Personal productivity hacking

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When I look back over the last year, one area in particular stands out as needing improvement. Both at work, where I'd let a wide range of extra-curricular activity slowly drift away until I was doing little beyond my immediate team's scope; and at home, when after six months of intense work on a first draft my output slowed to nearly nothing in the latter half of the year.

Towards the end of the year, I resolved to address this petering out of productivity. And, as part of my research into effective ways to improve my personal output, I came across Chris Bailey.

At the age of 24, after completing business school, Bailey took a year-long break during which he experimented with every productivity technique, new and old, that he could find -- from living in isolation for ten days, to switching off his phone for three months -- and documented his findings on a blog entitled A Year of Productivity. He later parlayed the popularity of the site into a bestselling book, The Productivity Project: Proven Ways to Become More Awesome, and continues to consult and write on productivity via his website.

At the end of his year's work, Bailey posted a giant summary post, 100 time, energy, and attention hacks to be more productive, detailing the top 100 most effective 'hacks' to better manage your time, your energy, and your attention (the three categories into which he believes almost all productivity improvements can be found). And I, after dismissing those that seemed irrelevant or unachievable, assembled my own slightly smaller list of things to try. After more than a month, it's time to take stock.

The hacks

There were a couple of email-related applications -- The Email Game (gamify your inbox!) and Unroll.me (automatic unsubscription from marketing emails) -- that I found I couldn't work with, and with three kids it's hard to find any time to meditate, but for the most part the other tips have worked out pretty well.

At work, I've started to use a Pomodoro timer during the day, timing alternating focus periods and short breaks. I also now drink caffeine more strategically; caffeine-free green tea for most of the day, with a single espresso in the early afternoon for a post-lunch boost in focus. I've installed f.lux on all my computers, and started listening to more podcasts on the daily commute to work, as well as designating an Errands Day.

Every morning, I schedule my time using Google Calendar (weekends as well), and the Block site extension ensures that I don't waste so much time on the internet, both at home and at work. I've cut out drinking caffeine right before bed, and instead started drinking more water, including when I wake up.

Of course, not every habit can be so easily altered. Of the hacks that I'm still working on how to integrate into my daily process, make a list of things to do while procrastinating is at the top of my list of things to do while I, uh, procrastinate; and I know that I need to get better at planning each task before starting. And as for trying to smile more or make more friends at the office -- maybe I'll give those email apps another go instead...

Matthew Pennell

Designer, developer, writer, runner, gamer, devil's advocate, INTP. Senior designer for Booking.com. Founder, Refresh Cambridge.
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