Sustainable Productivity

When we started this project, we aimed to help people to manage time in their own way – there are too many tools to manage time, but is it possible to have an all-in-one tool - as Notion to note taking - to manage time? In other words, can people build their time management workflow within one tool? The answer is technically possible, but it might be too ambitious to pursue at this moment. Surprisingly, after inviting many friends sharing their experience of time management, we learnt greatly from their sharing.

One of the key questions is how to sustain productivity in the long run.

Yes, we might be obsessed with various productivity hacks, or even being productivity porn. However, are these productivity hacks or productivity porn helpful to our overall productivity? beneficial to our mental health? The answer could be less optimistic: we heard many people trapped in such a situation: when they pursue extreme productivity, they will be easier to fall behind, to criticize themselves.

Therefore, we aim to help people sustain productivity, where the sustainable productivity is:

  1. Focused
  2. Lean
  3. Systematic
  4. Responsive
  5. Healthy

What is sustainable productivity?

  • The sustainable productivity is focused.

    1. We can set certain limits to keep our attention focused. For example, with the help of Burner List, we can set a limit of todo itmes in each day to help us focusing on the really important things;
    2. We can say no to any distractions. The best way to keep focused is saying no to any distractions, including unreasonable requests from others, etc.
  • The sustainable productivity is lean.

    1. We can be flexible with our plans as we can set a buffer. This is similar in the OKR concept: we have committed goals and aspirational goals: we aim high with the aspirational goals, and we prioritied commited goals. It’s ok to fail with the aspirational goals, but it is more rewarding to achieve them.
    2. We can always cancel or reschedule, therefore we can feel relieved.
  • The sustainable productivity is systematic.

    1. Sustainable productivity is a long-time game, an infinitive game. We aim to be more productive in the long run, therefore we need a system to achieve this.
    2. Instead of picking low hanging fruits of some short-term productivity boost, a systematic way of sustaining productivity always focus on the overall productivity.
  • The sustainable productivity is responsive.

    1. With a system of sustainable productivity, it will be easier to receive feedback of how productive we are and how can we be more productive in the long run;
    2. Accordingly, we can adjust our sustainable productivity to be more focused, lean and systematic.
  • The sustainable productivity is healthy.

    1. Pursuing sustainable productivity is to improve our mental health;
    2. As sustainable productivity is focused, lean, systematic and responsive, it is healthy by itself.

How to achieve sustainable productivity?

Then the question is: how can we achieve sustainable productivity? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Prioritize and focus;
  2. Set bonus goals;
  3. Say no to distractions;
  4. It’s OK to cancel or reschedule;w
  5. Track and review your progress;
  6. It’s OK to take a break;

Prioritize and focus

Both our time and attention is limited; hence we should always prioritize our plan to keep focused. This is easy to say, but hard to practice. In really, there are countless distractions. We therefore should be always be aware of distractions and keep focused.

Set bonus goals

As suggested above, when we set our goals, we can set some bonus goals apart from prioritized goals. If we can finish only prioritized goals, that’s OK if we can achieve additional bonus goals, that’s better. Why don’t we celebrate this bonus success?

Say no to distractions

Being aware of distractions is the first step, and the next step is to say to distractions. Saying no to our own internal distractions, such as cellphones, SNS sites, is hard; saying no to external distractions, such as others’ requests, emails, can be more challenging.

If we don’t say no to these internal and external dictations, it only harms our productivity. For the sake of productivity, please say no to them.

It’s OK to cancel or reschedule

Sometime, we may feel guilty or stressed to cancel or reschedule. However, most goals are set by ourselves. If we really feel uncomfortable to achieve these artificial goals, why don’t we be more patient to ourselves?

Track your progress

To obtain feedback of productivity, it is better to track our progress. In this way, we can gain an objective view of our productivity, which can help us adjust goals in future.

In addition, with the records of our progress, we can review regularly, in order to improve.

It’s ok to take a break

Sometime, we may feel we are in a rut - really unproductive time. Don’t feel too bad about it, because it is quite normal. Evan the famous productivity YouTuber Thomas Frank had a similar problem.

