Maximum Productivity

2013-09-03 10.31.54This post is the fourth in a series about my working life

I’ve worked with people to improve their productivity for over 20 years and some of that has hopefully rubbed off on my own working practice.  There’s no universal productivity practice though, what’s best for one person will be suboptimal for another.  Productivity practices need to be tuned to the type of work you do, your collaboration needs, where you do that work, the devices you use, and your personality.  I call this combination of factors a persons work style.

Lets start then by looking at my work style:

  1. For health reasons I only do desk work for 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, 3 weeks a month. This averages at about 10 hours a week, so productivity is very important to me
  2. I’m a knowledge worker, someone who takes information, adds value to it and turns it into valuable knowledge and ideas which I then apply to solve business problems or identify business opportunities.  As a spin off I also try to improve the work and personal lives of my colleagues and customers.
  3. I do most of my collaboration face to face or via web conferences but I also share what I can asynchronously via my highlight report, my work and personal blogs and my twitter feeds @steveisreading, @steveiswriting and @steverichards (my diary)
  4. I work in a wide variety of locations, most of the time my laptop is in my backpack.  When I’m not planning to do any serious work or my backpacks full of hiking gear I will just carry my iPad mini.  When I need to do complex work, creating presentations, documents and the like I prefer to work at my desk at home with multiple screens.  I do most of my work cafes, but when I’m in an office I work mostly in informal breakout areas. The rest of the time I’m working by listening to podcasts while swimming, cycling, walking or driving.
  5. My primary working device is my Thinkpad x230 laptop, at my home office I use an Thinkpad X220T Tablet connected to a 27” display, for my work reading I use an iPad mini, for personal reading I use a Kindle Paperwhite and I carry an iPhone 4S.
  6. My personality is unusual, I’m a high functioning autistic, I struggle working with people I don’t know, crowds, noise, presentations eye contact, small talk and I have a truly terrible memory for faces, names and facts in general.  That said 30 years of dedicated practice has mitigated many of these limitations and allowed me to focus on my strengths, a good memory for ideas and concepts, a good ability to spot links between disparate information, a good sense of when something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ which makes me a good reviewer.  I’m also good at looking at things from other peoples perspective and judging people.

After reading the above you should get a good idea of why I consider my work style unique, but I think everyone’s work style is.  So with that context here are the productivity tips that work for me, they might not work for you:

  1. Get up early.  It’s great to start the day and not be in a rush to get to your first ‘appointment’.  For me that first appointment is Caffe Nero at 7:30, getting up at 6:30 leaves time for meditation, feeding the cats, chatting with Debbie, stretching …
  2. Partition your day.  Urgent work will consume your day if you don’t forcefully partition it, I find that it helps to do different types of activity in different places.  For me:
    1. mornings are dedicated to reading, analysis and reflection (in cafes) and podcasts (while exercising)
    2. afternoons are dedicated to collaborating with people, directing, coaching, mentoring (in breakout areas in a work office or in my home office)
    3. early evenings are dedicated to scanning information streams to identify the small subset of stuff that I will be reading tomorrow (in my recliner watching TV)
    4. late evening is dedicated to reading fiction (in the bath)
  3. Use the right device for the job, I use
    1. a multi-screen workstation for complex creation
    2. an iPad for reading and curating
    3. paper for shaping ideas, discussions
    4. my phone for processing email, podcasts, audio books
    5. my laptop for everything else (a lot)
  4. Use Google Chrome and LastPass.  I love the fact that on a new device all I have to do is install Chrome, login and I have all of my bookmarks, extensions and passwords and key apps.
  5. Use Microsoft Remote Desktop.  It’s like Chrome but for Windows apps.  I love the fact that with a few clicks I can access any of my Windows devices from any of my devices (Home Server, Laptops, Desktops, iPad, iPhone)
  6. Design efficient processes for activities you do a lot.  As an example one of my most important process flows is the scan –> read –> curate –> share –> analyse workflow:
    1. Scan (NewsBlur, Tweetdeck, Tweetbot, Zite, Email) this provides me with a wide range of information sources.  I will forward emails to my Instapaper account to read later as well.
    2. Read (Instapaper) all of the above sources include one click sharing to Instapaper
    3. Curate (@steveisreading, Pinboard, Instapaper folders, Evernote) everything I read that’s useful goes automatically to Pinboard and my @steveisreading twitter account.  A subset that I want to follow up goes into Instapaper folders (For Action, To Watch, To Blog …).  The very best information goes into Evernote.
    4. Share (@steveisreading, @steveiswriting, Evernote) useful stuff I’ve read goes to @steveisreading twitter account, blog posts that I write go to @steveiswriting and I have shared folders for Evernot
    5. For podcasts I use PocketCasts subscriptions but I also use HuffDuff and other tricks to get content to my iPhone.  I also have a 24 books a year subscription to Audible.  I can share the podcasts I listen to direct to @steveisreading.
  7. Get a home server, mine runs Windows 8 and is running all the time hidden away under a desk.  I can use remote desktop to access it any time from anywhere, any device and I love the fact that everything I know how to do on my laptop I can also do on my server.  My home server is my primary backup, but I have an offsite Crashplan backup too.
  8. Use apps that have a web interface for ultimate convenience (Simplenote, Evernote, TickTick, Plex, Facebook, Tweetbot, Calibre, Office, Live Writer).  I try out a lot of devices and always having access to my key apps after just installing Chrome is great
  9. Use device independent apps when the web apps are a little to clunky or you need offline access (Simplenote, Evernote, TickTick, Plex, Facebook, Tweetbot, Calibre, Office, Live Writer)
  10. Take monthly ‘think weeks’ working breaks where the focus is restoring my energy levels, while reading and thinking.

The picture is of a canal near Nottingham City centre, one of my favourite places for think weeks. If you look carefully you might be able to see the Heron on the tow path.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. April 4, 2014

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