Why productivity matters
To start off with I’d like to talk a little about why productivity matters, If you can improve how productive you are you can take systematic and effective approaches to things that matter to you, this could be work, getting good at video games, learning a new language or something along those lines, I’m defining productivity as a way to increase either overall output , decreases time it takes to reach the desired output, increases quality of the output or a combination of the three. it’s also worth mentioning if something lowers the quality of output below your baseline I consider it worthless - one popular example is adderall it increases how much you output but lowers the quality of the output.
To break down a little why I began to care about productivity it’s because I “work” from home though I use that word loosely if you’ve worked a job that isn’t a 9-5 it’s very hard to ensure you don’t just leave everything till the last minute then make something shitty leading to bad reviews, though if you’re interested in freelancing I’m not a good resource to that, I make under 12k per year and mostly live off money I made on crypto, I don’t want it to seem that I’m rich since I’m not truthfully I just don’t spend much money, most of my big purchases I’ve saved up for instead of buying from my savings or I’ve won a decent chunk gambling and splurged. Back to productivity, if you focus on improving how productive you are you can start to modify your behaviour so you can spend less time for the same output without losing quality, or you can spend the same amount of time for a better quality output, anything you hope to learn, any time you hope to spend can be better spent if you keep productivity in mind, a fairly common anecdote that you might be able to relate to is taking a break from video games - when you come back to them you perform better and enjoy yourself more, then over time it diminishes, if you track certain metrics, for this example it’d be basic, time spent playing, k/d, enjoyment/10 you might find if you play video games for 1 hour less per day you enjoy yourself more and do better, now not only are you performing better at games, you’re enjoying playing them more AND you have an hour of reclaimed time.
Productivity expands just beyond work, it effects everything you invest time in.
Accountability is the most important thing when it comes to productivity, to keep yourself accountable you should set goals with defined due dates and track exactly how much time you’re spending on each project so you can decide is it worth it, tons of time trackers exist however I’ve only used one so it’s the only one I’ll namedrop “timecop” it’s opensource, local only and allows you to export to CVS which is a must have feature, most apps allow exports to CVS files which means you can overlay one apps data with anothers and see if theres any pattern.
As far as task tracking and management goes I’d personally recommend tasks and nextcloud deck they integrate nicely into nextcloud so they’re accessible on all your devices, I also have an NFC tag I tap my phone on in the morning which tells me all my upcoming and in progress tasks - I’ll cover that more specifically later. if I may self shill for a second I wrote a blogpost about why you should have a nextcloud server that’s linked in the shownotes.
This section is all about how you can limit distractions, it’ll be focused mostly on technology use and my personal tricks I’ve learnt overtime, so firstly you obviously need to know what’s distracting to you, and what distractions can you overcome, for me my biggest time sinks were youtube, I’d start listing to it then end up binge watching, a easy way to overcome this was to use my phone for music, I connect bluetooth earbuds to my phone and put my computer headphones in a drawer, this way when the urge to watch just one video arrives I’d have to go get the headphones, plug them in, by the time I’ve even started to do that I’ve realized either it won’t stop after one video or all this effort isn’t worth one video, with most of my timesinks being media related the headphone trick alone is enough to stop most of them by just making them more inconvenient, ones I used to use but no longer do was to turn off notifications for social media apps during “productive” hours since anyone who needs me urgently will have my phone number, everything else can wait, this way you don’t even see the notifications, you can hide them from your lockscreen on android and probably on iphone, it’s much easier to avoid a temptation if it isn’t one easy click away or a flashing light in the corner of your eye, though I don’t have social media anymore so that’s easier, I do socialize a little via signal and email but I only check email in the morning and mid afternoon, in regards to signal I only message a handful of people on that and since they’re my close friends I’m comfortable with not replying instantly if it’s inconvenient, I’ve also heard turning your phone and computer to greyscale helps limit the dopamine hits from colorful sites and software which may decrease the enjoyment of using them and limit temptation that way, I’ve found it to hold true but I only use it after 7pm just to avoid overstimulation before bed moreso than to limit distractions.
Now is when we dive into what data you should track and how to use it to improve certain things, and if stats and numbers isn’t your thing passive pattern recognition is still useful, even without ‘crunching the numbers’ you’ll notice on days where you do something different it has an effect on something else. First I’m going to list all the metrics I track
- Sleep quality (lenovo watch x)
- Habits (loops habit tracker)
- Exercise, inc. type
- Meditation (meditation assistant)
- Verbal fluency
- Reasoning Skills
- Time spent on projects (Timecop)
- Subjective (Track and graph)
- quality of output
- quantity of output
Your brain is dogshit and mostly useless, thats why you should rely upon third party tools, a great test of your memory is something you can do pretty easily using your phone right now, get up the audio recorder, recount something that happened to you today, a nice memory or something, save the file, wait a month then tell the same story and compare the two, you’ll notice how details have changed, how you felt has changed so recording things in a more permanant unchaging way now, as far as active vs passive pattern recognition, in passive you feel like you got more work done on days when you exercised, with active you *know* you got more work done on days when you exercised because you tracked that data for weeks and isolated it by ruling out other factors that might’ve effected the extra work. To bring a more personal example step by step to hopefully show this I had that exact scenario at the time I was tracking perceived quantity of output, exercise, diet and sleep, all obviously play a part on the quantity of work but how should I prioritise and balance the three? obviously when all three were good output was at it’s highest so I ‘randomly’ threw in occasional days without exercise, without sufficient sleep or food, then I did three consecutive days, three days without sufficient sleep, then three days without exercise, then three without a good diet, obviously not all in a row but after I’d done it I found that if it’s a one off day my prioritisation should be 1. exercise 2. sleep 3. food, but if it’s longer periods (3 days+) sleep is the most important, followed by food then exercise. You might not find the same pattern but you might find one, an anecdotal example of passive pattern recognition was switching my morning green tea to 10am-ish instead of 7am helps my overall output, but I never bothered to confirm this since I have no intention of not compulsively chugging green tea and agave nectar. so there wouldn’t be much point however from passively noticing that pattern I’m confident if I just avoided that first morning cup until 10am it’d have a positive effect.
