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What Productivity Has to do with a Neat Bed

On 15, Sep 2014 | 3 Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

The first thing that most people do after waking up in the morning is check their phone.

I do it too.

But after scrolling through the twittersphere and seeing yet another coffee consuming startup company raised another gazillion dollars in their series gamma, I make my bed.

I haven’t always made my bed. In fact, I only started making my bed within the last couple of months. And although it may seem like the most menial and pointless of tasks, (I mean you’re just going to mess it up again not too long later) it has strangely added a sense of structure to my life.

I’ve talked about habits on a couple different posts before, and what strikes me about making my bed is that it’s a ritual that follows another ritual every morning. (there are very few times where I forget to sleep)

That way, by the time I get up to start my day, I know that I have gotten at least one thing right. A neat bed means I can start and end my day in an organized way. No matter how good or bad my day was, it always feels good to crawl into a neatly folded bed at the end of the day.

In fact, so many things pertaining to life is just like making my bed, because most things in life can be broken down into simple routines that are executed over and over. With just a little effort, so many of the little things add up to make huge differences.

It’s the little things in life, that when done right, contribute to the bigger picture. It’s the small wins that make up the big wins. You can’t run a marathon without learning how to take the first steps, just like you can’t get a degree without going through the first day of school.

I’ve noticed that there are a few areas personally for me to regularly maintain to keep myself at my best condition.

  • Sleep
  • Food and Water
  • Exercise
  • Reading
  • Creative Expression
  • Friendships
  • Meditation

What are your most important rituals?

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Being Productive – How to get out of Unproductive Slumps

On 28, Aug 2014 | No Comments | In Life, Productivity | By Daniel Kao

I read a lot of content every day, but one of the few that I revisit often is Paul Graham’s “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule“. Essentially, Paul writes about the difference between how a maker schedules their time and how a manager schedules their time.

The reason I found that article so memorable and fascinating is because I found myself able to relate to both sides on a fairly deep level. Sometimes I work well on hourly divisions of my day, and sometimes I just need to focus in on one thing for a whole day and not be interrupted.

But most days, it’s a combination of the two. I’m generally a maker by early morning and late at night, and a manager by day and afternoon. In fact, I generally feel more productive in the mornings and evenings much more so than the afternoons. I call this “bookend productivity”, the reason why I have lost so many afternoons to unproductive slumps.

I’ve tried a lot of things to be as productive as possible, but somewhere along the line I realized that I was looking at time management all wrong. Connecting it with Paul Graham’s ideas, I realized that to be effective at time management, I had to learn how to be effective at energy management. In other words, it’s not so much about dividing up my time as it is dividing up my energy in a way to get over the humps of the days, weeks, months, and years.

That simple shift in thinking changed almost everything. I began paying more attention to where my energy was going, and what kind of energy certain activities were using. For example, I found that listening to podcasts and reading books work best for me late mornings / early afternoon. I also found that since afternoons seem to be too difficult to get any work done, I generally use that period to meet with people / do more social things.

In the past couple months that I’ve been paying attention to where my energy goes, I’ve found that there are a couple different areas:

  • Social energy, the energy that I expend when I’m around people.
  • Cognitive energy, the energy used when I’m working on a problem, writing code, etc.
  • Linguistic energy, the energy used when reading, writing, or listening.
  • Physical energy, the energy used when exercising.
  • Emotional energy, the energy used in personal relationships, movies, or other forms of entertainment.

And instead of looking at these energy sources as a reservoir that gets used up, think of it as a muscle that needs to be trained. The more you work on one of these, it will feel good but drain you in the short term, but work you up to be more capable in the long term, and if you work any one of these too hard at any given time, it can drain you to a point where you can’t do any of them.

I’ve found that my most satisfied, productive, and fulfilled days are days in which I have a good combination of all areas and aspects of life.

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The Secret to Time Management

On 10, Jul 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

I’ve done a lot of thinking and experimenting with time management over the past couple of years. I’ve tried everything from unorthodox sleep schedules to different diets and techniques. I’ve read and listened to experts talk about time management and how to most effectively squeeze the most out of each day.

However, in implementing these various tactics, I’ve realized that I was seeing time management wrong the whole time.

Most people think of time management as managing your time, but a more effective way is to think of time management as energy management in a time conscious manner.

Under most circumstances, the goal of time management is to be more productive with the hours that you have. The idea of being more effective with your time is so that you can accomplish more.

Under a time-centered paradigm of time management, it makes sense to try to cram as many activities as possible into as little time as possible, using various lifehacks and other techniques to become more efficient. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach and it can easily be implemented to achieve a higher rate of productivity, it only goes so far.

No matter what time management system I attempted, I would find some days where it worked extremely well and other days that were a struggle to remain productive. It was a strange phenomenon that perplexed me until I realized that I should be managing my energy instead of my time.

Under an energy-centered paradigm of time management (or energy management), it’s about structuring your day in way in which you can take advantage of peak mental performance, rest, and leverage the highs and lows of the day to your advantage.

Instead of asking how much time a certain task will take, it becomes equally if not more important to also ask how much energy a task will take, and what the nature of the energy expended will be. That way you can plan the proper rest and recovery as well as lay out your day in a way that matches the type of energy to your state of mind.

