I work from 8-5(or 6), during work I will take a break and scan for a couple good articles on business, technology, etc. I put the web address in an email to myself to read for later (even if I want to read it all now). At the end of work I send myself the email in hopes that when I get home I continue my enthusiasm to read those articles. Sadly my trend hasn't been what I would like it to be, that of staying motivated, reading articles, and writing down my thoughts or ideas. I am productive in a sense that I go workout to stay in shape and cook dinner, but I would like to keep my head down and work on my own ideas.
So I ask, What do you do when you come back from work to keep being productive on personal improvement or projects?
I have worked on lots of personal projects (1), most of which are related to electronics. I do not do electronics for my job and I do not have a lot of free time. So, I've found three things to be effective at maximizing my happiness:
1. Have multiple projects on the go at once.
I've found that building multiple things at once enables me to best make use of my available time and resources (such as the equipment/components I have and spare money). One of the projects will usually have some portion that I can spend time on, or research, or buy something for. This is especially true of the researching part.
Depending on my mood I will either (a) not work on the projects at all since there are plenty of other valuable things to do (such as cooking, interacting with people, exercising) or (b) pick from the available choices the one that I'm most in the mood for (e.g. tonight I'd like to finish that amplifier, or tonight I need to read up on X).
2. Don't worry about when they get completed.
This has made me achieve more not less. The more I worried I wasn't completing things the more I stressed myself out and set unrealistic deadlines and then missed them and got upset. Going slow has helped.
3. Pick work that fits in the available time.
I might have an entire evening free, or I might have 20 minutes. There's usually something from the multiple projects that will fit in that available time.
For example, when I worked on my high-altitude balloon project GAGA-1(2) it took me a 9 months of grabbing an hour here, an evening there. The result was fantastic and I don't feel bad about it having taken 9 months instead of a month of total cramming.
Usually, what happens for me is, I spend from 10-6 working on my Master's thesis or occasionally distracted, I spend from 5:45-7:30 playing Ultimate (a running sport with a frisbee) with some friends two days out of the week, I hop down to the stores before they close, at 9pm I get home and cook myself dinner. The days where I don't exercise are sometimes spent working later on the thesis, since I can get distracted on the Internet while at work and nobody bugs me.
That last point is I think the single most significant thing that you have to establish. When someone wants it, you will find it much easier to continue. Most of my projects are unwanted, and are therefore on the back-burner.
I don't mean to blend religion with Hacker News too much, but it is very important to me that we realise the power of ritual, and what we take for granted. So it is just taken for granted that my phone will go off with an alarm at 11:30pm, and then I will change into comfortable evening clothes, brush my teeth, turn off the computer, sit down on a meditation cushion with a pen and paper, and write. These are usually religious writings, and I don't want to get into that too much here, but the ritual, as well as the great importance to me, helps me to practise this skill. Setting an alarm on your phone is a good idea because it can interrupt the distractions.
As for those side projects, what really helps for me is that I walk to my apartment and back. Whenever I talk about the fact that my primary transportation mode is walking Hacker News seems to have pretty tepid responses -- "why not bicycle or drive home and then sit for half an hour instead?" -- but the distractions when walking are very different. Sometimes, I practise my singing on the way home, with music from my mobile. That's generally an indication that my brain wants some rest and I should watch television or read a book. Other times, I am thinking about a physics idea, or superpowers, or one of my projects -- then after dinner, my goal is to sit down at my laptop and write something on those projects.
I think we need to learn two skills of resolve. One of them is flow, focusing one-pointedly and whole-heartedly on something and loving it to death. (Love is always transformative and gives our lives worth and meaning.) Another one is reflection, breaking out of the things which we take for granted and casting them into the void. It is by voiding the distractions that you see the messiness of the room; it is your love of the room that makes you clean up the mess. That is not a complete guide to an authentic life, but it is the most important for what you have asked.
Try monitoring your energy level. I ran this experiment on myself (http://madhadron.com/?p=254) with very useful results. I know that my energy level drops like a rock at 16h and doesn't really come back until about 20h. So I take care of stuff that doesn't require massive energy in that gap and try to protect my second energy burst of the day for getting other stuff done.
