9 Things I Do To Be More Productive

I always want to be as productive as possible. Hence, after moving to the United Kingdom to study and have more control over my life, I tried out several ways to increase my productivity.

In this year, I’ve developed a number of habits which made me more productive. In this post, I would share the 9 things I do to be more productive. I hope they would be useful for you or they would inspire you to try news ways to be more productive.

Many of the things I do is to allow me to make fewer decisions. This is because making decisions uses up brain power and can cause decision fatigue.

Having to make fewer decisions, I can focus on the more important ones and make better decisions. This is also why Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Obama wear the same attire every day.

Alright, so let’s dive right in!

1. Sleep Early, Sleep Enough And Wake Up Early

I try to sleep at 10pm every night. I don’t succeed all the time, but most of the time, I would be in bed before 11pm.

My recurring alarm is set as 5:45am. I choose to wake up at the same time every morning so that I don’t need to decide every night what time to wake up the next day.

Alarm

There are exceptions when I do not sleep by 11pm. It is usually when I’m travelling or when I have friends over at my place. I would then adjust my alarm accordingly so that I would get 7–8 hours of sleep. This is because I know that when I sleep less than 6 hours, I would not function well that day.

I think that different people have different sleep cycles that make them most productive. I am a morning person so I prefer doing my work in the morning. I have a housemate who usually sleeps at 3–4am, wakes up at 2pm and naps in the afternoon. He does most of his work at night because he is more productive then.

2. Have Morning And Night Routines

Having a morning routine allows me to make almost no decisions in the first few hours of the day so that I can save my brainpower for more important things later in the day.

My morning routine goes like this: Wake up at 5:45am (no snooze), heat up my overnight-soaked oats in the microwave, turn on kettle, brush my teeth, make my tea, have my breakfast and go for my morning workout.

Yes, I have the same breakfast every morning — microwaved porridge with raisins and almonds.

I have a night routine because I’m usually too tired to think about anything an hour before I sleep. So I would shower/brush my teeth, reply my girlfriend’s email, meditate with the guidance from Calm mobile app and sleep.

3. Plan The Day’s Schedule The Evening Before

I cannot remember where I learnt this from, but it has been pretty effective.

Many people advocate spending some time each morning to plan for the day. This strategy is to do the planning the evening before.

Again, this is about making fewer decisions. Not having to decide in the morning what I need to do for the day saves me some brainpower for the main tasks of the day.

Calendar

Since I’ve already planned out my day the evening before, I can simply execute my plan.

4. Exercise

I’ve read that exercising improves productivity but I’m not certain about the effects on my body because I have been exercising regularly for a long time. I don’t know what’s the difference in my productivity when I exercise and when I don’t.

A few weeks back when I injured my knee, I forced myself to stop exercises so that I would not aggravate my injury further. During this period, I could feel a dip in my productivity, especially in the morning.

Usually, I would work out in the morning and feel refreshed when I start the day. When I stopped exercising in the morning, I don’t feel awake. I would tend to be in a daze for a few hours in the morning.

Recently, I’ve started swimming and doing my core exercises in the morning. I could feel that I’m more energised and productive.

5. Do Two Main Tasks A Day

For the past 2 weeks, I have been trying this out: I would only do 2 main tasks each day. If I know what needs to be done for the week, like this week, I would plan out the 2 daily tasks for the entire week on the Sunday before the week starts and make adjustments along the way if necessary.

For today, the 2 tasks were working on my school assignment and writing this blog post. I allocate about 3 hours for each tasks so they add up to be 6 hours of “work” each day.

I realised that it helps me to focus on the important tasks and eliminate the smaller and less important tasks. As long as I complete the 2 tasks for the day, I would consider it as the day as productive. I would then do some of the other tasks such as reading articles online and replying to emails.

6. Cook Several Meals At Once

As a student, I cannot afford to eat out or order takeaways often so I cook about 95% of my meals. (There’s an additional bonus for cooking my meals. I eat more healthily and I believe that increases my productivity too.)

Like I’ve said previously when I shared about my “remote working” day, I cook several meals at once. I would prefer to have my lunch cooked the evening before since I’m more productive in the afternoon than in the evening. Cooking 2 meals at once means one less decision to make.

Meals

Because I don’t live near a supermarket, I order groceries delivery from Morrisons. (The delivery charge is usually £1 and I split it with a house mate, so it’s only 50p per person for each delivery.)

I spend way more time when I shop in a supermarket than when I order online because I would walk through all the aisles. By shopping for my groceries online, the time taken reduces to 5 to 10 minutes.

