On productivity

Updated 2022-01-31.

Lists of productivity tips tend to be notable in their omissions: There's a lot of good productivity advice out there, much of it in list form, and it shouldn't be surprising if someone's productivity formula is mostly a remix.

My current principles:

  1. Cultivate a desire to be productive. This post of Dan Luu's is useful--and motivating! Consume media from proudly productive people.
  2. Work on getting things like task lists out of your brain. Also work on getting other nagging thoughts out of your brain; journal if you need to. But this doesn't require a fancy task manager.
  3. When you can, structure your work so that you have a natural starting point when you pick up the task (e.g., by stopping writing "just a bit before you have said everything you want to").
  4. Corollary: try to arrange your workspace the way it needs to be to get your next unit of work done before you leave for a meal, break, or whatever else. [Updated 2022-01-31.]
  5. Automate things, even if not many--there can be power-law-type phenomena here. A few automated text replacements (with a tool as simple as what's built into an operating system or as fancy as TextExpander / Alfred / Keyboard Maestro) can have enormous benefits. Whatever that handful of things you always find yourself doing is, there's probably a way to automate it.
  6. Cultivate an ability to detect, without shame, when you're doing a zero-productivity activity (my canonical example is reading passively or letting one's mind wander while reading). "Is my output nonzero?" can be so much easier to answer than "what is the absolutely optimal use of time right now?," especially when one is under stress. And minimizing zero-productivity ostensible-work time is a big part of the battle.
  7. I still advocate having a default mapping from lengths of time to productive uses of that length of time.
  8. Read and watch things actively. Journal if you need to; it can make your default consumption attitudes more active. Highlight a lot, even if you don't often go back to your highlights. (Byrne Hobart does this too, if memory serves.) More generally, don't just try to get more output from your production time; there are probably efficiency gains to be found on the consumption side too.

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