As for the articles you've emailed yourself, I find it quite often the case that I no longer have enthusiasm a few hours later to read something that seemed interesting at first glance. The best solution there is not to read it and find something better.
I also find that it helps to schedule a block of time for a particular project. For example, I'm typesetting a book for some friends of mine. On my calendar for yesterday evening was to put the chicken on to roast and then typeset while it roasted until other friends came over for dinner at 7. The broccoli and sweet potatos required some time, but not much focused attention, so I could keep the state of the typesetting in my head while I did prep work and then go back to it when things were cooking.
You also may be using up your capacity for certain kinds of thought (e.g., programming and mathematics) at work. Try a project that uses a different part of your brain, such as drawing or writing fiction.
Exactly. How is reading articles helping you reach your goals? How is just writing down your ideas productive?
Maybe the reason you're not excited about doing those things is because you know that doing them does not equal progress. Being productive means producing something, and not just words on paper (unless you're a writer).
Pick an idea you're really interested in -- something you actually want to use yourself -- and start working on it.
For me it's simple I just hate to work in companies that are not mine, so when I get home at night my brain keeps telling me my life is going to be a nightmare if I don't do my stuff.
I just can't sleep without commiting some code, or looking for a solution for a problem I am having in my side project, I need to at least search for it.
If I stay too much time ( Girlfriend, family, sports etc..) like 5hrs or + away from my things I start day dreaming about problems I have to solve in periods I am
alone but cannot get to a computer, and I feel a urge to get home soon.
Anyway it's my curse... I gotta have side projects otherwise live is meaningless( at least at this time of my life)
It's me and sometimes people get pissed at me but I am like that love me or hate me :D.
P.S: a LIGHT ( not running a 15kms) exercise really helps, it's like your body is ready for the next 24hrs at 9pm.
It's interesting how we can have opposite reactions to the same situation; working in previous jobs I hated, getting home at night left me feeling drained of energy and needing to "decompress". I could never focus on my own work until I quit the day job.
Seconded. I'm the same way. There were times where I'd mentally shut down and couldn't even browse the internet because I couldn't think straight. Working on my own projects was a joke while working at that particular company.
_Soul of a New Machine_ quotes Tom West, who directed development of Data General's first 32-bit mini, as saying (roughly), The problem with stupid jobs is that they leave you too tired to do anything when you go home. (Adjective not vouched for.)
I feel the same way. The periods when my motivation and thus productivity at work are lowest, my brain's least productive after work. It's because I am consumed by the guilt of not having done my job during the day.
On the contrary when I am productive at work, there's a spring in my step when I go home and my mind is ready to happily tackle new problems.
Have to agree. Working on anything that is not my own leaves me feeling like I have a void that can only be filled by taking some tangible step in the direction of my personal goals before going to sleep. Taking action consistently has created the habit.
I hear you about the curse thing. I'm starting to feel that way about side projects. I'm pretty happy at my station in life professionally for the first time ever but I still feel the need to write code in my spare time that might make money. It's a curse.
After your 9/10 hour work day, focus on something unrelated: Exercise, meal preparation - things you have already mentioned. Come back to your projects after a couple of hours, and WITHOUT pressuring yourself to do so. The added pressure will make these personal projects/goals less palatable.
I agree with this completely. I would like to add that if you are working 9-10 hours a day, you might want to look for a job that offers you a standard 8 hour work day. If you are passionate about side work, sometimes trading less pay for standard work hours is worth it.
I totally agree with this. 2x per week I play a game of soccer after work and then grab dinner with friends. By the time I get home around 9pm I could easily do another stretch of work.
On the days when I don't switch gears, there would be no way I could do focused work for more than an hour or two.
Honestly, if I ever really wanted to do a computer-based startup, I would leave my 9-5 job and do landscaping or something physical during the day. I don't think it's realistic to ask your body to be in front of a computer for 12 hours a day.
2) Let go of any other guilt or pressure to do something more valuable with your time or improve something that you already know how to do.
3) Accomplish a small goal that is unrelated to your larger goal. The more unrelated, the better. If your goal is to start a company, teach yourself calligraphy instead or learn how to prune a fruit tree.
4) Once you're feeling good again, you know, where you feel good doing stuff after your normal work, take a look at your original goal. Can you start working on it again? Has the break given you a fresh perspective on it? Can you break it down into small achievable chunks now?