Tip: Selecting from “Favourites” section speeds up the ordering process.

7. Take Naps

Since last year, I have developed a habit to take short power naps when I’m tired. I’ve played around with the duration and a 25-minute nap seems to work best for me. I found that taking naps recharges me and allows me to think better.

When I feel sleepy, I would take a nap as soon as possible. Depending on how tired I am, I might nap twice a day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

When I’m working at home, I can nap any time I want. However, when I’m travelling or when I’m in school, it would be harder as it is difficult to find places where I can nap.

8. Read Whenever I Can When I’m Outside

This year, I’ve started buying only ebooks because they are delivered instantly and I can read them on my iPad or on my iPhone.

Kindle on iPadMy bus to school does not come very often. Usually, it comes every 15–30 minutes and the trip to school takes about 15 minutes. Considering the journey there and back, that is about an hour of commuting, or an hour for reading.

While waiting at the bus stop, I would take out my iPhone or iPad to read. With this practice, I’ve managed to finish quite a number of books (Reinventing Organizations, Zero To One, Buzzing Communities) in the last few weeks.

I used to check my Facebook news feed or Twitter feed while waiting for the bus. After starting this habit, I realised that reading a book is a much more productive use of my time than scrolling through social media aimlessly.

9. Use “Do Not Disturb” Mode

Ever since I discovered the “Do Not Disturb” mode on my iPhone, I put my phone in that mode almost all the time. My phone would not ring or light up when there’s new notifications, unless it is a call. (You can adjust the settings according to what you want. It is in Settings > Do Not Disturb.)

Do Not Disturb Mode

It prevents incoming notifications like chat messages from distracting me when I’m doing my main tasks for the day. (I turn off social media notifications on my phone. I wrote about it yesterday.)

Most of the time, the chat messages are not urgent so I do not need to respond to them immediately. If the issue is urgent, I would usually receive a call. That would light up my phone screen and I would answer it.

With this practice, my friends gradually know how to contact me. If the matter is not urgent, they would drop me a text. If they need me urgently, they would call me.

To Productivity!

In summary, here are the 9 things I do to be more productive:

  1. Sleep Early, Sleep Enough And Wake Up Early
  2. Have Morning And Night Routines
  3. Plan The Day’s Schedule The Evening Before
  4. Exercise
  5. Do Two Main Tasks A Day
  6. Cook Several Meals At Once
  7. Take Naps
  8. Read Whenever I Can When I’m Outside
  9. Use “Do Not Disturb” Mode

I’m keen to try out more strategies/tips/hacks to increase my productivity. What do you do to increase your productivity? Let me know at @alfred_lua! ☺


(This is my 27th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)


Fighting Against Facebook Notifications

I’m generally quite alright with missing Facebook notifications. I’ve turned off Facebook notifications on my phone since last year and I did not feel that I had missed out much.

However, I still check Facebook quite regularly because I want to see how my friends are doing. Sometimes, I would then spend a considerable amount of time scrolling through Facebook until I realise “Oh no, I’m spending too much time here!”

I’m usually not bothered by how many likes or comments my Facebook posts generate because they rarely get more than 5–10 likes and comments combined. So I seldom go back to Facebook to check how people liked and commented on my posts.

However, when a post becomes really popular with more than 100 likes, several comments and multiple shares (like this and this), I would check back very regularly. And since I’m on Facebook, I would also “clear” my notifications and see how my friends are doing. I would end up wasting quite some time there.

As I want to use my time more productively, I tried several strategies to cut down my time spent on Facebook.

In this post, I would share the strategies I tried and whether they have been effective for me. If you want to reduce the time spent on Facebook too, you might like these 5 strategies:

Facebook App

1. Put Facebook app on the last page on my phone and in a folder labelled “Time Wasters” (Not very effective)

Facebook on my iPhoneI learnt this from Spike Morelli’s blog post, Productivity smartphone hack: the untapped power of the present moment.

By putting the app on the last page and in a folder, I am creating a passive barrier by making it harder to check Facebook. I have to swipe left twice from my home page, tap on the folder and tap on the app before I get to use it.

By making it harder or more troublesome to use the app, I should be using the app less.

When Google wanted to reduce the number of M&Ms consumed in the office, they “kept the chocolates hidden in opaque containers but prominently displayed dried figs, pistachios and other healthful snacks in glass jars”. They made it hard for the employees to reach the chocolates.

