On Blocking Facebook at Work

Pomodoro Blocker

It’s 10:30am on a dreary, rainy Wednesday. I’m trying to be productive, but running on six hours of sleep isn’t helping much. I check my email; nothing new since five minutes ago. Anything on Facebook? Oh, six new notifications! Oh, and a new Buzzfeed article all of my friends are sharing! Next thing I know, it’s 11:15am, and I haven’t done jack in 45 minutes.

Given how often the scenario above happens (can you relate?), I like the concept of “distraction blocker” apps that prevent you from accessing Facebook and other distracting websites during the hours of 9-5pm. With the temptation gone, it’s easier to get more done in less time. Sounds like a win-win, right? Well, almost.

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Take advantage of spikes in motivation (or you’ll regret it)

Since February, I’ve become fairly serious about coding. As mentioned in a previous post back in February, I’ve been finding the process both fun and frustrating, and was looking forward to the day when I could enjoy the fruits of my labor.

I’m happy to admit that after 10 weeks of intensive coding (well, as intense as a beginner can get), I’ve finished my first app. I’ll discuss it in a future blog post, but needless to say, I’m very happy with it. I even have a second and third app that were completed as offshoots of the first (I repurposed a lot of the code).

However, I’ve noticed that, while I was caught in a storm of coding these past few months, I’ve sorely neglected this blog. Both my social life and time in the gym have suffered as well. While upsetting, I’m beginning to wonder if this might actually be a good thing. In other words, when a passion consumes every free moment of time – even to the point where other areas of your life temporarily cease to develop – is this something worth embracing? As of now, I’m leaning towards yes. And I’ll explain why.

 

Just as valuable as time: Energy and motivation

To help us answer this question, let’s take a step back and look at productivity. Typically, when people focus on being more productive, they think about time. Scheduling, deadlines, efficiency. But time isn’t the whole picture. If I had to choose between 4 hours of free time during a low energy, low motivation state, versus 2 hours of free time during a high energy, high motivation state, I’d immediately choose the latter, as I’m sure you would too.

People who understand this are those that end up paying very close attention to what motivates and energizes them. For example, here are some things I’ve learned about myself over the last few years:

  • Certain types of game mechanics (progress bars, quantification of effort, variable rewards, etc.) really motivate me.
  • Coffee gives me about 45 minutes of a productivity spike, but then results in a crash that lasts for 2-3 hours, bringing my energy and motivation way down.
  • Green tea gives me a mild energy boost, with little to no crash, making it the superior option.
  • Sleeping between 8 and 9 hours is the ideal amount of sleep for me.
  • And most recently learned, if I feel the natural urge to work on a passion project, I need to do whatever I can to start as soon as possible, because that motivation is short-lived.

That last bullet point is what inspired this blog post. Understanding the factors that can trigger states of high motivation is incredibly valuable. To that point, I can sometimes get more done in 30 minutes of high energy, high motivation, than 3 hours of mediocre energy and motivation. And I’d argue that when you start a project that really interests you, you’re in an excellent position to reap the super-productive rewards of a high motivation, high energy state.

 

Take advantage while you can

While I was coding the app I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was also preparing a short speech for a conference. If I had postponed work on the app in order to focus exclusively on the speech, I’m confident it would’ve taken me 5x longer to finish coding that. Why? Because the powerful motivation to keep making progress on the app would’ve faded by the time I was ready to work on it.

Of course, it’s not always possible to take advantage of spikes in energy and motivation. You could be at work, have a tight deadline on another project, etc. However, I’d recommend doing whatever you can to take advantage of such states. I’ve been known to write blog posts on my lunch break if the inspiration strikes. And on days when I don’t have the luxury to do that? To be honest, many of the blog posts that need to wait never get written.

To keep this approach sustainable, it’s important to keep your other projects in maintenance mode while capitalizing on any natural spikes in motivation. While in hardcore coding mode, I still went to the gym 1-2 times per week (rather than 2-3 times), and I made sure to post a blog post every few weeks. Not my best performance in either area, but enough to keep me afloat. And now that I’ve let my motivation run it’s course with the completion of my first app, I can now resume working out and blogging more aggressively.

