Find The Right Routine To 'Surf' Productivity

Productivity comes and goes in waves. Looking back, I can never identify where the wave exactly began but I can always tell when I was surfing it a few days later. I've learned that as much as I'd wish, these waves don't last forever. So when I realise I am on a wave, I unplug from the world and try to ride it as far as I can, knowing that there is no telling when the next one will appear.

Image by Marc Nicke (Shutterstock).

On those days I jump out of the bed, quickly make my coffee, and am ready to go. I sit down at my desk and disappear in the digital world and emerge only after a good six hours of work. I then briefly check the social networks and say good morning to [my coworkers located at] the US/Eastern side of Parse.ly who are waking up around that same time.

We chat a bit, but my work doesn't stop. I find myself in front of the monitor another six hours later, still rolling full steam with a functioning mind. I'm aware of the risk of burning out, so I try to not overdo it and kill the will to work the next day. But even if I blow a fuse, it won't kill the wave; it will just give it a small dent. A long wave for me is rolling like that for two weeks, but sometimes it can be a month or even two.

Anybody who has swam in the ocean might perhaps have observed that surfing waves without a surfboard is a tedious process. The body is in the water too deep to glide and the hands are not fast enough to keep with the wave. I believe same goes for productivity -- there are preconditions to be met. For me, it's stability and I get there via a routine. Here are the tricks I stick to:

  • Sleep: I try to wake up every day the same time, but I don't worry about when I go to sleep.
  • Time tracking: I track how I spend the time. Knowing how much I spend on activities helps me stay in control and helps me decide if I have done enough or not of whatever I'm doing. If I've spent for hours on a problem, should I keep pushing or should I consider different approaches or perhaps cry for help?
  • Switch!: You can switch between seemingly identical activities to prevent yourself from getting tired -- my work is programming. But after a long, and sometimes tiring day, I might switch to one of my hobbies which also is programming. Interestingly, it feels very different -- it's not the same tired.
  • Sound or no sound: I love music but I get headaches when working and listening at the same time. I discovered this just by accident when on a few days I forgot to start the music player. So now that I know, I turn music off when the challenges I have require more brainpower.
  • Rewarding yourself: After a successful feat or a tough challenge or even a long battle that ended with failing, I award myself with goods ranging from a second cup of coffee (I usually stick to one a day), to ice cream and movies or a bunch of beers.
  • Lastly, there are no rules: It's me setting them and me breaking them. The very thought that I don't have to wake up in the morning makes me want to wake up.

These are a few techniques that keep me rolling and help me in keep my rhythm. It's easy to get off-beat and then it takes a while to get back.

When the Parse.ly team was coming together for Dash about two years ago, a recurring theme was complaints about still needing time to find the rhythm. We were spending time, but the satisfying feeling at the end of the day was missing. I think everyone in the team seemed to understand that. It was about recalibration, changing your working patterns, learning new people and new means of communication. And soon enough we found the rhythm, we found basic set of rules to follow -- for us daily stand-ups and sit-downs were a huge help -- and we started rolling.

So catch your wave, don't rush it, and when it's there, let it flow and enjoy. And when the current wave runs out, be ready to catch the next one!

Surfing Productivity [Parse.ly]

Toms Baugis is a user interface engineer at Parse.ly. You can find him on Flickr and Google+. He loves long walks and idle chats as much as singing in the rain and flying kites.

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