A Few Tips For Staying Productive
People sometimes ask me how do I manage my time considering all the different things that are currently happening in my life: normal full-time job, one side project, another a bit more serious side project, consulting initiative, sport and few other things. I thought it’d be beneficial for some if I share my experience in trying to squeeze as much as possible from each day with minimum risk of burning out.
One of the most important aspects of my daily routine is ruthlessly prioritizing all the things that come to my plate. This is achieved by setting your short-term (long-term) goals and demoting everything that has nothing to with those (of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but let’s not consider them for now). Does this email really require immediate response (hint: it almost never does. If it did, it wouldn’t have been an email, it would have been an IM message or a phone call)? Do I have to attend this meeting when I’m in a middle of solving a technical challenge (another hint: avoid meetings at all costs - in 99% of all cases meetings are pure time-killers). Do I have to buy a new laptop whereas my 6-year old one works just fine and instead I can spend this money ordering a couple of VMs from Amazon to enable new features for my customers? In general, I think it’s a good practice to always ask these questions whenever something appears on your horizon:
- Does this align with my current goals?
- (if answered “Yes” to the first question) Do I have to take immediate action on this?
- (if answered “No” to the first question) Can I throw it away and if I do, what are the implications?
Depending on the answers to above questions, it becomes much more clear what goes in (and where should it appear in your to-do list) and what falls out.
Value Your Time
This often involves saying “No” to other people and I know that for some this can be a hard thing to practice but trust me - at the end of the day you’ll thank yourself for not wasting time on things that don’t really matter. You need to remember that your time is the most valuable asset you have and the way you use this asset directly impacts pretty much everything in your life. For example, I don’t play video-games because I always feel kind of empty after half an hour spent not doing anything useful (if I want to have a break from work, I’d rather go out to have some fresh air or watch a documentary). I also choose carefully what movies to watch and what books to read because I’d like not only to entertain myself but also to maximize the value I get from spending time this way.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
We all know that working 12-hour a day won’t bring you any good. Yes, there are times when you need to have a short “sprint” but don’t make it a daily habit. Working more hours doesn’t mean you’ll be achieving more. In fact, you’ll be achieving less over time because the emotional baggage and the fatigue will wipe out all your productivity. Instead of pushing yourself towards the burnout, make a small plan for every day. I’m not a fan of maintaining to-do lists so I just plan a small set of tasks in my mind every morning. Keeping the list small helps me to remember it and also makes it possible for me to actually cross off all the items I planned for a day. Having this sort of daily thinking also helps me to evaluate tasks before I get to them so by the time I’m actually starting working on something I already know what am I going to be doing during the next hour or so (for example, thinking about how to implement a particular Sprites feature during dinner eliminates the need to “pause” the execution when your fingers are already on the keyboard).
Get Up Earlier
Average adult needs around seven hours of sleep but we all know that there are plenty of people who manage to sleep less (or sleep differently). For example, Marissa Mayer is alleged to sleep only four hours (I hope this is not the reason she overslept her meeting during Cannes Lions advertising festival in France) and some people like to take a nap during the day because this makes them more productive. As for me, I like to get up early (around 6 AM during the week) because I found out that I’m usually much more productive between 7 AM and 10 AM comparing to the rest of the day. This is especially the case with my current place of work: it’s an open space so when it’s early in the morning and there’re no people at the office, there’re no distractions and I can stay focused longer. It was hard getting up that early at the beginning (especially if you go to bed at 11 PM or 1 AM) and what I was doing to exercise myself is I was shifting my alarm clock to wake me up 15-30 minutes earlier every month (for example, 8:30, 8:00, 7:45, 7:30 and so on). Try this technique and see if it works for you. As a general advise, you probably don’t need seven or eight hours of sleep - your body just got used to this schedule but it doesn’t mean you can’t change it (and bring more productive hours to the table).
Diversify Your Lifestyle
Just like working a lot won’t make you more productive, having the same monotone lifestyle can lead to a loss of motivation and even depression. People whose daily work implies certain amount of creativity involved (artists, designers) know what I’m talking about - your brain needs to be “entertained”, this way inspiration comes naturally and you feel better in general. I use several tricks to diversify my daily routine a bit:
- Every other day I take a different path to work (I have several which I choose from depending on the mood).
- Even though my day usually starts at 6 AM, sometimes I hang out in bed until 8:30 and arrive to the office purposely late (at around 10 AM). Bringing a minor chaos like this refreshes me very well.
- “Adventure Sundays” - trying new things on a weekly basis. It doesn’t have to be a big adventure - things like trying a new board game or eating something you never considered tasteful before would work. Although I couldn’t make it a weekly practice, I still dream about experiences like this.
Don’t forget to exercise your body just like you do so with your brain. With Sprites getting more traction my training schedule was nearly ruined but I still try to be at the gym at least twice a week. Alternation of mental and physical work is one of the best ways for me to sustain stress, feel healthier (not only physically but also mentally), stay motivated and be in a good mood.
Spend Some Time Doing Nothing
No matter how carefully I follow all the above, sometimes I just need to “reset” myself. My schedule doesn’t seem to be too extreme but from time to time I feel like I need to “pause” things and in this case I spend some time literally doing nothing. This can be just laying on the couch and having some deep thoughts, going to the park and enjoying the nature in a quiet corner on the bench, taking a 3-hour midday nap and so on. I take this as a great ability because I know how many people are struggling to not check their Facebook or Twitter for even 20 minutes. Being able to abstract myself from everything around gives me a big push afterwards.
I hope that some of the things I mentioned here will work for you as well. If you have any questions or would like to share your own productivity tips, feel free to express yourself in the comments.