Okay, so maybe productivity isn’t the best word. But instead, I want to talk about a few methods that I’ve found that helped me to get things done.
I’ll start with a tiny bit of background information, in that I am an incredibly lazy person. So you could say I need as much help as I can get when it comes to being productive. This is why I’ve started to learn ways in which I can trick myself into starting activities that my usual lazy self would definitely not want to do.
I’m not sure if this quote is actually true, or if Bill Gates was even the one who said it, but I do think there is at least a hint of truth in the following quote:
I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.
I think that’s where I am right now. Although I’m not always finding the objectively easiest solution, what I’ve learned is that I need to find the solution that fits me.
A lot of the time, when people talk about productivity, they talk about the efficiency of getting work done and, in general, how you can fit the most value into the smallest period. And while this type of stuff may be helpful to others, my issue is rarely how efficiently I perform tasks or deal with deadlines. My problem is putting in the required effort in order to actually start something.
A tip I hear (and use) a lot when it comes to making tasks seem more bearable is to break them down into smaller tasks and tackle them one by one. It sounds totally obvious, and it probably is. But I, for one, tend to forget about it most of the time.
However, there is one idea constantly in my head: always try and make things easier for myself. Because when the time comes where I have a sudden burst of energy or that tiny bit of time where I feel like I have nothing else to do, I’m more likely to make a dent in a big task. Additionally, I’ve found my sudden bursts of energy and inspiration to be perfect times to make that start.
The thing that helps me the most in tackling a big task, whether it is writing a long blog post, cleaning the kitchen, organising my office, or anything that just seems like it would require too much effort, is that I give myself a goal. More specifically, I give myself an easily achievable goal. So if I want to tidy up the kitchen, I’d tell myself, “I’m just going to put away all of the rubbish in the bin and then I’m done”. If I’m writing a blog post, I’d probably aim to write either a first sentence or maybe even just to get an idea down somewhere. No matter what it is, I find forgetting about the big picture for a second can help. The goal is to get that one thing done, and then you can either finish or just one more thing. After a while, it creates a snowball effect, where after every small task you complete, you’re more likely to do the next thing and the next thing until you may as well just finish it.
I regularly use one trick on myself: when I’m waiting for something to happen, whether it’s waiting for something to cook or when I have a few minutes spare, I just start washing a few dishes. Then in a few minutes, I find myself doing a few more dishes, and then I’m cleaning the surfaces, and then the cupboards, and maybe after this time, the bin is full, so I may as well take that out. Most of the time, I just need to do something small, and then I find it easy to carry on with something else.
When it comes to longer-form writing, I find it useful to give myself a head-start there too. Usually, it’s in the form of a really rough outline of the fundamentals of what I want to write about. And if I have time afterwards, I might do some refining or add a bit more detail. So when it comes to sitting down and writing, my brain can use the outline as a trigger, and I find it a lot easier to get a load of writing done in one go.
My biggest takeaway from this would be that it’s far easier to continue a task than starting one. So by making a dent, no matter the size, makes it that much easier to then push yourself on.
Considering everything I said about starting being the hardest part, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of it is always easy. Sometimes you still need a bit more motivation to keep on going.
I’ve found that not only simply breaking up tasks into more manageable chunks helps, but adding in regular rewards can make it even easier to get bigger pieces of work done. For example, while I was at university, I sometimes found it incredibly boring to write some of the reports. But I tackled that by giving myself rewards for a given amount of work. So after I’d written a certain amount of words, I played a game of FIFA. And then, after that game, I knew that all I had to do was the same amount of words again before I could play again.
It definitely relies upon a level of self-control, but it can be very effective once you’ve found the right balance. It can transform a task into being just smaller chunks, into an activity that you’re actually interested in, broken up with occasional tasks. Even with the added motivation, I’m sure that this method isn’t the most efficient way. But if it means doing something over doing nothing at all, then there’s got to be some value in it.
The last thing that I want to talk about when it comes to getting work done is further to the idea of making things easier for yourself. In that, you can create triggers to help put yourself into a certain mindset and to create environments where you’re more likely to be productive.
