Jul 22, 2013

Life Hacks: Productivity Tools - Outsource Your Habits

Motivation: Jason's Productivity Tips

I saw that my friend Jason Shah recently posted a blog offering productivity tips. Jason is a consummate professional, a well-regarded product manager, and a life hacker. His productivity tips included:
  1. emailing self a list for morning in the subject line, 
  2. when working in browser, pull out a tab so there are no other distractions, and 
  3. applying music at optimal noise-level. 
These are all intended to limit triggers (something that Nir Eyal writes about). Even my friend Azat writes about the importance of habits for software engineers.  These thoughts inspired me to offer some other tools that might help a productivity-centric reader apply the tips better.
Digression: Is Productivity Learned? Was Aristotle Annoying?

There is an old saying: Excellence is a Habit.  It is commonly attributed (likely mis-attributed) to the great Aristotle.  Aristotle was Alexander the Great's private tutor, had a vast knowledge-base.  Aristotle wrote on Physics, Metaphysics, Geology, Biology and Medicine ... pretty much every human discipline that you can guess.  The problem was that a lot of it was speculation, and he probably was just some guy who had strong opinions and won arguments.

That's no surprise since he was Plato's favorite pupil at the Academy (which is a school Plato founded - remember all those beautiful Socratic dialogues ... Plato wrote them, and Socrates pretty much never loses a debate).  But, nobody likes a know-it-all (aka Aristotle), and Aristotle was passed over for a leadership promotion.  No matter. Aristotle went on and built his own school, the Lyceum. Turns out he was an entrepreneur, too!

Question: Do You Habit?

I have a confession. I am an ideas person. I read tons of good content about habits, and fully convinced as to the power of focus and habits. Nevertheless, I suck at habits. I tried making lists, I tried structuring my calendar (this is a neat technique where you pick a theme for the day - say Monday is strategy, Friday is innovation). Yes, there is the bible: Seven Habits by Covey. But, I'm lazy. Seven things to remember? I mean, come on.

What's the problem here?  How do we close the gap between capturing the power of habits and being too lazy to execute those habits?  It's a rhetorical question - let me share some tools. (There is an interesting psychological-scientific dimension to routine vs. non-routine on our well-being. Psychologist Martin Seligman writes extensively about it, and I will share with you in future.)  Just as sales don't happen on their own, so my position is that habits don't form on their own.  You need some tough love - and that's where the tools come in.  Shall we outsource our habits?

Tools: What's in Your Pocket?

At various parts of the week, I am a business professional in software space, a salesperson, an organizer, and an entrepreneur. So, to me, it is important to keep making connections and have accountability to outcome. These are the tools and techniques that I commonly use.

  • Problem (organizer): Habit of tweeting daily to communicate with the community is not easy.
  • Solution: Buffer - Tweet once a week and forget. Of course, you can always tweet on the spot, but you build a steady stream of week's content.
Buffer is Magic: Buffer and Forget
  • Problem (professional/sales): Staying connected to nurture personal and professional relationships.
  • Solution: 500Plus + LinkedIn - It is not a very granular tool, but at least you'll remember to talk to key people with regularity: weekly, monthly, and so on. You will get an email reminder.
Simple CRM layer for LinkedIn: Brilliant!
  • Problem: Forgetting passwords. Admit it, you have this problem!
  • Solution: Use lastpass.  It will be your last pass.
UI may not be the prettiest, but it works - never forget a password!
  • Problem: Tabling a topic without forgetting to follow-up on specific conversation (as opposed to general reminder to stay connected).
  • Solution: Just email the meeting notes to 1week@followup.cc and forget about it.
What did we talk about last week?


The point is not to dive deep into one of hundreds of tools that must be out there. Rather, the point is:
  • Recognize where you fall into the habit spectrum - excellent or non-existent?
  • Recognize specific tools exist to which you can outsource your habit needs.
If you like the idea of building tools that can help you optimize your life, maybe you're a born computer programmer. After all, these tools were built by such people. Are you considering a coding bootcamp and want a guide? Consider reading our https://leanpub.com/coding-bootcamps.

If you are interested in appearing on this blog as a guest, writing about themes such as MBAs transitioning into Tech or about your experience of learning to code, please drop me a note!

1 comment:

YS said...

love it. I am an idea person too! And tend to spend too much time chasing awesome news from anything tech possible, and that frequently can affect productivity. One lovely thing is, ever since I started learning how to program, I actually have become more product, adopting engineering way of thinking while not letting go of my creative craziness. Results are amazing.

I like how each section is broken down to Problem + Solution pairs : )