OK, so I’ve been crushing it lately. Things are flying off my to-do list. I feel like my productivity has been sky high. And one of the best parts, as I am faculty, when my work is done, my work day is done.
Here are a few of the techniques that I have been using:
1. My new standing desk
I’ve been using a standing desk for about a week now. On a side note, I couldn’t stomach the $$$ to buy one and many of them didn’t fit my needs so I build my own. When I was at my old job, I used a spare OPAC stand, but only to minor success. The desk I built only cost me around $50 at Home Depot, and I didn’t even need to cut any wood. Basically it is two wall shelves the bottom shelf being much deeper than the top shelf. I elected to sand, stain and drill cord holes in mine, but you could certainly skip all of that.
The first few days were difficult and painful. I would stand for an hour or so and then need to sit down. Now, on day 5, I’ve been standing for 5 hours without a single problem or desire to sit down. Here are a few links on the benefits Smithsonian, Lifehacker, and Fast Company.
I have found myself more engaged with the work that I am doing. I feel far less distracted (I’m not sure why). I find myself walking around and mulling over ideas (I plan to get a big white board to begin writing on). And I feel much more energized. This was unexpected. I have even been going to bed earlier and waking up far earlier than before (could be coincidental, but I don’t think so).
2. Keeping a to-do list.
I have always had a hard time with a to-do list. The problem is that I typically have 3 or more lists going at the same time. I’ve decided to stick with Google Keep (at least for now). There is a great Chrome Extension to place your Keep in a panel on the side of your screen. You can see mine in the left hand corner of the page in the above image. This means it’s always watching me, and I it.
If I were to switch to another setup (and I’ve tried many of them), I think I would go with Any.do. It has some great features, and recently won the Lifehacker most popular to-do list. But I don’t really need anything super robust, just a simple list will do.
3. Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is a rather simple productivity technique. You work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. You repeat this 3 times, and on the fourth iteration you take a 15 minute break. This technique is the most popular technique for increasing productivity according to Lifehacker readers. I’ve also tried other techniques (GTD, Covey, etc…) but they tend to be over complicated, spending a lot of time on the system instead of the task, and one-size-fits-all.
I’ve been using Marinaratimer. It has a standard Pomodoro timer, which I find really nice. It lets you change the sound it plays when your time is up. I just run it in another window in the background when I’m working. The nice thing about this web app is that it also lets you create your own interval schedule. This is what I’ve been using. I work for 20 – 25 minutes (one leg dedicated to email) with breaks on schedule, but I also change my break routine. For me I take a break, then use the ab ball, then meditate, then take a 20 minute walk. It was really cold here today, so my walking break was just me walking laps in my garage. Each of these activities is design to improve productivity and creativity. You can see it below. I really like this approach, and the ability to customize.
The hardest thing to do is to take a break when the bell chimes. However, I learned a valuable lesson from Cory Doctorow in Context, about setting a goal and stopping when you hit it.
Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence.
Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence.
That way, when you sit down at the keyboard
the next day, your first five or ten words are
already ordained, so that you get a little push
before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit
of yarn sticking out of the day’s knitting so they
know where to pick up the next day—they call
it the “hint.” Potters leave a rough edge on the
wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the
night—it’s hard to build on a smooth edge.
4. A Plain Text Editor.
Again, this is a trick I learned from Cory Doctorow. In the same book I mentioned above, Cory decries the use of modern word processors. He argues that while these tools are full of wonderful features that can help you edit later, they basically only serve as a distraction while writing. I can’t agree more.
Forget it. All that stuff is distraction, and the last thing you want is your tool second guessing you, “correcting” your spelling, and so on. The programmers who wrote your word
processor type all day long, every day, and they
have the power to buy or acquire any tool they
can imagine for entering text into a computer.
They use a text-editor, like vi, Emacs, TextPad,
BBEdit, Gedit, or any of a host of editors. These
are some of the most venerable, reliable,
powerful tools in the history of software (since
they’re at the core of all other software) and
they have almost no distracting features—but
they do have powerful search-and-replace
functions. Best of all, the humble .txt file can be
read by practically every application on your
computer, can be pasted directly into an email,
and can’t transmit a virus.
I’m writing in Gedit (remember I’m an Ubuntu user) as it comes standard with my OS. What I’ve noticed is that I write when I’m suppose to be writing which means I am writing more (quantity counts here). Then I edit better (in word processing software) when I’m supposed to be editing. I know that there is very little research about writing in the digital age (we do research reading a lot though), but it has been invaluable for me to mimic pen and paper.
I also use a couple of other little tricks, but they are really not essential. So, what types, tricks and techniques do you use to be more productive?