If we experience a rut, just take a break, and let the productivity bounce back. Even better, we can set regular sabbatical as a precaution.

Recap

Sustainable productivity is an infinitive game to help us win in the long run. Therefore, we’d better make it focused, lean, systematic, responsive and healthy.


TMS Interview 006 -- Manage Your Time in a Flexible Way

Dr. Guo is a normal developer in North America. She has been doing some private projects, and is currently in the epidemic WFH phase.

  • What scenarios does your time management workflow apply to?

Working with flexible hours. I personally prefer being calm and relaxed at work.

  • What tools do you need for your time management workflow?

Google Calendar + Github

  • Please briefly describe your time management workflow?

I think the important things will not be forgotten, forgetting trivial things is no harm. In the past, I would struggle to write down everything in case I forgot, but in recent years, I've slowly turned to grasping the important things instead of the trivial ones.

I manage three kinds of tasks in different ways.

A. Company work

Focus on the long-term output instead of short-term burnouts.

Generally, meetings are the main focus. I use Google Docs to manage schedules and assign tasks, and I check the schedule regularly. I try to schedule meetings together, and aim to have only one big meeting block on each day, which may have 3-12 meetings in it. I leave space at the beginning and end of the day for emails and other things that need to be concentrated. I aim to have 1-2 days a week without meetings for deep thinking. During busy time, I work overtime in the evenings, but I don't touch company work on weekends.

During epidemic WFH, I divide time between work and private projects . I only work during set work hours, and switch (mood and computer) to private projects as soon as the time is up.

B. Private projects

Focus on results.

We use a de-centric way to work: we communicate in Slack, use Github Issues to move the project forward, occasionally call with Zoom when the need arises, use Github Milestones to manage tasks within the project, and use Google Spreadsheet to manage different projects. During the week, because I'm at work, I usually go over the current projects in the morning and evening, and I'll go over them on Github Issues. There is also a super sprint of no more than 2-3 months for the intensive rush phase. We check the progress multiple times, constantly consider process optimization and reallocation to ensure significant progress each week.

C. Learning projects

Focus on quick wins and energy management.

When I need learn some technical content from online courses without deadlines, I call them learning super sprints. I only use this approach when there is a need to learn, and I will turn back to my normal routine when the learning is finished. Regardless of the actual schedule of the course, I always try finishing a super sprint within 1 -2 months, quick and more intensive. I try to spend a large chunk of the day studying intensely in a relatively short period of time, usually waking up early in the morning or working late at night. I spend a large chunk of time on focusing, and each study time may be 5-6 hours, no breaks in between, until finished. I use a notebook to track the progress in this period without special management.

There is no concurrent super sprints of studying and private projects. Even during super sprint weekends, I will leave one day when I don't do anything. If a super sprint is intensive, I will give myself a long break (1 month or more) to recharge my energy.

  • How long have you been sticking with this workflow?

Over 10 years.

  • What are the advantages of this workflow?

Super sprint allows me to achieve a lot of things in short time, so I can unplug myself during the rest periods.

  • The biggest pain point in time management right now?

Type A is more difficult to measure the effect of doing something, as it requires manual analysis of ROI for different types of tasks.

Type B lacks visualization of project progress. Zenhub, the closest tool on the market, is too expensive.

Type C is painless. When I find the interest of what I wish to learn, I will have little requirement for time management.

  • The ideal time management workflow is? What kind of tools are needed?

It would be nice to have a good visualization tool that can freely blend different types of above tasks.

  • Can you recommend a book on time management? The one that affected you the most.

The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris.

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Dr. Guo is a very productive programmer who has worked for several big tech companies, and has been running her own projects as well. Her ability to control both her own projects and the work of a large company is inseparable from her time management philosophy: using different strategies/approaches. Manage different types of projects while staying calm and relaxed. In the long run, this approach keeps her efficient while keeping herself physically and mentally healthy.

