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I think, most people understand the importance of such productivity techniques and principles as focusing, setting goals, avoiding distractions, checking email twice a day, rising early, doing physical exercises etc. These things are not easy to do, but they are easy to praise.

But what are productivity techniques and principles that are proven to work (for you) that are not so common and usual? I mean, things that most people don't do (maybe it's strange or they just didn't think of it or it's just not the way it's usually being done), but you do and it works?

Some examples to clarify my question: 'I do not have any email address', 'I work at nights only', 'I eat 20 times a day', 'I read books for 3 hours a day', 'I watch movies while coding', 'When I have something big to complete, I do not talk to a single person for weeks' etc.

The reason for this question is I'm a bit tired of common techniques (which, of course, work) and seek for something new and radical (and working for you).

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a-ha-ha, if I'll tell you I'll get fired. –  shabunc Nov 4 '12 at 20:50
    
Reading PPSE, of course! –  Gaʀʀʏ Feb 10 '13 at 23:25
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13 Answers

Writing Without Comprehension

I noticed a lot of my Chinese friends have a tendency to write down whatever they wanted to memorize on a paper right before an exam. The technique was used by many of them to learn Chinese characters.

But these 'notes' are not meant to be read again. They're just written, overlapping each other sometimes. The idea behind it is that simply writing it down gives some kind of 'muscle memory'… the pen doesn't even need any ink in it. In exams, even if your brain freezes and can't give the answer of that thing you were studying, your hand associates it to the subject and might write it back out. Though this works best for very specific things like formulas.

Pink Bedroom Lights + Home Office

I found this accidentally; I bought a lot of light bulbs on sale without realizing that they were pink, not white. So, in my room, I had a couple of bright white bulbs, and a bright pink one.

Now a home office is nothing radical. You need to set up a comfortable table, chair, computer, stationery set to do work at home. Otherwise you'll end up lying in front of the TV and not get anything done.

But I find that a home office can get a little too formal/uncomfortable. I'd avoid it because nobody wants to go home from work to do more work. And you certainly don't want to be up doing work all night and get insomnia.

A pink lightbulb is often dim and informal enough to use at home, but bright enough to see everything clearly. It's low on blue light, which may make sleep more difficult, so it's very suitable for late night work in the bedroom. If you use f.lux, you'd also be more familiar with a pink lightbulb than a yellow one. It also gives the bedroom a nice romantic feel, and goes well with many bedroom paints.

When situated above your home office, it creates a pleasant, soft feel to be in and encourages you to sit there to do something. I'm considering putting some scented candles there too.

Early Morning Menial Tasks

A lot of us seem to force ourselves to sit down in front of a computer as soon as we get out of bed, for inspiration for our novels and such. In programming, this is recognized as 'getting into the flow', where you waste your time for a while until you're in the mood. But I find that this does not work so well, because you're forcing your brain from being static into high gear.

It works on the principle of inertia - a static body wants to remain static, a body in motion wants to remain in motion. By doing something light, you move your body into motion gradually.

I get up 3 hours before work, pick out something tedious on the list like "print out my itinerary" or "look for a financial management app" and the excitement on successfully completing something annoying is more powerful than caffeine.

Most people save these 'low brainpower' things for late in the evening after work. IMO, this is a bad idea because late in the day, you want to want to slow yourself down. If you watch a TV series before going to work, you'd feel too lazy to get up. When you're done with menial housework, you'll be in the "what's next?" mood.

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During my segmented sleep breaks, I never turn on any more lights in my home office than my desk lamp, but it's bright blue. I use f.lux on the laptop so it offsets it a bit, but getting a pink bulb (orange could also work?) for my desk lamp sounds like a nice experiment, since the only time I turn it on is when I'm in that night mood. Great idea! –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 9 '12 at 7:24
    
I've used the writing technique quite successfully when preparing for exams. I found I could remember much more minute details by just automatically writing the things down on paper when starting the exam. Then when my collected notes are down, I can concentrate fully on the actual question at hand. –  Juha Untinen Dec 12 '12 at 13:30
    
@Muz, what do you think, will the writing method work with typing as well? –  superM Mar 20 '13 at 7:14
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@superM Sure, just repeat it often enough, and make sure you have the same cues. If you've ever had a long, difficult password, you'll notice that after a few attempts, you can type it quickly and accurately, without thinking. It probably won't work if you 'practice' with typing, but try to write it with a pen later on, though. –  Muz Mar 20 '13 at 7:21
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Personal wiki

I use Mediawiki engine (the same as used at Wikipedia) as a single place for any notes I need to access too in near future. Literally, single place and, literally, any notes. From command-line switches references to diary and barbershop working hours.

I use it for ~8 years and have ~5000 content pages.

Links, categories and images are very helpful too.

Couple drawbacks: Mediawiki is not lightweight software, you also need MySQL, PHP. There are also lightweight wiki engines, but they are not as good as Mediawiki. Another drawback is also poor mobile device page editing support.

