Last week, John wrote the post “How To Gain Time And Be More Productive.” When he was drafting his post, I sent him my own list of productivity things that I wrote up previously for the summer interns to teach them about life, the universe, and everything. Turns out, John already had a big enough list, and had no need for my “crazy blabberings” and “hobo talk,” so he then suggested I write my own followup version. So here I am approximately one week later. I won’t really cover the same things as he did, so be sure to check his post out before reading this one. Or, you could just read my recap down below, but that’s not going to be as effective (productive, perhaps!).
Recap Of John’s Productivity Post
Just a quick list with some commentary that is my own.
- Time Blocking Schedule: I love time blocking. I don’t do it to nearly the same extent as John, but I do time block “hard to deal with repetitive tasks” (also known as “emails”). In a day I usually only have 1-2 hours time blocked, and the rest of the time is free to do the things I’ve deemed most important of the day (more on that later).
- Don’t Put Things Off: I am so bad at this. Good advice, though.
- Eliminate Waste and Prioritize: I like this, and I think it relates to time boxing in a way. It also allows you to appreciate everything just a little bit more.
- Consolidating: Some good stuff here. I’d add “make it a tradition” as well.
Alright, now to move on to my own personal list life efficiency. Let’s start with one that will help you to waste less time reading all these time-wasting Tofugu articles.
The trick here is to get faster at reading while not losing retention. In college, being a liberal arts major unprepared for the real world, I at least had to learn to do one thing right: read. Reading is great and fun and educational, but it takes a friggin’ long time especially when your teacher wants you to read a novel a night. One thing I wished that I had done was learn to speed read… or at the very least, read much faster.
While I haven’t put in the effort to truly speed read (I’m a pretty slow reader compared to others, to be honest) I’m now a lot faster than I was previously. The problem is that people tend to reach a point where their reading speed is “good enough” and once they hit that point they never feel the need to get faster. It’s painful to try to read faster than you’re used to, in fact, so you actually have to work hard at it, kind of like when you were a child learning to read for the first time. Just imagine, though: think of all the articles, book pages, etc., that you read right now. What if you could read them 3x as fast? What if you could read them 10x as fast? You’d have a lot more time. Or, you’d be able to read a lot more. Either is great in my opinion.
To get started with speed reading, this article is a good place to begin: Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes
While you’re learning to read faster, you should learn to write faster too. Since most writing happens on keyboards nowadays, learning to type faster makes a lot of sense. Yet (just like with reading) people get to a point where they’re “good enough” at typing and then just stop getting better. If you don’t purposely push yourself to type faster (and make typing mistakes while you do it) you’ll never get faster at typing. It’s uncomfortable but it’s going to save you a lot of time in the long run. A few minutes saved a day (or maybe a lot more) over many years will gain you a lot of productive time… or at the very least give you more time to rest. No matter what, learning to type faster is something great you can do for your productivity.
First, you should see how fast you can type. Now you have a number to measure and work off of when you get started. Here are some possible options:
- Just make yourself type faster: If you consciously try to type faster you’ll type a little faster. You’ll also start to make mistakes with your typing, but this is good. Take note of one or two mistakes you make often when you’re typing faster than normal (maybe you type “ofc ourse” instead of “of course” consistently) and then focus on fixing that one thing. Continue pushing yourself to type faster and fix one of the errors. Once that is comfortable, either push yourself to type even faster or move to another common error you have to fix. Whatever you do, the main thing is that you focus on typing faster than you’re comfortable with. Uncomfortable = good in this situation.
- Play typing games: I find this typing game by Notch (Minecraft creator) to be particularly challenging. There are many more out there. Main thing is to be sure you’re able to measure your speed and improvement over time. Put it in a spreadsheet to keep track of the data and see your progression. If you’re not making any, you should probably change something.
- Try other keyboard layouts: While this may be more work than it’s worth, I’ve dabbled in this once or twice but never really got into it. Some people find a lot of success moving away from the traditional keyboard layout (which isn’t good for typing, but good for preventing typewriters from getting stuck). The best and most common alternative method is the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. It’s supposed to help with wrist pain and hand cramps as well, I hear. Problem is that you’re learning a completely new way to type, so expect a lot of growing pains if you try it.
The overall lesson here is that you should consciously try to get better at typing. Even if you’re an adult and no longer “learning to type” it’s a really helpful thing that for some reason people don’t realize that they can do. I’m at around 100wpm right now, and I’ve grown “comfortable” with it. I imagine I could get this up a bit higher if I actually tried but I’m stuck at that “good enough” stage right now. Maybe I will force myself to type faster now that I’ve written this article. 50% more words in the same amount of time sounds really nice, actually.
