Productivity 103: Maximum Efficiency

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Productivity 102: A Great Working Environment

Efficiency is nothing more than self-discipline

  • Create “triggers” that activate productive thoughts and behaviors or deactivate unproductive ones
    1. The “cue” for the trigger needs to trigger the routine you want to establish
      • This can be morning, Monday or a specific song
    2. The cue also has to trigger the craving for the reward
    3. You have to believe that you will get the reward
  • Find ways to avoid triggers that start negative thoughts or behaviors
    • Use the Spider Technique to re-focus when you are about to segue off-topic
      1. Re-focus as soon as your are mildly aware that you’ve strayed from the task at hand
      2. Become slowly aware of what you are naturally susceptible to being distracted by
      3. Avoid those weaknesses proactively by removing them from your environment
  • Create short-term rewards of some of your tasks
    • Exercise has an immediate pleasurable sensation
    • Finishing an ugly task decreases the amount of stress about things to be done
    • One of the easiest rewards you can make yourself is to eat a snack when you make a “micro-victory”
    • Place a dollar or quarter into a jar when you do the task, and then treat yourself after you’ve attained enough for it
    • Try the Concentration Vortex to focus your thoughts and energy
      1. Write out what you believe you can do
      2. Write it out again, but with the letters more closely spaced together
      3. Repeat ten times
  • Create a “forcing function” that limits your resources to inspire you to work harder
    • You only have so many minutes in a day, so work with an emotional way to understand that
    • Find “bad” reasons to do “good” things
      • Learn to create personal motivators and reinforcements that push you when you don’t want to go
    • Limit your resources
      • Set alarms to remind about tasks
      • Don’t bring your laptop power cord if you’re working away from home
      • Create inconveniences that make the boring work more necessary
      • Force short-term deadlines on yourself
      • Pay a non-refundable fee for lessons or a membership
    • Constrain yourself with a fear of the consequences of being distracted
      • Imagine the pain you will feel if the work is not done
      • Hold yourself “hostage” until you’re done with a particular task
      • Tell others about your commitments to have others hold you accountable
  • Procrastination is one of the biggest inhibitors to productivity
    • Procrastination is not doing what you want in the long-term to satisfy what you want in the short-term
      • Procrastination often imagines the worst parts of a project, which prevents ever starting
        • You’ll never get it perfect, but the desire for perfection needs to be suppressed
      • No matter how “in tune” with your work you may be, you’ll always have something you want to do instead just because it’s unimportant and more fun
        • Your brain will do small, mindless simple tasks to fill up procrastination time
          • Sometimes planning itself is a form of procrastination, especially when it’s vague
          • Use this to your advantage and do important smaller tasks that are related to the project you’re working on
          • If you need to, go back and sub-divide the tasks until planning for them is more work than doing them
            • Divide the tasks out by energy requirement
            • Divide the tasks out by time commitment
        • Sometimes it’s a good idea to stop and talk to yourself to prepare your mind for the experience
      • There is nothing that can be done to prevent procrastination except simply starting on it