One another thing to warn about is that wiki, as any other information collection, may be cluttered and be less usable, so it need to be cleaned regularly...

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DokuWiki for the win! :) +1 –  0xC0000022L Mar 2 '13 at 2:44
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Perhaps not so radical, but I've found it to be very effective to break the task down into smaller modules, not far from Agile methods! So, instead of thinking about the Monumental Task at hand, I concentrate on the sub-tasks that make the whole. It is also far easier to keep track of progress and the todo list.

So don't write down "Read the book" into your todo list. Instead, write "Read Chapter 1", "Read Chapter 2", etc. so the task will be much more manageable and not overwhelming.

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Replaced the chair with a treadmill. After doing it now for 18 months, walking while working definitely seems to keep the mind active (I've read our brain evolved to think on our feet), plus it's easier to take a walk around the room to think about a problem clearly, removing you from the distraction of the screen/paperwork.

It's a similar effect to the tick of Pomodoro timer - it seems to keep the mind ticking over and prevent bogging down in things.

I've also found that after a heavy dinner or excessive dessert, I'll end up working a few extra hours that night to knock off the calories. Combining the benefits of extra hours work plus weight loss makes it very motivating, whereas I'd likely not do either by themselves.

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A very recent one: Inverting my screen colours. Suddenly news items aren't so distracting - I can be much more brief about interactions on social media, and I'm not as keen to faff around on youTube. I highly recomment it.

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You might also want to take a look at Evernote Clearly, which dulls out colors and removes side distractions. –  Muz Dec 22 '12 at 9:38
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Account for your entire day in 15-minute blocks

I use a Google Spreadsheet to track what I've done all day (one cell represents 15 minutes). There's 96 cells in one waking day.

Every 1-3 hours I update the document. I use ManicTime to scan over what I've been doing, since I lose track of time easily. Might sound like a lot of work, but it takes less than a minute every few hours to update the doc.

I consider it a form of reflection and it's been a great productivity boost. It really lets you quantify the cost of aimless web surfing. I still procrastinate on big work tasks, but web surfing and time wasting has been replaced by more productive activities such as cooking, eating, cleaning, and reading.

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Isn't this the Pomodoro Technique? –  JBRWilkinson Nov 20 '12 at 14:11
    
I had to look it up, there are indeed some similarities. But mine is strictly a study of how you spend a day; it's to identify "time leaks" in a work day, or even on a "relax" day, and to train myself to understand time, how long things take, and how productive I can be. –  Tim Nov 20 '12 at 15:53
    
It seems like a very bureaucratic way to manage things, but the topic is radical techniques, so it fits. ManicTime seems to not give results as informative as some tools, like RescueTime or TagTime mentioned above. –  Muz Nov 22 '12 at 13:32
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The strangest one for me was tying a pen to the desk - it's not that I spent an hour every day searching for a pen - it's that in the 30 seconds it used to take me to find one I'd have forgotten the important thing I was writing down...

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Do you mean 'tying'? –  jontyc Nov 6 '12 at 22:11
    
I did - with string and everything... –  Joe Nov 7 '12 at 3:45
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Well, the most important part of being productive is your willingness to be productive. :) Further, you just need a little help. These are the tricks that work for me:

  • get rid of your TV
  • delete your Facebook account
  • remove Skype from your laptop
  • remove mini-games (chess, super Mario etc.)
  • install content-control software, configure it and ask you pair to set up a password - this'll save you from visiting YouTube, Twitter etc.
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Commitment devices! Ie, forcing yourself to spend a minimum amount of time per week being productive.

For me that involves a combination of TagTime and Beeminder.

Here's another, more simple, way to use Beeminder to enforce a minimum amount of productivity, from Mark Forster's Get Everything Done blog:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2012/10/3/the-one-must-do-task-each-day.html

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This actually looks very powerful, but I fear I'd go crazy under that kind of pressure. Especially when unplanned things happen that drive me off the goal. –  Muz Nov 8 '12 at 12:52
    
IMHO Beeminder is really good about being flexible but not too flexible. One way it does that is by letting you build up a safety buffer, "getting ahead of the yellow brick road," in Beeminderspeak. –  dreeves Nov 8 '12 at 15:44
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Read children's books - often. Here's why:

Children's Stories and Productivity

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what are productivity techniques and principles that are proven to work (for you) that are not so common and usual?

I am doing most of my work while I am hiking; every time there is a problem to solve I formulate it and then just go for a walk; most of the time the answer (at least one) pops up sooner or later

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I think this is a great subject we should explore more around here, thanks for asking. I'll let you in on something I've been doing for some time and has changed how I approach work, something I'm doing right now that's changing my whole schedule, and lastly something I plan on implementing soon.

