Thoughts on Productivity.
This is something I came across in the Moses book and really liked:
“Having a large table instead of a desk was insurance that this procedure would be followed. Since a table has no drawers, there was no place to hide papers; there was no escape from a nagging problem or a difficult to answer letter except to get rid of it one way or another. And there was another advantage: when your desk was table you could have conferences without even getting up.”
Robert Caro on Robert Moses.
-At home, I have a big glass computer desk with out any drawers at all. There, I was probably the most productive I’ve ever been. I have to go buy a new one soon for my new house and I am probably going to get a dining room table. It will be big, open and sturdy. This is what I love about my Mac. The first thing I did when I got it was wipe the harddrive and reinstall only the basics. The background is a grey screen. I extended the no drawer analog to my computer. I have maybe 10 mp3s on the entire thing. My folders are as follows: Movies, Music, Documents, Journal, Photos.
-I take all my notes for class or meetings on yellow legal pads. Every few months, I go to Wal-Mart and buy a huge pack of them. Each topic has its own pad–never mix. Then when they are full, I box them up and ship them home. All personal writings go in my Moleskine.
-I will never put a TV in my bedroom again. Chris Anderson is right. My freshman year of college, I’d watch reruns of “Just Shoot Me” instead of reading. Or I’d watch CNBC instead of writing. I’ve probably seen every episode of Law and Order at least 3 times. For me, the television contributes to my life when it is a destination instead of a foundation. That is, when I go into another room to watch it rather than it always being one.
-I always get an early night and change my bedding regularly. After reading a study, it was proven that the more hours of sleep you get each night, the better productivity you will have the following day. I put this to the test, I purchased a brand new full size mattress, changed my sheets regularly, and I have been having 7 – 9 hours sleep each night, and I have been so much more engaged and focused since.
-I have a Whiteboard in my room where everyday I write down what I need to do. It monitors the immediate present for me. Depending on the context it will be as general as “Come up with ideas” to as specific as “Read last 76 pages of ______, review notes.” For the week or month ahead, I have a desk calendar. But I think I am going to graduate to this tip from Jerry Seinfeld.
-Emails that I need to respond to are starred, so I have time to think about them instead of rushing a less than satisfactory response.
-As I said before, when I read I carry a highlighter (with tabs) and a pen. Quotes and passages are marked with flags on the right hand side. Terms to define, topics to investigate and books to buy are marked at the top. Thoughts and tie-ins are marked with the pen. If I need to define a word immediately, I use Google SMS by texting “Define ________” to 45546 or Wikipedia on my Blackberry.
-I also started drinking a lot more water–a minimum of two bottles before lunch. Besides the strange looks caused by the bathroom trips, I’ve been feeling more energetic and more alert.
As always, am looking to absorb any of the productivity knowledge the rest of you have accumulated. Post ’em if you’ve got ’em.
Check your email ONCE a day in the afternoon.
I order my whiteboard 1-x in order of urgency or time. I feel it’s easier to work when you have 3 tasks to go, then 2, then the last big task.
Never watch the football game and do homework at the same time. Thinking I could fit work into the commercial break was fantasy.
I use two separate bookmark toolbars in firefox for school and non-school. I think you said somewhere you would get into a hours long cycle of wiki or email?
Noise cancelling headphones when you can’t avoid background noise.
If you want something done (right), chances are you have to do it yourself unless you work in a magical world where people do their jobs promptly and efficiently.
I also do as much as I can the night before to prepare for anything. Lay out my clothes, get everything organized, find cell phone, keys, wallet. That way you won’t be surprised an hour before the interview that you can’t find your keys.
I put my keys, wallet, cell phone in the same place every time because I know I will lose them if I don’t.
I slightly overestimate when I can be somewhere or when I can do tasks for other people so that if I hit a snag I can still be fine. And if I don’t, I finished early.
Reward yourself when you have completed an important task (or worked hard at it for as long as you can, not all tasks can be completed at once), and micro-reward yourself.
