, 3, etc., and gave it to the half-time maintenance man. He completed all the work in about two weeks. When I asked why he had agreed with the fired manager, he said, "The previous manager never gave me a list. There was so much to do, I didn't know where to begin."
Source: John T Reed, "Succeeding" (2nd Ed) - http://www.johntreed.com/
http://hackthesystem.com/blog/why-i-hir ... ductivity/
Articles / Videos
- Dave Girouard, CEO of Upstart - Speed as a Habit
- When you think about it, all business activity really comes down to two simple things: Making decisions and executing on decisions.
- The process of making and remaking decisions wastes an insane amount of time at companies.
- Deciding on when a decision will be made from the start is a profound, powerful change that will speed everything up.
- Eric Schmidt made sure that decisions were made on a specific timeframe — a realistic one — but a firm one.
- think about how important each decision is and how much time it’s worth taking. There are decisions that deserve days of debate and analysis, but the vast majority aren’t worth more than 10 minutes.
- It's important to internalize how irreversible, fatal or non-fatal a decision may be. Very few can't be undone.
- Speed doesn’t require one leader to make all the calls top-down. The art of good decision making requires that you gather input and perspective from your team, and then push toward a final decision in a way that makes it clear that all voices were heard.
- He doesn't give a clear process for determining when a decision should be made. This is actually the same question I asked Marissa Mayer and her answer made it clear she didn't have a clear process either.
- Gauging comfort on your team is a really helpful measure of whether you’re going fast enough or not. You know you're going fast enough if there's a low-level discomfort, people feeling stretched. But if you're going too fast, you'll see it on their faces, and that's important to spot too.
- It’s not that everything needs to be done NOW, but for items on your critical path, it’s always useful to challenge the due date. All it takes is asking the simplest question: “Why can't this be done sooner?” Asking it methodically, reliably and habitually can have a profound impact on the speed of your organization.
You don’t have to be militant about it, just consistently respond that today is better that tomorrow, that right now is better than six hours from now.
There’s a funny story about my old pal Sabih Khan, who worked in Operations at Apple when I was a product manager there. In 2008, he was meeting with Tim Cook about a production snafu in China. Tim said, “This is bad. Someone ought to get over there.” Thirty minutes went by and the conversation moved to other topics. Suddenly Tim looked back at Sabih and asked, 'Why are you still here?' Sabih left the meeting immediately, drove directly to San Francisco Airport, got on the next flight to China without even a change of clothes. But you can bet that problem was resolved fast.
Just as important as assigning a deadline, you need to tease out any dependencies around an action item. This might be obvious, but mission critical items should be absolutely gang tackled by your team in order to accelerate all downstream activities. Things that can wait till later need to wait. Ultimately, you can’t have team members slow-rolling on non-vital tasks when they could be hacking away at the due date for something that is make or break. A big part of this is making sure people aren’t waiting on one another to take next steps. The untrained mind has a weird way of defaulting to serial activities — i.e. I’ll do this after you do that after X, Y, Z happens. You want people working in parallel instead.
- Ten times a day I’ll find myself sitting in a meeting saying, “We don’t need to wait for that thing, we can do this now.”
- Eliminate cognitive overhead.
If you can knock out big chunks of a project early, you can reduce the overhead of the remaining parts by 90%. You should always be on the lookout for these opportunities. Often, it will be one tiny element of a project that’s adding all of the complexity.
- For example, our business at Upstart has to comply with a lot of regulations. There’s not a lot we can do until we know we’ll have legal approval, so we used to spend a lot of time dancing around whether something was going to be legal or not. Then we thought, why don’t we just get a brain dump from our lawyers saying, “Do this, this and this and not this, and you’ll be fine.” Having that type of simple understanding of the problem drastically reduced the cognitive overhead of every decision we made.
- The one I see the most — and this includes at Google too — is that people hem and haw over what the founder or CEO will think every step of the way. Just get their input first. Don’t get your work reversed later on.
