Productivity Hacks

My Personal Minimalist Productivity Hacks

While strictly not a minimalist subject, I’ve found that increasing my productivity has in fact minimised the time I waste procrastinating. This, in turn, gives me more time to concentrate on the things I enjoy doing. So you could say that productivity & minimalism make prefect partners.

I often get asked advice on productivity & motivation. I’ve been self-employed for most of my adult life & I’ve always worked from home, which takes dedication & serious discipline to get right. It’s not easy when you are the boss. The Internet can become a black hole of distractions if you allow it.

So I decided to layout a few of my favorite productivity hacks to help minimise your working day to the bare essentials. Better productivity means less hours working and more hours doing what you love (I love work, but I much prefer doing fun things).

Limit Distractions

For me, this involves leaving my phone in another room. If I have my phone to hand I know I’ll pick it up and get sidetracked. I now charge my phone in the kitchen. I use a bamboo iPhone dock which also charges my apple watch. I find that leaving it out of reach has increased my productivity vastly.

Set a Timer – The Pomodoro Method

I’m not sure where I first learned about the pomodoro method, but the name comes from those pomodoro tomato kitchen timers which many productivity gurus recommend using. I personally use my apple watch & Siri to set a timer, but feel free to use a kitchen timer or any other timer. I set specific timescales for different jobs. For cleaning the house or car I set a 15 minute timer. For replying to emails I set a 20 minute timer. For writing, I set a 30 minute timer. As soon as the time expires, you finish the task you are working on. The motivation of a countdown is enough to make sure I don’t procrastinate. I also find that I can commit full focus for a short period & knowing that I’ll soon be able to take a break makes sure I don’t waiver. An added bonus is that I clean, type or work much faster with a countdown & often finish before the timer runs out.

For this post for example, I’ve got a 30 minute timer running on my watch, so it’s a one shot deal. This makes my work more fluid & stops me putting off working.

Develop Habits

Good habits are essential to improved productivity. It took me 33 years to develop the habits I have today. Foster good habits & change bad habits. My daily habits include cleaning the bathroom as I go in the morning. Putting away any products I use & folding towels. Making the bed and tidying away everything in the bedroom, bathroom and office as I go.

I never leave dishes anymore. Straight in the dishwasher or washed in the sink, dried & put away. I even dry the draining board. I clean & tidy the kitchen as I go. I always clear my desk when I’m finished. I find that if the house is tidy & organised, I don’t find excuses not to do work. An added benefit is that I never have to clean & tidy to receive guests, and I don’t worry about an unanounced visitor. This allows me to sit down & concentrate on work.

Other work habits include setting aside time for certain tasks. If you want to write more, allocate a day of the week to write something. Once that habit sticks, extend it to two days and so on. Before you know it, you will write often & writing will now be a habit instead of a chore.

Install Forest

I use the forest app on my iPhone to cut distractions. Once you plant a tree in forest, you can’t use your iPhone for the specified number of minutes. This has helped me to break free of the smart phone. Forest is also available for the major web browsers. On the browser version, you specify a list of websites which you tend to use for procrastination. I’ve personally added all news sites, all social media sites & YouTube to mine. When I set a timer to sit and work, I set the same timer in forest. This ensures I don’t wander off onto distracting websites when I should be working. Also, by using the app you plant real trees for charity. Bonus!

Take Proper Breaks

This might sound counterintuitive, but your concentration is a finite resource. Sooner or later, you will become distracted & your work will suffer. The problem with distraction & procrastination is that you aren’t working, but you aren’t fully relaxing either. It’s a no mans land & isn’t helpful if you want to be productive. After each timer expires, take a decent break. I find that making a coffee or a snack is helpful. I also step outside weather permitting & have a stretch and a change of scenery. Whatever you would like to do with your break, make sure to do it often. Even 5 minutes every 30 minutes will make a difference.

Perfect your Environment

This will vary from person to person. I always find that music helps me to concentrate. While writing this post I’m listening to punk & punk rock on my headphones. I also enjoy listening to Soma FM when I work. It helps to block out ambient noise & I become more absorbed in my work. My wife on the other hand needs total silence to concentrate. Figure out what works for you and set the mood for productivity.

Single Task

I know I’ve been told a thousand times that I can’t multi task because I’m a man. I actually believe that nobody can successfully multi task. If your attention is fragmented between tasks, you can’t give any single one of those tasks 100% of your energy. I’m a firm believer in single tasking & it got me through my Masters degree.

I turn off emails. Emails coming in are the ultimate distraction. As mentioned, I also turn off the phone or put it in another room. A single notification or ring tone can ruin your concentration.

