Note: I was introduced to this idea somewhere on Hacker News a few weeks back, though I haven’t been able to find the exact discussion again . I adapted the original concept to fit my own style, and it’s changed the way I approach my work.
Uber Productivity – How To Knock Out More Work Than Ever
There’s no end of productivity hacks out there. I’ve will be covering some of the really important concepts:
- Pareto’s Principle, aka the 80/20 principle (coming soon)
- Parkinson’s Law (coming soon)
- The Pomodoro technique (coming soon)
Now, these “laws” and strategies are all great on a macro scale, but today I want to share a productivity technique that I’ve been using which you can implement tomorrow.
It’s increased my weekly writing output 3x, and has helped me get way more done than normal in just a few short weeks. I’m tentatively calling it “workstation popcorn”.
The Big Problem
If you work for yourself or from home, you’re probably familiar with “fake work” - work where you’re not really doing anything. If you have a day job, a lot of the crap that your boss sends your way may feel like this too – work for work’s sake.
However, if you’re an entrepreneur, it can be even worse.
You find yourself spending hours at your computer, dutifully “working” but getting very little done. You finish each day with the dreaded feeling that you’re behind, and that you’re only falling farther and farther behind. You’re buried below an ever-growing to-do list. There’s a feeling of dread that tomorrow is coming, and that it’s bringing with it even more work that you probably won’t be able to get ahead on.
Meanwhile, deep down, you know you’re not being effective 100% of the time. You know you’re secretly wasting time browsing Facebook and Reddit, answering email, and doing stuff that simply doesn’t move the needle in your business. You spend hours at your computer, making almost no progress on the stuff that needs to get done, yet feeling like you’re working longer hours than ever.
How do you fix that? How do you become more productive, focus more, and get more stuff done in less time?
The answer: workplace popcorn.
Here’s how it works:
Create A List Of Things To Do Today
List out everything you need to do today. Try to be as specific as you can. Ensure that each item on your list is a clear action rather than a vague intention.
By the end of the day, you want to be able to look back at each item on your list and say, “Yes, I did it,” or “No, I didn’t do it”. If you’re not quite sure if you’d be able to say yes or no at the end of the day, I’ll save you some time: you’re not being specific enough.
Here are some examples of tasks that you could and could not add to your list:
- Get some stuff done.
- Make some progress on Impossible Fitness.
- Get started on blog posts.
All of these tasks suck. You wouldn’t be able to look back at the end of the day and say, “Yes, I did that,” or “No, I didn’t do that.”
Here’s what you should do instead:
- Write a post of at least 800 words about my new productivity technique, and send it to Joanna.
- Write a complete guide to creating your Impossible List (at least 2,000 words), and send it to Joanna for editing.
- Write a mini guide on the FPC Protocol (upcoming).
I can cross off and either say “yes” or “no” to every single one of these tasks.
A great tool for this part of the technique which I use for my daily tasks list is Any.do. Of course you can simply take this offline and use a notebook. That works just as well.
Break That List Up Into Three Equal Sections
Next, break that list into three sections. These sections should be equal in terms of how much time they’re likely to take to complete. If you’re not sure how long a task will take, guess. It’s okay – you don’t have to get it spot on.
- Task 1 (1 hour)
- Task 2 (45 minutes)
- Task 3 (45 minutes)
- Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
- Task 1 (1 hour)
- Task 2 (30 minutes)
- Task 3 (1 hour)
- Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
- Task 1 (30 minutes)
- Task 2 (45 minutes)
- Task 3 (45 minutes)
- Total time: 2 hours
Find Three Locations To Work From
Whenever I move to a new city, the first thing I do is hunt down all the good coffee shops.
I now have a few favorites that I hole up at to get work done. They were picked based on the following criteria:
- Good coffee
- Space to work
- Outlet availability and WiFi
The chances are that, if you’re in a similar sized city, you’ve got quite a few shops to choose from.
Take your time. Check out Yelp, Google maps, and Urbanspoon, or just walk around and find new spots, whatever. Find at least three different locations to work from that are outside your house.
You can find more locations later but, for now, start with three.
Please note: “Working from home” is the least desirable option here. If you do “work from home”, select a space in your home as your “work area”. Use this space for work only. Resist the urge to work from your bed or couch. It’s comfortable and tempting but you will get approximately zero work done there.
Now you’ve done all the lead work already, this part will be pretty simple. Here’s the full two-step process:
Step 1: Go to cafe #1.
Step 2: Start working on action item group #1.
Important: Only focus on the items in action item group #1. In fact, try to forget about the other items on your list. You want to laser in on the action items for this list and nothing else.
Once you finish all the tasks in group #1, get up and move. Close your tabs, pack your bags, and physically move your butt to your next spot. If you can, walk or bike to your next stop. Avoid driving if you can. The physical activity is important.
