May 3rd, 2019
This is a post about my productivity hacks/techniques and how I work on a daily basis.
I’m not claiming that I am an extremely productive or efficient person. This is just how I work and what I have found works for me.
I am always trying to improve this as well, so any feedback you have please let me know what you think!
Goals before hacks
In order to be productive, I need to have clear goals.
I have to ask myself…
What, specifically, is it that I want to achieve? Can I break it down into smaller projects and tasks that I can work on today?
If I can’t answer these questions, then everything will fall apart and I will barely have the willpower to work more than a 3 hour day. I can always fake it for a bit, but it won’t last long.
I witnessed this a few months ago when I lost sight of my goals. At time, I didn’t know what I wanted, although I won’t go into it.
But during this time I wasn’t very productive and didn’t have much motivation to work hard.
But after that slump, my goals became more clear, and I slowly got back on track.
If you are having trouble focusing or getting meaningful work done, it might be worth it to think about your goals - and not just for 10 minutes - spend some time each day refining what specifically it is that you want.
Always be experimenting
It’s important to keep trying new productivity techniques and softwares, adding and subtracting new things often.
I’ve found that there is no single system or technique that works best. Our lives change and evolve, and so should our ways of getting work done.
I’ve learned Pomodoro, GTD, watched countless YouTube vidoes. I’ve used simple todo lists, Post-It notes, Trello, Notion, Google Calendar, and the list goes on.
By the time you’re reading this, my framework has probably changed.
But I think that’s part of the fun of it all.
Discovering and implementing a new productivity technique gives me a “boost” of productivity. So if I’m feeling like something has become stale or not working like it used to, I’ll go out searching for a new thing.
It’s exciting and motivating to try new things.
One thing to note - try to not get caught up in the productivity software stuff and switching to every new system. These softwares try to sell you on being more productive - but they won’t. Just pick one, they all do the same thing.
First I’ll talk about some key takeaways I’ve learned...
One thing at a time (The Pieter Levels method)
If you have trouble focusing or being productive (like I did), then it might be important to take a step back and figure out the fundamentals.
Go to the store, buy a stack of post it notes, write one task on each post it note (don’t pull them apart) and then place your post it stack next to your laptop.
Then, work on the item on the top of the stack until it’s complete. Once it’s done put it into the done stack. Then move to the next. If you realize you need to do something else, write that on the next blank post it note.
One cool side effect is that you can physically see that you’re getting work done.
I love this because it taught me two of the most important things:
- Do one thing at a time.
- Finish what you start.
Here’s a video explaining:
Reading Deep Work by Cal Newport changed my life.
What is deep work? An example would be going to a coffee shop early in the morning and working for 2 hours free of distractions. No email, no internet, no social media, no texting, etc.
If you can build a couple of hours a day of deep work into your life, you can achieve extraordinary things over time. A few hours a day can turns into thousands of hours a year of you working on the things you truly want to work on.
Building deep work into my days helped me grow Starter Story and was one of the main reasons I was able to quit my job after a year.
Here’s a video that sums up the messages from the Deep Work book.
How I work today
The main system I use today is a modified version of GTD, short for Getting Things Done.
GTD is a framework created by David Allen. It’s incredibly practical, and I love it.
For me, this is mainly for bigger picture stuff, so more products, features, code, and less day to day email stuff (that I’ve mostly systemized - which I’ll take about later in the post).
Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like.
I’ll break down the different columns.
The In Tray
I use the In Tray as a sort of triaging station.
If I’m working on something and I’m like “Oh shit, I need to do X” I’ll immediately add it to my in tray so I can get it off my mind.
Every morning I go through my in tray and drag items to the to Today column, or delete them if I realize they are dumb. I’ll also check my calendar in case I have any recurring tasks or meetings (more on that later).
Today is obvious, it’s all of the things I want to get done today.
I almost never finish it but I think it’s important to give yourself a bit more work than you think you can do. Keeps you working hard :)
Throughout the day, I tackle these as fast as I can while taking short breaks. Once I finish the task, it goes in the Done bin on the far right.
