Open Thinkering


3 things I do to work more productively throughout the day

Coffee pot

I used to be a teacher. And before that I was a student in formal education. Yep, we all know what that means: someone else dictated my working day. This made the transition to managing my own time difficult. I was never taught what to do to maintain my productivity or how to listen to my body and preserve energy levels.

Since June 2012 I’ve worked for the Mozilla Foundation, a global non-profit with a distributed army of contributors. Although volunteering alongside my previous job prepared me a little bit for what was to come, the onboarding was pretty brutal.

In the time since I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share. Everyone’s different, but hopefully these three things are more widely applicable.

1. Work in bursts

Members of my team live on the west coast of Canada and the US. This means an eight-hour time difference to the UK. This, in turn, means scheduling issues unless both parties are flexible.

I’ve found doing a couple of hours in the morning, a few hours in the afternoon, and then another couple of hours in the evening is good for both scheduling and keeping up some semblance of work/life balance.

2. Optimise coffee consumption

β€œDrink a cup of coffee, and the ideas come marching in.” (Balzac)

I read a long article recently (I seem to have mislaid the link) that had a great insight. The author noted that we tend to drink to go from unproductive to reach some kind of baseline level of productivity. And that’s important for people like lorry drivers or other people who have to ensure they don’t dip below a dangerously low level of attention.

Productivity comes in waves. Therefore, what’s more important for those that work with their brains rather than their bodies is how high the peaks are, not how deep the troughs are. I thought it was a great insight.

Instead of drinking coffee with my breakfast, I now drink it around 10am and then again at 1pm. This is right before the times that are (for me) the most productive of the day. There’s also caffeine naps as well, of course.

3. Exercise

I can’t stress this enough. You may have heard it many, many times. It might seem counter-intuitive. But the more frequently you exhaust yourself doing some kind of exercise, the more physical and mental resilience you’ll have.

Over the last few years I’ve been reasonably good at maintaining a regular exercise regime. But I’m far from perfect. Because of a busy schedule last week, for instance, I didn’t do much at all. And surprise, surprise, this week I’m lethargic, want to stay in bed longer, and can’t focus for as long.

Running is the best thing you can do. Use your old trainers. Go where no-one can see you. Just get out there and start lapping those people still on the couch!


While there’s other things that I’ve found keep my productivity levels high on a day-to-day basis, these are the three most important to me at the moment.

I’d be fascinated to know the things YOU do! Please do add a comment below or discuss on Hacker News. πŸ™‚

PS Bonus points if you can tell me where I took the photograph accompanying this post!

8 thoughts on “3 things I do to work more productively throughout the day

  1. Gozo?

    I’m still in teaching. Running makes me much more productive for all of it: work and family chores etc. Regular exercise gives me the can-do and it’s all worthwhile attitude that gently fades away if I make excuses and don’t run due to weather or waning sunlight. Think I drink too much coffee though. And don’t eat breakfast. So my productivity routines are nothing to learn from.

    Nice to see you last week. Good luck with Gozo. I’ll be interested to see some photos once you’re bedded in.

    1. Thanks Dai! While I’ve lost most of my post-teaching guilt by now, I’m hugely respectful of those on the front line. Glad you’re finding exercise works. πŸ™‚

      And don’t worry about the Gozo updates. I’ll be *spamming* you all with them. πŸ˜‰

  2. It’s the coffee pot roundabout which you see as you enter Al-Ain from Dubai. This photo was taken on the way back to Dubai (2011) from the front seat of a Mazda 6 – Dad driving.

  3. Hi son – perhaps we’ll try this out as we drive down to Gozo after you get back from Toronto! Two and half hours driving stints max – coffee and nap 15 minutes before we drive – and a run around the Ibis car park when we stop!

  4. Have toyed with the Pomodoro technique from time to time. Works well when you’ve got a lot of long tedious tasks to complete.

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