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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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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Why You Won’t be Rich

On 23, Dec 2013 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

Thinking that you’ll get rich by picking the right stock is just as ridiculous as thinking you’ll get rich by winning the lottery.

It’s not that easy.

I’m no expert in money, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that wealth is a mindset that includes immense dedication and hard work.

The problem with get rich quick schemes isn’t that the underlying concept is about getting rich in a short amount of time. The problem with get rich quick schemes is that they promote getting rich without much effort.

Money is a currency of people, and to understand how money works, you need to learn how people work. Money is merely a man made concept of exchanging value in a tangible way. Economies are simply based upon how people assign value to things around them.

One of the most valuable things to humans is their time. People assign value to their time, and therefore are willing to trade it for money.

So if you sit there thinking to simply trade in your time so you can get money, think again.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

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Why We Often Waste Time

On 07, Jul 2012 | 2 Comments | In Education, Life, Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Ever since a young age, we have allowed programs and systems to manage our lives.

We all know the feeling of wasting an afternoon on the computer, not really doing much besides endlessly browsing Facebook and randomly surfing the internet. We spend half of our time online on “social networks” that prove to be quite anti-social. So we mindlessly browse around, refreshing the page every 2 minutes, hoping to see something new scroll across our newsfeed.

We are so accustomed to having our schedule managed for us that when we have free time, we don’t know what to do with it. So we occupy ourselves by doing the easiest thing possible, which often is some sort of mindless activity such as watching TV, randomly browsing Facebook, or doing nothing at all.

We find ourselves often bored, because we have nothing to occupy ourselves with. We don’t have enough personal projects or things to do to keep us occupied. It’s a trend that seems to happen every year, as students all across the nation begin their summer breaks. All of a sudden, they are no longer given homework, tests, or academic projects to manage their time.

I’ve realized that people who have found their passions find themselves in boredom far less frequently. The reason is that people who have found passion and purpose are always taking steps in regard to their purpose. If you often find yourself bored with nothing to do, it’s probably a good indicator that you’re used to other people managing your time and telling you what to do.

But at some point in life, something clicks and people make the shift to being intentional about what they want to do, setting clear goals and steps to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, we’re not taught how to manage our time growing up, and so it becomes a cycle of trial and error in order to be productive and creative with our time.

When and how did you learn to manage your time? and what difference did it make?

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