For me, I do my best work when I’m sat at my desk in my office at home, in front of a monitor, with my mechanical keyboard, lights dimmed to reduce distraction, and usually some kind of music or ambient sounds playing.
Having a good working environment is something I’ve slowly created, and it’s definitely taken some learning along the way to see what works for me.
When I’m doing work on a computer, I tend to find that even small luxuries can make a big difference in helping me focus on getting work done. This includes using a good looking app for my writing, typing on a keyboard that I enjoy, and generally having that extra bit of delight with my setup. It may sound rather silly, but if you make your environment comfortable and have tools you enjoy using, I’m sure that will only increase the likeliness of getting things done.
A few extra things I’ve found to help trigger myself into a work mindset:
Putting shoes on (a recent one, not sure I understand it, though).
Wearing comfortable clothes.
“ASMR Room” videos on YouTube, which can create an environment with some background music, ambient sounds, and some visuals. I’ve found these keep me from having any major distractions.
Opening the window and getting some fresh air.
Setting triggers is something I want to play around with in the future, and hopefully, it’s something I can develop with myself.
If anyone else has had similar experiences when trying to make working a bit more bearable and creating work environments, then I'd be really interested in hearing about them!
The reason I know about ASMR is that as these “tingle videos” grew in popularity, they spawned a sub-genre called ASMR rooms. The goal in these videos was no longer to trigger the classical tingling response, but instead to invoke a sense of meditative calm and focus.
This is the first time I've ever heard about ASMR rooms, but I find them rather intriguing. ASMR isn't something I'm particularly interested in, but the idea of having a video used for background noise and visuals seems like it would be useful to me.
He writes about how one of his readers makes use of ASMR rooms to immerse themselves into a single task. They do this by playing one of the videos full screen, with the audio playing through noise-cancelling headphones, and then having a word processor in front of it. I'm sure the bigger the screen the better the effect this would have since it would allow you to immerse yourself even more in the environment.
When I'm home by myself, I find that when I try to try to focus on a single task, I get easily distracted. When my girlfriend is home, or even when I lived with my parents, the television is usually on in the background, and people are moving around me. But when I'm on my own, I have the lights turned down to a minimum, usually, the room I'm in has a very dim light, no other light is turned on, and I'm usually sat in silence.
Sometimes I find myself playing a podcast to keep my brain occupied, but if I'm reading or writing, a podcast can also be a distraction. I have the same issue with music.
One tool I have found to help calm the mind is ambient sounds. Not to aid focus, or remove distractions from an environment, but to help to fall asleep. I have one of the small Alexa devices in my bedroom so I use that for this purpose. As it has various skills where you can say "Alexa play something sounds", and it plays an audio track for one hour. I find that I enjoy rainforest sounds, and my girlfriend prefers rain sounds.
When I'm trying to focus on a task I think I need the background sound and also something visual. That's probably why I've found that background noise with apps like Dark Noise doesn't work that well with me. But the idea of an ASMR room certainly sounds like it could work.
The ones that seem most interesting to me are the ones that relate to Harry Potter. For some reason, the scenes seem rather relaxing. I'm not sure if it's solely because of the scenes that the creators have chosen, or the connection I have to the books/films, but they seem to be the ones that attract me the most.
As I'm writing this post, I've been playing various videos on an external monitor which is located behind and to the side of my laptop that I'm writing this from. I have the audio routed to a HomePod Mini which is also on my desk, and I became a bit extra and I changed the smart bulb in my office to a dim orange to set the mood. It does seem to have helped my focus, but obviously, I'll keep trying this idea and hopefully, it helps me stick to a single task and minimise distractions.
If you want to check these out for yourself, here are a few that I've found:
I don’t normally spend much time reading information online, so I definitely noticed this morning the unusual degree to which I was distracted by breaking election news. This points to an interesting question that I’ve seen discussed in some articles in recent days: what’s the best way to keep getting things done on truly distracting days?
My answer: don’t.
Cal Newport is the author of many books relating to reducing distractions and focussing on deep work. So when the above question is posed to him. you may expect a very long and informational response. But instead, he has a very quick, and somewhat surprising answer.