If I’m writing in WordPress, I only have a single tab open & no other apps (with the exception of my music). If I’m cleaning the house, I mute my phone and leave it on charge. No matter what task you are doing, if you want to improve your productivity you need to embrace single tasking.

Wake up early

I used to be a late riser. Working from home meant I could work any hours I liked as long as the work got done. I would wake up at 10am and not start working until lunchtime.

I now wake up early every day and have most of my emails done by 7am. I also find that I’m done with real work by lunch time and have the rest of the day to work on personal projects & spending time with my friends & family. It also means I fit in more exercise & spend time relaxing and thinking of new ideas.

Stop Thinking & Start Doing

The key to being more productive is to just start doing the things you want to do. I’m now learning dutch with Duolingo. I’m also cycle riding once a day for an hour (timed) to get in much better physical shape. My wife & I walk for at least an hour every day. I’m doing background research for my PhD in my spare time. I’m writing more on this blog & over on my personal website. I’m still running my family e-commerce business each day. I’m still on my minimalism challenge. I’ve reduced my TV watching to an hour or less each evening. I’m getting ready to move to Amsterdam. I live in one of the most breathtaking parts of the UK (on the south coast of Cornwall in a picturesque place). I’m making my entire living from home.

I’ve always had grand plans, but until I started making time to work towards them & laying down the habits & skills to achieve them, they only existed in my head. I now live the life I want to live & continue to work towards my goals.

Changing your approach to productivity can change your relationship with time. I now have more free time while still getting more done with my days. I think productivity is an often forgotten part of minimalism. By minimising distractions & minimising the hours of work you need to do each day, we have more time to dedicate to ourselves & our families. It’s surprising what you can get done when you focus & avoid the distractions.

I’d love to add to this post, so if you have any productivity hacks, get in touch or leave a comment.

Smartphone addiction grey scale

Tackle compulsive smartphone behavior by going grey scale

I’ve had a smart phone since the iPhone 3G was released in July 2008. Back then, the app store was only just getting started & apps didn’t really exist. I enjoyed the web browser & large screen, not to mention the fast 3G connection, but it wasn’t invasive. It acted similarly to the Nokia & Samsung phones I had owned before it. It was a nice phone, with the added benefit of email & web browser.

Fast forward to 2018 & smart phones are ubiquitous with daily life. Maps, music, games, video, fitness trackers, social media. The list of apps is endless. The major problem I’ve found with this is compulsive use, some would call addiction.

I noticed my own use spiraling out of control when I found myself checking the phone as soon as I woke up in the morning. I’d also check the phone just before I went to sleep. I’d break silences with it, I’d use it in queues at the shops. It was a crutch & a hideaway. A distraction from real life.

I started to curb my own usage 2 years ago. First I deleted a lot of the apps from my iPhone. I then installed the Forest app, to plant trees & stop me using the phone for long periods. This helped vastly with my compulsion to pick it up at any moment.

At first I felt like I was depriving myself of something. Almost as if I was missing out on everything. I felt anxious and angry. I was addicted.

Now we are in 2018 & my smart phone habits are ahead of most people around me. I’ll happily leave the house without my phone. I’ve turned off all notifications and sounds. Those who send me text messages will know it can take hours or days to reply. I no longer let the phone dictate when I will pick it up.

Another great help has been my Bamboo dock. I leave the phone in the dock on charge in my kitchen when I’m home. Unless I’m intentionally using it, it stays docked. Simply not having it in a pocket or within reach has changed my usage dramatically.

Over the last few months I’ve taken it a step further. After reading research by Mozilla and other researchers, I decided to switch my iPhone to grey scale. This is strictly speaking an accessibility feature for disabled users. But by removing the colours I’ve found my iPhone to be less appealing, and the calls to action of colours, such as red notification bubbles, have all but disappeared. It is much less stimulating without the bright colours. Now, nothing within an app stands out. Instagram in black and white is much nicer to look at & much less addictive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve set it up so that by triple tapping my iPhone home button, I can switch between grey scale and colour, so if I really need colour I can activate it. But on the whole, I leave it black and white.

I was skeptical about this at first, but after reading work & watching interviews of design ethicists, it seemed genuinely beneficial.

I can now have my phone in hand, check something & then put it down. I don’t get distracted by apps. I don’t have any compulsive use. I can physically sit empty-handed in a coffee shop & watch the world go by. I’m sure the other customers (smart phones in hand) think I’m a weirdo, but I now notice my surroundings. I remember the things I see, the smells, the smiles!

The scariest thing about putting your phone down is realizing how addicted we all are. Look around any coffee shop, any restaurant or bar. People who should be socializing are looking at a glowing screen. Instead of enjoying food, or even taking a quick photo, they are spending their time with others crafting Instagram posts. Take the photo, post it later!

