Huge productivity gains


This is how I got the biggest increase in productivity in the last 5 years.

The idea is from this article: How to start on the most important thing every day by Malcolm Ocean (thanks, man!).

I want to emphasize that this is the most valuable habit I have, by a large margin (and I’ve got some good ones!). Therefore if you’re reading this, I think that it’s at least worth trying to create a similar system in your own life.

I second Malcolm here, go read the article, I’ll wait.

It is the new norm now, but you wouldn’t believe how big this change was for me at the time. The difference was night and day, I wouldn’t stop telling my friends about it! If you’re sold, read on for details.

My impelentation

Evening, 2 hours before the sleep time

  • Write down the plan for the next morning, including one most important goal, and optional hints like “start the going out routine by 8:00, leave home by 8:30”

Morning, immediately after waking up1

  • At least one pomodoro doing the most important task

Before breaking for any less productive activities like eating, Reddit or email checking:

  • Dance to at least one track2, immediately followed by
  • Meditate for at least 10 minutes

What didn’t work

Planning right before bed

I started to plan the next morning before going to bed, but as I was very sleepy, plans that came out were poor. Now I plan 2 hours before bed time, when I’m more lucid.

Doing things that look like procrastinating

e.g. one time I was looking for a flat to rent and that was my main task for some weeks. Problem is, browsing listings, looking at a lot of pictures, is similar to my relaxation habit of browsing Reddit. After I finished looking through new listings, I noticed that it is super easy to slip into Reddit. I started scheduling my flat search later in the day.

Planning my day as the first task

After initial success, I drifted toward “plan my whole day and then start that important task”. Didn’t work so well. While planning a day, I usually encountered a small task: “Aha, easy 3-minute win! GTD prepared me for this! I just have to start this Slack conversation to update this status”. Then inevitably I’m replaying to other messages, it’s 15 minutes later and the productive mood is gone. Ok, it’s Slack rant time! If you want, you can stop reading now, there is no more content below.


Slack rant

Replying to Slack messages feels productive, but it is a very, very addictive way to procrastinate. It’s hard to say no to it. Others are replying fast. Instant messaging creates expectation of a fast answer. It’s not your grandpa’s email after all. It is gratifying, it is a quick fix, it’s easy. Get your dopamine hit now.

Oh, it feels good having answered all unread messages. No anxiety. Bliss. Yet the faster you reply, the faster you get another message.

There’s no real multitasking for humans. You have to decide whether you want to have a state of flow or allow constant interruptions3.

Not plunging into this infinite pseudo-productive sea of quick-fixes is something that is still hard for me. I don’t have new message notifications of course, but I know that red unread messages counter exists and it beckons.

Counter-measures

  • I lobby for not-expecting-an-immediate-answer culture when I can
  • Slack is hidden in the tray or turned off
  • I try not to mark messages as unread. This is still hard. Otherwise, I read a message, decide I don’t want to answer now, mark it unread… and one hour later the cycle repeats, eating away my time.
  • I try to answer slack messages in bulk at scheduled unproductive times of the day.
  • I start working at home, with no distractions, no phone, no Slack, no email.
  • There is one thing that really helps me with slackrastination (that is a word now), or any procrastination for that matter: instead of automatically changing what you do, you make the process as conscious as possible. For me the good example are weeks when I track my time. Each time I change what I do, I write the new activity down and start corresponding activity timer4. When I am in a state of flow and start writing “Slack” to change timers, I usually catch myself and go back to doing the important stuff.
  • My work wallpaper White canvas with words: "Close Slack & Gmail. Do what's important. Heart emoji"

</rant>


  1. Some mornings I am groggier than on others, that’s where having a clear todo list from the evening before shines – I don’t need to deliberate about what to do, no decision necessary. 

  2. Why? Dancing consistently makes me happy. Sometimes it’s 3 minutes, sometimes it will be 20. 

  3. Don’t get me started on open space offices, I have one rant per post policy. 

  4. I use Toggl for that.