Having a productive day using habits

Everyone wants productive days. You know, those days where you look back on and think “I really kicked ass today”.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to continue a streak of those days over a long period of time. We get caught up in busywork or some event throws us off our game.

I’ve been trying to make those highly productive days happen more.

Too many Pomodoros

The first thing I did was to push to do more pomodoros each day. A pomodoro is a unit of work in the Pomodoro Technique. Basically it stands for a 25 minute block of uninterrupted time where you concentrate on one task.

I’ve been using this technique for a few years with my daily planning. In order to try to be more productive I tried to schedule more pomodoros in each day. This is the same as planning to get more done.

Not only did it flat out fail, but it made things worse.

I can normally do 6-8 pomodoros each day. When I tried to push it and schedule 12 or more, I’d get overwhelmed and only really accomplish 4-5. The problem was that I was rushing through each thing, which made it harder to concentrate and get everything done.

Too heavy of a schedule

The next thing I tried was to start scheduling every part of my work day. I’d start work at 9am, write until 10am, work on my first most important task until lunch at noon, etc.

This used to work for me when I was an employee and there were a lot of external demands on my time (e.g. bosses, meetings). As a freelancer this wasn’t working.

Somedays I’d start work at 9:20a or maybe 8:30a. Or maybe there would be an urgent task I had to do first thing instead of writing. Or since this was a Tuesday I’d have to record a podcast which can sometimes go long.

In the end, this didn’t work for me because I don’t really have that many hard time commitments. So forcing my life and work into specific boxes wasn’t working.

Most Important Tasks

I needed something that was flexible enough for my life but still gave me the sense of accomplishment when I did something.

Around that time I read a post called “Screw the Small Stuff. Focus on the Big Wins” from Steve Kamb at Nerd Fitness. In it he mentioned that he writes down 3 big things he tries to accomplish each day. I’ve heard of something similar from Leo Babauta, which he called his Most Important Tasks.

Nothing really earth-shattering new.

But then I noticed something different about Steve’s:

  1. Write a draft of a Nerd Fitness article.
  2. Spend one hour on a business development project.
  3. Put an hour into Rising Heroes work.

80% of the time these can be the exact same things every day. Which makes them super easy to remember each day. Less decisions. Less procrastination.

After thinking about this I decided that if I make these into daily habits instead of a collection of three tasks, I might be able to make them stick.

  1. Write
  2. Edit
  3. (profit ???)

Write – As I’ve mentioned with my writing habit, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy writing and want to do it every day. If I spend some time to write every day, I’d feel productive. At this time that means spending one hour and writing around 1,000 words every workday.

Edit – Since I write mostly by freewriting, writing alone doesn’t produce much of anything for me. In fact right now I have over 44,000 words written for various books, blog posts, and emails that are in different stages of editing. If I spend time every day to edit my writing into a usable state, then I’ll be one step closer to publishing something. Which would make me feel productive.

??? – As for the third thing to do everyday, I haven’t decided. I considered writing code or automating a process, but those are hard to make incremental progress on. Reading or learning was another thought but I already use my night for reading and I’m a bit off-balance on learning (too much learning, not enough action).

Even though I haven’t picked a third daily activity, I still started to do the first two. At the very least I know that I’d accomplished something, even if I don’t finish anything else. And that counts.

Eric Davis