I decided to look at a few articles that really changed my outlook on productivity, development, and product development. I figured the best way to keep in mind all of the lessons I’ve learned was to write out notes on these articles and what they really taught me, especially actionable items.

200 Productive Hours A Month

200 hours is honestly a tall order but the author mentions 100-120 hours that he achieved a year ago, a more palpable amount. The first thing that popped into my head was advice I heard from a manager about half a decade ago (manager was shit but this decade stuck with me). As a coder, getting 4 hours of solid coding in a day is a success. 4 hours. Out of an 8 hour work day, getting 4 hours in was an accomplishment. How come? I’ll leave that for another article but back to this.

100 / 20 (work days) = 5 productive hours a work day. That comes pretty close to my manager’s advice. Not bad.

I’m going to stick with 100-120/month is already a feat and 200 is a lofty goal.

So to the advice:

  • don’t work over 200 hours a month if you’re not getting paid for it. 200 / 20 (work days) = 10 hours a work day. That’s already over time.
  • don’t work over 50 hours a week because it’ll decrease productivity. (200hr/month is already 50hr/week..ish)

Environment

The first step in productivity is actually the environment. Mine is shit. I work in a home office that’s a clusterfuck of books, hobby-related items, work-related shit, and stuff for my dogs because my dogs hang out with me while I work. It’s messy, it’s disorganized and it drives me nuts.

  • setup an environment where distraction takes a significant effort
  • leisure and productivity should have two separate spaces
    • separate browsers, separate desktops, etc.
    • creates a “reflex” that sets you on the right track
    • something.. something.. George R. R. Martin uses a DOS machine to be distraction-free
  • optimize leisure
    • leisure is still important but should be fulfilling
    • unsub from emails, unfollow people on Twitter, hide useless info
  • optimize cell phone
    • uninstall all apps that should be on “leisure device” (…I only have 1 cell phone though?)
    • disable push notifications or other ways that a cell phone can distract
    • use Pocket is a great way to spend time “where there’s nothing better to do”

There’s a very important bit about social media and how it preys on our psychology in order to take away all of our attention. I definitely fall for it often and spend needless amount of time doing nothing better but “refreshing the feed”.

There is some general advice around scheduling the day:

  • lots of small tasks over big ones (hey! That’s pretty Agile of this person!)
  • mindless tasks left for the evening
  • setup tasks for the next day (I actually prefer planning first thing in the morning)
  • schedule uninterrupted blocks of time.

So this last one is the hardest one for me but I see the most importance in. If you can figure out when you can be completely uninterrupted, that’s the best time to do the most productive things. Basically scheduling productivity and being hyperfocused for those periods of time: no messenger, no disruptions, doors closed, etc.

Body

I occasionally see discussion behind the environment when it comes to productivity, but rarely do I ever see someone talking about personal health and how it impacts one’s ability to function and work. While none of this information was new, I really liked how the author, yet again, focused on ways of keeping one’s life in order as a way to be more productive.

  • sleep is important. We all say it but it IS crucial to properly functioning brain. My kids sometimes don’t sleep well and when they don’t I feel it for days, I feel the braing fog, I feel the lack of focus, etc. Getting at least 7 hours a night is important
  • 30-60 minute naps > caffeine
  • use caffeine when you really need the boost but only couple of times a week
  • keep a work/sleep routine: work and sleep at the same times every day, don’t adjust your schedule constantly.
  • physical activity helps memory and thinking
  • be active regularly throughout the day: take 3-5 minute breaks every hour to move around
  • take a walk in the middle of the day to clear the mind
  • eat well: no junk food and tea over soda.
  • pay attention to how your body responds to the dietary and exercise changes

Mind

When it comes to the mind, this where we get to the usual “productivity” stuff that you read about on productivity sites. So let me just list out the highlights.

  • whatever your goal is, make sure you do something about it every single day.
  • use a habit tracker to keep up this momentum. Not listed in the article, I use Habitica.
  • watch your own habits/patterns and use them to your advantage. When are you productive? What helps you focus?
  • try meditation. Not for stress relief, not to relax, not to be “in the moment” but to train concentration and focus!
  • use meditation, walking, naps, etc. to “reset your mind”
  • look at priorities: what’s actually important to you? What are you doing now?

On tricking procrastination and getting it done

  • “Procrastinators often suffer from lack of identity, don’t know what they want to achieve, or why they want to achieve it.”
  • “This is where it becomes really important to understand why your mind is too tired to do something or why the idea of doing a specific activity puts you off so much”
  • Procrastination is sort of like the spell that repels Muggles from Hogwarts. You’re going in one direction and before you know it, you’re headed somewhere else
  • small actionable tasks help break down the block that keeps you from large complex projects
  • “Priming”: setting your brain up to do a task
  • “More often than not we perceive things as difficult because we haven’t had enough exposure to it before.”
  • “Instead of fighting procrastination, work with your brain to familiarize it better with the task at hand.” — This is something I’ve written about in my Monthly Goals (not published anywhere currently). The idea was to surround oneself with everything relevant to a task at hand to motivate oneself. The article refers to this as “Complementary content”
  • there is a “mode” of thinking where a particular problem gets solved in the back of your head rather than sitting down and trying to figure it out.
  • social media can be used to surround yourself with complementary content
  • routine trumps everything. Powerful quote: “You may procrastinate against working out because you probably do not derive joy from it. But you never procrastinate driving your way to the office every day however mundane a task it may seen.”

