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Productivity Tips I've Learned Building Scotch.io

Productivity is a marathon. The more days and years I put into this coding thing (or anything like fitness for that matter), the more I realize that consistency is far more critical than bursts.

Being productive is a marathon.

In this post, I'll run through the things I've learned about productivity. We'll cover:

  • Productivity flow
  • Mental reasons for the workflow
  • Getting things done
  • Tools to help the process

Before we get started, a disclaimer: This is a do as I say, not as I do type of post. These are tips to try to keep me productive. They don't always work. I fall off and have days where I say "Nah I'm just gonna eat pizza and chill." We'll talk about those days and how to recover from them and how to not feel sorry about them.

Note: There will be a bunch of motivational posters in this post. They are all from ikonick. I don't believe in them all. Just wanted to break up the long paragraphs 😂.

Overall Strategy / Philosophy

What I'm trying to do is give myself as many chances/advantages as possible so that I can be productive.

Give yourself daily opportunities for wins.

Also giving myself wins daily to avoid burnout or the feeling of not moving forward. Half the battle is preparation after all.

On that note, if I were to take all the productivity advice I've heard over the years, the calculation is:

  • 50% preparation
  • 50% drive
  • 50% motivation
  • 10% luck

That adds up to one overwhelmed Chris! Slip on any one of these, and you'll fail! Productivity tips usually bother me because it's a lot of fire/drive/yeaaaa, but long-term goals are a marathon, not a sprint.

That stuff is great for a bit in spurts, but in the end, discipline beats motivation. Those motivational speeches don't focus on the grind. The day to day trenches that you don't usually talk about.

Personality Vices?

I have a personality that beats himself up if he doesn't feel like he's achieving enough. I've been told that I need to find time to relax or take vacations. That's not as interesting to me as seeing Scotch grow. I know many don't feel that way. Maybe it's a vice.

Getting messages saying we helped a person learn to code is the best vacation I can think of. This personality also leads to burnout. Most of my productivity tips are to protect myself against who I am naturally.

My Old Strategy: Burnout Churnout

I used to be a burnout type of person. Throw as many things into the to-do list as possible and crush. What I've come to learn is that you can be productive and get things done without having to break the mental bank.

Biggest thing I've learned, there's always the next day.

The burnout method doesn't promote mental calm, collectedness, and consistency. Some people are able to work at a high level for long amounts of time (I consider myself one of these people), but burnout is always lurking around the corner.

Managing when to churnout and when you're close to burnout is the major fight.

Managing Burnout

It's a fine line between setting the right goals and setting too many goals.

Lofty goals at a blistering pace are a good way to get burned out. This is why we've seen so many companies implement "sprints" where work is done in manageable periods like 2, 4, or 6 weeks.

Sprints are a great way to be productive and excited about a project. If you start to feel the burnout, at least you can see the end in sight!

Sprints can help manage large projects, but on a day to day basis, I like to move away from time management and think about my days as energy management.

Time vs. Energy Management

We all know how our own individual minds/bodies work throughout the day. Instead of saying "I will work from 9-5", I like implementing an approach that revolves around my energy levels throughout the day. I've found it to be a much more productive approach.

My energy schedule during the day goes like this:

  • 7 am: Highest Energy (gym or hardcore coding)
  • 10 am: Higher Energy (writing/editing posts. Twitch streaming)
  • 4 pm - 7 pm: Practically dead. Completely useless. (hangout. Chores. reading)
  • 7 pm: High Energy (secondary/bonus tasks that don't need to be accomplished)

Know when your lulls are during the day. Plan around your energy rather than planning around time. Strongest energy is mornings and nights so I'll churn out my high priority tasks in the morning. The gym will be in the middle of the day for lunch or wayyy early at 6 am.

Time is Still a Major Factor

At the end of the day, time isn't something we can completely ignore. It is a finite resource.

Switch from "I don't have time" to "It's not a priority."

Since we can't do everything we want to do during the day, we have to find the priorities. The things that are crucial to us personally or are our competitive advantage business-wise.

Toggl

I'll use Toggl to track my time. I'm not too focused on it and don't care about the weekly report on how much time I spent. I mostly use it for its Pomodoro Timer. Trying to get a single task done in 25 minutes with 0 distractions is helpful for my style of working.

I've also got the mini-timer always sitting on the corner of my desktop:

Toggl will also remind me that my previous 25-minute pomodoro was done and should I continue a new one. I'll take this time to take a break and prep for the next 25 minutes. Some people say you need a specific break time of ~5 minutes. I don't time my breaks.

You don't need that notification

Try turning off notifications and setting your phone to silent and you'll realize that you didn't miss out on much. Some tools to do this:

Android's new digital wellbeing is an interesting tool. It made me realize I was spending upwards of 4 hours on my phone!

I encourage you to try adding a tool to track your phone screen time. I limit my app usage to:

  • Twitter: 30 minutes
  • Instagram: Uninstalled
  • Facebook: Uninstalled

I've now gotten it to a spot where I can limit phone usage to about 2 hours a day!

Set your priorities. Outsource everything you can.

I'm a bit of a control freak. I've finally been able to outsource things like editing Scotch.io posts, publishing posts, and dev work on Scotch.io. Samuel is the first person to get access to the Scotch GitHub repo after five years of working on it alone.

I also have a virtual assistant that helps with email management, booking speaking engagements, booking travel, handling some Scotch duties and more.

All the small things that can be offset will add up allowing you to focus on what your real priorities are.

Admittedly you can take this too far. Scotch for a time was almost completely out of my hands. You have to determine what is your competitive advantage and hold onto that. Everything else, outsource.