Old friend: Structured Procrastination

I won't say so much about this one as the method's inventor says it better than ever I will explain it. I hear he also has a book published now, can't wait to read it.

But put simply, it's about taking advantage of big and demotivating tasks by using them as fuel, instead of being paralyzed by them. The brilliance of it for me is in the insight that, instead of wasting time doing nothing because we wanted to be writing an article but feel pressured that we ought to study for exams instead, we should acknowledge the fact that writing the article (which should be something important in the long term, but not urgent) deserves our attention just as much, and get straight to doing it, ignoring studying for the exams for the time being, so that we use our time to do something useful.

We procrastinators wouldn't get around to studying anyways, so it's either do something useful or do nothing. It works very well for my twisted brain, in that the more I think of studying for the exam, the more motivated I get for writing the article right away, on the spot. This is the procrastinator's "just do it" (Nike never said what it was we should do, right?)

Another timeless article that perfectly embodies this concept is Good Procrastination, Bad Procrastination, by YC's Paul Graham.

New kid on the block: Segmented Sleep

The one thing I am experimenting with right now, for the past two weeks, is segmented sleep. I had previously tried polyphasic sleep, but that's not for me, adaptation is too harsh to even get by a few days. Segmented sleep, on the other hand, is something people were doing before electricity hit us. It boils down to dividing your sleep up into two phases, usually getting up around midnight and purposely staying awake for a couple hours before going back to bed. It's been conjectured that insomniacs are nothing else than people whose body refuses to sleep in one big chunk.

It has been a wonderful little trip with the help of melatonin pills. I take 0.6mg a day, half an hour prior to bed time, which is usually from 5pm to 6:30pm for me. I always wake up at 8-8:30pm, drink some water, go to the bathroom, then sleep easily again within minutes, still under the effect of the pill. Somewhere from 10:30pm to 12:00 I wake up naturally without an alarm, and feeling great (if I have slept enough). I work, usually writing or programming, till around 2am and sleep till 4:30 to 5am, waking up to Sleep as Android's (see Sleep Cycle for iPhone) REM-optimized alarm.

I like this schedule because I get to sleep during the least productive part of the day, and wake up at the two times of the day I feel most productive. I call it the writer's wake schedule because between the first sleep and the second sleep you get a mellow mood that's unmatched by any other we get in the course of a normal life, and it's been considered the writer's perfect mood.

Prolactin is also what differentiates segmented sleep, with its interval of "non-anxious wakefulness" that nearly resembles a meditative state, from the tossing-and-turning insomnia we medicate against. "Let the end of thy first sleep raise thee from thy repose: then hath the body the best temper; then hath thy soul the least encumbrance," wrote the moralist Francis Quarles. (from a New York Times article)

You feel light and willing to work on anything, and focus and concentration get a high. I get to be both a night owl AND an early bird, how cool is that?

Next acquaintance: Clear to Neutral

This is the mothers' productivity advice. Haven't they told us all that we should tidy up our toys after we're done playing with them?

The main idea behind Clearing To Neutral is that you set yourself up for success. What that means is that any time you finish your activity, you do a little routine where you set it up so that the next time you start there is no friction. In other words, you setup your environment for next time. (from Lifehacker)

This actually also complements another technique really well, which is the 20 seconds rule to habits. That is, to really solidify a habit, you should ensure it never takes more than 20 seconds to get to it. Take working out at home--ensure that the clothes and equipment are all setup so that you can get going really fast. The concept of Clearing to Neutral then establishes that, as part of your workout routine, the last step should be tidying up everything again right away, so next time you can start just as fast. This way you can keep a habit strong going even in the face of procrastination and low energy.

Well, there you go, some of my more promising non-standard modes of thinking about productivity. They all steer clear of the rote advice of self-help to "just have willpower". To hell with that, I want to trick myself into working.

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Segmented sleep looks interesting! I always wake up on 3am and wondering! –  hellectronic Nov 6 '12 at 8:50
    
With segmented sleep, when do you eat? Do you eat during the sleep break? –  ento Nov 6 '12 at 9:09
    
I sometimes eat something light such as fruits or nuts during the sleep break. But as a side-effect of segmented sleep, and I know this may not be for everyone, I've been eating far less, on some days only a single major meal (lunch). Calorie restriction has been shown to increase life expectancy, so I'm enjoying it. guardian.co.uk/science/2009/jul/09/calories-diet-long-life –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 6 '12 at 9:15
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Sorry to be too simple, but the best thing I ever did for office productivity was to get rid of my phone. Completely.

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Don't really think this method works for most office jobs, sadly. –  Muz Nov 6 '12 at 10:21
    
Depends. I work in an office environment managing a team: I talked to my boss, explained why using other methods was more productive, and it has worked out. Obviously won't work for everyone, but I wouldn't dismiss the possibility outright if one's job isn't to actually answer the phone :) –  Chris Nov 6 '12 at 23:39
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