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If you want to be a part of more discussion, join our Telegraph Group.

If you would like to share your time management insights, please answer a few questions below and email us at post (2) acacess.com and we'll edit and publish.

  • Please introduce yourself briefly.
  • What scenarios does your time management workflow apply to?
  • What tools do you need for your time management workflow?
  • Please briefly describe your time management workflow?
  • How long have you been sticking with this workflow?
  • The advantages of this workflow?
  • The biggest pain point in time management at the moment?
  • What is the ideal time management workflow? What tools are needed?
  • Can you recommend a book on time management? The one that affected you the most.
  • Can you recommend a friend to share her/his time management tips?

TMS Interview 005 -- Do not be Too Harsh to Yourself

Q Guo is now at the European headquarters of an FMCG company in Geneva. She has previously worked for the UN, Forbes, Swiss Re and Pengpai. She wants to know a little bit about everything and likes to try and learn new things.
  • What scenarios does your time management workflow apply to?

Life and work.

  • What tools do you need for your time management workflow?

I use google keep

notes for work: scheduling tasks that need to be done.

notes for personal use: personal tasks outside of office hours.

  • Please briefly describe your time management workflow?

I think about what needs to be done and its urgency and importance in each day or time block of each day (like morning/afternoon) level. Of course this is a rather rough judgment, but other factors are also included, such as the complexity of the task and whether I want to do (If one task is what I don't want to do, it will be prioritized. Otherwise the more I put it off, the less wiling I would be to do it).

  1. write down the tasks in order according to the above factors and break up their sub-tasks;
  2. complete the arrangements and tick the completed box;
  3. unfinished tasks will be given higher priority in the next time block, and there is generally more inertia in such tasks, so it is better to finish them soon.
  4. I will also refer to the schedule. Work tasks are scheduled first during work hours, and personal tasks are scheduled when there is extra time.
  • How long have you maintained this workflow?

It feels like I been like this since school. Before that, I used pen and paper, then I used Mac and started using Apple Notes. When I stared working, I found out the OS is Windows. Hence, I switched to a cross-platform tool like Google keep.

  • The advantages of this workflow?

Simple and effective!

  • The biggest pain point in time management right now?

I don't have the means to review my past very precisely with the above approach, I can't use it to analyze my own behavior, so the optimization is not possible.

Time management inherently requires strong willpower control. Whether you comply or not is not something a tool can help you with. Therefore, as long as an approach can get tasks done, it is just fine.

Also it might not be good to keep strict compliance with the time management. Wasting a little time is good for your mental health and well-being, so don't be too self-conscious.

  • What is the ideal time management workflow? What kind of tools are needed?

Hahaha, there is no ideal tool, only the most suitable. You don't know until you try.

  • Can you recommend a book on time management? The one that affected you the most.

I'm a very disciplined, and my brain is always active, so there's not much need for my effort in time management.

Of course it's not that time management requires no skills, it's just that good time management needs other skills to support it. For example, self-discipline, self-control, multi-threaded work, management of uncertainty, and so on. These abilities naturally take time to develop, and many of them become habits, which are then incorporated into the personality. So I think 7 habits of highly effective people would be an enlightening reading.

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Q Guo has adopted a simple and effective approach to managing her time without being too demanding in terms of completion. She sees herself as an efficient and self-disciplined person, so leaving some leeway can keep herself in a good mood.

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If you want to get involved in more discussions, why not join our Telegraph Group.

If you'd like to share your own time management tips, please answer the following questions and email them to the post (2) acacess.com, which we edit and publish.

  • Please briefly introduce yourself?
  • What scenarios does your time management workflow apply to?
  • What tools do you need for your time management workflow?
  • Please briefly describe your time management workflow?
  • How long have you been sticking with this workflow?
  • What are the advantages of this workflow?
  • The biggest pain point in time management right now?
  • What is the ideal time management workflow? What kind of tools are needed?
  • Can you recommend a book on time management? The one that affected you the most.
  • Can you recommend a friend to share ta's time management tips?