Automation & Apps
This part will hopefully be short and sweet, in terms of apps to automate things two for me that stick out are Tasker and BuzzKill, both cost money but both I consider to be worth it, covering my productivity related tasker configs on the side of my desk are four NFC tags (rectangular) each on electrical tape with markings next to it, cardio, mas, medit, list - I tap my phone on them then tasker kicks in, the first three check off habits in the loops habit tracker app, then it makes a sound, this is to confirm the tag got read and triggered correctly - the final tag ‘list’ is used for the tasks app I use, I tap it and it sends a notification showing any overdue or upcoming tasks in chronological order, so once my day gets started all I have to do is tap my phone and I know what’s on the days agenda, though obviously some things are in my calender, and some things are in desk, since tasks sends you a notification for each task when they become ‘active’ the list serves more of a quick overview. task also syncs with a nextcloud app nicely, another reason to get nextcloud - My BuzzKill setup is much more basic, if I get a notification containing the word “urgent” turn off do not disturb, If I get a signal message turn that conversation silent for 90s this is to deal with when you get multiple messages over a short period instead of the phone going off five times it goes off once, You could also use it so that specific apps, lets say signal and phone calls turn off do not disturb and nothing else does to keep the social media notifications out of sight and out of mind, then just turn that rule on/off as needed - some further apps worth consideration are audio recorder for quick and easy “notes”, joplin for notes that’re more detailed it syncs to nextcloud, offers E2EE, has desktop clients, can add photos, audio, location data to notes making it pretty useful, I often take a quick voice note in audio recorder, hit share, share it with joplin then type it up later (or if I don't care about preserving the audio note I use the note to self feature in signal, which auto wipes in one week), it (joplin) also has nice export to PDF or html options, Next up is Deck, deck is basically a nextcloud trello clone, great for programmers, or anyone looking for post-it style project management. It makes it easy to breakdown and tag projects and parts of projects into manageable chunks, with due dates or if you have multiple users on your nextcloud instance you can assign certain 'cards' to other users an honourable mention is Noice, noice is just a background noise generator, some people like them some don’t, I’ve used it but don’t use it, I vary between lofi hip hop and taylor swift, mostly the older albums pre 2014, with some exceptions from reputation and a couple from the lover album.
Changes I’ve made
On standard notes
Since beginning writing this I've moved from joplin to standard notes, the feature set is around the same, however standard notes has an edge on security - Self hosting is a pain so I use a paid plan, It only allows export to txt file but since it has a markdown editor (and html based editor) it's easy to convert to html or pdf if you wanted -- The main reason I switched was a better mobile experience and it has options to make spreadsheets, I still stand by joplin as a solid note taking option and still use it just as a secondary option.
Setting deadlines is obviously helpful for keeping on track, instead of just having a todo list, set up tasks in the tasks app and have it notify you when you need to do it, check it when you wake up so everything you need to do is fresh in your mind.
If a project seems daunting, breaking it up into more manageable and approachable chunks (using desk or tasks) can help you seem less overwhelmed and since there are more steps you get a much more consistent and motivating sense of progress, instead of feeling like you complete one step toward it per week or whatever you'll be taking multiple smaller steps, helping to build consistency.
Juggling multiple projects
another small but helpful thing that's improved my overall productivity is juggling multiple projects, I struggle with burnout very easily, especially with personal projects so once I feel burnout I swap to another project, or I switch up on a regular basis so I'm making consistent progress on them all without burning out on any.
The final anecdotal change I'll mention is how I approach the news, I used to read the news a lot, sometimes just headlines sometimes full articles - now my approach is different one because I have a "podcast" reading some news (News from the aether) and two because I realized the news was lowering my mood and making me less motivated and mostly unnecessarily, 90% of the news I read had no bearing or relevance to my life but it still lowered my mood, so my new approach to news is as follows, I have an RSS reader setup on nextcloud this has huge amounts of news coming into it, I scroll through a couple times a day glancing through headlines, if an article seems interesting or relevant to my life I share it to wallabag (which then pulls that content in a nice unified way and gives them estimated reading times) I apply one of two tags to the article when sharing, 'kobo' or 'newscast' items with the kobo tag get sent to my ereader which is much more comfortable to read on and I read through them all every sunday morning/afternoon - the newscast items are for the news podcast (aether.exposed/links/) which from the third episode forward will be read through on a saturday with a rough script written then recorded and set to publish on the sunday.