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Ask HN: What systems do you use to stay productive?
18 points by tryckbarpingvin 71 days ago | hide | past | web | 13 comments | favorite
So often at the end of the day I'm left feeling that I wasn't as productive as I feel I could have. I know that a lot of it is lack of discipline, such as spending a lot of time reading HN comments. How can discipline be developed? What methodologies and tools help maintain productivity?

A lot of advice you'll get is about removing distractions and planning, and it's good advice. But there's more to it than that.

First, there's the issue of motivation. There are things you do every day without worrying about productivity because you have the motivation to do so. Like, eating. But maybe also playing video games because it's fun and your score goes up. So it helps a lot if you're motivated in multiple ways by your work. I talk about that in more detail here: https://codewithoutrules.com/2017/08/03/stay-focused/

Second, in the big picture view productivity is less about producing more, it's about producing the right thing with less wasted effort. You only have so much time in the day no matter how focused you are. So if you can figure out how to solve a problem with less effort, you will be vastly more productive. For example, programming languages with garbage collection remove a burden that you otherwise have to deal with yourself. Same number of coding hours but you can produce more. A longer list of suggestions here: https://codewithoutrules.com/2016/08/25/the-01x-programmer/

- Acceptance that "learning that new thing" is coming in the way of "long term growth".

- Not letting the browser or the Internet _decide_ the course of my actions.

- Zero social apps, top level mute for whatsapp.

- List of 3 things to-do today. I don't even recheck, but the act of making a list helps.

- Forcing myself to define complex problems in the written word, even if it is not to be shared with anyone.

- Visualizing my day in a lot of "10 minute chunks" over few "1 hour chunks".

- Saying no to things that don't compound in value over years. (hard)

- Waking up early and grabbing those two hours of quiet. (trying)

- Cycling to work. (podcast, music, free thinking)

Surfing the internet is fine and there is all that information out there and new things to learn or funny things to read about. You can get into a flow of internet browsing where you are like a squirrel foraging and just keep hopping around from topic to topic.

I liken this to a junkie getting a fix. It feels good when you come across something that makes you laugh or learn something new, doesn't it?

Just pause the browsing, check with yourself and ask if that was "enough". Kinda like stopping eating that massive dish at a restaurant. Are you full enough? You know what - it'll still be there tomorrow.

Some things that work:

1. Pen and paper and just writing down 3-5 things you want to accomplish that day. It'll stare you in the face all day.

2. Pomodoro technique (25 mins focused work). Take a 5 min walk or surf the web. You're probably going to want to get back at it.

3. Leave coding work at the end of day in a state of bliss. Like everything is working and you are ready for the next step of what you are building.

4. Leave coding work mid-solution at end of day. You are going to be itching to finish that up when you get back to it in the morning. You left yourself an easy pitch to knock out the park first thing.

5. Leave coding work mid-problem solving at end of day. You don't have a defined solution yet so your brain is going to chew on that while you're doing other things. You might get to #4 above overnight, at least in your head.

These aren't a prescription, just hindsight on what sometimes kicks off bursts of productivity.

First of all, Id like to say that reading HN comments cannot be considered procastinating ;p

After years of trying several things like Kanban or Pomodoro Technique, I can say that the best way to get disciplined and get things done in the long term is to form HABITS. If you manage to routinely do something every day, it becomes natural and you do it even without thinking about it.

Think about it, there are already things you do in you daily life that are tedious but you do them every day without effort because you barely think about them, they are a HABIT.

I actually have this little sideproject going on to help me form new habits that you might want to try out :) https://everydaycheck.com/

For a more theoretical list of tips I wrote this post last month that you might find some value in: https://everydaycheck.com/blog/11-productivity-tips-to-help-...

I make continual notes about my work, progress and thoughts into a private chat group with just me.

This makes it more fun to be productive. It gives me a chronological evidence of actually doing stuff, and it's also a place to get things "off my chest" or clear my mind of thoughts that I can't act on immediately.

I do spend a lot of time reading stuff, and maybe I should tune it down and replace some of that time with relaxation, meditation, or something... but also, surfing the web is literally work, it's research. Absorbing large amounts of info about tools and techniques is a huge part of what makes me useful as a system developer.

Planning out what I will do the next day at the end of the previous day.

Work on the most important thing first thing in the morning when you have the most will power.

Turn off all phone notifications.

Do not check email till lunch time.

Use a single program or process to manage all incoming tasks, at work this is Jira. I will not accept any tasks that come from other channels. This puts everything in one place and helps prevent things from falling through the cracks.

I recommend reading a book called Getting Things Done, by David Allen. It lays out a methodology for making sure that at any given moment you are doing the most valuable thing you could be, given your current context - so that you feel like you're moving the right things forward.

What you want is the personality aspect called "conscientiousness". It has a very specific and technical psychological definition. Research and implement that as much as you can over your natural inclinations. You should be able to supplement it with habits (which is obviously what you're asking for), but just because it works for someone else doesn't mean it'll work for you. You'll have to evolve a system. Discard 90% of what you try, find the wheat in the chaff, etc...

I've worked out a funky white board system, 16 boxes, 8 main subjects (me, you, body, clean, draw, nature, math, music), 1 central set of 8 for longer term tasks (study, write, clean, etc). Each task box is a 20 minute commitment.

No phone at night in the bedroom.

Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time.

#1 Make less the time between hearing the voice in my head that tells me to do something I know I need to do and the time when I start that thing. Just a few seconds at most.

A good to-do.

Well defined goals, broken down in to small enough tasks that each by itself seems easy and quickly done.

I use markdown/txt files, but I can imagine trello working great too.

sport shoes.

1) Get good sleep on a regular schedule. Consider getting 9 hours a night.

2) Do about 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. I like to run for 1.5km and then do some weights/situps.

3) The app Freedom, which you can use to block websites on your phone while you are working. You can also schedule it to auto-block starting at your bedtime.[1] The apps SelfControl and ColdTurkey, do similar things.[2][3]

4) The habit of repeating to yourself "this is uncomfortable but it is worth it and I am stronger than I think." A good way to practice this is by taking a cold shower in the morning. When you have to do something you feel proctrastinatey about, repeat that to yourself. For more on this, learn about Stoicism and Rational Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Consider a therapist.

5) Planning your tasks ahead of time. Writing out what things you feel least confident in and explicitly listing good resources to draw from. At the end of the day, explicitly schedule time to search for resources to build the sort of mental models that let you predict the behavior of your tools and feel a sense of mastery.

------------ Things that you can use to improve your sleep:

- The app Rainymood, which you can use as a cue to your body that it is time to sleep. Will also help you sleep through random noises.[4]

- Amazon dot, which you can use to set a go-to-sleep alarm that you don't need to get out of bed to turn off for $50. [6]

- A physical alarm clock separate from your phone so you don't go from waking up to reading HN in bed.

- A sleeping mask to block the light out from your eyes for $9. [7]

- A better mattress for $190. [8]

Some of these things cost money. Lost time costs more.

[1] https://freedom.to/

[2] https://selfcontrolapp.com/

[3] https://getcoldturkey.com/

[4] http://rainymood.com/

[6] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amazon-Echo-Dot-Generation-Black/dp....

[7] https://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/bucky-reg-40-....

[8] http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/products/mattresses/mattresses-top....

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