On Productivity

I often see posts that are full of “productivity hacks” or similar tips from successful business people and entrepreneurs. My friend Syed Balkhi just shared his.

I should admit something: I have almost no such hacks and I do not focus heavily on my processes and how to streamline them.

Now, I do think I’m a fairly productive person. I get a lot done during the day. Since I started my own business, I tend to balance the day with research, writing (which is what pays bills, if you will), customer support, site maintenance, and development.

Communication and time blocks

But I am not good at creating blocks in my day, nor sticking to a strict schedule. I have the following communication tools open throughout every day:

  • Slack: I am part of 3 active channels; therefore 3 potentially distracting groups.
  • Skype: I keep up with a small handful of people through Skype. It was way more before Slack came along.
  • Email: Both my Gmail and my Google Apps business account are open all day.
  • Twitter: I keep Tweetbot open all day.
  • G Chat / Hangouts: I don’t keep it open, but people can ping me through G Chat any time.

Not to mention periodic texts and whatnot through my phone. From an accessibility perspective, this can be spun a good thing, but it’s really not. I need to be available for people to get in touch with me, considering I’m a news provider and if someone wants to share news with me I should be available.

But really, that’s an excuse. I should be locking these channels down to certain segments of the day. I am — many times per day on average — pinged about things that should be relegated to “when I have time”, not “when I’m pinged”.

So in regard to Syed’s points of being strict with communication and time blocks, I fail miserably.

Sleep patterns

Syed has also long advocated the success he’s had waking up early. Sometimes I do wake up early. But I am impressively inconsistent. Some days I go to bed at 10 PM, and others I go to bed at 3 AM.

That drastically affects my ability to wake up in the morning, as I pretty much suck with consecutive nights of less than five or six hours of sleep. So sometimes if I go to be really late multiple nights in a row, I then crash and sleep in until 9 or even a little later, which starts me off on the wrong foot for the day.

Cleanliness

Cleanliness is another thing I’m very streaky with. I go through periods where I keep my workspace spotless. But times like now, my desk is overrun with physical reminders that are lasting longer than they should; the culprit currently is tax paperwork, which I’ve already put off for close to a month.

Focus

So, focus was a huge theme for me in 2014. I started 2014 by wanting to slim down the things I was involved in. That culminated in me quitting my job and focusing on Post Status.

However, Only two months in, I’m already battling things that I need to say no to. I get asked to be involved in lots of projects: between professional, hobby, and community things. I have to really concentrate to keep the focus on my primary interests and not stretch myself too thin.

Of Syed’s points, focus and “ejecting anything that doesn’t move you forward” is basically the only one I’m doing fairly well; but I’m still at risk on this point. It’s a consistent battle and a lot of saying no.

So what do I do well?

All of these points aside, I do think I’m doing some things well.

I grind and I write consistently

I work hard, every day. I may not have every little hack down, but I work my tail off to get my key tasks finished every day.

For me, that key task is typically my member newsletter. I’ve only missed one weekday, and it was a holiday. Even then, I felt bad about it so I tried to beef up the next one. My newsletter has to go out, no excuses. That’s the meat of the Post Status membership, and I don’t want to disappoint.

I may take some days off in the future, but by then I’ll either have the other site features ironed out to help make up for it, or I’ll have methods to send other valuable content on days I don’t gather time-sensitive news.

I make time for exercise

In September of 2014, I was officially sick of being fat. I was 208 pounds. Now, I’m 183 pounds on a light day, so I like to say I’m down 25 pounds. More important than losing 25 pounds, I’ve gained a lot of muscle. My net body weight change isn’t as impressive as my overall health change. I feel better at 183 than I did at 170 as a senior in highschool.

I have not missed a single workout class (I’m on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule at a minimum) since I started. If I’m not out of town, I’m at my class. It is not a negotiable time for me. That has benefited me hugely and I am much, much healthier because of this decision. And working out improves my time at the desk working, without a doubt.

I’m in a mastermind

I also started a mastermind group with three other folks in similar business situations to me. This has given me an opportunity to both learn and counsel. It’s been great so far, even though it’s only a few weeks old.

A mastermind does take time, but the feedback and encouragement from such a group is super valuable.

I listen to the community and form valuable relationships

I try hard to listen to the WordPress and web community. I spend a lot of time reading blogs, seeing Twitter conversations, listening to podcasts, communicating with people, and following WordPress core development.

Sometimes I can spend all day communicating, but doing so during the day allows me to get unique information and “knock out” the actual writing in 30 minutes to an hour that evening. I’m able to keep my ear to the ground, and it prevents me from getting stale and getting my news (that I then share with folks that rely on me) from the same sources all the time.

Also, some of these innocent conversations turn into “scoops” or valuable insight later. Many times these relationships have turned into partnerships as well. In fact, most of the Post Status Partners started as these sorts of casual online friendships.

I’m efficient “in the zone”

I definitely have times I’m in or out of “the zone”. When I’m in the zone, either writing or developing, I am pretty fast at my core skills. I consider my core skills writing and WordPress website development. I can do both of these tasks pretty well when I’m focused.

My key (which I could benefit from some of Syed’s tips), is to be in the zone more often and for longer periods of time. My zone time is more often “outside” the regular day — typically late at night and sometimes early in the morning. I’d love to move this to being mostly early in the morning.

Managing To-do lists

I like lists. I keep informal notes and lists in Simplenote, which I love. I also started using the to-do functionality in Momentum, a great Chrome extension.

Lists help me stay sane and see my progress throughout the day or week.

6-10 time

I try to be offline from around 6-10 PM to spend time with my wife. That’s when we have dinner, watch TV, go on walks, etc. I’m definitely not perfect in these hours, but I try to make that family time.

I find that when I’m doing this well, life is good. When I ignore 6-10 time, life is not as happy. It’s a time I try hard to keep.

Remote work

Working from home is not always what folks make it out to be. If you get into a rut, it can be hard to get out of. If you lose distinct parts of your day because you are always working or always distracted, life can mesh together and you feel like you don’t know where the weeks went.

But overall, working from home is awesome. I’m able to be flexible, take time off when I need to, and focus my day however I choose. It’s that choice that’s the important part. You have to be disciplined to work hard and it’s better to have good discipline and routines. And while I love my work enough to want to work hard, it doesn’t mean I’m always working as smart as I should.

So I’m going to try and take Syed’s tips more seriously and see if I can improve the patterns in my life.

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