Productivity 101 – How to get sh*t done

This is the class I wish I’d taken in my first year at university.

It’s scary even trying to count the hours I could have saved having understood these principles and techniques at an earlier age.

There are four pillars to hyper-productivity:

  1. Eliminate distraction
  2. Eliminate decisions
  3. Eliminate repetition
  4. Enforce accountability

Let’s get into it!

1. Eliminate distraction

Even if you’re one of the rare few who are able to resist an Instagram notification, just having your phone near you is a source of distraction. You might not consciously be thinking about the content of your latest Whatsapp message…but it’s certainly eating away at your subconscious.

The solution is obvious: eliminate distraction. Don’t even try to resist it…just f*cking eliminate it.

If you’re getting sucked into Facebook conversations on your computer, install Stay Focusd or Freedom to shut these websites off for the productive periods of your day.

If you keep getting drawn back to the subtle buzz of your phone on silent mode, just keep it at home or give it to a colleague.

When I leave for work, my phone is stuck at home on aeroplane mode – it physically cannot distract me anymore. And I let people know to contact me via email during work hours.

If you need your phone at work, give it to a colleague or lock it away somewhere when you don’t need it (for work-related purposes). Or…buy a work phone, to deal with work stuff, and keep your distracting, notification-ridden real phone at home. I used my old iPhone 5 when I want to stay undistracted but still need to take photos or notes on the go.

Noise-cancelling headphones work wonders, too – I use these.

2. Eliminate decisions

Decisions slow you down.

If you have to decide what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, how to get to work, what tasks to do, what order to them in…you’re going to run into decision fatigue. Even worse, in the moment, your short-term monkey brain will takeover and choose poorly: cereal over green smoothie, Uber over walking, the easy tasks over the hard tasks.

Don’t give your brain the opportunity: eliminate decisions.

Have a uniform and routine: know what you’re going to wear for each day of the week (or everyday…like me – grey jeans, jacket and black t-shirt), know what you’re going to eat (green smoothie, with blueberries, raspberries and powders) and know what you’re going to do in advance.

I use Todoist to prioritise and order my tasks for everyday of the week. I do this in advance on Saturday. It takes ~15 minutes but means when I get into the office, I can just execute. I don’t need to pontificate over what task is best to do first. And my monkey brain can’t take over and steer me to the path of least resistance (e.g. blindly responding to email when there are more important fish to fry).

3. Eliminate repetition

Are you doing the same thing more than once?

If yes, that’s called repetition. Eliminate it.

If you’re sending the same emails, typing out the same locations, saying the same things, find a way to eliminate this repetition.

This week, for instance, I was interviewing applicants for a series of internship roles I have available.

After the second interview, I realised I’d repeated 60% of the content from the first interview: explaining to the applicant the story behind the company, what they’ll be doing, the end vision etc.

So instead of continuing to repeat myself, I typed up a 7-page document with all of this content pre-written. Future applicants will now receive this document in advance, saving me about 30 minutes per interview!

I use the same strategy when emailing multiple clients. The text-expander plugin for Chrome lets you create keyboard shortcuts for repeated phrases.

For instance, if I type @a, my full email address will pop up. If I type @o, my office address will pop up. If I type @tyapp, an email thanking applicants for their submission will pop up.

This type of automation doesn’t just save you time…it also cuts out errors and improves quality. Writing out the internship document for future applicants, for instance, I was able to make sure all the necessary information was contained so no risk of omission. It was also better written and more articulate than if I were to freestyle it every time, during a live interview.

But more importantly, these shortcuts conserve flow. The flow state is when you’re in the zone, at maximum productivity, you just…flow. It can happen while dancing, writing articles, illustrating, playing video games. And when you’re in flow, you are one hyper-productive mother f*cker. Don’t ruin your flow state by taking out 5 minutes to rewrite a tedious email.

If your repeated task isn’t easily automated by a simple keyboard shortcut or google doc…try running a script in CMD. It’s a bit technical but worth if there’s a giant repetitive task in front of you.

When I needed to transfer my 1400+ Apple notes to Evernote, I wasn’t going to sit there and copy and past x1400 (and sadly there was no built-in transfer functionality). So I set up a script that effectively emailed the Apple note files to an Evernote folder, which I could then access via Evernote directly.

Sometimes, however, repetitive tasks still need a human touch…in these case, think about outsourcing.

I can’t actually tell you how many aspects of my life I’ve outsourced to freelancers over the last few years. I outsourced my food preparation to an Indian chef, I outsourced my “fun” to a Spanish virtual assistant (she would find and schedule a fun activity for me every week), I outsourced writing invoices to a girl in Pakistan.

And you can do the same. Just open up any number of up and coming freelancer sites: PeoplePerHour, Up Work, Fiverr.

4. Enforce accountability

Finally, even when your workflow is streamlined down a T, we can all still fall into a slump. Maybe there is a task we just don’t want to do…or something we just don’t have the energy for. That’s where accountability comes in.

Why am I writing this article at 5 minutes to midnight?

I don’t get paid for it. There’s almost no inherent consequence if I don’t write it. I could very easily close Evernote right now, open up Youtube, and fall into sleep watching sxephil tell me news I don’t care about.

And yet…here I am. Because of accountability: if I don’t write this article I lose a full 1000 pounds sterling to my friend.

If you don’t have some sort of accountability measure in place like this, get one…now.

It doesn’t have to be financial. It can be social: when I’m fasting, I post on a Fasting Whatsapp group I’m in, so I have people to make sure I stick to it. If I’m at the office, I try to position myself such that if I do accidentally open up a video of KSI shouting at people, someone next to me will notice and think I’m a moron.

Summary

There we go. 16 minutes of undisturbed, productive writing, and yet another article complete. To level up your productivity:

  1. Eliminate distraction: don’t try to resist, just eliminate. Phone at home or with a colleague or in a locker. Block distracting websites. Wear noise-cancelling headphones.
  2. Eliminate decisions: routinise your day so you don’t have to stop and think so much. Make the optimal decisions in advance (e.g. every Saturday) and then just execute on them across the week.
  3. Eliminate repetition: doing something more than once? Stop, automate it.
  4. Enforce accountability: get an accountability buddy, attach a financial or social consequence to your inaction.

Get more done and have more fun.

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