Shortcut Keys Galore
This sort of has to do with typing faster but in a different way. The gist is this: The more shortcut keys you’re fluent in, the more you’ll be able to get done in a shorter amount of time. Keep your hands on the keyboard and away from your mouse. A mouse feels faster, but it’s not. Most things have a keyboard equivalent, and every time you can use the keyboard and not reach for your mouse, move it, and then click, you’re saving a few seconds. Depending on how much you use your mouse, you may be saving yourself a lot of time over your lifetime.
The most basic kind of shortcut is your operating system’s keyboard shortcuts. Basics like ctrl+c, ctrl+v, and ctrl+s are just icing on the cake (cmd if you’re a Mac user, of course). There are a ton more worth learning as well. For some tasks I feel like a modern, less talented version of Franz Liszt. I think I would be the next great pianist if I played piano as much as I type. Oh well.
It wasn’t always this way for me, though. I thought keyboard shortcuts ended at the basics. Little did I realize that there was a keyboard shortcut for just about everything. When you run out of these, you can install applications that allow you to expand your ability to use shortcut keys. It’s a deep rabbit hole indeed.
One way to get better at using shortcut keys is to make it harder to use your mouse. You could put your mouse far away from you, forcing yourself to go get it, plug it in, and then put it back away from you when you’re done. Or, you could change the settings on your computer to disallow using your trackpad, if you have one. Basic idea is that if you make it harder to use your mouse than it is to not use your mouse, you’ll learn how to use your keyboard. If you don’t know how to do something, look it up (using shortcuts, of course). After a few days or a week of this, you’ll be a shortcut key master.
Just a warning: doing this will hurt productivity a ton for a while.
Quicksilver / Alfred
One way to increase the number of things you can do with just your keyboard is to install something like Quicksilver or Alfred (there are Windows alternatives out there as well, I believe). This allows you to set up a shortcut to open an application that lets you type in something to perform an action.
For example, I type in cmd+spacebar and Alfred opens up. Then, I can type in an application name to open it, control iTunes, quick search the web, make calculations, put my computer to sleep, open documents, get access to my passwords from 1Password, send an email, and much, much, much more, all from a few keystrokes. Combine that with the ability to type fast and you’ll be getting things done in no time.
Seriously, this app is probably one of my favorite things ever and I still probably only use 10% of its features.
Speaking of most favorite things ever, I talked about this application on BoingBoing’s podcast, Gweek, and absolutely love it. The premise is this: You can assign an abbreviation to something that you type a lot, and whenever you type it somewhere on your computer Textexpander knows notices this and expands it to the “full version” for you. For example, you could create the abbreviation “//sig” that spits out your email / forum signature. You are typing in five characters instead of 100. That’s a great trade, productivity-wise.
It only starts there, though. Maybe you’re a programmer and have a snippet of code you type a lot. Or, maybe you’re writing mnemonics for WaniKani and have to write the same thing over and over again for certain vocabulary / kanji / etc. Or better yet, maybe you have to write similar email responses to the same kinds of questions over and over again (I’m looking at you people who keep emailing me to ask why さ/ち/ふ/そ/etc is written in different ways). The possibilities really are endless. Go take a look at examples of people’s TextExpander workflows to gain some inspiration. My favorite thing is to add kaomoji to TextExpander whenever I can.
(ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻ (when I type //ktable this appears!)
After a month or two, take a look at your statistics. I save around 10 hours a month using TextExpander (based on typing speed and characters saved). I could probably save a lot more if I added more email-related abbreviations. That’s a lot of real time saved, though. TextExpander is really, really amazing.
If there’s one thing that helps me with productivity, it’s to take a nap. I could sit around not really getting anything done for two hours or I could take a 20-30 minute nap and get a lot done in the remaining hour and a half. Just be sure to never go beyond the 30 minute mark or you’ll feel groggy. 20 is even better, I think.
While you’re at it, get enough sleep at night. While there was a time when I thought sleep was a waste of time (oh to be young again), getting enough sleep really does help a lot. Use an eye cover for better sleep and make sure your room is cold, if possible. You’ll feel better for it and get more done overall.
Organization & To-dos
To stay productive, it really does help to be organized. That being said, there are different ways to be organized. For me, I just try to put everything someplace that’s searchable. Once it’s in that magic place I can forget and not worry about it anymore. It’s there if I need it. This way, I can keep the “important” things in my brain simple and I find myself getting way less distracted. In general, here’s how I do it, though it won’t be the best way for everyone.
We’ve mentioned Evernote quite a bit on Tofugu. It’s obvious we love the application and use it for a lot of things, including organization. Anything I don’t want to forget I put into here, from pics of bottles of wine I liked, to gifs I use (I have a whole gif notebook, sadly), to Tofugu company docs (we use Evernote for Business as well), to trip itineraries, to things I’m studying, to shopping lists, to articles I want to save, to pics of my kendo notes after every practice, to run on sentences like this one… Main purpose is to get these things out of my head and somewhere safe. I can access them on the web, on my phone, or on my computer. It even takes my text notes and makes them searchable. I have an offline version of everything as well. Now I don’t need to worry about all the little things. I just put it in Evernote and forget about it until I need to remember again.
