Open Thinkering


Tag: lifehacks

Productivity: choose your friction.


I see people making poor decisions every day. To be more precise, I see the results of the poor decisions people make every day.

It’s easy to make bad decisions. In fact, as human beings we’re fairly spectacular at rushing into them or, at the other end of the spectrum, agonising over them for so long that we become paralysed. This is because we haven’t chosen our friction.

What is ‘friction’?

My thinking about this was prompted by an excellent session at the Thinking Digital conference by Richard Titus. He reflected on the fact that friction isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Friction can cause frustration, mental effort and spending an inordinate amount of time thinking around a problem. This is a bad thing if you’re talking about navigating the menu system on your TV, but a good thing if you’re a programmer hoping to achieve something that nobody has before.

That’s why we need to choose where we’re willing to accept friction.

Choose your friction

Choosing where you find your friction in life is fairly straightforward. It’s a decision based on how much the thing you’re considering matters to you in the long-term. It’s a question of weighing it on your life-scales, so to speak.

Let’s say you’re planning a trip to Italy. There’s two ends to the continuum: plan everything yourself, or let someone else do it for you. Obviously doing the planning yourself is going to result in a lot more friction: it’s going to cost you time and effort getting everything how you want it. But let’s say it’s your honeymoon, possibly the most important holiday you’ll ever go on. It therefore weighs heavily on the life-scales and will massively affect your decision one way or the other.

Or, in an example closer to home, you’re deciding which phone to buy. There’s a plethora of options but there’s still a continuum from extremely easy-to-use up to bleeding-edge features requiring some hacking. If you’re a developer or someone interested in the future of technology, the latter might be where you’re willing to find your friction. My mother, on the other hand, would opt for as close to the beginning of the continuum as possible.


We all need friction in life. We need it because it adds value and meaning to our lives. Overcoming difficulty is one of the best stories we can tell ourselves and others. But you need to ask yourself whether you’re experiencing friction in the right places.

  • Would it be better to spend a little more money so as not to be frustrated by poor design?
  • How about cutting down on the number of possessions you have so there’s fewer to maintain?
  • Who else is in your ‘friction field’? Seek them out.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Joseph Robertson

Establishing your productivity ‘endgame’

‘Endgame’, like ‘aftermath’ is a term with a defined meaning that we borrow for everyday usage:

In chess and chess-like games, the endgame (or end game or ending) refers to the stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board. (Wikipedia)

This can be used as a powerful metaphor for different stages of life – and the productivity and motivation required to get there. I’ve got an endgame in mind that’s comprised of three parts. I want to:

  1. Be writing and presenting on a freelance basis by the time I’m 40.
  2. Spend as much time as I can with my family.
  3. Have a stress-free (or at least low-stress) lifestyle.

It’s all about priorities. I’m not about to turn down potential high-risk opportunities without deep consideration, but they have to – long-term at least – fit in with the above. I’m not going to flog myself like the proverbial dead horse for things that don’t fit in with these. Have you got guiding statements like these to help focus you?

You may be wondering what this has got to do with productivity. Isn’t this just deciding your life’s priorities? Well, as I argue in #uppingyourgame, productivity is always productivity for something. There’s not much point streamlining and making more efficient something just because you can – especially when it’s something that you value.

Take, for example, Saturday mornings with my son, Ben. We could be in and out of the swimming pool after doing pre-planned training and then straight home. But why? Instead, we enjoy a different sort of productivity. It’s a productivity that is focused on our relationship with each other and our own happiness and enjoyment.

So have a think about your productivity ‘endgame’. Are you headed down the right road?

HOWTO: Productively hack your workday.


It’s entirely possible to make a massive effort and write that lengthy report in a weekend, pull an all-nighter to get that code committed or spend all your holidays with those lesson plans. Of course it is.

But that’s not being productive. That’s panic-working. Being productive is all about the everyday routine. ‘Hack’ that and not only will you consistently get more done but you’ll also avoid negative knock-on effects on your health and energy levels.


I changed job last week. In fact, it was more than a change of job: it was a change in so many respects that it was almost a complete break with what had gone before. I’ve at least changed:

  • My method of transport to work (car –> train)
  • The hours I work (now on flexi-time)
  • My working environment (classroom –> office-based)

As a result, I’ve had to re-think my whole system of productivity. In fact, given that it takes a while to get into a routine, I’m still iterating it. Such things take time to tweak.


As I explain in #uppingyourgame: an educator’s guide to productivity, context is everything when it comes to productivity. ย That’s why I can only explain how I’ve decided upon my new system; you have to create your own!

1. Write down the top five things that you need to fit in to either every day or at least most days. If you’ve never done this before you may need to brainstorm 20 or so things and then narrow them down. For me it’s (in order of importance):

  1. Spend time with my family
  2. Work on my Ed.D. thesis
  3. Exercise
  4. Write daily blog posts
  5. Research things that interest me

2. Think about time constraints when doing these things. For example, it’s impossible for me to spend time with my family whilst I’m at work in my current position, so I need to make sure that I’m available to spend time with my son, Ben, from when I return home until his bedtime. It’s also important to think about things that have to be done in ‘chunks’ (like exercise) as opposed to things that can be disaggregated (such as writing blog posts).

I’ve decided that I the best time for me to exercise is in the morning. It makes me feel better, enhances my productivity, and fits in better with with my working day. I’m also spending 30 minutes each way on the train each day. Unlike driving, this is time I can spend doing things (although even when I was driving I’d be listening to relevant podcasts). So, whilst I don’t want to lug my Macbook Pro to and from work each day, I have found a way I can work on my thesis by reading journal articles on my iPhone.

3. Finally, consider changing your sleeping habits. This, I think, can have the greatest effect on your productivity. I’m not a huge believer in people stating they’re a ‘morning’ or ‘night’ person, but if it were true I’d be in the former camp. Getting up and going to bed half an hour earlier can have a huge effect on your productivity. Find out what’s the best time for you. At the moment I’m thinking of shifting from 6am to 5.30am to get some blog post writing done! ๐Ÿ™‚


Productivity is a very personal thing. But it’s important to reflect constantly on what you’re doing and why. It’s not about spending every single moment of your day working, but it is about organizing it so everything in your life points in a direction you’ve consciously chosen.

Happy planning! ๐Ÿ˜€

Image CC BY-SA gadl