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The Best Time-Saving Hacks

From Marius Ursache on Quora with an answer to “What are the best day-to-day time-saving hacks?

 

I’ve been testing and adjusting various productivity techniques for the past five years, read lots of books (most of them repeating) and here’s some of my findings:

It’s not about time. It’s about energy.

We try to squeeze as many hours in one work day, to be “productive”, but in the end everything depends less on time, and more on your focus, motivation and overall well-being (all of them linked directly with energy levels).

I’ve recently talked about my productivity techniques obsessions in an internal presentation at Grapefruit, and the resulting presentation is on Slideshare:
Productivity porn

Some of the key findings:

  1. Decide what’s important because in 5 years, 80% of what you do today will not turn into anything. It’s just busywork, no useful outcome.
  2. Sleep, food and exercise can help you triple your outcome, because they increase focus, motivation and energy levels.
  3. The 2-minute rule: if you can do something (like replying to an email, or a house chore) in 2 minutes, do it now. Planning it for later, remembering it, doing it in the future will take 5 minutes or more.
  4. The 5-minute rule: the biggest cure against procrastination is to set your goal not to finish a scary big hairy task, but to just work 5 minutes on it. You’ll find out that most times it continues well beyond the 5 minutes, as you enter a flow state.
  5. Seinfeld’s productivity chain: if you want to be good at something, do it every day. Including on Christmas, Easter and Judgement Day. No exceptions.
  6. Tiny habits (Tiny Habits w/ Dr. BJ Fogg), highly linked with the 5-minute rule, helps you create good habits quickly. It works, I tested it.
  7. Your memory sucks. Get everything out of your head, even if you’re a genius. Write it down in a notebook, put it in your todo-list app, on your phone, talk to Siri, I don’t care.
  8. As few tools as possible. I’ve tested most of the todo managers and finally stayed with Cultured Code‘s Things app and Google Calendar (iCal is ok, but Google Calendar integrates well with Gmail, my default client). It doesn’t matter what you use (pen & paper are fine) if you understand the next rule.
  9. Routine beats tools. You need discipline, and this means for me two things: I plan my day first thing in the morning, and I write a short daily log every day. This helps me stay sane, prioritize well, scrap useless tasks, and do what matters. This saves me hours.
  10. Pomodoros. That’s timeboxing—for 30 minutes do only the task at hand. Nothing else: no phones, email, talking to people, Facebook, running out of the building in case of fire. Nothing else.
  11. Always wear your headphones. You don’t have to listen to music, but it will discourage people to approach you.
  12. Email scheduling and inbox zero. Don’t read your email first thing in the day, don’t read it in the evening (it ruined many evenings for me), and try to do it only 3 times a day: at 11am, 2pm and 5pm. And your email inbox is not a todo list. Clear it: every message should be an actionable task (link it from the todo app), a reference document (send to Evernote or archive), or should be deleted now.
  13. Same thing for phone calls. Don’t be always available. I always keep my phone on silent, and return calls in batches.
  14. Batch small tasks. Like mail, phones, Facebook etc.
  15. MI3. Most important three tasks (or the alternative 1 must – 3 should – 5 could). Start with the most important first thing in the morning.
  16. Willpower is limited. Don’t think that willpower will help you when you get in trouble. Make important decisions in the morning and automate everything possible (delegate, batch etc.). US presidents don’t have to choose their menu or suit color everyday—otherwise their willpower will be depleted at that late hour when they should push (or not push) the red button).
  17. The most powerful thing. Always ask yourself what is the most powerful thing you can do right now. Then apply rule #4.
  18. Ship often. Don’t polish it too much—as they say in the startup world, “if you’re not ashamed of your product, you’ve launched too late’!
  19. Pressure can do wonders. Use rewards or social commitment. We’ve recently done this with the new Grapefruit website. The previous one took 2.5 years to launch. The new one took 2.5 days and we did it over one hackathon weekend (+Monday).
  20. Scheduled procrastination. Your brain needs some rest, and sometimes that new episode from Arrow can do wonders that the smartest TED talk won’t.
  21. Delete. Say No. Ignore. Don’t commit to schedules. I love the last one, it’s from Marc Andreessen, because it allows him to meet whomever he wants on the spot. A lot of people will hate you for this, but you’ll have time to do relevant stuff. Do you think you’ll regret that in 20 years, or doing something for someone you don’t really care about, just to be superficially appreciated.
  22. Fake incompetence. It’s a diplomatic way to apply the previous rule.
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Categories: PRODUCTIVITY Tags: , , ,

The 20 Minute Rule

From Evan DeFilippis on Quora answering “What small lifestyle changes have the biggest impact?” 

Note: bold emphasis is mine.

Twenty Minute Rule- Whenever I would come home from a long day at work or school,  I was so tired the only things I could find energy to do were mindless life-negating nonsense– television, Netflix, Reddit, Facebook, whatever.