I don’t really use to-do lists like most people. My to-do lists tend to be very disposable and short. I’ve gone back and forth on how to use to-do lists though, and this is the method I’ve found to be most productive (for me).
- At the end of each day, write your to-do list for the next day. Only one day, not any longer.
- To-do list should contain only a few things at the most. 2-3 is usually good. If you finish that list, you feel good and then can work on something else (or not feel guilty stopping for the day, maybe).
- At the end of the day, throw away your to-do list (or delete it). I actually hand write my list out on small pieces of paper. It’s one of the few things I hand write these days. Post-it notes are good due to their small size as it forces you to not write too many things down.
- When it’s the end of your day write your to-do list for the next day. Rinse and repeat.
That’s how my to-do list method goes. It prevents your lists from getting too long (and eventually demoralizing and impossible to complete). As for other long-term things I want to “do” — I put them into Evernote as “ideas.” They’re not “to-dos” this way, which makes me feel less distracted. Occasionally I’ll go through them and pull the things that are applicable to the moment. The more to-dos you have the more that’s on your mind and the less you’re able to focus. Lack of focus = lack of productivity. I think it’s important to keep things simple.
This method is very nice if you’re feeling particularly unproductive or unmotivated. Idea is simple: Just work for 30 minutes and play for 30 minutes. Forcing yourself to play after 30 minutes makes you want to work (reverse psychology on yourself!). Plus, it makes you focus during those 30 minutes that you’re working, and a focused 30 minutes is better than an unfocused two hours, in my opinion. Important thing here is to stay strict on yourself (you must play the 30 minutes for this to work) and make adjustments where necessary (maybe you’d be better with the 10-10 method or the 60-60 method). Figure out what works for you, though I recommend starting with 30-30 as it seems to work for the most people and gives you enough time to actually do something, but not so much that tasks get big and unwieldy.
And, if the methods above weren’t efficient enough for you, here’s the most efficient thing of all: automation. With automation, once everything’s all set up you don’t have to do anything. You just sit back, relax, and watch your world spin. The more you can automate the more time you’ll have for something less soul sucking. How nice!
I can barely keep up with emails as it is, so this is an absolute must for me. Basically, anything that isn’t from a person sending something directly to me gets filtered using Gmail’s “filters” feature. Is it a Tofugu Comment notification? Automatically get it out of the inbox and into the “comments” label so I can look at them at my leisure some other time. Is it a mailing list I haven’t been able to unsubscribe from (I’m looking at you, Gamestop / JCrew)? Automatically delete it and mark it as spam, please! Is it from a relative, friend, or someone that I deem important in my life? Better star it and mark it as important so it goes to the top of my email list.
One neat thing I did with filters before I went to Taiwan / Japan / other places last month was to set up an auto-responder that would respond to anyone not on the “secret list” telling them that I was on vacation and that they should email the support Tofugu/TextFugu/WaniKani email address instead, because their email just got archived and I wouldn’t be reading it. Then, just like the threat explained, their email was archived and I didn’t feel bad about not reading it. True vacation! Now, I hate vacation responders as much as the next person, but I can tell you that this felt really, really good to do. Depending on how things go the next couple weeks this may become a permanent feature in my inbox :p It has saved me a ton of time, and would allow me to focus more.
Learn about and use Gmail filters if you’re not already. It will make your life so much more worth living.
Boomerang / Mailbox
Speaking of emails, there’s a couple of other things I do in order to stay sane. Boomerang is something you can install on your Gmail inbox that let’s you do a few things. First, it can hide emails when you don’t want to see them and then makes them reappear when you do. Second (and the feature I like the best) you can schedule when your written emails get sent out. For example, even though I’m writing my emails every day from 12p-1p (time boxing!), I can have some of those emails send at 2am the following morning. I find that if I do this, I have fewer people responding right away and I can get to inbox zero a lot more easily. This helps me to stay on task and focused.
Another app that I like which is iOS only right now is Mailbox. I use it to move things out of my inbox that I don’t want to see right now. With a quick left-swipe I can tell the app to make an email (or all my emails) reappear in a few hours, a week, the next day, or any other time that I specify. Out of sight, out of mind… and when something is out of your mind it’s not nagging at you or taking away any of your focus. It’s kind of a cheaters way to gain inbox zero, but it doesn’t feel like I’m cheating on my end. Give it a try to see what I mean.