Use this time to practice your zen, take a break from your screen, and get some movement into your day. Keep your phone in your pocket, and move. Take a break away from work for at least thirty minutes. Whatever you do, don’t go back to the same place you just left.
Biznass Class Option  - Switch up your iPod while you’re walking and jam out to a podcast on 1.5x speed. Here’s a good one.
When you get to the next cafe, start on the next action item group, and repeat.
Do this until everything on your list is done.
When you’ve completed everything on your to-do list for the day, you are done working. Relax, kick back, and live your life. Don’t take work home with you because that won’t help you get more done – it will just wear you out.
Ever since I stumbled on this idea, I’ve been tweaking it a bit to fit my needs, and I’ve seen an immediate spike in my productivity levels. Here’s what’s happened.
A Few Intentional (and Unintended) Consequences
I Work Fewer Hours
I found that, as well as getting more stuff done, I was also working less time. Instead of working out of a home office, and “always being on”, I’ve been able to get more done and actually finish my work earlier. I’ve also been able to stop bringing work home.
I Get More Done
Okay, so this wasn’t an unintended consequence (it was actually the aim) but, using this system, I’ve gone from writing one to two blog posts a week and getting some other non-important stuff done to writing over six posts a week and getting ahead of the curve on most of my projects.
I Explore More Places
When you have to go to three new places each day, you tend to find yourself roaming all over the city, finding new spots that you wouldn’t normally get to if you stuck to one or two “go-to” spots or if you worked from your home office.
I Sleep Better
This is sort of strange but I’ve found that I’ve actually started sleeping better. Before, I often used to keep myself up at night, wondering whether or not I’d actually done enough for the day and worrying about the stuff I’d have to do the next day. Approaching my day this way has given me a sense of closure at the end of the day, and I’ve been able to relax a little bit. Whenever I start thinking about the stuff I have to do the next day, I just write my ideas down and trust that I’ll knock it out when it’s time to work.
I’ve Don’t Waste Time
With the crazy focus on just three tasks per location, I don’t screw around as much anymore. I force myself to get started as soon as I sit down and I know exactly what I have to do. When I finish my tasks, I get up and leave. I don’t mess around on Facebook, on news sites, or with other time wasters. When I’m “working”, I’m actually working.
I Work Out More
Now that I’m forced to move every two hours or so, I’ve found that I move more overall. As I’ve forced myself to walk or bike everywhere, the default amount of exercise that I get in each week has shot up. Also, since I’ve decided to make myself stop working at certain times each day, I’ve now got much, much more time to actually work out before and after my work day.
I Find That The Hardest Part is Deciding What To Do
If nothing else, this framework has shown me once again that working usually isn’t that hard. Deciding to work is hard. Even worse, deciding what to focus on is hard. The greatest productivity hack in the world is simply deciding what to do. By getting this out of the way of your work flow by doing this at the beginning of the exercise, you leave tons of open space in your work schedule to just get $#*! done.
Custom-Built – How To Make This Your Own
A few things to note:
- Obviously you can choose to do more or fewer tasks at each cafe. The point is to divide the tasks into different categories that take approximately the same amount of time. Three is usually a good number because it, with just three tasks ahead of you, it’s hard to get overwhelmed.
- Email is not an important task. You’re not allowed to put this on your list. It can be “end of day” work that you tack on once your other stuff is finished.
“Work Is the Signal, Email Is the Noise”–@Wired
— Erick Schonfeld (@erickschonfeld) January 22, 2014
- If you need to complete a task which will require a longer period of focused creation time, make a “focus Oreo”. A focus Oreo is made up of two short sessions which bookend a longer focus session. Feel free to play around with this idea to make it suit your needs.
- If you want to be really hardcore, don’t use your computer charger for one of the sessions. Instead of imposing an “outside” restriction on your work that you may or may not follow, you’ll force yourself to finish all your stuff before your computer dies. Good luck.
- This is sort of a macro-level version of the Pomodoro technique, except that, instead of working in 25 minute segments, you’re planning out your entire day. You can combine this with the actual Pomodoro technique for uber-productivity.
- A productivity post wouldn’t be a productivity post without some mention of music for productivity. This could be a whole post on it’s own (and maybe it will be). Typically, I listen to EDM and it usually puts me into a trance. It also has the unfortunate side effect of making me bounce my head back and forth in the middle of a coffee shop, leaving me looking ridiculous. If you’d like to increase your productivity without looking like an idiot, these tools might help:
That’s it. Plan out your daily task items, and get stuff done. Try it out and let me know how it works for you!
 If you’re reading this, random HN commenter, thanks! (Let me know who you are and I’ll credit you properly.)
 Biznass Class is an unregistered trademark of TMBA :) (Seriously, you guys should trademark this already.)