Most people are interested in getting something done. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe you just want to feel productive, or efficient, or hard-working, without having to actually accomplish something. You can’t just start doing that. First you need to plan, and first you need to plan to plan.
Obsess About Tools
What do you need to get done? Well, check your to-do list. You have a to-do app, right? Theoretically, you could effectively manage your tasks with a notebook and a pen. But you don’t always have those handy, and you always have your phone handy, so you should handle your to-dos on your phone, so you should download a mobile to-do app, so first you should research mobile to-do apps.
There are literally countless to-do managers in the iOS and Android play stores rated 4+ stars; Google Play stops at 250. How do you know one of those isn’t 10% more effective than your current app? One of them has location-based reminders. One has calendar integration. One has haptic feedback. One has an especially handsome icon with a blue checkmark.
While you’re in the app store, update all your apps. Update the apps that support those apps. Update the apps you don’t use but might some day, so when you do use them, you won’t have to waste all that time updating them. Go to your computer, update those apps too. Download the desktop to-do app that syncs with your mobile to-do app. Sign into Dropbox to set up the sync file. Sign into Google to get the email confirmation from Dropbox. Sign into 1Password to get your Google password. Sign into Twitter in case you ever want to tweet your to-dos.
Download a minimalist writing app. Download another, fullscreen minimalist writing app. Download another, fuller-screen minimalist writing app. What is the most productive font? Customise the font. Customise the sounds. Customise the brightness. Switch to a Mac. Switch to Windows. Switch to Linux. Install Windows on the Mac for the apps that don’t work on Linux.
Check your work space. Does it look like one of our favourite workspaces? Why not? Why do you only have one monitor? You could do twice as much with two. Why only two? Research monitors. You only want to buy the best. Read Amazon reviews. Read independent reviews. Cross-reference them. Order your monitor. Don’t use your computer until you get the new monitor. You don’t want to wear yourself out with low quality single-monitor work.
While you’re at it, buy a new computer desk. Don’t use your computer until you get the new computer desk. Maybe you need a new computer.
OK, you’re unplugged. You’re offline. Let’s try that pen and notebook after all. You have a fresh new pen and a fresh new notebook, right? And the pages are grid-ruled because it feels more precise? And they’re yellow, because you read somewhere that it’s easier to remember things you wrote on yellow paper? And your notebook is waterproof, and top-spiraled, and perforated, and fits in your pocket, and has its own pocket, and is big enough to encourage expansive ideas, and light enough to throw in your bag, and has enough pages left that you won’t run out?
Fantastic! Now throw out your pen and get a roller ball. Throw out your roller ball and get a gel pen. Throw out your gel pen and get one with a narrower tip. Too narrow! Go wider again. All right. We’re ready to get down to business. We’re ready to pick a journaling system.
Obsess About Systems
You’ll never be really productive if you don’t have a good system. You heard good things about bullet journaling. Lifehacker says “take what works for you and forget the rest” but you really want to do it right. You want to be the most productive at being productive. You want to get an A+ in productivity. Learn everything about bullet journaling. Replace your notebook and pen with the notebook and pen that work best for bullet journaling.
Now switch to the Getting Things Done system.
You’re ready to start work! Day 1! You have so much energy! But what will you do on Day 2 when you run out of energy? How will you keep up your work habit? Do what Jerry Seinfeld does and get a wall calendar, and put an X on every day that you keep your good habit, and try not to break the streak. Switch from X’s to coloured lines. Change all the colours to more productive colours.
Learn the 43 folders system. Learn the Inbox Zero system. Learn the Action Method. Learn Agile. Learn Kanban. Invent your own system. Skip the part of every Lifehacker article that says not to get too obsessed with the system to the detriment of your work. How can you get too obsessed about a good thing?
Learn the Pomodoro technique. Take more breaks. Read about task-switching. Take fewer breaks. What’s the best Pomodoro timer? Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Try this one. Confuse having options with having obligations.
Wait. November is National Novel Writing Month. That’s the perfect productivity system. Don’t do any work until then. Unless you’re reading this on November 2, in which case you should probably wait until next year.
Wait for Permission to Do Creative Work
If you’re doing something creative, like writing or drawing or coding or making music, don’t start until you’ve read some books on how to write or draw or code or make music. Listen to some podcasts. Read the books recommended in the podcasts. Read some articles about the books, and the books recommended in those articles. Read an article about how to productively read a book. Read an article about how to pretend to read a book. Read an article about not reading articles. Read a book about reading articles and not reading articles.
Go to some classes. Pay money to learn how to do something free. The money will make you productive. The well-designed website will make you productive. The blurbs from famous people will make you productive.
Don’t start being creative until you’ve read all the books and listened to all the podcasts and taken all the classes. All the people you look up to made bad work before they made good work, but think how much better their work could have been if they’d spent that time reading books and listening to podcasts and taking classes. They could have just started with the good work, at age 60.
Consume a Constant Stream of Data
Measure your progress. Track your word count. Track your reps. Track your deliverables. Good start. Now track your typing speed. Track your breakfast. Track your bathroom breaks. Quantify everything. Quantify things you never thought to quantify. Buy devices to discover new things to quantify. Download apps to track the devices. Make spreadsheets. Make documents. Fill a notebook. Quantify how much you quantify. Don’t do any work unless you can quantify it.
Turn on all your notifications. Turn on badges. Turn on banners. Turn on alerts. Turn on dashboards. Turn on inbox counters. Turn on a physical light you’ve rigged to light up whenever something happens. Push your Google alerts to iCal. Push your iCal alerts to Google. Push all your alerts to IFTTT and save them all in an Evernote file and email it to yourself.
Keep up-to-date on your favourite content. Keep up-to-date on content you might enjoy. Keep up-to-date on content no one enjoys, as a cautionary tale.
Change your desktop wallpaper. Change it again. Download an app that automatically changes your wallpaper. Download the mobile version of the app. Buy the phone case that matches the mobile wallpaper app. Buy a new app.
Say Yes to Everything
Tackle all your side projects at once, instead of picking the one that matters most to you. Give them all equal importance. Work on each one until you’re bored of it, then switch to another. Unless you hit a point where someone else needs to contribute. Then don’t work on anything while you’re waiting for that outside contribution.
An exception: If you have a manageable project that could grow, let it sit in your mind. Don’t get your ideas on paper. Let them metastasize. Polish them so they are perfect. Feed them so they grow in scope. Disregard limited resources. Tell people about your big idea, and how it will be more important than anything you’ve done before. Tell people how your big idea is better than real things that other people have made. Get everyone excited about your big idea, so whenever they see you, they ask how it’s going, and you can tell them that you haven’t actually worked on it, but you’ve worked on making the idea even bigger.
When anyone asks you to start another project, say yes to everything that excites you. Say yes to everything that doesn’t excite you, but could excite you in the future. Say yes to everything that sounds awful, because maybe this will open the door to another project that excites you.
Add everything you ever want to do to your to-do list, but don’t delete anything. You once wanted to do it, so until you do, constantly remind yourself you haven’t. Set deadlines for every task. Miss the deadlines, but push the task to next week, until you have a running total of a hundred tasks you’re regularly pushing to the next week. Don’t let the mounting wall of unfinished tasks stop you from adding more tasks. Bigger tasks. Tasks that will be even better than the other tasks.
Make tasks about managing your tasks. Make projects about managing your projects. Write a blog about writing about productivity. Go to some seminars. Pay for some coaching. Do everything that’s intended as a support system, but turn that into the thing itself, make management the only thing you do, so you never have to face those actual scary tasks and get something done.