Productivity Tips

A couple of months ago I started working less at my job in order to put some time into my own projects. At first I was centered on getting my new apartment set up properly. Once that was under control, I started writing a short non-fiction book about a new way of thinking. It was a rocky start, as I was allowing myself to constantly get distracted throughout the day (ahem…Twitter…Facebook…ahem). Now I feel I’m more under control, and I wanted to share some of the things that have helped me be more productive on my own.

1. The Pomodoro Technique

This is a pretty basic way to get tasks done, one task at a time. In summary, here’s how I use it: Write down what time it is. Next to it, write a task you wish to accomplish. Using the iTomato free app or a tomato timer, set the time to 25 minutes. Work on that task and nothing else for the next 25 minutes. Take a 3 minute break between tasks. After you finish four tasks, take a 20 minute break. That’s it.

There are a few things about the technique that are especially helpful for me.

  • Accountability. Working alone is much different from working around others or on a project in which your contribution is needed by others. When you’re alone, you’re the only person really policing you. You need to be held accountable for your actions. Using the technique requires you to write down the time and task, and for some reason when I write them down, it becomes official. It’s public. Even if it’s just on my whiteboard, I can see it staring back at me and that’s enough.
  • Scheduled Breaks. Sure, it’s good to force yourself to take breaks (Pro Tip: Make sure you get up from your seat in those 3 minute breaks). But more than that, it’s helpful to have scheduled breaks because it means that when you think of something you want to do while you are working, you can just say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll do that during break time.” Then, when you do it during break time, you don’t feel guilty for doing it because you’re not wasting your working time. It’s a win-win — no interruptions and no guilt.
  • Completion List. A lot of times when you work alone, it’s hard to know just how much you’re getting done. You’re the only person who can give you feedback. Having a list at the end of the day of everything you completed gives you a clear picture of everything you did, and also makes you feel productive. Good job, you!

Onto the next one.

2. Full-screen Mode in Mac OSX
I’m not sure if you needed a new reason why Macs are awesome, but I’ll give it to you: the shortcut CMD+Shift+F. This will switch your current program into full-screen mode, removing any surrounding distractions (assuming the program supports it). I specifically use this shortcut in my Chrome browser when I’m writing in Google Docs. Google Docs has its own great show-less-stuff option, so when you pile on the Mac’s full-screen feature, the only thing you see after that is the text on the page. “Your content is your interface,” after all. Along with the Pomodoro Technique, this keeps me focused on what I’m doing and nothing else.

3. Self-Control (program)
Here’s another focus tool. This Mac program lets you block yourself from accessing any tempting sites while you’re trying to work. It’s pretty simple. Download it, then add as many sites as you want to the program’s block list. I recommend blocking social networking sites, Reddit, blogs, etc. Then, in the program, you set a timer for how long you want to block yourself from those sites. I typically choose somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 8 hours. When the time runs out, your access comes back. After a while, you’ll stop having to use the tool because you’ll develop a focused work ethic.

4. Finger Cots (for nail biters)
If you bite your nails, depending on your mood, your habit may contribute to productivity or take away from it. In the latter case, I recommend using finger cots. They are basically small, cheap condom-like covers for your fingers. I keep them around my desk and put them on specific fingers when my biting gets bad. As much as I have tried stopping biting in the past, it always comes back when I’m working hard. I’m not stressed, but for some reason I come back to it. This may happen to you too, and I suggest using these little guys to keep you focused on your work and to save you from future pain.

5. Working Playlist on Spotify
When I write, it’s important that I listen to music that doesn’t have any words. This 1800 track playlist built by a Spotify user is awesome for working, and it’s rare that I ever hear a repeat song. Check it out.

6. Keep your email window closed. 

That’s it for now. I’m currently trying something my mom recommended to me called Lemon Balm. It’s supposed to be a natural way for people with ADD to chill out and focus better. Comes in powder and capsule forms. I tried it today and noticed a difference. I’ll keep trying it to get some more data points before I know for sure.

Until next time: remove your distractions and focus on one thing at a time!