Staying Productive: A Resource-Rich Cheat Sheet You Will Ever Need

Pujaa Rajan

Deep learning Engineer at Node.io



Maximizing our productivity became a modern-day dictum that professionals across industries strive to achieve. Productivity is not only a metric to evaluate our business-related accomplishments but our self-worth as well. A number of tools and processes have been developed to help us become and stay productive in times when distractions, rivaling goals, and procrastination are most cunningly creeping into our lives.

I experimented with a variety of different productivity tools and processes only to find a few that worked for me. But, it was a long journey of trying and sorting out those that resonated with my needs. However, I would love to share all of those available opportunities and encourage you to figure out those that work best for you.

Actions taken

I’ve identified eight areas of my life where I could perform better and deliver better results if I would be able to stay productive.
1. Know your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.
You need to know what you want to produce in a day, week, and year to be able to plan for it.
Fast Company Set Goals (https://www.fastcompany.com/90466807/3-simple-ways-to-set-realistic-goals-and-keep-them)
Quartz Create Systems (https://qz.com/892247/dont-set-goals-for-yourself-instead-create-systems-that-make-it-easy-for-you-to-succeed/)

2. Make a To-Do list to accomplish those goals.
Break down your tasks into a To-Do list. I keep a To-Do list for each of my goals in a Google sheet.

3. Put everything in your To-Do list for the week into your calendar.

Timeboxing is a time management technique where you allocate a fixed time period to a planned activity. You work on the activity during the fixed time period and stop working on it once the time is up. Then, you can assess whether you've reached your planned goals.

I currently timebox my schedule into 30-minute increments on Google calendar. Here’s how my calendar looks: I schedule my tasks based on my goals for the week. This method helps me keep realistic goals because whatever I can’t fit into my schedule this week, I push to next week.
Harvard Business Review Timeboxing (https://hbr.org/2018/12/how-timeboxing-works-and-why-it-will-make-you-more-productive)
Harvard Business Review To-Do Lists Are Bad (https://hbr.org/2012/01/to-do-lists-dont-work)
Entrepreneur Running Your Day Like Elon Musk (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/312193)
Devi Parikh Timeboxing (https://blog.usejournal.com/calendar-in-stead-of-to-do-lists-9ada86a512dd)

4. Unboxed time as ultimate freedom.
Unboxed time is boxed freedom. It means scheduling time to do whatever you want, but it can’t be used for doing errands, socializing, or browsing the Internet. I like unboxing a whole day over the weekend twice a month. It helps to have a bucket list or a backlog of tasks to choose from.

This helps to achieve two things:
a. I believe you do things best when you feel like doing them.
b. Creative tasks can’t be time-bound.

For example, I’m compiling those resources during some unboxed time.

You need to have more than four hours because of the deep work philosophy. I argue you need a whole day to follow your heart fully and do whatever you want to do. It’s a great feeling to wake up and know that you can do whatever you want to do. What you choose to do with that time can tell you a lot about yourself, your likes, and your dislikes.

I find that certain tasks get done faster when I have the feeling of wanting to do it instead of scheduling it in. I believe creative tasks can’t be time-boxed because you need to have the feeling of wanting to do them. I personally don’t like to feel any time restraints when working on them either.

Honestly, these days are the greatest gift to myself. I look forward to them so much. I’m always in awe of how much I get done on these days. Have structure to have no structure. You also need no structure to have structure.

Paul Graham’s Maker Schedule (http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html)

5. Optimize by doing things when you feel like it, but if it takes less than 2 minutes then do it immediately.

Complete your tasks the moment you think of them because you will end up doing more when you first think of them. The alternative is to write them in your To-Do list and come back to it later, but that feels less interesting and more like work since you’ve already thought about it. Daniel Gross explains “it’s like chewing on a fresh piece of gum, immediately sticking it somewhere, then trying to convince yourself to rehydrate the dry, bland, task of chewed-up gum.“

The 2–Minute Rule from David Allen’s book titled Getting Things Done overcomes procrastination and laziness by making it so easy to start taking action that you can't say no. David suggests if the task takes less than two minutes, then do it immediately.

More resources:
Daniel Gross Improvising for Productivity (https://dcgross.com/improvising-for-productivity/)

6. Stay focused on the task at hand when you’re doing it.
According to Microsoft Research, the average person is distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds when working in front of their computer. Then, it takes on average 23 minutes to refocus. If interrupted for 3-second interruptions, the error rate doubles.
Avoid being distracted and interrupted audibly and visually. Here’s how I do it:
I turn off all notifications on my computer and phone.
I put my phone and/or laptop where I can’t see it if I don’t need it.
I turn off the WiFi if I don’t need it.
I only keep the tabs I need open.
I use a pencil and paper whenever I can.

Shane Parrish’s Twitter Thread (https://twitter.com/shaneaparrish/status/1180587129820172288?s=12)
RadRead’s Guide to Productivity (https://www.dropbox.com/s/88ypezqyeq3mi3u/The%20Rad%20Guide%20to%20Productivity%20and%20Focus.pdf?dl=0)
Quartz Phone Addiction (https://qz.com/862308/i-was-addicted-to-my-iphone-these-are-the-steps-i-took-to-get-control-of-my-life-back/)
RadRead’s Stop Reading the News (https://rad.family/better-worker-stop-reading-news/)

7. Feel inspired and productive during your work session to recreate your flow state.

Create an environment that you associate with productivity and remove anything that activates your senses. Here’s how I do it:
I have a desk area I use for my productive time.
I light a candle when I’m feeling like jumping into productivity mode.
I drink tea that I associate with being productive.
I put inspirational quotes on my laptop and notebooks.
I read about interesting and/or inspiring topics before I start working, usually on my morning commute.

The Forcing Function’s Guide to Getting Unstuck (https://www.theforcingfunction.com/inflection-point/2018/11/13/a-guide-to-getting-unstuck)

8. Review your progress at the end of the week

It’s hard to be productive if you don’t have a reason or purpose. Try to find what that is for yourself. Knowing what my goals and values help me use every day to the fullest and stay true to them. I have a productivity journal where I write down daily, weekly and monthly goals and where I evaluate my accomplishments. That way I can review myself, why I'm productive and see what I can do better.

The Forcing Function’s Assessment (https://www.theforcingfunction.com/assessment)
43 Folders Getting Things Done (http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done)

Lessons learned

  • Being productive becomes an essential prerequisite of accomplishing our goals. It helps us grow, aspire for more, be successful, and achieve our dreams. While companies highly value the productivity of their employees that can be calculated through a simple labor productivity equation, productivity begins with our personal commitment to achieving something by changing our habits, trying new approaches, or re-evaluating our goals.
  • There are many tools and processes that can enhance productivity and they are designed to work for different personality types, work types, or even productivity types. There are no one-size-fits-all tools and processes and to learn what suits your needs best, you should try them all (or a number of them due to its increasing number). Give them a chance, and then choose those that match best what you need.
  • While productivity is desirable and necessary, don’t become over-obsessed by it. To be truly productive you should know when to stop and sign off.

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Pujaa Rajan

Deep learning Engineer at Node.io

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