A few points that hopefully help, some have already been mentioned -- so take the reiteration as reinforcement to their importance.
1) Exercise. I can't stress how much it helps to get a nice workout in 5 times/week and how much more energy you have throughout.
2) Get a sitting/standing desk. After I'm in the office all day, I don't want to sit. I got one myself one of these: geekdesk.com and find a more constant energy level after I get home, and I only use the sitting positions maybe 10% of the time.
3) Turn off wifi or install a "site blocker" for time-wasters. I know this sounds silly, but after a long day of work, twitter, FB, and HN all sound OOHHH so pleasant to check, refresh, rinse, repeat. After an hour has passed, an hour has been wasted.
4) Stop sending yourself articles. I did the same, but it ends up just piling up. Put everything you do and read into manageable tasks that take <1 hour and you'll be good.
5) Google seinfeld's productivity method. Another one of those "silly but it works" things.
I have to second this. I used to feel guilty about relaxing in the evening after work. Now, I make a conscious decision to relax in the evening, go to bed slightly earlier, and wake up in the morning to work on my side projects.
Personally, I get up around 6:00 every morning and get a few hours of personal work done before I leave for the day job. I find it so much more productive to do creative work in the morning when I am fresh and alert than in the evening after a full work day.
This doesn't really work when a longer commute is involved. The morning (without waking up early) starts at 6am already for me. I suppose it works differently for everyone, but I have way more energy/focus immediately after work and late at night. I guess it just depends on if you are a morning bird or night owl.
A good employer should allow you the freedom to read the articles and do actives that will enhance your skill set (e.g. The Google 20% time).
I have never asked if I can, but every job I have always read articles I have found. Some companies I have openly told my boss that is what I do and sometimes those articles have not been directly related to my job, yet still this has been thought of as ok.
So my advice is, do it at work, your employer should be pleased that you want to broaden your skill set, it can only benefit them in the end. Just don't do it to a capacity that has a negative impact on your deliverables.
Thanks. I one day plan to create my own company and free self learning time is going to be encouraged.
It is slightly cliché but this was recently posted on our internal "social network"... CFO asks "what if we spend our money training our staff and they leave?", CTO replies "what if we don't and they stay?".
So many jobs, especially technical, require constant education, an employer who wants the best employees know and encourage that.
I'm lucky enough to work a job where I get real enjoyment out of the coding I do for a living, and a chance to self-teach and employ modern coding practices. So the best way for me to unwind is to go home and watch some tv shows, play some video games, work in the yard, and get caught up on whatever happens to interest me in the media at the moment.
While I may not be doing to much to build my skill set and repertoire on my personal time, it makes me feel like I'm doing a good job of balancing 'living for today' and 'preparing for tomorrow'.
This seems like a contradiction in terms. If it's "after work", why do you want to be productive? If you're being productive, you're still working.
Or do you mean "after I finish my day job which I don't really like, how do I find the focus and energy to work on my own, more interesting stuff afterwards?"
If this is indeed your situation, here's what worked for me: find a way to make a living from what you really enjoy working on, and then quit your current job and do that. I know it might sound impractical at first, but it can be made to work, and it's the only way I've found to be truly happy in my career. Screw 20% time - I want 100% time.
Also, as others have said, reading tech blogs != productivity. It's what I do when I want to stop working and take a short break. I've also found that taking public transport to/from your place of work instead of driving (if this is a practical option for you) is a good way to get time to do this kind of stuff.
During my lunch break, I write an email to a friend with an interest in whatever project I am working on. This email briefly conveys what I am going to work on that evening, along with a promise to show them what I’ve completed the following morning. The lunchtime email is always brief (usually <100 words), both for the sake of sender and the recipient. When I open my email client after arriving home from work, the first thing waiting for me is usually a brief message along the lines of "That’s cool, looking forward to seeing the results." This is tremendously helpful in motivating me to begin working.
Besides the productivity boost I get from my accountability partner, the act of writing out the email (which condenses the scope of my work for that evening into a few sentences) focuses my attention on whatever it is I'm working on, and leaves me with something to chew on in the back of my mind when the afternoon is growing late. By the end of the work day I'm already eager to hit the ground running.