- Bart Procrastinates And Does Not Revise His Exam - The Simpsons
Journal of uncategorized observations
- 2015.05.19 - I'm finding it very effective to schedule my time via Google Calendar. In the past, if I got an idea to do something (like "Oh, I need to order more protein powder..."), I would just do it immediately. What I've been trying the past few days is to not do it immediately, but instead to schedule it for an open block of time in the evening. I've been starting at 6:45pm and scheduling myself in 15-minute increments.
The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People
- Wikipedia - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- This has a pretty good summary.
- It's highly, highly recommended by Scooby: "This $8 book changed my life many years ago... it will change your life forever."
- 2012.09.17 - Time Management For Success In Bodybuilding And Life
- There's a really good summary of the videos at the bottom.
- Shorter summary:
- Lecture 1
- You need time management to make sure your time is not wasted on things that aren't important to you.
- If you don't know exactly what you're trying to achieve, or if you don't have a plan, you'll never achieve it.
- 7 Habits helps you determine what your goals are and break them into small chunks that you can work on every day.
- With this time management approach, every day you make a little progress towards your goals, and it makes you feel awesome that you're making your dreams happen.
- Lecture 2
- Good goals are:
- The book "7 Habits" provides a great way to plan your day:
- You begin by defining your roles.
- Then for each of those roles, you come up with long-term goals,
- and for each of those goals you break it into daily tasks.
- Lecture 3
- Making Goals
Getting Things Done
Time Management that Doesn't Suck
- Sample Chapter
- Results-fixated thinking makes it hard to achieve things. In order to accomplish really major things, we need to ignore the final result.
- From reading the sample chapter, this guy seems to know what he's talking about, although his style is unusually informal.
Click here to expand...
- Why Time Management Is So Important
- As Ben Franklin said, "Time is the stuff life is made of".
- "Time is the stuff life is made of"
- Our relationship with time:
- controls how much we can get done
- what we'll achieve
- whether we'll be able to stick to our goals or not
- ultimately, whether we'll be successful
- Two Different Relationships with Time
- If "time controls you", you have various problems. If "you control time", you have various benefits.
- Time Management is the Single Most Important Skill in Life
- "We've been tricked into believing in all the wrong tools and all the wrong thinking."
- The Good News
- Chapter 1: Why You're Behind
- The 5 Productivity Killers
- Wishful Thinking
- Without an actual strategy, all of our goals and to-do lists are ultimately just wishful thinking.
- Results-Fixated Thinking (RFT) is where we focus only on the results, and not on the process that will get us there.
- On the short term, focusing on results is depressing and frustrating. The bigger the project that you're working on, the more frustrating it will be for you to think only about the result of your work -- because the bigger the project, the further away the final result is.
- In order to accomplish really major things, we need to ignore the final result.
- (NW: In other words, if you're hiking up a mountain, don't waste any time looking up at the top, because it will only discourage you. This definitely seems to be what I'm doing with Rhymecraft right now.)
- Many popular self-help resources have tried to present positive thinking as something of a free lunch. Positive thinking by itself will not get you anywhere.
- But negative thinking by itself will LIMIT you.
- With the right process, and enough time, you CAN do anything. Repeat it until you believe it.
- NW: I'd change "anything" to instead say "far more than most people would think possible".
- 20% Behavior
- 20% Behavior is worrying about the least important 20% of what you're doing.
- The way to accomplish big things is to work on big things.
- Perfectionism is the extremest form of 20% behavior possible, so it merits a special name.
- Speaking practically:
- You can ALWAYS make a document slightly better.
- You can ALWAYS improve a design a little bit.
- You can ALWAYS make a product a bit better.
- You can ALWAYS do a bit more, make the client a bit happier, please your boss that much more, put in a few extra hours.
- Perfectionism turns into a way to justify 20% behavior.
- To-Do Lists: What They Are and Aren't
- What To-do Lists Are
- Most of us can only hold between 5 and 9 pieces of information in our mind at any given time.
- To-do lists exist to help you with your memory. Nothing more.
- What To-do Lists Aren't
- To-do Lists can't make you do things.
