Towards the end of last year I began to make a few changes to how I try to approach my days. These changes were designed to improve productivity during the hours I am working, while also [hopefully] allowing me to do a number of things better.
It started because I was frustrated with how much stuff was piling up on me. I had things on my list of things “to do” that seemed to never get done. I was doing well to get one or two decent sized things done in a day.
The problem. Me.
Although these small “tweaks” haven’t necessarily revolutionized my productivity levels, they have definitely helped.
I guess a lot of changes don’t actually occur in the physical world. Instead they change in the mind and heart. I found myself considering the idea of getting more work done in less time. This in turn could mean possibly reducing the hours I needed to spend at work while allowing me to do a few other things. [If you have “free” time the reality is that you usually look for ways to fill it back up.]
I’ve been reading a fair bit in a book called, the 4 hour workweek by Tim Ferriss. In it he talks a lot about doing whatever we can to make the time we spend working more productive. Some of these ideas are from the book… but all of them are baked with a dash of my own personal thinking.
Radical Email Mentality
The first thing that I decided to attack was email.
I don’t know how many emails you receive every day, but chances you get more emails than you care to talk about. I probably average about 25 or so every day. Of those something along the lines of 5 emails require an action on my part, a reply, a change on a website, or something important…
But what I found when I looked a bit more closely is that hardly any of those emails are really urgent. If I was to wait to respond to 95% of them for 24 hours, no one would mind. Sure, they might wish they had a response more quickly, but should that mean I drop everything I do to answer the email as soon as I get it? Breaking concentration hurts productivity.
So here is what I decided. I’ll check my email several times a day. If an email needs to be replied to and it is important that I do so pretty quickly… I’ll do it. Most of these emails are three sentences max. Short and to the point. If I’m worried about someone hijacking my time, I shouldn’t be hijacking their time with a long response. [These are guidelines… not rules. :)]
Sinking the Social Boat
Social Networks. They are a necessity in some ways. Especially from a marketing perspective, whether you are marketing a blog or a brick and mortar business.
But man are they addictive.
How many people do you know who literally spend hours perusing Facebook? Or maybe they are checking Twitter every five minutes to see if anyone retweeted their amazing quote.
Well… I started to realize that I was starting to do this more often than I should.
Here is what it usually looks like for me. I finish some task… so its time for a brain break. I open a browser… one tab gets Facebook, another gets Engadget, another gets Twitter, another gets my RSS reader…
25 minutes [or more] later I realize that I just wasted that part of my life. Sure maybe I learned about a new kind of tree that was found growing in someone’s backyard in Zimbabwe that is protecting a mutant elephant who has no trunk… but what good is that going to do me?
At any rate.
I started using a tool [Nanny for Google Chrome] that allows you to block specific websites during certain hours of the day. Now I can wait until just before I head home for the day to check all my stuff.
I still cheat sometimes. Like when I am working on a blog post and get it published…
Getting A New Phone
You know how it is. That phone in your pocket… it rings occasionally and you take the call. It vibrates more often with notices of all the things that are going on in “your world” right now.
As part of this whole experiment I decided that I don’t need some things on my phone. So I started to cut the notifications that popped up. I also deleted a bunch of apps.
I didn’t actually go purchase a new phone. I just made my current iPhone look like a totally different phone.
What Isn’t On My Home Screen
The first things to go where the Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter apps. No I didn’t delete my account in any of those places. I still plan to use and participate in both, just in a more controlled environment, when the time is right. Instead of being bombarded with notifications on my phone, Tweeting and Facebooking will happen on my computer.
So What is on my Home Screen?
- Chrome – because it’s the best browser available and I can sync my bookmarks from my desktop to my mobile device and back again.
- Any.do – It’s simple. I like it. I use it. [This doesn’t take the place of writing down a list of things that needs to happen on a daily basis. But it is really nice to be able to jot something down so I don’t forget it. If I need to I can also set an alarm on the task and my phone will remind me that I need to do whatever it is I need to do.]