The most work comes when you’re in the present moment

  • Stay ever-present in the task you are doing
    • Do a Mindful Minute to realign your thoughts with meditation:
      1. Center yourself for 20 seconds
      2. Acknowledge what’s going on for 20 seconds
      3. Take a mindful pause
    • Change your pace or rearrange your tasks to make tedium more interesting
      • Try chewing gum or listening to comedy if you’re driving
      • Most of the time, you can listen to music to speed up the work
    • Chew gum to stay focused, especially peppermint or cinnamon gum
    • Avoid anything that requires you to multitask
      • Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is one of the most inefficient ways to work
      • Focus solely on every specific task that comes your way
      • If wayward thoughts come while doing your task, write notes and deal with them later
        • If you can’t write down ideas, dictate them
      • Sometimes multitasking is inevitable, but it is not good for it to be routine
  • Pay attention to your body’s needs
    • Sit upright and straightforward when working at a desk
    • Don’t sit for too long and stand up when you can
    • Long periods without breaks will make you bored, inattentive, unfocused, unhealthy and unmotivated
      • The human body is only capable of focusing on any task for about 90 to 120 minutes without a 20-30 minute break
        • Ultradian rhythms run for 90 minutes of effective work followed by 15-20 minutes of rest
          • Devote the time to focused bursts of work
          • Have a scheduled break every 20 to 90 minutes
        • In fact, our bodies will naturally take breaks for exactly 17 minutes every 52
      • Learn how to actually rest from the work you’ve done
        • At first you will feel strange about it, but you need to force yourself to not think about work
          • Use a timer or a timed light if you have to
        • Use the time to reorganize everything
          • Contacts list
          • Desk space and workspace clutter
          • Emails
          • Computer files or paper filing system
          • Briefcase
          • Reference and reading materials
          • Supplies
        • Recharge your battery
          • Follow the 20-20-20 rule for reducing eye strain: every 20 minutes look for 20 seconds at an object over 20 feet away
          • Go for a 20 minute walk outside
          • Meditate for 10 minutes
          • Do pushups or situps
          • Take a very quick 10-20 minute power nap
          • Look up photos of cute animals or nature on the internet, which has been proven to improve performance
          • Read a book
          • Learn something you want to do instead of have to do
        • Get motivated through future plans
          • Make plans for the weekend or for a vacation
  • Keep yourself fueled with the right things
    • Drink the right fluids
      • Avoid high-sugar drinks like juices and soda
      • Drink a lot of water throughout your day
      • Drink coffee strategically between 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-5:00 p.m. when your cortisol level naturally drops
      • Switch from coffee to tea
    • Snack regularly to maintain a consistent blood sugar level
      • Choose healthy snacks
      • Be preferential to high-protein snacks
      • Have complex carbohydrates (grains, granola, etc) over simple carbohydrates
      • Eat as part of a routine
  • Manage stress properly
    • Leave personal and unrelated matters away from the current task and write notes for dealing with them later
    • Schedule extra time for unknown distractions
    • If your work allows it
      • Try a more flexible work schedule to create variety
      • Make an arrangement to work from home sometimes
    • Fight against any procrastination
    • Learn meditation and relaxing techniques

Minimize your distractions

  • Turn off or remove every technological distraction, since notifications have been proven to make you less effective
    • Technology creates opportunities to see and learn more, but removes the opportunity to focus more easily
    • Turn off your personal phone or leave it in another room
      • Set it to silent
      • Pay attention to who the caller is when you do look at it
    • Set your work phone to silent and check it once every few hours
    • Stop using social media or surfing the internet
      • This is one of the most understated problems of productivity, mostly because there are so many social media addicts
      • If you don’t have willpower to stop surfing the internet about non-work-related things, block some websites
      • Use an app like StayFocused to stop needless internet wandering
    • Email is one of the biggest productivity drains
      • Email is only good for three things, and the rest of it is a lot of arbitrary noise
        1. Coordinating meetings with multiple people
        2. Sending very short notes, along with attachments or links to attachments
        3. Sending newsletters
      • Turn off email alerts
        • Instead of checking emails as they come, designate up to three specific times every day to check and respond to them
        • Set up reminders to deal with specific emails with software like FollowupThen
        • Alternately, if you cannot escape the emails, then adapt your workflow around it with  alertful or an automatic mail checker
      • Typically it’s best to not open your emails for the first few hours of the day, since it will scatter your thoughts
      • Aim for “Inbox Zero”, where you pay zero attention to your inbox when you’re not in your inbox
        • Try to only touch each email message only once, if at all possible
        • If something is important or urgent, mark it as unread or flag it
        • Organize the non-actionable emails into folders for archiving or use filters on them
        • Look for extensions and plugins that can make your workflow more seamless in processing emails
        • One fun trick is to try out The Email Game
      • Send less and better email to receive less email
        • Try to avoid back-and-forth conversations via email by talking with someone in person
          • Only convey sensitive or complex things in a more interpersonal setting
        • Spend extra time on important emails
          • Choose your words carefully when sending emails to avoid vagueness or misinterpretation
          • Never ask “why?” in an email
      • Store any relevant emails with an effective tracking system to let you retrieve them when you need them
        • This is easiest done by only having action items in your inbox and the rest in other folders, deleted or archived elsewhere
      • Opt-out of/unsubscribe email lists instead of just deleting the emails
        • Search for “unsubscribe” or “opt out” in your inbox to find all the newsletters
        • Try Unroll.me to unsubscribe from more common emails
        • Use a separate email address for mass-marketing emails to cut down on future mailing lists
  • Remove every social distraction
    • Avoid watercooler gossip
    • Find ways to tell others to not bother you
      • Close your office door
      • Use a conference room to set aside time for a project
      • Wear headphones or a phone headset, even if you’re not listening to anything
      • Set aside time on your calendar as “Do Not Disturb” time
        • If you really need time to work, have a “No Meetings” day
    • Try to avoid all unnecessary meetings
      • Most meetings can be summarized by an email
      • Don’t agree to a meeting unless it is decisive
        • Stated objective and clear agenda
        • Specified end time, which should never be more than 30 minutes
      • Working odd hours can allow time where nobody will interrupt you
    • Consider being late to social events that don’t require you to be there to give yourself more time
  • Wear headphones or listen to music over speakers
    • White noise, brown noise or pink noise is great for drowning out ambient noises
    • Any music you are familiar with, no matter the genre, will improve your mood
      • Repetitive tasks have been proven to be easier and quicker when the person is in a good mood
      • Creativity is enhanced from music, unless it’s a language-related task and the music has lyrics
      • Learning anything, though, will be inhibited by music if it is distracting
    • Instrumental music, especially video game music, is very effective at increasing productivity
  • Sometimes you can’t avoid interruptions, and there are 3 categories of them
    1. Necessary and vital, and you need to handle these immediately
    2. necessary but untimely, which require action that isn’t urgent
      • This includes calls, email and visitors, which can cut off your focus on something highly important
      • Measure how it will affect your work flow
        • Take a moment to measure the real value of the interruption and not on how urgent it might feel
        • Calculate the actual cost in time that it will take to stop your current task and then pick it up later
          • We generally don’t calculate the time it takes to pick up the task later, which is usually about the same time as the length of the interruption
          • This means that a 10-minute interruption will take 20 minutes
        • Ask what the consequences will be if you don’t handle it immediately
      • There are several ways to manage this type of interruption:
        • Agree on a follow-up time with them
        • Practice saying “no” consistently
          • If your boss is asking you something you need to say “no” to, get more information:
            • Ask for help in deciding where the new task should fall on the list of priorities
            • Ask what they would like you to give up in order for you to do it
            • Give suggestions or alternatives, such as procrastinating the task
    3. unnecessary and untimely, which isn’t relevant, urgent or significant
      • If you think an interruption is unnecessary and untimely, tactfully ask a direct question that focuses on the work at hand
        • A pointed question lets you see the importance of the interruption while also letting them understand you’re working on something important