Several key things regarding courtesy and etiquette displayed to email buddies: Firstly, the emails are targeted; I'm emailing people because I genuinely believe they are interested in what I'm working on. These people can be colleagues, fellow hobbyists, and students I've mentored. If I find myself working on a project and have no one that I feel would be interested in it, it's a sign of one of two things: either I need to expand my social network, or perhaps the thing I'm working on isn’t really such a good use of my time.
Secondly, I don't take too much of their time. I expect them to spend maybe 10 minutes of their attention on the correspondence, and if they spend more time than that it's because they were interested enough in what I was doing to spend more time scrutinizing it. (It helps that my projects can usually be presented visually, with a brief series of photographs that require very little effort to digest.) I don't spend every night working on projects, and I usually have 2-3 things that I’m working on at any given time, so each person I maintain contact with gets an average of one email per week.
Like a lot of people, exercising right after work is what helps me. Diet seems to help as well.
Timing of my caffeine is also critical. I usually try to have caffeine (2 shot Americano) in the morning and something towards the end of my work day around 3, maybe a single Americano or some sugar free energy drink. Then by the time I workout and get home I have a nice, sustainable stream of energy and can focus. I run into problems with caffeine if I have it too close to the time I really need to work. I get jittery and can't focus.
I also don't put too much pressure on myself. Some days I'll feel like working and get a lot accomplished. Other days I don't, or can't be productive later in the day, that's just life. No reason to beat myself up over it.
Totally agree that caffeine can have a huge impact on energy.
I used to drink very strong coffee first thing in the morning (probably equivalent 3-4 shots of espresso), be highly productive until mid-morning, crash, have lunch, then do it again in the afternoon.
This cycle was terrible and eventually I broke it by reducing caffeine. Now I drink green tea 3-4 times a day - a light boost without any of the accompanied cratering. Takes at least a month to get used to, though.
Here's a tip: don't try to be productive all the time. This leads to mediocre performance, which is generally a bad thing. Instead, give your 100% in everything you do, then when you're tired, RELAX! No articles. No small stuff for work. Don't do any of that. Instead, recharge your batteries for, say, tweny minutes, even taking a quick nap if you want to. Once you're feeling rested, again give it your 100%.
Wash, rinse and repeat, and suddenly you're two times as productive. :)
I find it easier to be "productive" after work if what I'm doing is very different to the coding I do at work. I find it very difficult to sit down in front of an editor on weekday evenings, but writing music (or poking at a breadboard, etc) is easy, because it's a refreshing contrast to work. I mostly do my recreational hacking at weekends.
Of course if your heart is set on programming for 18 hours of every day then this doesn't apply.
What I find _most_ effective is, finding hacking buddies. Having someone else around that is in focus mode is like pure energy. I try to find hack spots that have other people working (but not too many people so as to be distracting.)
Other tricks that keep me going as a solo freelancer:
* 100 Pushups Plan
* Paleo/Slow Carb Diet
* Clear Wireless Hub + an arsenal of coffee shops and all nite diners
* Podcasts (they help the solo programming time go by)
* High Quality Cannabis
* Adderall, but not too often. Once a week helps me out
* Getting the hell out of town when I get burnt out
Tip #1: don't have kids. They are awesome, but complete side-projects themselves and take up more time than a full-time job. :-)
Tip #2: do something and blog about it. What worked, what didn't work, what tangents were useful? Post your updates back to whatever community you are working in. The responses are fantastic encouragement and will drive your productivity up.
Regarding #1, I have released more side-projects since I became a father. I'm still not a wonder of productivity, but I certainly did cut down on casual browsing, chatting and TV-shows.
I know that I have (if I'm lucky, doesn't happen every day) 1-2 hours to spend in front of my computer. That time is more precious and used more productively than before. When I'm really motivated I plan ahead, and might already know which bug to fix when I get some time at the computer.
I think this also tangents some other comments about "do something else". I never have time to sit at the computer when I get home from work - I might cook dinner, read a story, play in the garden, prepare for the morning... and after that I'm more likely to want to do some coding (or whatever) again.