But his short answer, along with his reasoning afterwards, resonate with me quite a lot. Mainly that not every day needs to be a day where you knock loads of things off your to-do list. Some times you need a rest, you need to focus your mind on something different, or maybe you just have something else you need to deal with.
Sometimes I go through patches where I want to be "productive" all through the day, every day of the week. But very soon, I realise that is just isn't sustainable. What is sustainable though, is allowing yourself to rest, have fun, and not feel like you always have to be achieving something. Because when you do choose to get to work, you go at it full of energy, and ready to really dive into your work.
With iOS 12’s imminent announcement, I thought I’d prepare myself for a new way of using my devices.
For months now, I’ve been trying to refine my use of my devices, apps, and services that I use. But I think a different approach is needed, and I hope that future OS updates will help me along the way.
The method I’ve been using for a while is quite a harsh one, where I disabled notifications, and everything associated with them, on nearly all applications. Along with getting rid of some apps/services that I don’t think provide any value.
But while I think this has been a step in the right direction, I don’t think it’s a particularly accurate way to achieve my goal of adapting my devices to my needs, and for it to provide me with the most value as possible.
That’s why I’ve now done a complete reversal and turned on all the notifications, and possible distractions on my iPhone. In the short term, I’m hoping this will let me find out where I don’t need to be spending my time and also see if there is any value to them. I mean, I know notifications can be valuable, but I want the right balance. And by turning them all off, I’m potentially missing out.
So tonight, I’ve already gone through a few apps to disable types of notifications, and in some cases, just deleted the app entirely. For example, I have an app for a restaurant I go to maybe once every two months, but they send at least one offer notification every single day.
What I’m majorly hoping for in the next iOS update, are pretty minor things. With the ability to group notifications having the highest priority. I can’t even bear thinking about the types of apps that would benefit from this, because it’s probably all of them. I also think there can be improvements made to the way notifications are visualised. Because even grouped, it’s still just a list.
Then there’s priority, not all bits of information are equally useful. And if they are, you might not need to know about it right now. Things like iMessages are more important than likes on an Instagram post, and work emails are certainly not relevant out of work hours, or maybe even a work location. So there’s a lot of work that can be done here, involving sorting, filtering, and queueing/snoozing.
If all of these issues are “resolved”, then I think the way devices are experience, and even used, will change quite a lot.
There’s also one more tool that would be able to help focus your device usage on a bigger scale, and that would be a way to monitor/visualise your usage, or habits, system-wide. Of course, you can kind of track this by using the battery analytics that tells you the time on screen for apps, but I want it better, and more in my face. Because more insight can only be better.
This is, of course, a long-term goal, and maybe more of a process. But I plan to write about my journey of focusing my usage of devices, and in general, refining my life to maximise value.
I have a few more ideas that I want to try soon, so you’ll find these here only blog as well.
Michael Rockwell, over at Initial Charge write a piece about a really interesting way to give web apps a more native feel on iOS.
Firstly, he mentions Fluid, which is an application for macOS which lets you “convert” web apps into containers that run as normal apps:
On macOS, there’s an application available called Fluid, which lets you create site-specific web browsers. Many of us use web apps everyday and Fluid allows you to run them side-by-side with your native applications without being sequestered inside of a web browser. Fluid is a handy little tool that every Mac user should have in their arsenal.
I hadn’t heard of Fluid before, so I’m going to try this myself, but it’s not as good as his next suggestion for iOS:
To build these site-specific browsers, it just takes two simple actions — a URL action with the web app’s address and the Show Web Page action. When run, Workflow will open up the URL in a Safari View Controller, which gives you access to your action extensions alongside forward, back, and refresh buttons. From there you can give the workflow a name, set an icon color, and a glyph to fit the website or web application’s functionality.
So, he uses Workflow! It’s something I haven’t thought at all about before, but it makes sense. You can use the standard Safari View Controller inside Workflow, or you make partner it with apps like Sidefari, or maybe even add another layer to it with Opener.
I’ve actually just set one up myself to handle my the interface for this blog, which runs on Ghost.
Whether you use macOS or iOS, there’s a solution for you in this post!