Make each workday routine as efficient as possible

  • When walking into your workplace
    • Make a list of what your day will look like
    • Focus on the biggest task of the day first thing in the morning, when your brain is clearest
    • Make your most important decisions in the morning while your mind is clear and uncluttered
    • Avoid talking at the water cooler with coworkers unless you have a purpose in mind
    • Drink coffee a half hour before you need it to feel its full effects
  • Near the end of the work day
    • Avoid making any decisions that were handed to you later in the day that you can put off until the next day when your mind is clearer
    • Don’t have coffee any time after 2 p.m., since it can interfere with sleep for over 6 hours
    • If you start growing tired of working, try doing less important tasks that still need to be done
    • Set a hard “finish time” that keeps you from going home too late
    • Make a “stopping point” for where you can pick up the next day
    • Create an end-of-day “wrap-up” routine
      • Tidy your desk and close down everything
      • Review your completed tasks
        • What did I do?
        • What could I have done better?
        • What should I have not been doing?
      • Plan tomorrow’s to do list or break down the tasks
      • Leave the single most important thing in front of you for tomorrow
    • Instead of seeing it as “leaving work”, look at it as “going to (something)”
      • Have something to look forward to
      • Plan for something specific after work
  • At the end of your work week
    • Wrap up every project you possibly can
    • Reflect on what you did correctly and could have done better
    • Figure out your priorities for the beginning of the next week and make a schedule
      • Look at the calendar for anything coming up in the next few weeks
      • Insert down-time to organize or rest when you need to
    • Spend some time organizing and cleaning to start the next week  off well
    • Inform anyone who needs to know how accessible you’ll be during the weekend
    • Think about your weekend plans and what you plan to do with them
      • Plan something fun for that night to celebrate how well you did
    • Say goodbye to everyone as you leave and make sure tasks connected to them have been communicated