 

Conclusion

“Everything in moderation, including moderation”

-Oscar Wilde

Living a life of moderation is a solid default strategy, but when your energies and passions are calling you in a particular direction, I’ve found that it’s very worthwhile to take the plunge and temporarily explore a more extreme state. As long as you keep the other areas of your life in a healthy state of maintenance, you should be fine.

When I developed an interest in coding my first app, I went full out. However, I made sure to take just enough time away from this to maintain my other passions (blogging, gym routine, etc.). But to take any more time would be failing to take full advantage of the natural spike in curiosity and drive that was available to me.

So the next time you feel an inclination to explore a new hobby or interesting project, see if you can leverage that motivation to make more progress than you thought possible. You’d be surprised at how much you can get done when you act in accordance to the ebb and flow of your motivation. Carpe diem.

Five amazing (and free) apps for overachievers on the go

It’s been a crazy few weeks. I moved to San Francisco three days ago, and all of my stuff is still in transit from NY. All I have is my laptop, my phone, and a suitcase of clothing. In order to get work done, I’ve been hopping around between my friend’s couch and coffee shops all over the city.

For those who need to stay productive on the go, it can be frustrating. Consider one particular scenario I was in this past Tuesday: I bought my laptop and AC adapter to a well-known coffee shop in SoMa, San Francisco, only to discover that there was no wi-fi, nor outlets, in the whole place. Nevertheless, I set up camp and began working using my FreedomPop hotspot (discussed below). However, during my second hour there, my battery died right in the middle of a task. In a desperate attempt to keep my productive momentum going, I tried to continue working through my iPhone, to little avail. As I left the coffee shop, upset and defeated, I swore to never let this happen again.

Here are five apps that have since solved my on-the-go productivity challenges (and will likely solve yours as well). Kudos to @gohnjanotis for showing me most of these apps!

1) Voxer – It’s difficult to get people together for a phone conference. It’s annoying and time-consuming to constantly use texting, email, and G-chat. Enter Voxer, the walkie-talkie app. Imagine real-time phone conversations that work like text messages. For example, if I needed to coordinate with two people on a project, I just “vox” them in a group chat. Because it works like a voice text message, they respond back to me at their convenience. It’s the speed of speaking on the phone combined with the convenience of email and texting. Plus, it’s on iPhone and Android, so almost anyone with a smartphone can use it (sorry, Blackberry users).

For those on the go, it’s invaluable for quickly and easily coordinating and communicating with colleagues, business partners and friends. Personally, I’ve been using it to keep in touch with my friends in San Francisco as I move about the city.

“Voxing” with my friend Kevin. When you have Voxer, who needs texting?

2) Trello – Imagine a whiteboard with super powers (that syncs across all devices). It can be used as a to-do list, project manager, Kanban board, and more. I really enjoy seeing my projects broken down in this format, and if my computer ever dies (or I’m walking around without it), everything is viewable from my iPhone.

I’m actually using Trello right now to help me with my apartment hunt (click the image to see it full sized).

 

Had I been using this app when my laptop battery died, I could’ve kept making calls and working through my apartment-hunting tasks without a hitch.

3) IFTTT.com – When you’re on the go, combing through websites can be a pain (especially on your phone’s tiny screen). IFTTT is great for automating and organizing certain things for you. It works by linking together various online services in “recipes” that automate things you might be doing manually. For example, for those who love to use Instagram, it can automatically download all of your new Instagram photos into Dropbox for you. For productivity purposes, I’m using it to receive an email as soon as an apartment listing that matches my requirements is created on Craigslist. Receiving an email is so much easier than keeping up with the RSS feed in a reader application or searching manually on the site. There are so many ways to link various apps in IFTTT, it’s mind boggling.