I’ve witnessed parents ignoring children. Families on holiday ignoring each other. People at music concerts tweeting when the bands are on. Life is much richer when we view it with our eyes & not through a lens. The worst thing I saw was a child wet herself in central Manchester. The little girl was pleading with her mother, but after being ignored by her mother who was too wrapped up in a smart phone, she wet herself in public. It was heartbreaking to witness and forced me instantly to address my usage.

I’m not saying that smart phones are inherently bad. They are a great resource when we use them intentionally. But when we mindless scroll & thumb away at them, distracted by nothing in particular, we miss out on real life.

If you would like to try the grey scale trick on iPhone you can change the accessibility settings as follows. Head to the following page in your settings :-

Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Colour Filters

You can then select the grey scale option. This will make your iPhone look a little like an old-fashioned black & white TV.

If you would like to enable the triple click toggle to allow a triple click of the home button to swap between colour & grey scale, go to the following menu :-

Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility shortcut (bottom)

Once on this page, tick colour filters as your accessibility shortcut. Now a triple click of your home button will swap between grey scale and colour screen options.

It is also possible to do this on Android, but the instructions vary depending on model, so search for your specific android version for instructions.

Intentional smart phone usage can enrich our lives, but compulsive behaviors can be really damaging. We have the biggest tool for distraction sat right in our pockets, we need to be in control of our usage and not let it become our world. It is amazing to absorb yourself in a moment. Just listening & watching can be a great way to unwind. Sitting on the internet, bombarded with distractions can be fun sometimes, but not every waking moment.

I will do a full write up soon of the other methods I mentioned for cutting down smart phone usage, But I think grey scale will give you the biggest bang for your buck, along with turning off sounds and notifications for all apps except phone and messages.

If you have any hints & tips for curbing compulsive smart phone usage I’d love to hear them. leave a comment.

John Signature

Fumio Sasaki Goodbye Things

Recommended Minimalism & Organisation Books – July 2017

I’ve always got a few books on the go & over the last few months I’ve really stepped up my minimalism & organisation background reading. When delving into the world of minimalism & organisation it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of bad advice & regurgitated nonsense. A lot of the tips & techniques discussed in these books can be common sense & many authors simply borrow each others ideas, meaning you get little value from reading a lot of books.

Over the years I’ve read a plethora of books on minimalism, but I haven’t dedicated much time to organisation. I changed that this month by reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.

I also finally got around to reading Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living. This is perhaps the best book I’ve read about minimalism & it really inspired me. It’s by a japanese author and the translation is just perfect.

After reading these two books I decided to revisit Marie Kondo’s work and the Kon Mari method, by reading her illustrated book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying. – This is a more practical book for organising yourself & your things & really helped me to carry out a lot of the things Marie Kondo discussed in the previous Life Changing Magic book.

The last book I read in this batch of books was Nagisa Tatsumi’s The Art of Discarding: How to get rid of clutter and find joy. This book deals in-depth with discarding things & explains the psychology behind our compulsions to hoard belongings. After reading this book & Fumio Sasaki’s I found myself going through my already fairly minimal house & discarding even more of the things that I don’t tend to use. This includes out of date technology which hasn’t been repurposed, old clothes & books I have read and have no intention of going back to read in the future.

So lets take a more in-depth look at each book.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever - Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever – Marie Kondo

This book by Marie Kondo is a life changer, but I’ve got to say it’s the kind of book you will either love or hate. A lot of the language used & the approach to organising & sorting is quite spiritual. Not religious, but spiritual like yoga or meditation. The main premise is to approach everything you own & ask if it sparks joy in you & if you truly love it. Marie might put people off by suggesting we all say goodbye & thank you to the things we dispose of. We are to thank them for being good to us and providing us with comfort or use. For treating us well. I’m a scientific person, but I can appreciate the approach & while I didn’t start thanking my belongings, I did seek to only keep the things which I really love or really need.

Marie Kondo has been organising all of her life, she has made a career out of helping her clients sort their homes. This book is written by a japanese author so some of the topics discussed have a very japanese feel (such as measuring the size of your home with tatami mats), but I found this cultural parallel fascinating & it was partly the reason I enjoyed the book so much.

One of the major things from this book that I took on board was the folding of clothes. I used Marie’s method of piling all of my clothes in the middle of the room & sorting through them item by item, deciding which items to keep, which to give away and which to discard. This reduced my clothing by around 80% and I’m now down to two drawers in a chest of drawers. I feel much lighter for it.

My clothes drawer folded with the Marie Kondo Kon Marie method.