See the card on there that says Pomodoro x 4? That’s a task to work on email, which I’ll talk about a bit below.
These are the “bigger picture” projects that I’m working on. Tasks on the In Tray and Today columns usually correspond to these bigger projects.
Frequently, I’ll create new tasks based on these projects.
For example, I’m creating a YouTube video for this topic How I Work. It’s too big of a project to be just one task, so I will break it down into smaller tasks, like “How I Work” rough draft blog post.
Then next task might be “Revise Draft for How I Work”, then “Film YouTube video”.
Waiting For / Someday Maybe
If I’m waiting on something like buying an external hard drive next time I’m in an electronics store, I’ll leave that there so I can try to keep it top of mind.
If a task is something I want to do, but I don’t feel any obligation then I move it to Someday / Maybe but I rarely even look at that. If I don’t think it’s necessary then I should probably move it out of my sight.
Here’s an awesome video summary about the Getting Things Done book/framework.
I use a calendar for recurring things that don’t fit into GTD.
For example, one weekly task I have is Finding and emailing 75 Starter Story leads… I need to do that every week so I can hit my targets, so I try to do that every Thursday.
On Thursday morning or when I get the alert, I will turn that into a Today task in GTD and try to get it done that day.
For me, this works surprisingly well for recurring things.
Same thing for my newsletter, publishing YouTube videos, monthly reviews, meetings etc.
I do a lot of email. I’m probably tackling around 50 actionable emails per day - not including spam and newsletters and random crap. Most of this is Starter Story articles and all of the email correspondence that comes with that.
It is mindless but it is also very important to my business. My goal is to spend as little time in email as possible - so I can focus on creating.
I tackle all of my email with the Pomodoro technique, which I’ll talk about a bit in the next section.
I focus on Inbox Zero, which I really hard for me to hit but I try my best.
I archive/filter/unsubscribe to everything possible. I also I aggressively use Boomerang to stay on top of hundreds of in progress blog posts.
My new product, Pigeon is going to solve a lot of my email headaches which I’m really excited about. For example, I will be able to send a series of emails (drip) to someone that needs to finish their interview, rather than Boomeranging the email thread 4-5 times over the course of a few weeks. It’s going to save me so much time and allow me to raise content output going forward.
There are also a lot of small tasks that I need to complete, like sharing Starter Stories on reddit, or updating missing information, or notifying people that their Starter Story is live.
I automate everything possible using tools like Sendgrid. Again, this is another thing that Pigeon will solve.
But some things cannot be automated and they require human interaction, so I use what I call email tasks.
For example, sharing Starter Stories on reddit. For reasons I won’t get into I am not automating this task (although I do schedule posts and have a bunch of code that helps me do this in 2 minutes).
But anyways, I have an automated email when a story goes live that I send to myself:
This email is helpful because I can tackle that task very quickly, less than (~2 mins) while I’m going through and getting my Inbox to zero with the pomodoro technique (talk about below).
This also has the hidden benefit of consistency. I would likely forget to do this sometimes. But if it’s in my email inbox, I have no choice.
I think this will also help me systemize for when I hire people too, but we’ll see on that.
Last, but definitely not least is the greatest productivity hack I’ve found, the pomodoro technique.
I use this “hack” to tackle work that I don’t want to do, like email and monotonous Starter Story work (reading, editing, and revising content).
It’s really simple. Set a timer for 25 minutes and then just go hard on a specific task. When the timer is up, take a 5 minute break, and then do it over. I usually do this 2-4 times and then I can get my inbox to zero.
It’s crazy how much work I can get done with this method, I highly recommend it. If I can do 2 Pomodoro sessions in the morning, that means got all my annoying shit done in one hour - and I can free up the rest of my day to work on the stuff I really want to work on.
I use this one and pin the tab in Chrome.
Thanks for reading!
Just want to end it with this is just what works for me, I’m not an expert, and this will likely change by the time you’ve read it :)