My personal productivity practices

10 August, 2022

3 min read

The key to successfully dealing with productivity is establishing routines and habits for all the little things that trip one up throughout a typical day. Below are some of my personal habits, mostly established in the last year or so, that have helped me become one of the most productive people I know.

The moment you have a thought that starts with “I should do…” write it down, preferably with a reminder alarm attached to it.

I usually keep messy notes in Drafts near me so that I can write down notes and then sort them later. Or Ticktick app is great.

Write down everything.

Use Draft or Obsidian. Make a notebook for everything. Follow this Lifehacker guide.

Accept imperfection.

This is the most important tip of all.

I struggled with this previously because I never believed that I would return to a task after “finishing” it. It was important to make it as perfect as possible the first time because that was the only chance I would get. But it turns out that I very rarely finished things that way, and ended up with unfinished and imperfect projects. I’d rather finish an imperfect project, and approach it later when I’m interested or excited about it again.

Keep a personal calendar as well as a shared calendar with your partner.

Set a default alarm for calendar events. Mine is “Alert 2 hours before event”.

My favorite calendar app is Fantastical. The interface is slick and easy to use, and the best feature is its natural language processing. I can type “Lunch with John at McDonalds fri at 130” and it will auto populate all the metadata correctly.

Learn to understand how different chemicals affect your mental and physical acuity.

Coffee makes me want to get started and can help with mental tasks. Too much and my mind (not to mention my heart) starts racing and I don’t accomplish as much.

Alcohol slows me down and makes working a laborious task.

Sugar make me slower and groggier. It’s like my brain is dragging a 50lb weight behind it.

Try to segment your work and personal time.

We use timeboxing at work and it’s applicable in personal life too. If you sit down to work on something, look at the clock and set an alarm for a specified time in the future when you will stop. If you’re really in a groove when the alarm goes off and you want to keep going, that’s fine. Just set another alarm. This is similar to Pomodoro, though I don’t actually use Pomodoro. It’s too rigid for my taste.

Exercise as regularly as possible.

I am not really able to work out. Although taking long "walks" is something I try todo everyday, the sharper my mind is, and everything in life becomes easier.

Healthy sleep is critical to high-functioning performance.

Finish small things first, then move on to bigger tasks.

There’s a real emotional tie to finishing things. When I feel that I’m disorganized and running around with my head cut off, I seek out a few small tasks that take no more than a minute or two each. Write them down on a list and then start knocking them out. Each additional line you can cross off the list adds momentum to your ability to finish more complex tasks. This is reminiscent of Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball method for repaying multiple debts.

I don’t have a favorite task tracker, and you probably won’t be able to stick to just one either.

I’ve tried TickTick, Trello, personal kanban, and more. I go through phases with each of them and still use all of them in different ways. They serve different functions in varying situations.

The most consistently useful thing I’ve found is reminders. I estimate when I need I need to think about that item, set an alarm for that date/time, and then put it out of mind to focus on something else.

Learn to recognize your mood and how that affects your work.

There are occasions that I’ve blocked out on my calendar for “personal project” time and I sit down and realize that I’m just not in the right frame of mind to work then. That’s fine; find something better to do with your time.

I’d rather be “successful” at relaxing in front of my favorite series than “fail” at trying to work on a programming project. Struggling to work means I end up wasting time screwing around on Instagram