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My Top Productivity Practice

Published 8/15/2016

In today's episode, I talk about my top productivity practice. I'll give you a hint: there's no hacks or tricks in this episode. Just hard work.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I'm going to be giving you my top productivity tip. It's called a fallback productivity list. Today's episode is brought to you by Spec. If you're a designer or a developer and you're looking to level up your career, Spec.fm is the place to go. We have tons of content that is made directly for you, specifically for you, to learn how to become better in your career. So go and check it out Spec.fm. That is the podcast and content network that Developer Tea is a part of. Now if you all don't know, I do quite a lot in a given day. I have Developer Teathat I record three episodes a week for, but I also have a full time job. I lead a team of developers at Whiteboard and I have a ton of other things going on outside of work as well. And to have so many things going on in a given day, it may seem a little bit daunting. But in this process, I've learned a lot about productivity and I want to share with you what I consider to be my number one productivity tip. And I don't like saying productivity tip very often on the show because there's so many other podcasts that are about productivity and we spend a lot of our energy trying to figure out what the secrets are to being productive. And truly, I don't think there are many secrets to being productive. In fact, the most productive people are the ones who stick with whatever it is that they are doing until it's done. And all the things that we have around this, ways of trying to make ourselves do more in a given amount of time, that ultimately relies on our commitment to getting something done. There are no shortcuts when it comes to productivity. Most of the time, it just comes down to being disciplined and actually spending the time on the right things. Now, that is the part that I want to talk to you about today, spending the time that you have on the right things because there's a lot of people who have an iron will. They have the fortitude that it takes to be a productive person. But as we've said on this show before, if you don't focus your energy in one place, if you have 100 different places that your energy is going to because you're not really sure where to put it, then you ultimately end up staying in basically the same spot that you started in. So this isn't a productivity hack, but rather it's a method for finding the best place to put your energy. And this isn't a particularly novel idea either. I didn't come up with this. It's not a special format or anything like that. It's something that people have been doing for years. And really it comes down to prioritization. So this is the process. Step one is to write down everything that you have to do. Everything. Small to large. And don't try to separate between work and home. Write down everything that you have to do. Maybe you have a particular project that you need to hit a milestone on. And then maybe you have a doctor's appointment. Maybe you want to go on a date tonight. There are so many things that you can put on this list, but I want you to put it all on a single list. And once you have completed this list to an exhaustive extent. And I mean anything that you've been thinking about doing for a long period of time, cleaning out the closets. Everything should be on this list. Once you've completed this list, I want you to go through and put an X next to the things that are non-negotiable. The things that absolutely have to be done. For example, some non-negotiables for most people include taking their children to school or perhaps driving to work. These are very obviously their flat overhead. You can't get past doing those things. For me, another non-negotiable is getting these episodes recorded. I have to get these episodes recorded. And so a lot of my other priorities end up falling around that specific thing. Next, I want you to prioritize the entire list, including the non-negotiables. Of course, the non-negotiables are all going to be at the top. But I want those to also be listed in order of priority. So maybe you have five things that are non-negotiable. Those are going to be listed numbers one through five. But even within those non-negotiable things, you're going to have one thing that is more important than another. It absolutely has to be done maybe even more than another one of your non-negotiable items. Because the reality is sometimes we have more non-negotiable things than we have time in a day. And this is when we start feeling overwhelmed, where we feel like there's not enough time in the day. When we have more things that we absolutely have to do, then we have time in the day to finish those things. Now, there's a little tip kind of hidden in this. If you consistently find yourself with more non-negotiable things than you have time in your day, then you're probably going to end up in a situation of unhealthy stress. And you most likely need to slim down the number of things you're committed to. In other words, the word non-negotiable means something, right? You have to do these things. And if you have to do more than you can do, then that's an imbalance. You're going to ultimately end up failing at being productive because you can't even finish all of the things that you absolutely have to do. But for most people, the non-negotiables are accomplishable. So I want you to arrange your day in such a way that you can accomplish the non-negotiable things first. Now, sometimes the non-negotiable things end up having to follow a set schedule because they depend on other people. But for the things that you can accomplish on your own, I want you to accomplish the non-negotiable things first. And this is no surprise, keep the list that you have in front of you handy throughout the day. Whenever you find yourself without something to do, look at the next most important thing on the list. Now, you may be thinking this seems obvious, right? It seems obvious that you should prioritize the things in your task list. But I can tell you that this is the missing piece of productivity for most people. People have a tendency of looking at a list of five things that they have to do and becoming paralyzed. Or trying to do little pieces of each one in parallel. Of course, we know that parallel work is going to ultimately fail. It's another word for multitasking and we can't multitask very well. So when we have a list of five things, we have to know which one is the most important thing on that list. Now, here's the other valuable thing about this particular exercise. Instead of forcing yourself to determine in the moment what the most important thing is, you have predetermined for yourself what you're going to work on. Or perhaps more accurately how you're going to spend your time. This reduces the amount of overhead and switch over in the middle of your day. When you have to go from one thing, when you finish task number one, going to task number two, instead of having to decide what task number two is, you can flow directly into task number two because it's already been determined for you. Now, ultimately, this technique works well with something like the Pomodoro technique. If you don't know what it is, check the show notes. I'll put a link to it there at spec.fm. But the Pomodoro technique allows you a time of rest in between the sprints that you do throughout the day. Now, here's what I want you to do in those periods of rest. I want you to have a goal for your rest time. I know that sounds kind of antithetical to the concept of rest, but you're going to be much more likely to actually take those rest periods, which are absolutely essential for your productivity. You're going to be much more likely to take those rest periods if you have a goal in mind for what you want to do during those rest periods. For example, my rest periods I like to set a goal of walking during my rest. Another great example is to take your rest period to go and talk to someone and give them encouragement. This is just going to build up your relationships with the people that are around you. Some people like to take a few moments to meditate. Ultimately, what you do on your rest period is up to you, but if you have a goal for your rest period, in other words, if you have something that you can say, this is the plan for when I take those rest. You're going to be much more likely to take those rest. So take some time to write out all of those things that you have to do, all of the things that are on your mind or have been in the back of your mind maybe even for weeks now, write it all out and prioritize those things. Mark off your non-negotiables and organize the rest of your day around accomplishing the non-negotiables first. In many ways, this is like setting up autopilot for your time management. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope it's helpful for you and I hope that this is reinforcing some things that you kind of intuitively already know about productivity. If you have struggled with focus or with energy management in the past, start today by taking control of your time. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you've enjoyed this episode and if you did, make sure you share it with someone you think will find it valuable to them as well. Before you stop listening to this episode, I want you to take your phone out and click the subscribe button. You can do the same thing on a computer if you're listening on a computer, but click the subscribe button in whatever podcasting app you are using. This ensures that you don't miss out on Wednesday's episode or any episode after that. It's always free to subscribe and hey, if you don't like it, you can always unsubscribe later. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.