My clothes drawer folded with the Marie Kondo Kon Marie method.

Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living by Fumio Sasaki

Fumio Sasaki Goodbye Things

Fumio Sasaki Goodbye Things

This is perhaps the best Minimalism book I’ve read. I know that’s a bold statement, but Fumio really gets across in his book what we all feel starting out. Fumio was overworked, surrounded by stuff in his Tokyo apartment, unhealthy & miserable. Long story short, Fumio stumbled upon minimalism and changed his entire life, segwaying into being a minimalism guru along the way. He now lives with a tiny amount of possessions, a sleeping mat, three shirts and a few other essentials. His book takes you on his entire journey & I’m happy that it included pictures which really give you an idea of the before & after of Fumio’s life. I was fascinated by this book. Again, it has a japanese take on Minimalism but I love learning about different cultures. In a city like Tokyo, where space comes at a premium, minimalism makes perfect sense & Fumio manages to convey the benefits in the most polite & calm way. I honestly felt a sense of calm just reading this book.

Since finishing Fumio Sasaki’s book I’ve continued to downsize & sold a lot of things on eBay. I’m also finding that I no longer bring things home from visits to the city & my online shopping is almost non-existent. Having worked so hard to minimise to this point, I’m really conscious of undoing the hard work, which is an added bonus as it saves me a small fortune.

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying by Marie Kondo

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying Marie Kondo

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying Marie Kondo

This book is a continuation of the book I mentioned earlier by Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying). I’d recommend you read the first book & if you decide to carry out any of the KonMari methods discussed you can use this book as your illustrated guide. The first book discusses the broad techniques Marie Kondo uses to help her clients get organised, this book goes in-depth into implementing those methods, including pictures. This is vital if you decided to carry out methods such as the konMari clothing folding techniques.

 

This book is much more practical and more of a text-book or reference book to keep consulting as you start your minimalism and KonMari. It has really helped me become more organised & I highly recommend both books in this series.

The Art of Discarding: How to get rid of clutter and find joy by Nagisa Tatsumi

The Art of Discarding: How to get rid of clutter and find joy by Nagisa Tatsumi

The Art of Discarding: How to get rid of clutter and find joy by Nagisa Tatsumi

As you can tell, this is yet another book I’ve read by a japanese author. The minimalism movement has always been quite big in Japan, probably due to the space constraints of highly populated cities. The Art Of Discarding deals a lot with the psychology of possessions and also the psychological problems which can develop when we become overwhelmed with stuff. The book offers practical advice to help you change your buying habits & to help you dispose of the clutter and excess in your life. This book covers a broad range of topics from simplifying your wardrobe to letting go of excess in all aspects of your life. Well worth a read.

 

 

So there we have it, a quick round-up of some of the best Minimalism & organisational books I’ve read over the last few months. Let me know if you have read any of them & also if you have any other books to recommend.

John Signature

New Year Minimalism – A few ideas.

A lot of people set themselves New Years resolutions. The New Year marks a fresh start for a lot of people & resolutions help to set goals for the coming year. Some are very simple, such as dieting after the festive period or signing up to a gym. I’m not really one for resolutions but a lot of people I know like to do this, so I thought I would lay out a few tips & ideas for anyone interested in simple living & minimalism.

One of the first things I do after the Christmas period is to address my belongings. My family & friends have really got into a rhythm with what to buy me each year, so I don’t tend to get anything which throws me off my minimalist lifestyle, but I do get some really handy gifts. I tend to get new underwear, toiletries, a new aftershave and a couple of books to read.

I’ve asked my family to buy me the same kind of things each year, generally consumables. By getting a few sets of underwear each year I can go through my drawers and get rid of the tired looking items. I have a strict one in one out system now, which I find helps me to keep on top of my belongings. I also find that I personally feel better because I’m only replacing something that is worn out & due for a refresh.

With the toiletries, I tend to get enough deodorant, razor blades & aftershave to last me the entire year, until next christmas. So I start off the year with a few extra items than absolutely necessary, but they do get used up before I receive a fresh batch & I can live with storing a couple of essentials in the bathroom cabinet.

Christmas time used to be really hard for me as an aspiring minimalist. I’m super appreciative of all the gifts I receive & they are by no means bad gifts, but when you are trying to reduce the amount of stuff you hang on to, it can prove challenging. I used to get a lot of novelty items, fun presents which made you laugh & smile on the day, but then went into a drawer never to be seen again. After speaking with friends & family I have managed to save them money  by asking not to buy those items & requested only items I really need. I have a small Amazon wish list to which I add specific things I need & each family member also has set things they now tend to buy me. I find this works best & it makes their life easier if they do decide to give me a gift.