Everytime I write a blog post or complete some unspecified task, I reward myself by playing frisbee with my friends, or go to the basketball court and practice layup drills, or starting up that new book I’ve been meaning to read. Then after you’ve exhausted yourself in that, get back to the next task at hand. It’s crazy how your productivity goes up when you feel as if you have something to look forward to.
Separate what you need to do from what you want to do and balance out these activities. It becomes more fun than just identifying task after task. Hell, you can even mix it up and make “Talk to cute girl in my class and ask her to lunch” a need task, and reward yourself afterward whether you succeed or fail at it. Because what do people need more from in life than forging new relationships?
A few things I’ve learned about journalists.
– We like to drink…a lot.
– If we are never given a deadline it WILL NOT happen.
– Most of our best work is done in the thirty minutes before deadline.
– We spend hours upon hours on the net and can find just about anything.
Your post struck a cord with me this morning as I was struggling to be productive. I find that most times I have too many ideas and trying to write about just one thing seems impossible.
As I find links for my posts I tend to get sidetracked and next thing I know, I’m watching a Youtube video of some kid and the five-second rule. Funny? Yes. Productive? No.
One of my favorite tricks is to write when I want to write and play when I want to play. Obviously you can’t do that all the time, but finding a balance is key. Writers who are forced to write tend to write poorly I find. And when you want to play, you usually can end up with something to write about.
My number one productivity booster for the year: Buy an Apple laptop. There are so many great tools and features to streamline your life and let you create anytime anywhere. You are no longer confined to the table/desk in your room. You can write at the beach, porch, bar, hotel etc.
Cancel your cable service. All the greatest shows can be downloaded: Entourage, West Wing, The Wire, Dog whisperer. The rest are just crap, not worth your time. Important Sporting events can be seen at bars. TV is a waste of life.
Simulating post! A few questions: Re: having no desk drawers, do you mean no filing cabinets? I don’t see the problem. Once you have a workflow system in place, and use it regularly, you put things away by habit, and have easy access to those things. For example, I have drawers for supplies (staples, file folders, stamps, thank you cards, envelopes, etc.) I also have file drawers within “swivel” distance, which is actually crucial to avoid piling.
Notes on pads: I’ve seen many clients who do this, but get very behind. The problem is they don’t process the new notes after the meeting/class/session. This then leaves them with a backlog of untracked actions and delegation…
Whiteboards: I like them for this purpose – a temporary daily todo list, but I’ve seen them get clogged with action or important notes, then you get the “DON’T ERASE” meta-note at the top 🙂 I teach clients to use them as capture devices, which therefore need regular emptying. They can also get in the way of keeping a running “master” todo list, which is what I recommend.
Email drafts for action reminders: This is fine as long as you check the drafts folder regularly. Also, it’s one more place to keep action reminders, in addition to your other (non-email) system (paper, on-line todos, whiteboard, etc.)
Desk calendar: I *love* the Seinfeld tip – very nice for motivating creating new habits. Thanks! Regarding the desktop format, I suggest something portable. If I don’t have my calendar with me, I risk missing appointments, or creating them when I’m out that I later realize conflict with an existing one.
Post-It notes: I strongly suggest reading “Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes” (http://www.rakemag.com/stories/printable.aspx?itemID=5383&catID=146&SelectCatID=146) A fascinating and fun read!
Question: How do you use the post-it notes?
I mainly use the post-it pens as page markers. When I use post-it notes I tend to get all cluttered and messy, so I shy away.
I do have one filing cabinet but I put it all the way across the room. That way I am more tempted to throw things away than I am to file them. I don’t even remember the last time I fetched something from a file. Most of the stuff is digital anyway and if you use Google Desktop you can track down just about everything.
On the calendar–you are totally right. I like to alternate colors each day so I know when something isn’t being erased immediately.
Thanks for the comment, appreciate the read.
I totally organize my files that way
Big fan of your work Ryan H. I would love to see how you live your life and how you think. Hope this helps. NRN