How we improved our engineering estimates by 1082%

I’m always a fan of reading about productivity from the point of view of a company, and usually a startup. There, productivity is usually referred to as “project management”.

One thing that I’ve struggled with at work, in general, has been estimates. Figuring out not only how long something will take, but how far-reaching that project is, how difficult it is, what it will take to finish it, and how much of an impact it will have on the rest of the work flow.

This article focused on all the things I’ve struggled with. Outside of work, however, it’s still important. I loosely apply the concepts listed there to my personal life as well.

  • the problem: estimates are inaccurate. So inaccurate they can be off by 100% or more. (experienced this myself several times)
  • the goal: estimate as close to actual time spent as possible

How to get there:

  • break tasks and projects down as small as possible. Smaller projects are easier to estimate
  • smaller estimates result in smaller margin of error
  • take real time out for discovery. Project discovery is really damn important.

I’m going to branch off here real quick. I used to throw project discovery to the wind. I believed in “just get started on work and get it done”. It didn’t mean I ignored programming caveats, or long-term vision but rather, I ignored the implications those things had on a timeline.

Recently, at work, we spent about two weeks (not full time) breaking down an enormous project into smaller and smaller pieces until we felt comfortable that we knew as much as we could without touching code. Then we put an estimate on it. That work was invaluable in clearing any confusion as far as if the project will be done on time, if we were behind or ahead, and what tasks could be deprioritized in order to meet a deadline.

  • having a thorough plan makes it easier to catch-up when necessary
  • shorter milestones and goals makes it easier to figure out if you’re on time
  • use project management software, Toggl, or other methods to track how close you are to your estimates. This insight is important
  • guard against scope creep: scope creep is unaccounted for time that gets added to an estimate
  • identify what IS scope creep: if you estimated for it in a feature, it’s not scope creep, even if you underestimated the time
  • retrospect to learn from your success or mistakes

Retrospecting is one of my favorite things to do at work or outside. I find it enlightening to keep looking back at what happened and adjusting for the future.

Using Todoist

So Todoist has become my main application for tracking tasks that need to be done. Mainly because I didn’t like the Wunderlist UI and Microsoft’s rip off had its own problems (with sync!). I just bought the premium account so I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been looking at ways to set it up most efficiently and decided to confer a couple of youtube videos.

“My Todoist Set-Up (July 2017)”

I always love looking at other people’s lists and how they set up their stuff because it helps me figure out how I can become a power user of the app from other power users. I considered setting up GTD but I also wanted to use my TODO list to serve as “notes” repository. A way to quickly collect thoughts and that includes writing down a movie I want to check out, writing down actual tasks, writing down project ideas, and even video game quest objectives (because Stardew Valley and Elite Dangerous need it).

I’ve watched a few setups and this one was a pretty good one. Here are the notes:

  • capture daily annoyance with the system but don’t address them until weeks/months later when there’s time
  • set a reasonable daily/weekly success limit (adjust over time)
  • larger daily tasks can be grouped into one big task with a subtask list (easier to manage, less stressful)
  • use a “focus” project for tasks that are immediately relevant. Kind of like “today” but more of a “right now”
  • use a “do” project to stack together project categories. I like this approach over having tons of top-level projects
  • a “routine” project can be used to store recurring tasks. — I actually have “recurring” lists (such as what to pack for travel), I just realized that I’m not sure how to efficiently store these and not mess up my “score”.
  • a “do” project should be anything that’s going to happen in the next 2-3 months — nothing further out.

There’s also a “plan” project and I’m not entirely sure what the point of it is other than a dumping ground of tasks “for the week” that don’t have a specific schedule. I like this idea of having a grab-bag of tasks but I have a feeling it wouldn’t work for me and it’d end up as a project that never actually clears.

  • plan the next day the night prior
  • priorities can be used to specify difficulty of task rather than immediacy.
  • text can be bolded in tasks with exclamation marks — very useful for specifying the action to be taken such as “!!FIX!!: some bug I’m dealing with”

“My todoist set-up + Free “MIT” Template”

By the same Youtuber (Francesco D’Alessio), this video focuses more on how I’d set up my own todoist than how he uses it.

The video focuses on Labels a LOT more than the previous ones and I’ve yet to get into labels. In fact, I think my todoist setup uses Projects in the way that labels should be used.

  • whilst adding tasks, it is trivial to specify which project, priority, and label an item should be without leaving your keyboard. Typing “#” will open up a quick option list of project with tab completion enabled. Typing “p” followed by a number 1-3 will specify priority. And typing “@” will open up a list of available labels.
  • labels can be used specify “requirements” for a task: energy-wise, equipment-wise, etc.
  • schedule tasks in a rhythm: short tasks -> long task -> short tasks to keep up a momentum
  • plan the night before
  • put a time estimate on tasks
  • New project structure
    • MIT – most important tasks for the day
      • the confusing thing to me here is that I use the “Today” section for my most important tasks and as per the previous video, I have a “NOW” project for my current focus
    • DO – regular backlog of projects and tasks
    • PLAN – Tasks to review at the end of the week if they make sense or not
      • not really sure about that one

So