I agree more with Tip #2 then with #1, but both hold water. I have a 2 year old and I'm more motivated now then ever when it comes to building my side projects. However, I have ONE son and yes, he is a full-time job. Tip #2 is really important...build and blog, build again and blog, keep building and keep blogging.
I agree - I'm not going to argue that children aren't a lot of work or take a tremendous amount of (what used to be) free time. However, I've found that it really makes me evaluate what I do, put it into the perspective, and maintain focus through to the end. Obviously, I don't have as much time to dilly-dally as I used to, but I can still be very productive with the time I do have (rather - I take much more advantage of that time).
Totally. I'm about to add a newborn to a 2 year old. Getting up early is an unrealistic option because I'm already up early with the kids. Working on side projects after 9p works best for me. Kids are in bed at 7p or so, hang out with the wife for a couple hours and wind down, then start on some projects. I wonder if other fathers who work on side projects have similar schedules.
My schedule is similar, except our four year old is now totally in bed asleep around 8 - 8:30. Given that we wake up with the newborn around 4-6am that doesn't leave a big time window for getting sleep and hanging out with the wife and doing side projects.
Things will calm down in a few months I'm sure -- once the new one is sleeping through the night.
Since I've started using a tool to plan my activities in a weekly, and also in a daily, basis, I've seen my productivity boost. I have separate task lists for my day job, my side projects, and also personal stuff. I use Trello, and Google Calendar for tasks that have a clear deadline, meetings, or appointments.
It feels good to tick the "Done" box.
Also, I use a tool to track where I spend my time, so that I try to improve my "time invested on productive activities" per week. I use Rescue Time for that.
This is my new technique to jumpstart the creating and coding during a long arduous day. There is a sound, a bell, provided by an iPhone app. I am using this bell to condition myself. Since we are humans and humans are evolutionarily based, we can be conditioned just like the dog in Pavlov's lab. We have willpower and self-control, but many times that innate power cannot be wielded to avoid distractions. Therefore, let's use conditioning to reduce the conscious decision and provide a signal that the mind can follow without significant effort. Ding!
Ding. I sit down, close out all browser tabs. Open sublime, a blank Chrome page, iterm2 and the requirements doc. Deep breath and go!
Try to be productive with the information you've consumed at work. If you read an article about a technology then go home and try to scrape the surface of the technology and write couple of paragraphs about it in your blog/journal. From my experience, you should not be consuming any new information once you get home (maybe in my case I consume a lot at work already). You might not be able to consume as much with this practice, however, you'll put to practice (understand) whatever you consume.
Remember, learning the word doesn't matter, understanding the definition does.
- Clean up the house first, having a clean space and already putting in some work makes me more focused and productive.
- Go for a +20min run. It takes that amount of time for your body to get into the reset mode.
- Take a cold shower, it also helps.
- Eat well, i'd recommend tim ferriss's book "the 4-hour body", it keeps me feeling great which in turn helps me do great work.
- combine some multi-positives into your life. By that I mean, if you are commuting that takes a while, listen to audio books or other material. While you are cooking and have a home gym, combine the two and work out while you cook.
- I have experimented with "binaural beats", they are low sound frequencies that help your brain get into concentration mode, relaxation mode, or even deep sleep mode. I actually think they work.
- 30min naps after lunch help. I find that right after lunch I am basically useless so I use the time for fueling up.
- Get the right kind of sleep, the deep REM sleep. The best sleep requires two REM cycles a night (3.5hr - 4hr chunks). Take some magnesium before bed as well.
- do not drink wine or alcohol until it is wind down time at night, I find that this kills my focused energy.
All good suggestions, but I'd say just skip the alcohol if productivity is a focus. Drinking alcohol in fairly close proximity to sleep will lead to less restful sleep, and potentially set the Doer up for a less productive tomorrow. Also, regular drinking of alcohol can mess with stress levels and natural stress management, potentially impairing the ability for Doer to be calmly productive. I recommend flavored seltzer water as an alternative. :)
Just a small tip. I've stopped to read articles — I'm looking at you HN! — at work or at my desktop computer. I just bought a Kindle and use the Instapaper or Readability "Send to kindle" feature. Then I read at my sofa, bed or commuting. It increases my focus, I read faster, killed my happy clicking of other useless junk, and make me associate my desktop to a place to work.
