My post Monday, Stop stealing, garnered 66 comments – definitely a record for me. As I said Wednesday, there’s both strategic ways to take control of your attention, focus and productivity, and there are plenty of tactics that can improve your productivity.
In fact, there’s too many. Way, way too many. Take for example this and this and this and this post. You can liquify your brain with productivity tips on the net. So here’s one “pre-tactic” before we get to my personal top dozen: print this post, check the ones you are actually going to try, cross off the ones that don’t interest you and do something more than just read these tips.
So here goes. Some are major, some trivial, all work. Be sure to read #12 if nothing else.
#1. Work for yourself first. Spend two hours each workday on whatever you make money doing before checking email/twitter or other communication channels. If you’re a programmer, code. If you’re a web strategist, strategize. Unless you model, you’re not getting paid for your good looks, you’re getting paid for what you produce. Hard to do? Start with 15 minutes and work your way up, kind of like this program.
#2. Set communication expectations. Set your email client to append it or add it to your standard salutation: “(I check email several times during the business day.)” – by resetting the expectations of others, you cut yourself some much-needed slack.
#3. Use a timer. Buy yourself a kitchen or kickboxing timer, stick it next to your Mac or PC. When you have to do something you don’t want to do, set it for 10 minutes, telling yourself you can do anything for just 10 minutes and then do it. When you’re in the mood to just chat or surf or whatever, set that damn timer to remind yourself you’ve got other things to do and move on. When you do your work day in and day out, alternate between 48 minute bursts of focused work and 12 minutes to move around, defocus and reorientate.
#4. Write your next post before you publish today. Two weeks ago I hit upon this quite by accident when I started blogging here again. Want to really increase the number of posts you write? Always have one post in the can. By doing that, you dramatically turn down the pressure on yourself. If something comes up and you want to write about it immediately, great! If not, you’ve already got the next one ready.
#5. Pay Jacquie Lawson $10 a year. It’s been a good five years since I’ve sent anyone an actual thank you/birthday/holiday card because that’s how long ago I found this superb British illustrator’s animated e-cards. They’re eyecatchingly impressive, extremely well done and added to frequently enough so you always have a new e-card to send.
#6. Get an iPhone 3G. Want to know why I paid $299 and 3.5 hours of my life for an iPhone 3G? Two words: Visual Voicemail. Given various pursuits, there are weeks I get zip voicemail and days I’ll get a dozen. Now I’ve freed myself from the tyranny of voicemail’s interface. As a bonus, I’ve organized my email so that just the messages I need to process daily are also routed to my iPhone so I can knock them out when I’m away from my desktop.
#7. Always use two monitors. While I do nearly all my work from my MacBook Pro these days, the only times I’m without a second large monitor is when I’m traveling. The sheer luxury of having enough digital real estate to spread out my work hugely improves how fast I can work. Don’t believe me? Read this and this.
#8. Use systems that you trust, build systems if you must. Would you voluntarily own a car that worked 90% of the time? Not if you could help it. Yet if you don’t have a system for capturing not 90% or 98% but damn near 100% of the things you decide you are going to do in life, you are in the same predicament. Paper or plastic, Mac, PC, or what have you – whatever works. For me, it’s a little Red Pad that I can take anywhere as my “task in-basket” and then OmniFocus on my MacBook Pro and iPhone, but there are plenty of other products and combinations that get the job done.
#9. Unless you’ve got a better system, learn and use Getting Things Done. Period. I know of no way of managing yourself that has worked for so many hundreds of thousands of people. Believe me I have looked. If you do, I’m all ears, but if you’ve been one of those people who always tell your GTD-organized friends you’ll take a pass and you’ve not tried GTD, what are you waiting for?
#10. When you bereft of motivation, organize a drawer. Since we’re people not computers, there are times when despite all of the rational reasons you should be doing what you should be doing, you just damn well don’t want to. Fine. Clean out an office drawer. Or organize your dvd’s. Or clean the refrigerator. Strike a blow against entropy. I don’t know why, but it works.
#11. Get enough rest. Developers – especially if you’re trying to bootstrap your startup/microISV – work insane hours. There are times when 18 hour workdays make sense, and are right and proper. But week after week, month after month? No. And if it’s your boss, manager, company or corporate culture that is manipulating you into work as an obsession, the most productive thing you can do is tell them to shove it.
#12. Productivity is a means, not an end to and of itself. All of the tactics, all of the blog posts, all of the books, seminars, tools, applications and advice – very much including mine – are just the means to an end, the end being living. If you forget it’s the things you build and the people you love that are the reason for all that productivity, you’ll master the techniques but never hear the music.