Every night I would somehow find hours of time to do these things (despite being extremely tired), suddenly get a burst of energy towards midnight, stay up way too late, and then get extremely tired the next morning.  This cycle would repeat until the weekend, where I would stay up too late on Sunday, and be tired the following Monday.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Several years ago, I replaced this nightmarish routine with the twenty minute rule.  Now, the moment I get home, I force myself to do at least twenty minutes of one of the following– write an article, read a book, practice chess, learn another language with DuoLingo (I try to do this on my phone, not laptop to minimize the risk of distraction), practice guitar, meditate, work on a computer programming language, or improve flexibility with stretching.  Customize the activities to suit your interests, but this should generally not involve any computers.

Once you get passed that twenty minute commitment, you will find that you have the energy to keep going.  Over the course of a couple weeks, you will have finished a book — which, for many people, will be the first time they have done so in a long time.

If you simply don’t have energy to continue past twenty minutes, or to even start the twenty minutes– GO TO SLEEP.   There is precisely no benefit to watching Netflix until you pass out from exhaustion, only to be tired the next day.  You need to make it a habit: don’t have energy?  Go to sleep.  Do have energy?  Spend it making yourself better.

Addendum:

The key to progress is recognizing that any forward movement brings you closer to your goal.  Humans reliably fail to set aside time to do the things we really want to do, and reliably succeed at finding time to do the things we know won’t make us better.

When I wake up every morning, ask me what things will make me happy today, and I will tell you: being with my family, eating good food, having rewarding, meaningful conversations with friends, learning interesting things about the world, going on adventures, and so on.  Now ask me at the end of the day how I spent my free time, I will tell you: Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, responding to angry internet comments.

Ask any parent and they will tell you the same thing, “I honestly don’t know what I did with all my free time before I had kids.”  The answer is you did nothing, and now you filled that nothing with a kid….and if you have another kid you’ll see that there is a lot of time you’re still wasting. When people don’t plan, they aren’t ready to take advantage of opportunities that avail themselves, and so they play Angrybirds and watch Netflix because it takes less energy than figuring out something to do at that moment.  I call this the “path of least resistance problem.”  To make ourselves more sensitive to opportunities that can decidedly improve our lives, we need to structure our routines to make the path of least resistance difficult.  One way to do this is the twenty minutes rule.

If we want to do something trivial, something that likely won’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives, like meeting a colleague for lunch, we will pencil a time in our calendars and get it done.  But when we want to do something important and enriching, something we know will matter greatly in the grand scheme of our lives, like writing a book or learning a language, we say “I’ll get around to it.”  We don’t pencil in the twenty minutes a day necessary to become the person we really want to be.  And so we need to challenge the impulse to relegate our passions and our ambitions to something our future self will do down the line.

Quality vs. Quantity of Information

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment

From the NYTimes:

“We don’t need more bits and bytes of information, or more frequent updates about each other’s modest daily accomplishments. What we need instead is more wisdom, insight, understanding and discernment — less quantity, higher quality; less breadth and more depth…

Going deeper does mean forgoing immediate gratification more often, taking time to reflect and making more conscious choices. It also requires the capacity to focus in a more absorbed and sustained way, which takes practice and commitment in a world of infinite distractions.”

Further reading: 

The Low-Information Diet by Tim Ferriss

Avoid News: Towards A Healthy News Diet by Rolf Dobelli

How To Use A Decision Journal

September 2, 2013 Leave a comment

A recent interview with author and Wall Street veteran Michael Mauboussin on the Farnam Street Blog addressed the topic of maintaining a decision journal as a way to evaluate and improve decision making. I’ve recently started journaling, but I’m still figuring out how to make it a productive exercise.

Steve Pavlina offers a very good breakdown in this post.

And here is Michael Mauboussin’s advice on Farnam Street:

“A decision journal is actually very simple to do in principle, but requires some discipline to maintain. The idea is whenever you are making a consequential decision, write down what you decided, why you decided as you did, what you expect to happen, and if you’re so inclined, how you feel mentally and physically. This need not take much time.

The value is that you document your thinking in real time and thus immunize yourself against hindsight bias—the pernicious tendency to think that you knew what was going to happen with more clarity than you actually did. The journal also allows you to audit your decision making process, looking for cases where you may have been right for the wrong reasons or wrong for the right reasons.”

For a great digital journal, I use and recommend the Day One iPhone app.

FULL INTERVIEW: Michael Mauboussin, Interview No. 4 – Farnam Street Blog

James Franco and productivity

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Over the weekend I read an inspiring and fascinating article in NYMag profiling actor James Franco’s intense schedule, full of various projects, including movies, a TV show, a book of short stories and FOUR graduate programs he’s attending simultaneously:

“The new critique you’re gonna start hearing about James Franco,” says James Franco, “is ‘He’s spreading himself too thin.’ ”

I tell him I’ve already heard that critique many times.

“But what does that even mean?” he asks. He seems impatient, genuinely baffled. “Spreading himself too thin?”

Well, I say, isn’t it a reasonable concern? How many targets can one person’s brain realistically hit with any kind of accuracy?

“If the work is good,” Franco says, “what does it matter? I’m doing it because I love it. Why not do as many things I love as I can? As long as the work is good.”

The James Franco Project in NYMag

UPDATE:

I saw Franco in “127 Hours” over the weekend. Good movie + solid performance from Franco, who will unquestionably join the A-list with this film.

Categories: PRODUCTIVITY
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