- Pressgram – I’m still in love with Pressgram. Although I don’t really think about it too much anymore. It’s just a part of my life. I snap a lot of pictures with my phone and try to post one of them every day to my blog using Pressgram.
- Facebook Pages – I manage several Facebook Pages and in the interest of customer service I keep this app available. I don’t use it much, but when a notification appears I go ahead and reply to questions or concerns or whatever.
- MyFitnessPal – I wrote that I want to lose weight and get healthier this year. Originally I was going to be starting a diet on the first of the year, but due to several things that diet won’t start for a few weeks now. But, when it does MyFitnessPal will allow me to track my food intake as well as exercise.
- Google Search – Used mostly for the Google now cards. Seeing when packages I order from amazon are going to arrive is just kind of cool. The Google voice recognition will also often pick up a search query more quickly than Siri…
- Bible – I do try to live like the Bible tells me. Although I don’t use the app on my phone terribly often I do occasionally listen to the Bible being read while I drive.
- Write – This is the app that I chose to use after Simplenote gave me a few issues. I jot ideas in this app, they get synced to my Dropbox folder and then I can open them on my computer when I’m ready to work on a blog post.
- Google Maps – The best free map solution that I know of.
- Amazon Cloud Player – I buy almost all my music from Amazon. This is an easy way to download music to my phone.
- Snapseed – When I have a few free minutes while waiting for something I love to be able to edit pictures. On the phone that means using Snapseed.
- Apple Music Player – [Built in Apple App] Some of my music isn’t from Amazon, instead it lives on my computer hard drive. I can sync the music to my phone using iTunes.
- Cam Ranger – A new app… It works with a piece of hardware that connects to my camera. In short what it allows me to do is take a picture from a long ways away from the camera. The picture can then be imported to my iPhone or iPad and I can make sure I popped the flash in the right place or whatever. It also has some really cool features like time lapse options and hdr bracketing options.
- OkDoThis – Another relatively new app. I don’t use it too often, but I aspire to use it more frequently.
- Sleep Cycle – If you have a smart phone you should be monitoring your sleep. If nothing else it is interesting. Sleep cycle allows me to get an idea of how well I slept, what things affected how I slept, etc. It can give me an idea of what my best “to bed” time is. It also builds a bunch of cool graphs from the data. Oh… it is an alarm clock too.
- ETC. – This is a folder that holds everything else. There are a number of Apple apps that I would just as soon delete, but Apple doesn’t let you delete them. They go in here. Apps that I don’t use very frequently go in this folder as well. If I need the app, I can either go into the folder and find it or I can simply search for it from the home screen. Basically if I want to use an app and it isn’t on the home screen I know that I either need to search for it or go look in my ETC. folder.
- Messages – [Built in Apple App] Text messages where created to make simple phone conversations obsolete. Instead of asking my brother via a phone call, what time he wants to meet to run 2 miles I can simply text him. [Not that either of us run 2 miles these days. I’m way too far out of shape. I’ll say nothing about him.]
- Phone – [Built in Apple App] There are some things that still need to be done via a real human voice conversation. A conversation is something that has both give and take. There are two voices working out the details of a matter. Phone calls are good.
- Camera – [Built in Apple App] The camera is one of my favorite features of the modern cell phone. If it isn’t easy to find and open I don’t use it. If it is easy to find and open, I use it all the time. It is always good practice to pull the phone out and take a picture. You consciously get to think through framing the shot and how to make your subject interesting. Take more pictures with your phone’s camera. You can thank me later.
- Gmail – This is one of the apps that I was considering getting rid of. It is truly annoying to be notified that so and so has sent you an email, ok it isn’t annoying, but the thing about email is this. It can wait. Almost every single time. But there are times when a simple sentence reply can help someone else out and it won’t take long or much brain processor power to type a quick reply on your phone. I did cut the notifications off though. If I am in my office I don’t need my phone to tell me every time I get an email. If I am not in my office I try to check my phone email every hour or so, just to make sure someone isn’t offering to bring peace to the entire world and I am the only one holding the process up.
And there you have it.
Do you have any plans to change how you consume or relate to the world around you this year? Particularly in how you are bending technology to do what you need it to?