Posted on July 31, 2018
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.