- To-do lists are not motivating.
- It's not fun seeing a big list of tasks. It's not fun feeling out of control. It's not fun having your list tell you what to do. And it's not fun seeing the list getting longer every day.
- NW: Yes, but I think keeping track of the things you've done can be very motivating, although I suppose it might not qualify as the to-do list itself.
- To-do lists are not for complex tasks.
- To-do lists are not a place for your goals.
- To-do lists are not for new things.
- If you put down something radically new on a to-do list, such as "Go salsa dancing" (when you've never done it before), the to-do list will not help you to do it. You'll either do it or not, depending on your conscious/subconscious connection.
- I'm going to stop using the phrase "To-Do Lists" throughout the rest of these chapters and I'm going to start just calling them "Lists".
- Goals: What They Are And Aren't
- Goals: What They Are
- Goals are directions for the future. Goals define what you want.
- Goals: What They Aren't
- Paraphrasing: Goals are not the same as the process that will achieve them.
- Every goal needs a process in order to be achievable.
- A process is something that gives us regular, daily feedback about whether we're taking the right steps or not.
- The Conscious / Subconscious Connection
- Your mind can be divided into two parts:
- Your conscious mind is the voice inside your head when you talk to yourself
- Your subconscious is where your feelings and thoughts originate from
- Your Conscious / Subconscious connection is the connection that exists between your Conscious mind and your Subconscious mind.
- The most powerful state of human existence is where our conscious and subconscious minds are in alignment. When this happens, we are capable of amazing things.
- Paraphrasing: Self-sabotage is when you do a poor job of something that you don't "feel" (subconscious) like doing, without ever consciously deciding to do a poor job. Ex: Showing up late to something you don't want to do, forgetting to do something you don't want to do.
- There are two messages here:
- You must believe in what you're doing.
- There isn't any productivity system that can overcome self-sabotage.
- Anxiety is a feeling of general stress and unrest. It's a very painful emotion caused by an internal conflict within our mind. If part of you wants one thing and another part of you wants another, that's anxiety, and it's not pleasant
- NW: That actually seems to me to be a great explanation of what causes anxiety.
- [Later:] Actually, from reviewing the Wikipedia article, it doesn't seem to fit neatly into any of the existing categories, based on how those categories are defined in the article. And there seem to be clear examples in the article of anxiety that isn't caused by inner conflict. But Davidson's definition still rings very true to me, and seems like a good one for the purpose of this topic.
- Anxiety always indicates a conscious/subconscious connection issue and is the single best warning that we may be sabotaging ourselves.
- NW: Personally, I think I've noticed that I suffer anxiety when I feel I won't be able to break a task into smaller pieces, or when I'm "focusing on the result" as this book puts it.
- NW: Also, by his definition of "sabotaging yourself", it seems this statement could be simplified to "Anxiety is the single best warning that you're not going to do something."
- Chapter 2: How You're Going to Get Ahead
- Process-Oriented Thinking
- Process-oriented thinking is when you think about the process, not about the results.
- The primary contributions of process-oriented thinking are that it makes things easy and it tells you exactly what to do.
- Core principle #1: Focus on the process that will bring the result; ignore the result.
- Time Allocation: The Mega Principle
- Time allocation is the process of setting aside a fixed amount of time, and working directly on one task for exactly that amount of time. No more, and no less.
- Getting Started with Time Allocation
- Review all your major work and life goals.
- Identify the main areas where you need to be systematically spending time.
- For each area, decide on a reasonable amount of time to devote each day.
- Don't ask too much of yourself.
- NW: He gives examples of 15-30 minutes per day per task.
- Remember that you are not focusing on results. You are only focusing on spending the time.
- Tracking Your Time Allocation
- Pencil and paper works fine, as do spreadsheets, but we recommend the website 42 Goals.
- NW: He shows two screenshots of what 42 Goals' spreadsheet-style tracking looks like for three simple goals. He says each day is considered "successful" if you spent the designated amount of time on that task, but that reminds me of that website I was using with Yang, where I ended up just sitting in front of the computer for the designated amount of time without actually making much progress.