4) FreedomPop – If you recall from my story above, I accidentally ended up in a coffee shop with no wi-fi. Nevertheless, I was able to start working. How? FreedomPop. Once you have their 4G mobile hotspot (you have to put down a deposit), you get 500MB of free bandwidth each month. Although this isn’t a lot, it’s a lifesaver when you find yourself working in a location no wi-fi. It uses the Clear 4G network, which I’ve had difficulties with in the NYC area, but it has done very well in SF so far (including both coverage and speed). It worked incredibly well during my last visit to Sightglass Coffee in SoMa.

The tiny hotspot (pictured below) requires you to pay a deposit on the device, but it’s well worth the money if you’re someone who is constantly on the go, or occasionally works in areas without wi-fi.

 FreedomPop next to a coffee cup

 

5) LooseCubes – Ever want to work on personal projects in a setting that isn’t your house or a coffee shop? Collaborative workspaces are a fantastic alternative, but are very costly to the non-professional. LooseCubes lets you book the space that you need for occasional use, without racking up the costs of being a full member of the workspace. Think of it as AirBnb for workspaces. It’s currently invite only, as of this writing. I don’t have much to say about it yet, since I haven’t  yet followed through on a space I booked (I had to cancel due to a last minute apartment showing), but I’ve heard fantastic things from colleagues.

So there you have it! If you’ve used some (or all) of the services/apps above, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Eat That Frog Second! A New Way to Tackle To-Do Lists

Eat That Frog! by Brian TracyIn the world of productivity, Brian Tracy’s “Eat That Frog First” philosophy has been very useful for understanding how to tackle your to-do list every day for maximum efficiency and momentum as you plow through your tasks. In summary, his philosophy is that you should tackle the most difficult item on your to-do list first, so that the rest of your day is free from worrying about the difficult task. He also argues that getting such a big task out of the way gives you momentum to accomplish the relatively less difficult tasks. In other words, if the first thing you do tomorrow is eat a live frog, the day can only get better from there. Click the following link to view a 2 minute video summarizes this philosophy very well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0W7GB5Fh2XM

Brian Tracy’s philosophy makes a lot of sense. You get a feeling of relief and momentum from having just accomplished a tough task. However, this philosophy of productivity directly contradicts my go-to method of productivity. My go-to method is essentially “productive procrastination” in which you are “procrastinating” the toughest item on your list by doing everything else on your list instead. By the time the tough goal is the last thing on your list to do, you’re so close to the finish line that you don’t even hesitate to get it done. I swear by this method because of how easy it is to get started on your tasks for the day, but it definitely has its drawbacks. Namely, it’s intimidating, and even somewhat stressful, seeing that super-tough item on your to-do list all day. I go into more detail about this method of productivity here.

After having experimented with both methods, I have found a combination of the two that gives you the best from both worlds. I call this method Eat That Frog Second. As the name implies, you’re going to tackle your most difficult task for the day SECOND, rather than first. Here’s why: I noticed that it was incredibly difficult to start doing things in the morning when I was faced with the most difficult task of the day right from the get go. I always found it easy to tackle big challenges once I was in the flow of things, but to start with it when I was still a little groggy and not in the flow of work yet, it was quite daunting. I found myself dawdling more than I usually do. Not good.

So here’s what you do:

1)      Start your day with your EASIEST task. This will allow you a quick win that gives you some momentum and gets you “in the zone.”

2)      After this is finished, throw all of your momentum into the “frog” of your day (the most difficult task on your list).

3)      Once this task is completed, you can perform an optional celebration dance, and continue on with the rest of your tasks with feelings of relief, accomplishment, and further momentum.

4)      Optional: When creating your to-do list for the day, if you use hand-written to-do lists, you can draw an arrow next to your EASIEST task and draw a bulls-eye target next to your TOUGHEST task. Then draw a dotted line guiding the arrow towards the target. It’s a fun way to mark of the two tasks to focus on as you get started with your day, plus it symbolizes that completing the first task will give you momentum to jump right into the difficult task. It might look something like this:

-Cook dinner for tonight

-Find my dress socks

↓  -Call mom to say hello

-Submit TPS report

◎ -Write a business plan for my future business

-Vacuum the living room

Try this method for your next set of tasks and let me know how it works in the comments section below!