This is the topmost thing on my mind! So many things to-do, ideas-to-work-on, skills-to-acquire, commitments-to-keep. I end up debilitated by the mountain of tasks and commitments. And an inferiority complex triggered by comparing myself others doesn't help much! I am still figuring out how to manage my time and enjoy my after-wrok-stuff instead of getting stressed by it.
What has worked best for me so far is getting to work soon after I get home and committing the next 3 to 4 hours to it. Everything else (the dishes, the daily run, the cooking, whatever) will have to wait until afterwards. This ends up giving me a productive evening and happy glow.
I usually work from 8-5, go to the gym for half to an hour. Meditate for 15 minutes and put at least one hour into one of my projects.
The amount of time I put into my personal projects depend on if there is any complex problems going on, I am just starting one or it's in maintenance mode. But I always try to put at least one hour into them. I was hard to actually find time for all of those things, but I finally managed to find a balance.
I must mentioned that as a big soccer/futbol fan the fact that all mayor leagues are in off-season has boosted my productivity.
I quit my 9-5 to work on a startup. I make sure to start and end my day (whatever hours that might be) with reading. It is relaxing and stimulating, gives me inspiration and shuts my mind off when necessary.
I went through a similar phase where I couldn't focus or do anything productive. So I took a break from everything, did some lawn work, re-did my home theater, got a new puppy :)
After few weeks of break my partner and I got back together to start things about ideas to work on and within a week we have a list that we can pick from.
Before that I remember we spent weeks without one decent idea.
On a side note, puppy is a lot of fun but she will poop and pee all over the house until housebroken :)
I too tend to work on side projects after work, and I usually do so at a coffee shop. I've tried to be productive at home, but always end up turning on the TV in the background or making dinner. Going straight to a coffee shop usually keeps me in the same state of mind that I was during work.
Same is the case with me. In work I don't get to code but my work involves around support. I love programming. Once I get back from home I always make sure I read tweets of smart people, read hackerne.ws, reddit, quora and mailing list.
As a result of this I get excited to find some thing interesting out of the above mentioned and start working on my own ideas.
Simple keep following and get updates about people whom consider smart and get to know what they are upto, this pushes you.
It can definitely be difficult trying to make significant progress on a side project while working a full-time job. I usually try to plan out my day after work and get whatever chores done that would get in the way of me being able to come back, eat, and spend an hour or so relaxing before starting on my side project. I try to spend 1-2 hours of solid, focused time working on my side project (which is often difficult if I'm tired).
@bking: I am glad you asked this question. I do exactly what you say: After my regular 9-5 job, I work another 6 hours on my personal projects & I have been asking myself how to increase efficiency in those 6 hours (because my personal projects really matter to me the most). Recently, I have come up with a model whereby, I work 6 hours after work, every alternate day. So, I'd do my 6 hours on Monday, and then take a break on Tuesday after work - Id spend around 3 hours improving what I did on Monday (so, "no innovation" day). Those 3 hours actually help a lot - I try and read docs/SoF, watch some stupid tv, spend time with my gf and off to bed. I repeat this pattern every alternate days. To be honest, this model seems to work. Thats my 2 cents.
I think what you are asking is not how to be more motivated but how to work much more than 40 hours a week on a regular basis, namely on your 9-5 AND your personal projects... if I was you, I would be very careful not to overload yourself and quickly drift into a burn-out! Just because it's projects you might actually enjoy more than your 9-5 does not make it easier on your brain and body - it is still mental work, it is still sitting at your desk and it might even be more challenging then your 9-5 because you are likely working on mostly new things.
I think what you are experiencing, being reluctant to work more on your personal projects, is your body telling you you are tired and should be more worried about resting and doing something completely different. And set time outside your 9-5 days for your personal projects, why not focus it on the weekends or start a 4x10 schedule and use the Friday or Monday for personal stuff?
I'd say that based on the usage of that word, it depends. Parents would consider children doing their homework relatively productive even though they're not really producing anything.
Reading increases my ability to concentrate for long periods of time (yes, really), gives me topics for discussion, etc., which apply to many areas of my life, including those related to actual production. Am I being unproductive when I, for instance, learn Scala without the intent of ever releasing the practice code that I've made?