- NW: The one benefit of this system that I can see over what I'm doing currently with Confluence is that it makes it very easy to see what days you did something and what days you didn't do something, like GitHub's "past year of activity" graph. I don't currently have something like that for the goals I'm working towards.
- How Time Allocation is Different
- It's process-oriented rather than results-fixated.
- You're focusing on good habits rather than individual tasks.
- You remain in control.
- Every day, you see your performance for the week.
- It becomes a habit.
- It makes work easy, because rather than focusing on all of the tasks you want to do, you only think about how you should spend your limited time.
- Why Time Allocation Works
- It's easy. You don't think about your results; only how you're spending your time.
- It doesn't control you.
- NW: At this point I'm wondering if he created the 42goals website, because he seems to be plugging it pretty heavily in his examples.
- It makes you feel good.
- More Time Allocation Examples
- Summary: in some of his examples he seems to demonstrate "take a small bite out of a large goal every day", for example "Old method: My sink is always full of dishes, my kitchen is a mess; New method: Spend 5 minutes per day on the kitchen." It seems that same "divide and conquer" approach would also work in the task-oriented approach, where you could say, for example, "Today, just clean all the forks and knives. Tomorrow, clean all the cups." etc. That's in fact the kind of example John T. Reed gives in his book, where he talks about one of his properties where his manager wasn't doing a good job of managing the maintenance worker, and so he gave the maintenance worker a list of tasks and said, "Finish the task at the top, and then start the next one, and continue like that until they're all done." That was arguably results-oriented thinking, but it demonstrated the same idea of "when you're working, forget about the overall task". Another example would be from "How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling", where the author emphasizes the importance of getting in X calls per day. That's results-oriented.
- Processes vs. Results
- NW: He uses the kitchen sink example to distinguish between the two approaches.
- "Thinking about a 100% tidy kitchen will be discouraging and frustrating. But switching your stopwatch on, and working for exactly 5 minutes, and then stopping, is something so easy and unthreatening that anyone is capable of doing it."
- Time allocation has some very important properties:
- Time allocation is process-oriented.
- Time allocation guarantees you will have time for all your tasks.
- NW: Hmm...I would adjust the wording on that.
- Time allocation redirects stress.
- (...) Instead of stressing about performance, just focus on putting in the time.
- Time allocation provides positive feedback.
- If you've devoted the right amount of time to all the items you're time allocating, then you know you are going places.
- Core principle #2: Harness the power of time allocation.
- Positive Feedback
- There are 2 kinds of positive feedback: external positive feedback, and internal positive feedback.
- Interestingly, internal positive feedback has been found to be far more motivating than external positive feedback.
- Core principle #3: Ensure there is internal positive feedback.
- NW: This is an extremely short section. It seems the advice here could be summarized as "do what you want to be doing, not what others want you to do, and you're more likely to be successful", or the cliche "work on what you're passionate about".
- Parkinson's Law
- Parkinson's Law states: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." However, Parkinson's Law is a lot more telling when phrased another way: "If you've ever spent your entire day working and then at the end were wondering where all the time went, welcome to Parkinson's Law in action".
- Core principle #4: You must limit the amount of time available per task.
- NW: Another extremely short section.
- The 80/20 Principle
- The 80/20 Principle states that "80% of your results will come from 20% of your effort."
- There are only 2 types of behavior:
- 80% Behavior is where you're dominating, you're accomplishing a lot quickly, and things are moving.
- 20% Behavior is where you're paused, fussing over details, going back and forth on revisions, and just generally losing time.
- 1 hour of 80% behavior is worth 2 full working days of 20% behavior.
- Core Principle #5: If you ever catch yourself in 20% behavior, stop.
- Use a Stopwatch
- It reminds you that time is passing, which will help keep you focused.
- It shows you how much time is left (of the amount you've allocated), which will make you work faster.
- It will also encourage you by reminding you that each second is bringing you closer to completing your time allocation.
