How to get shit done – BF Skinner Style

More around positive reinforcement:

I often find that I’ve started a task but don’t want to finish it and would rather do something else.  Being “self employed” as I am now, the really tough part is actually getting things done without a “boss” hovering over my shoulder (metaphorically speaking, of course).  So when I’m half way through with a task, I just think of what I want to do when I’m done and don’t allow myself that treat/thing until I’m done.  It’s really no different than those who get rewards in BF Skinner’s videos.

31 Ways to be More Productive (or: Book Notes: Instant Focus by Patrick King)

The introduction to this book immediately appealed to me as it described my own situation.  When I was an employee, I thought that without pointless meetings, commuting, etc. that I would be more productive.  Now that I’m on my own, I’ve been struggling to get stuff done.  I’ve had to build a routine/structure (as if I were at work), but I still find that I’m not always as productive as I’d like to be. So I sought out a few books and this was one of them.  It’s basically a list of productivity tools/hacks.

So here are 31 ways you can become more productive (these are my book notes):

  1. Kill perfectionism. You’re probably the only one who notices.
  2. Write daily goals into a checklist and do it the night before.
  3. Be prepared to write notes on ideas no matter where you are. If you don’t, you’ll forget about them.
  4. Public accountability: friends, social media. Ask Friends to check in on your progress of long term goals.
  5. Group similar tasks together and do them one after another.
  6. Positive rewards. Steak dinner or whatever you want
  7. Break a large goal into smaller goals.  Possibly even goals that aren’t obviously directly related. For instance: if you wanted to lose 100 pounds, you might schedule something simple like taking a 5 minute walk after eating each meal.
  8. Develop a morning routine:
    1. Wake up
    2. Check your daily goals checklist – 5 minutes
    3. No social media
    4. Only use the bathroom *after* checking your goal checklist
    5. Get started on a sizable task before breakfast/coffee – 20 minutes
    6. Eat breakfast; eat same thing every morning – 15 minutes
    7. Check emails And reply to the most urgent
    8. Re-evaluate daily goals checklist
    9. Goof around for 10 minutes before really getting down to work
    10. Nightly Routine: make sure daily goals checklist is set
  9. Don’t do lists. Writing down todo lists reminds people of what they should do, but most people already know what they should do.  Just as important: a don’t do list. What are the tasks that steal your time? Don’t do: things you can’t do anything about. Things that don’t add to your bottom line. Can you delegate to someone else?  Exclude tasks that don’t make a significant dent in your end goals.
  10. When do you get mentally fatigued?  Cut your loses when you are physically avoiding your work devices, if tired, or if only taking on the smallest of tasks, or not being able to focus on a small reading passage.  Don’t try to push through tasks, instead, prefer to take breaks.
  11. Create a distraction blackout.  Remove wifi, use ear plugs, etc.
  12. Gamify productivity. Can you do it an hour instead of two?  Compete against yourself / previous performance.
  13. (Similar to #1): Complete a task first without it being perfect.  For writers: just start writing anything + don’t worry about spell checking, making things perfect, polishing, etc. Perfect is the enemy of getting stuff done. For writers: write drunk, edit sober. Just write and get something out as opposed to getting things perfect
  14. Don’t multi-task. It doesn’t exist.
  15. Protect your time. If someone wants to schedule a meeting, ask for an email about any questions, etc. before you grant them a meeting. This way if they won’t spend 5 minutes on you, why would you spend 30 minutes on them?  Your time is your most valuable resource, so protect it.
  16. Triviality – ignore “who the hell cares” tasks. Have a strict agenda and know what to focus on. Example given: what color should we paint the car shed in a nuclear power plant.  Who cares?  Preempt triviality when you notice you are losing focus and doing things that don’t really matter (for instance, cleaning the house, etc).
  17. Don’t do things you don’t want to do. Your own time is worth gold.  Use a VA to do grunt tasks. Maximize leisure time. Does this make me happy or unhappy? Do I have a choice whether to do it?
  18. Use the ABCDE priority system:
    • A – very important. Must get done today and would have serious repercussions if not done immediately.
    • B – important. Must get done soon and will have repercussions, but doesn’t have to be done this minute/today
    • C – nice to have
    • D – delegate – tasks you can delegate out
    • E – eliminate – you really don’t need to do these.
  19. 80/20 rule – 80% of productivity comes from 20% of your work.  Can you do more of that 20%?
  20. Peak productivity times: when are you most productive?  Identify those times and then block them out and make sure no one disturbs you.  It may be in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, late at night, etc.  If you don’t know when it is, keep a journal. When does work just seem to flow? When are you tired?  How long will you need for breaks and when are you done? How many hours are you normally in flow? Leave space open and use only the most taxing tasks for that time. The same way athletes rest their legs and speakers rest their voices, keep your mind rested during non peak times.
  21. Live in your calendar. Schedule your day the day before. That way you know exactly when and where you should be.  There’s no choice – you just abide by your calendar.
  22. Stay positive. It’s a force multiplier. When you are stressed out you will get nothing done as you are totally focused on the stress.
  23. Creator vs manager mode (see Paul Graham’s articles on this). Batch similar things together. Creating = needs open ended time, avoid meetings. The managers objective is meetings.  So group these similar things together.
  24. Commitment contracts with yourself, a friend, or stickk.com. This is negative reinforcement.
  25. 10 minute rule. Anything you are dreading doing, just start it and commit to doing it for only 10 minutes.  After that, You are free to quit. But usually you gain momentum. (I’ve personally done this with violin for years.  I promise to only play for 5 minutes but then I notice that a whole hour has gone by!).
  26. Alter your scenery.  Do different tasks in different locations, but only move on when you are done with your group of tasks. This breaks the monotony of day and also gets you moving.
  27. Focus on minutes, not hours. Product people get a lot done in each minute.  They schedule things in blocks of 15 minutes instead of 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  28. Focus on one thing.  What’s the most important thing to do? What’s the most important task that will get you to your most important goal?  Schedule 1-2 hours to do only that one thing with uninterrupted time.  (See the one thing book)
  29. Don’t use todo lists. 41% of items are not done.  [Where this statistic comes from I’m not sure]. Just put everything in the calendar and do it as it comes up.
  30. Anticipate how you will self-sabatage in the future and use it as feedback. An example – we all want to eat healthy so we buy a bunch of vegetables at the start of the week but by the end of the week they are rotting in the future. [What’s the solution to this?]
  31. Go home on time (Have dinner with your family).  There’s always going to be more to do.