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
“Drink 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.
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.
Seeing as this blog recently featured in The Top 50 Productivity Blogs(yeah, yeah) I’d better get posting a few more productivity hints and tips!
I first came across the idea of a ‘caffeine nap’ on Lifehacker a couple of years ago. The premise is simple:
Drink a cup of coffee (‘the caffeine has to travel through your gastro-intestinal tract, giving you time to nap before it kicks in.’)
Doze (‘you’ll get what’s known as effective microsleep, or momentary lapses of wakefulness.’)
Wake up after 15 minutes (any longer and your brain’s prefrontal cortex – used for judgement, etc. – will ‘spin down’ and can take 30 mins to reboot)
The caffeine nap works by you using the time that it takes the caffeine to be absorbed into your bloodstream to nap. This ‘helps clear your system of adenosine, a chemical which makes you sleepy.’ (according to this source)
…was significantly reduced by caffeine and eliminated by the combined treatment, which reduced incidents to 9% of placebo levels versus 34% of placebo levels for caffeine alone.
I’ve found the caffeine nap to be a really effective technique to use when I come home from work to be more productive in the evenings. Coupled with the (Brian Eno-authored) Bloom iPhone app. it’s a winner! 😀
You can find a bit more about caffeine naps in Wikipedia’s more general section on Power naps and more about the wonders of caffeine can be found at the Coffee FAQ.
A lot of what makes people ‘productive’ is common-sense. But sometimes this needs spelling out, hence this post. I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. Please let me and fellow readers/subscribers know your tips and strategies in the comments.
Here’s some of my tips!
1. Don’t read emails
If you make the first thing you do in a day reading emails, you’re starting off the day on other people’s terms. Instead, achieve something from your own agenda first, then catch up on what people want to tell you! :-p
2. Read something inspirational
It might be the Bible, it might be some Marcus Aurelius, but make sure you read something (however short) – for a quick fix, try tivate.com!
3. Listen to podcasts
However you travel to work, podcasts are a great way to stop it being ‘dead time’. Audiobooks are also great (try Audible). Here’s the podcasts to which I subscribe:
4. Use an online to-do list
There’s lots of ways people will take money off you to ‘make you more productive’. I love Remember the Milk: it’s simple and free!
5. Share everything you do
If you share with other people, they’re a lot more likely to share with you. This, in turn, reduces your workload and increases your overall productivity. You can share things online through things like a wiki or a forum, or face-to-face.
6. Take pictures
I know very few people who haven’t got a camera built-in to their mobile phone. Instead of writing things out or trying to remember complex things, just snap it with your cameraphone! You could take this one step further if you’ve got an iPhone and use the wonderful Evernote for web-based synchronization. 🙂
7. Make everything you can, digital
The problem with paper is that unless you photocopy it a copy exists in only one location – and can’t search and organize it. If you’re a teacher, make your markbook and attendance registers digital. Plan things using Google Calendar. These things might take some time to set up, but will pay dividends in the long-term.
8. Take breaks
Know your limits. You’re far better of having a 10-15 minute break and coming back to something with fresh(er) eyes and increased motivation than slogging away at an activity non-stop.
9. Drink coffee
Coffee is a stimulant: it contains caffeine. Drinking too much coffee isn’t good for you and can generate withdrawal symptoms. However, drinking a couple of cups per day of good filter coffee increases alertness and attention. I tend to have one in the morning with breakfast and one when I come home from work. You could, in fact, combine coffee with taking a nap and have what Lifehacker calls a ‘coffee nap’ – more here.
10. Prepare well
A productive day actually begins the day before. Be prepared! Pack your bag, get lunch ready (if applicable), iron your clothes, go to bed at a reasonable hour. Done regularly, such a routine makes for large productivity gains. 😀