- Don't try to use your computer! Computers are distracting enough as it is. I recommend an external device with a large display. My preferred device is a phone, because it's easy to read and you can easily take it everywhere with you.
- Chapter 3: Creating Your First Time Allocations
- The underlying idea for Time Allocations is the creation of habits. Habits are one of the best ways to get something for nothing. They make it feel "natural" to do what we should be doing, and make it feel "unnatural" and make us feel guilty about not doing the things we're supposed to do.
- The idea behind Time Allocation is not that each day you'll split your time up into lots of little blocks specific to that day. Although you can use Time Allocation like this, that's not where its real power is. The real power is when you can allocate blocks of time and use the same allocations every single day.
- Time Allocation is about Time
- Time Allocation is different because it only focuses on time, not on results. As long as you spend the specified amount of time working, you've satisfied your goal. You don't worry about the results–just focus on following the process. Results will come, but it will be easier and less stressing if you don't focus on them.
- NW: This seems to be exactly the process that Tom Francis settled on. In his case, he said in one of his devlog videos that he just focuses on spending eight hours a day working on his game.
- Time Allocation Tips & Tricks
- Ask Less, Not More
- In successful Time Allocation, we always ask less of ourselves, not more. The reason is that if you set your daily expectation too high, you end up procrastinating, and that's the worst possible outcome. It is better to do something 15, 10, or even 5 minutes per day rather than to never do it.
- Work on the FST
- We recommend always working on the "Funnest Sub-Task" (FST). Ask yourself, "What part of this do I most feel like working on?"
- Avoid distractions such as chat programs, email, calls, etc.
- Only 80% Behavior
- If you feel yourself engaging in 20% behavior, stop and do something else. Or declare your task finished and move on.
- Use a Stopwatch
- Pause it when you're not working, and restart it when you resume work. Stop when the total on the stopwatch is the amount of time that you've allocated.
- Chapter 4: Systems & Habits
- Chapter 5: Putting it All Together
- Core Productivity Principles Review
- Focus on the process that will bring the result; ignore the result.
- Harness the power of Time Allocation.
- Ensure there is internal positive feedback.
- You must limit the amount of time available per task.
- If you ever catch yourself in 20% behavior, STOP.
- Use a stopwatch when executing your Time Allocations.
- Whenever possible, form a system.
- Repeat your actions until they become habits.
- Getting Started Checklist
- Create a list of the areas in your work/life where you'd like to see progress.
- For each item, decide whether the solution is a System or a Time Allocation.
- Believing in The Future
- The True Value of Time
- Chapter 6: Resources
- Recommended Reading
- The Four Hour Work Week
- The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less
- NW: Davidson asserts that reading the book is itself a 20% behavior, although I would think it depends on how much marginal benefit you get from reading the entire book. If reading the entire book makes you significantly more likely to implement the advice, it would seem to be worth it to read the entire book.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- Paraphrasing: This will help you spot the tricks people use to make you do things, which takes up your time.
- Recommended Websites
- 42 Goals - An absolutely amazing and currently 100% free website that provides goal tracking.
- Google Image Search
- Paraphrasing: Run searches for all the items that you'd like to be a part of your future, and save them to a folder on your hard drive. Open up the folder every time you need a bit of inspiration.
- NW: I use Instagram for the same purpose.
- Life Hacker
- Do It!
The Four-Hour Workweek
- TODO: Summarize the tips he has in this.
- First Things First
- The Habitual Hustler: Daily Habits of 50 Self-Employed Entrepreneurs
- this was by Corey Breier, one of Francis Pedraza's cofounders at their task-automation start-up, "Invisible Technologies".
- Heads Up: Software Development
- You need to write out all of the desired features for a product, estimate how long each will take to build, and then talk with the customer to figure out which are the most important to get done first.
- You then need to work in 1-week sprints.
- Joel on Software:
- Get away from interruptions
- Don't keep your email / IM running. Open it every 30 minutes at most.
- NW: This one really works.
- Find an office / quiet place free from distractions.
- Get into work late and leave late, so you avoid the noise.