IFTTT (If This Then That) is a fun and useful web app that lets you automate the internet to your benefit (or amusement). Here’s some examples of things I do myself, using IFTTT (though there’s so much more you can do, personalized to your wants and needs).
- If it’s the day before a payday day, I get a text message reminding me to pay people their hard earned Fugu Dollars (what Tofugu employees are compensated in).
- If I post an image on Instagram, I automatically back it up to Dropbox.
- If I post something to Instagram, it will automatically get posted on the Koichi Facebook Page, which is nice because Instagram only lets you associate one Facebook thing to your Instagram account.
- If I post something to Instagram, it automatically emails the photo and subtitle to my mom, who doesn’t use Facebook or Instagram, but does use email. Here’s another picture of a kaiju, mom!
- If I favorite a tweet, it gets saved to Evernote.
- If I go somewhere on Foursquare, it gets added to my UP stream so I have a better idea of why my walk data spiked (or didn’t spike).
- If I add a contact to my phone, it gets backed up to a Google Spreadsheet.
- If I’m tagged in a photo on Facebook it gets downloaded to Dropbox.
There’s an amazingly large amount of other automated tasks you can run using IFTTT, but these are some of the ones that I like for myself. You can see how a lot of these tasks save me time (or just do things I wouldn’t normally do, automatically). You can browse a ton of “recipes” on the site as well to find out what others are doing.
Fancy Hands, Mechanical Turk, Task Rabbit, And More
This is the one section that I don’t really do myself but really want to get into. Automation via other people’s time in exchange for your $$$ seems like a nice enough trade, though it’s going to take me a little getting used to when I finally do get around to it. I have “issues” with letting other people do things for me sometimes…
I have a friend who uses this a lot, and I’ve seen the time-savings in action. One day he had them call Comcast (ugghhh) and cancel his old account since he just moved. They told Comcast all the info they could, then put Comcast on hold (ha!) and called my friend to get the last details that they needed to get the account canceled. Then they went back to the Comast call to get everything closed out and canceled. My friend didn’t have to wait on hold, didn’t have to talk to Comcast, and only had to answer a couple quick questions for the Fancy Hands representative. Usually they don’t call you at all, though this time some specific information was needed.
You can have them do any task that takes around 15 minutes to complete, and depending on your plan you have 5, 25, or more tasks at your disposal. Essentially it’s around $5/task, which isn’t all that bad of a trade to me. If I get an extra 1:15 per month for $25 that’s a trade I’d be willing to make. It gets more economical the more you are able to use it. Plus, the ability to not have to talk to Comcast’s BS is priceless. HOW DO YOU PUT A VALUE ON THAT?
I’ve used Mechanical Turk a little bit in the past, mostly to transcribe audio to text. It’s useful for repetitive tasks that you can’t automate using a computer (though that’s becoming less and less common these days). The best part is you can break up spreadsheets into many tasks that many people do. For example, maybe you have a lot of pictures that you want to sort through. You need to know if there is a person in each picture. Put them all in a spreadsheet and have one person on Mechanical Turk do one picture. With thousands of people, this gets done very quickly. Suddenly you know what pictures have people in them, and you can organize them as such. At (I’m guessing based on past experience) one or two cents a picture, that’s very economical.
Along with Fancy Hands, this is one I want to try and use. I almost used it to get an In-n-Out Burger delivered to me during a flight layover in SFO (but ended up being a bit too expensive to justify). There are more uses than that, though. Say I don’t want to go grocery shopping, or maybe I want a wall painted, or perhaps I’m too lazy to go buy office supplies… TaskRabbit will allow you to put up a job and pay someone else to do that for you in an efficient and timely manner. You could do this on Craigslist as well, but TaskRabbit is going to be more reliable (more expensive, though). I have a feeling that once I start to use Task Rabbit I’ll never stop. Sounds like a really promising way to save time to me. Plus, I hate grocery shopping.
There are other options within this pay-to-be-productive realm as well. You can hire a (virtual) personal assistant for quite cheap these days, for example. There are other services that are like the ones I’ve listed above, too. It all depends on where you are and what you want to get done.
Relax A Little
There’s always more ways to become more productive in life, but sometimes it becomes too much and too stressful. Take it a little bit at a time, and work these tips into your life over a long period. If you do it all at once it’ll probably kill you. And, if you’re getting too overwhelmed, take a break. Sometimes a little rest is the best thing of all for your productivity. You’ll feel ready to go when you get back from your break and get a lot done before something/someone vile crushes all your hopes and dreams again. If this happens just rest again! You’ll get there eventually.
Hope something in this super-long post helped you. See, if you had taken my advice and learned to speed read you’d have been through this post way faster. Ha! Let me know some of your productivity tips in the comments below. We can all lose some productivity together by reading about productivity, you dig?