January is also a great time to address your wardrobe. For a few years now my wife and I have shared a single clothes rail. It wasnt always like that, we used to have a walk in wardrobe back in 2012 (walk in closet) and we had hundreds of different items of clothes collected over two lifetimes.

When we first started getting onto minimalism, sorting out the clothes was really hard. Many items had sentimental value, even though we knew we would never wear them again. Since minimising our wardrobe to a single rail, we have found it really easy to stay on top of clothing. Again we have a one in one out rule & with limited space we find we stick to it. If an item wears out we can replace it without feeling guilty & all the remaining items of clothing we have are the ones we wear daily.

I would recommend starting with your wardrobe if you are new to minimalism. It’s a good way to get used to letting things go & it is one of the best examples of how minimalism can make life easier. Just by selecting a daily outfit, you will feel lighter & less burdened by choice.

This year I also decided to address my smartphone & social media accounts. I had far too many time-consuming apps & so many twitter accounts which I followed that it was becoming less useful to me. I wrote about that earlier this week, but the general gist is that by reducing apps & information consumption on your smart phone, you can save a crazy amount of time & regain a lot of focus. With the time I’ve regained I intend to learn Dutch & play more guitar.

Another thing I like to do each new year is to address my finances. I am still paying down student debt on credit cards & I always shift my remaining debt to a 0% card in January. That way I’m always only paying off the debt & not the interest payments. I’m not sure how the banks feel about that, essentially giving me a free loan, but I find minimalism can be applied easily to finances if you treat the digital pounds just the same way you would treat physical clutter. To me, debt is clutter, it’s a burden & it has the ability to cripple you with worry & also to trap you in a situation. I intend to move to Amsterdam & debt is one thing I will not be taking with me.

You can also take this time to check all of your current bills, direct debits & subscriptions. See if you can reduce bills such as your phone or internet, cancel any subscriptions you no longer need & give all of your finances a health check. It’s surprising what a £5 a month subscription costs each year if you no longer read that magazine or watch Netflix.

Moving on to books. I no longer have many physical books. I used to have a massive collection of books in paperback and hardback format however I bought an eReader last year (kindle) and started to get most of my books in a digital format. I still buy the odd second-hand book or text-book, I don’t tend to buy new books as there are an abundance of used books out there for a fraction of the cost. I found moving to ebooks freed up a lot of my belongings. I’ve moved house before with perhaps 30 boxes of books. They are heavy & cumbersome. I now have most of my books on the kindle which can fit in my coat pocket. My kindle library is around 140 books strong. This is all part of a lifestyle I’m crafting to make it easier for me to pick up & go when I like. To a new house, to a new country. I’m no stranger to putting things in storage and moving around for a while. I like the freedom & it’s one of the things that attracted me to Minimalism in the first place.

If you have books, sort through them & give to charity any you have read & won’t reference, or those you have no intention of reading. If you do this every few months you can regain a lot of space, shed a lot of weight & if you give them to a charity shop you can help a good cause in the process (not to mention people can get great books for a fraction of retail & it saves them from landfill).

January is always a quiet month for me work wise. My business customers are coming to terms with a new year & the serious overspend of the previous months. I used to get quite low in January, but I’ve now come to terms with the fact that it is quiet & treat it more as a holiday. It’s the perfect time for me to sort and organise. I normally take a drawer at a time & sort it out. I do this often, but it’s surprising what you find in them. Old bank statements which should have been filed, batteries long since flat, packaging & junk. Minimalism for most is an ongoing process, and I’m still finding things I missed the first, second or tenth time I sorted out a drawer.

If you are new, start small. Choose a drawer a day and sort into three piles, keep, donate/sell & rubbish. Then organise your keep things back into a home, somewhere you know where they will be when you need them. The donate/sell pile should be dealt with ASAP to make sure you don’t start taking things back out, as should the rubbish pile. It’s a great way to start out organising by taking small steps. Decluttering takes time & patience.

I no longer buy CD’s or DVD’s as I tend to rent, stream or buy digital versions. I used to have a large collection of media but I donated and sold the whole lot when I started minimising. I do buy the odd Xbox game on a disc, but I buy these second-hand from shops in the UK like CEX and Game. This way I make a huge saving & I’m reusing media. Once I’ve finished I pass them on to friends or put them up on ebay for a nominal amount. I’d rather someone else benefit from them when I finished, just as I have. It’s a nice process to be involved with.

There are loads of things you can do to get started on your decluttering & simplifying journey. These are just a few to get you started. Please do let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions or personal preferences for starting a minimalists new year.

John Signature