Improve your workflow

  • When urgent things do arrive, quickly decide if it’s worth stopping your current workflow for it
    • Deliberately ignore some tasks
      • Don’t be afraid to say “no” when your current work is more important
    • When new tasks arrive from others, do one of the 3 D’s: Do it, Defer it, or Delegate it
      • Have an action plan for every task that you have to do
        1. If it is an emergency, deal with it
        2. If it is on the to do list, move it up the list to a higher priority
        3. If the task is not an emergency and not on the to do list, make a note and return to it later
    • Impromptu meetings can interfere with your focus
      • If you must have them, avoid small talk and start with “what’s up?”
    • Learn to understand the flow of work that comes in across the days and weeks
  • When you have many tasks, create a simple daily to do list that can be reasonably accomplished
    • Update the list 3 times a day
    • Break it into two lists if it becomes cumbersome
      • one to capture ideas you will probably never do
      • a daily list of things to actually work on
    • Add high-concentration and low-concentration priority on the list for you to have variety and options
  • Try to never touch something twice
    • Most of the useless work will either be from being a perfectionist or from fixing errors that could have been avoided the first time around
  • If the task is not your expertise or is very time-consuming, delegate it to someone else
    • Use the 70% Rule: if someone else can do 70% of the work, give it to them
      • Define limits on how much authority they have and on whatever you want to follow up on
      • Look into a service like Fiverr that can do small tasks for $5 per item
  • Automate anything that you can make faster
    • Productivity tracking
    • Scheduling
    • Focusing
      • Freedom – turns off your phone’s apps that can be distracting
      • Noisli – ambient noise generator
      • Simple Blocker – extension that blocks specific domains for a given period of time
      • StayFocusd – gives an allowance of time for specific domains, then blocks it
      • WorkLife – focuses meetings on what matters
    • Stock email responses for common replies you make
      • Rapportive will give social media information right next to your email
    • Templates for common work projects and tasks
    • Keyboard shortcuts for software you work with
    • Create macros and triggers to speed up complex computer routines
      • Recurring tasks in software for persistent and routine tasks
      • Software like IFTTT or Zapier to speed up routine tasks across services
    • Sometimes more features isn’t always better
      • For some people, .txt and various office files inside of a cloud folder system is a perfect solution

There are many miscellaneous tricks that you can use to increase your daily productivity

  • When you’re working on projects with tools
    • Measure and memorize from your elbow to your hand and various other body distances to never need a measuring stick
      • measure and memorize the weight and lengths of coins to more accurately measure small things
    • If you don’t have a screwdriver, use a power plug for medium and larger screws
    • Attach a magnet to the bottom of a hammer to hold nails on it
    • Hold nails while hammering with a clothes pin or a comb
    • Pull out long nails by putting a block under the tool you’re using to pull with
    • Hold your spot on a roll of tape with a bread clip or other small object
  • When you work in a building or around the house
    • Detect a gas leak by painting strong soap solution onto the suspected pipe, then watching for bubbles
    • Detect a bicycle inner tube leak by placing it in a bucket of water
    • If you don’t have a stud finder, use a strong magnet or knock on the walls until you hear a solid sound
    • when hanging something with precise holes for the wall, photocopy the back of the device and use it as a template
    • When hanging a picture place some toothpaste where the nails should be, then press it against the wall to leave removable marks
    • When drilling, attach a folded sticky note to the wall to collect dust
    • When disassembling furniture, use a muffin tin to separate screws
    • When painting, make a drip guard by stretching a large rubber band across the top of the can or using the brush through a hole cut in the paint can’s lid
    • Fill a bucket from a sink by routing it through a dustpan
  • Carry and manipulate items more easily
    • Keep a laundry basket in the back of your car to carry items more easily
    • Open a container more easily by duct-taping the lid
    • Spray the end of sewing thread with hair spray to thread a needle
    • Threaded needles don’t tangle if they’re run through a dryer sheet
  • When you’re doing office work
    • Re-open an envelope without breaking its seal by placing it in the freezer for 1-2 hours
    • Draw a perfect circle without a compass by twisting a piece of wire around a pencil, sharpening the other end and using it like a compass
      • Alternately, hold a pen while pressing pinky and pen on paper and then spin paper around
  • When you’re trying to navigate phone systems
    • Most automated phone systems can direct you to a human by pressing 0, #, * or by not pressing anything
    • While on the phone with Apple, swear at the automated customer service to get put through to a human
    • Press 9 on a phone when receiving a telemarketer call to add it to the “don’t call” list
  • When running errands to a store
    • Amplify the signal on your car’s wireless remote by pressing it against your head
    • “Star” the location you park at in your phone’s Google Maps application to not lose your location where you parked
    • Grab shopping carts outside to avoid the ones with bad wheels
    • Position heavy or bulky items with the bar codes facing upwards to go through checkout faster
    • In electronics stores, stand by a TV and look at the price tag to get helped by a sales worker
    • Carry plastic bags inside together with a carabiner
  • Look for common items that can save you time in the long-term
    • The lid on your drink cup often also serves as a coaster
    • Tic-Tacs have a tiny lid crevice meant to hold 1 Tic-Tac
    • Learn how to use chopsticks with the metal spring inside a clothes pin
  • While on the internet
    • Sign up for free trials with a depleted cash gift card to avoid having to unsubscribe
  • Find your own tricks that work best for you, and always stay organized
Next: Productivity 104: How To Be Organized