For example, I’ve found that mornings are a good time for me to read, as I seem to process things the best between 1 – 3 hours after I wake up. I’ve also found that the act of reading in the morning helps jump start my brain into an active mode for the rest of my day. I’ve found that toward the end of the day is when I write the best code, so my evenings and late nights are usually dedicated to programming.

I’ve also found rest periods to take walks and clear out my mind have been extremely helpful in separating tasks, resetting my mental state, and regaining energy for the next task at hand.

Of course, your schedule will be unique to yourself, and it may even change as time goes on. What does your schedule like and how do you manage your energy?

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How to be More Focused and Less Overwhelmed

On 12, Jun 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

I was so inspired by Tim Ferriss’s post on choices that I felt I had to write my own. Reading over his post, I couldn’t help but recognize instances where I find myself deliberating over decisions.

I began to ask myself how I could not only limit the choices I have to choose from, but also how I could simplify and eliminate regret from past decisions. Upon reflection, I realized that much of my overwhelm when it comes to decision making comes because I have too many inputs constantly open.

For example, while sitting at my computer, I usually have anywhere from 10 to 20 tabs open on Chrome, some chat application open, as well as my email client and whatever else I’m doing. To me, this creates a gaping welcome to an infinite possibility of distractions and decisions to make. And even though I’ve done this practically all my life and am now used to multitasking with my computer, I’ve noticed that it’s contributed to my lack of focus making me seemingly ADD at times.

In a hyper productive culture, it’s easy to think that doing five things at the same time will make you able to accomplish more. And up to this point, this is still a thought pattern that I find myself engaging in all the time. However, the opposite is true. The more productive people are the people that have strong structures based on what they want to accomplish and laser sharp focus to achieve what they’ve set out to do.

While trying to simplify and apply the choice-minimal lifestyle that Tim talks about, I’ve identified two main principles.

  • Focus is a function of being single minded, which means limiting the number of inputs while you’re trying to output.
  • Focus manifests most consistently within a structure built on your passion and drive, as well as practical and actionable steps.

I’ve been learning to divide my activities into two types that should not be intermingled: input activities and output activities.

Input activities are the activities where you’re absorbing information, whether it be reading a blog, checking email, reading a book, listening to a podcast, etc. The point of absorbing information is not to be overwhelmed or merely entertained, but to give you substance to chew on before you apply it to an output activity. In times of input, be careful to not deliberate extensively on things that are not worth your time.

Output activities are the opposite, where you’re working on something such as writing a blog post, cooking a meal, exercising, etc. These activities are the ones that require more focus, and should be given 100% of your attention to achieve your best.

Of course, not everything is black and white, especially in teamwork situations where you must communicate while you work. These situations can be a little more challenging to focus, but there’s a balance to be structured in order to maximize efficiency.

Here are a couple ways to implement greater focus and division between input and output activities (I will be experimenting with these).

  • Turn off your cell phone for a day once a week to focus deeply on something you’re working on.
  • Limit the number of windows and tabs you have open on your computer.
  • Turn off push notifications on your mobile device.
  • Limit reading emails to once or twice a day.
  • Limit frequency of visits to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Set a time of day to read news, blogs, etc.

Have any other tips or thoughts? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

photo credit: Wi2_Photography via photopin cc

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Creativity is Not Quantifiable, Unless you are Creative

On 30, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Creativity is not a quantifiable attribute.

The very definition of creativity is that it transcends quantity, making it a very real yet also mystical attribute.

We live in a world where metrics is becoming more and more prevalent. Everything is measurable. In fact, metrics are invading the personal space of our lives. “Quantified self” is a movement that does exactly that. According to Wikipedia,

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging. Other names for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning are “self-tracking”, “auto-analytics”, “body hacking” and “self-quantifying”.

Do metrics in our daily lives help us become better people or are we turning into robots?

In his state of the union address, Obama talked about statistics of the United States, bringing up numbers to illustrate the large scale impact while using anecdotes to bring human connection and emotion into the picture.

The amount of statistics that we have access to today is far more vast than anything we have ever seen before.

But as we’ve seen, basing things off of statistics can greatly limit creativity. Basing education off of standardized tests have caused the quality of education, specifically the ability for students to be creative, to tank.

I’ve always been an advocate for productivity, generating results, and making a significant difference, but I’ve also written extensively about creativity. I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive.

Being able to innovate a creative solution is only half the battle. The other half lies in the execution. The two are very different lines of thinking, but they go hand in hand in order to bring something off the ground.

Don’t let statistics get in the way of your creativity, but don’t be afraid of using statistics to improve your game.

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

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On Habits

On 21, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Human behavior is oftentimes nothing more than a collection of habits.

Whether it be everyday routines or reactions in emergencies, the pattern of habit can ultimately explain most physical, emotional, and spiritual behaviors.

Waking up in the morning and brushing your teeth is a habit (maybe it isn’t for some people), so is your response when your roommate jumps on you to wake you up in the morning.

Habits can be formed or broken consciously or unconsciously. Habits form because the brain is always looking for ways to take shortcuts and save time and energy.

Gretchen Rubin explains it extremely well in this presentation at 99u.

The short answer is that everyone has different tendencies to build or break habits, and understanding yourself is an extremely powerful way to understanding where you belong.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’m giving away a copy of The Power of Habit this month!

photo credit: ルーク.チャン.チャン via photopin cc

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