Multitasking is the Enemy

As much as we'd like it to, multitasking doesn't look like this:

Going back to managing burnout, I try only to set 3 tasks daily that HAVE TO BE completed.

3 tasks daily that HAVE TO BE completed

Any tasks beyond the initial 3 is a bonus. This way the mental overhead stays low and you don't beat yourself up if you don't meet the lofty goals. This also points back to the idea of giving yourself daily wins.

Let's say you only got three things done today. Would you rather end your day saying:

  • I got all the things I NEEDED to done 😊
  • I got a lot done, but I didn't get EVERYTHING done 😒

Notion is where I've been keeping my weekly agenda. I'll update the next day every night with the three things I need to have done. I'll also keep a weekly goal of 3 things that need to be done.

Tools to Implement Productivity Zen

One book I enjoyed reading was Getting Things Done by David Allen.

I don't follow the practices outlined in the latter half of the book since I found those practices too rigid. I did, however, enjoy the first part where it has this rule:

If you can do it in 2 minutes, do it now. If you can't then put it on paper.

The idea is to get every idea out of your head. This way you can keep a mental calmness. Mind like water as they say. You'll notice that most of my tactics revolve around keeping a calm mind.

Notion

I've struggled to find a tool that has everything I want and is also flexible enough to adjust to my lazy days.

Trello was the closest to what I wanted. It didn't have the flexibility to adjust to all the things that I couldn't get done though. I also loved how freeform OneNote was. However, it was too freeform that I couldn't get a solid structure.

Notion is now my go-to for everything. I'm even drafting this post in Notion. Chris Coyier wrote a great post on how he uses Notion both personally and for CSS-Tricks. Those mirror my uses. I love the flexibility for types of pages:

  • Inline databases/tables (posts to write/edit)
  • Blank page (drafting a post)

Here's a sample of my Notion weekly agenda:

3 Bullet Points

At the end of every week, I'll also do a review and mark down three bullet points. This idea came from Brian Love who I met last year at Angular Denver. Instead of creating a paragraph of all the things you did, make it three bullet points.

  • What did you do?
  • What do you want to do next?
  • Share a personal thing? (I don't do this since my notes are for myself. Works well on a team)

Document Everything

I didn't use to do this, but it's good to be able to go back and see what was done, what was missed, and where you didn't achieve your goals. It's a good skill to look back and not beat yourself up. Just analyze and adjust without feeling guilty about any spots you fell short of your initial goals.

In addition to the three bullet points, I'll copy the entire week and archive it.

Falling off the Proverbial Wagon

Back when I used to try to do as much as possible every day, there would be stints where I would wake up and say NOPE. I don't feel like doing anything today.

Then I would not work that day. Feel guilty about it. Fall into this loop of not getting things done and then beating myself up.

The cool thing about the new system of only having three big things a day is that it can easily be adjusted. If I want to take off a day, I'll say no problem. Just shift things to tomorrow. No sweat. Enjoy the day. No harm no foul.

I'll even say alright maybe I don't do the three big things today. I'll do some of the small things then. Get a couple of hours of work in and come out feeling good.

Doing Nothing and Being Ok With It

I've seen a lot of people do nothing and beat themselves up about it. At the end of the day, you did nothing. You have two options:

  • do nothing and beat yourself up about it
  • do nothing and be cool with it

Either way, the outcome is the same; you feel worse doing the former.

If you aren't gonna do anything today, then be ok with it. Don't beat yourself up about it.

Forcing Yourself into Productive Situations

Now, most of this post has been a don't beat yourself up kind of scenario. I still love getting things done and putting myself in positions to grow and launch products/posts.

Scotch wouldn't be where it is now without some pressure or urgency. By having so many great authors writing for Scotch, it has pushed me to be better.

Put yourself in a situation where you can help another person. You'll be the most motivated person ever.

Seeing Scotch comments or tweets of people that have had help from our posts is the greatest motivator. Seriously, I am blessed to come into contact with so many driven and intelligent people.

*Twitch streaming has forced me to stick to a schedule. Twitter has forced me to stay connected to individuals. *

If you work better by setting deadlines with another person, then do it. If you work better out of a coffee shop, then do it. Find ways to hold yourself accountable.

Working remotely can turn a person lax on routine. Contrary to what all my friends think, working from home takes discipline. Analyze yourself and see where you can force yourself into uncomfortable situations that make you grow.

Where I Want to Improve Further

Doing your ABCs is important. (Always Be Constantly analyzing). This system may change for me in a couple of months. My daily energy levels change with the seasons. Winter productivity looks a little different than summer productivity.

There are many things I need to do better at still take up time/energy out of my day. These should be streamlined and if you've got tools let me know!

Consuming information like blogs and Twitter

I use Feedly for all my blogs. I am trying to find a way to follow all the newsletters, and Twitter accounts in one spot, however, has been a chore. Also trying to get all the links we want into the weekly Scotch.io newsletter needs a system.

Being better with Scotch authors

I have had a day job while building Scotch for the past five years. (Soon to change!) This leads to even more finite time to interact with all the great Scotch authors. I am slow to respond and give feedback.

This is something that must be improved on, and I've got some ideas. Sorry if you've ever been on the receiving end of my sloooowww responses.

Moving Forward

Productivity is a constantly evolving thing. Your energy levels can change per week/month/season/age so you'll need to constantly check where you have lulls are.

It's a constant battle, but it doesn't have to be a struggle. What are your tools/ideas/mentality for productivity? Let me know!

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