The results: In the New York office alone, employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms over seven weeks.

Labelling the folder as “Time Wasters” is another attempt to make me use Facebook less. As Spike explained in his blog post,

There’s a lot of research on the psychology of language that studies how we are affected by words and I’m leveraging some of that here by creating a negative association between certain apps that are opposite to my goal: being productive.

My verdict: This strategy has not been effective for me. Perhaps it is because the passive barrier is not huge enough and I do not look at the name of the folders when I want to open an app.

However, it worked for Spike so it is worth a try!

2. Log out of Facebook app (Effective)

To increase the size of the passive barrier, I decided to make it hard to access my Facebook news feed. I would log out of my Facebook app after using it.

It becomes really troublesome when I want to check my news feed on my phone. After all swipes and tabs I have to make, I would see this:

Facebook Login on iPhone

I would still have to type in my username and password. Furthermore, my password is pretty long and complicated, so it becomes a real hassle!

My verdict: This strategy is effective!

(I have not logged out of the app for a long time and I forgot about this strategy. Fortunately, I’m reminded of it when I typed this post. I just logged out of the app! ☺)

Facebook Website

1. Log out of Facebook website (Effective)

This is similar to logging out of the Facebook app.

Whenever I visit www.facebook.com, I’ll see this:

Facebook Login on Browser

My verdict: This strategy has been effective in stopping me from checking Facebook regularly. The thought of having to type my username and password makes me not want to check Facebook that often.

2. News Feed Eradicator (Super effective)

If I somehow overcome the barrier and log in to Facebook on a browser, I’ll see this:

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook

BAM!! Haha!

If I did not remember wrongly, I learnt this trick from Noah Kagan.

It is called News Feed Eradicator for Facebook. Thanks to this, I’ve not scrolled through my news feed on the browser for a long time! The only thing that would interest me when I log in would be new notifications. This prevents me from spending too much time on Facebook on my laptop.

I tried turning off the notifications because it is very tempting to click on the red number at the top right-hand corner. Unfortunately, Facebook does not allow turning off of notifications.

Facebook Notification Counter

My verdict: This is super effective in preventing me from scrolling through my news feed, which can be very time wasting!

Facebook Messenger

1. Use Goofy for Mac (Effective)

Many of my friends contact me through Facebook Messenger so I would need to log in to my Facebook account on my laptop once in a while. Whenever I log in, I would also check out the notifications because I can’t ignore the red notification counter. I would end up spending some time there.

This is alright if I’m using my phone because Facebook has a separate Messenger mobile app and I would not see any notifications there, apart from new messages.

Fortunately, I discovered this product on Product Hunt!

Goofy!

Goofy

It is a standalone Facebook messages page, like the Messenger mobile app, but on desktop.

There’s no red notification counter so I would not be distracted to check the notifications and would save my precious productive time ☺

Sorry, this application is only available on Mac at the moment. For Windows, there is Facebook Messenger Chrome extension. I’ve not used it before so I cannot judge if it is good.

My verdict: This application is effective in indirectly reducing my time on Facebook! I can use the application to communicate with my friends without being distracted by the notifications.


In summary, here are the 5 strategies and my assessment:

  1. Put Facebook app on the last page on my phone and in a folder labelled “Time Wasters” (Not very effective)
  2. Log out of Facebook app (Effective)
  3. Log out of Facebook website (Effective)
  4. News Feed Eradicator (Super effective)
  5. Use Goofy for Mac (Effective)

If you plan to try any of these strategies, let me know how it goes! If you have any strategies that you use to reduce your time spent on Facebook, please share with me at @alfred_lua! ☺

(This is my 26th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)


Why I Prefer Fun Teams

During the economic recession in 2008, as the then Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger had to negotiate the budget with another legislative leader. Before the negotiation, he sent something to the legislative leader. Something that you would probably never think of.

Arnold Schwarzenegger sent him a sculpture of a set of bull balls, with a note, “I hope you have that!”.

In his interview with Tim Ferriss, Tim Ferriss Interviews Arnold Schwarzenegger on Psychological Warfare (And Much More), he explained himself:

“When things get really intense and when people start freaking out, I try to make a joke or something to lighten things up. And just say, look, 10 years from now we are going to look at this day and laugh about it.”

Sending a sculpture of bull balls (as a governor and to a legislative leader) might be a little extreme as a joke. Nevertheless, from my experiences, I’ve learnt that fun teams are better teams.

Halo and Team Fortress 2

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” — Dale Carnegie

BBI

This is the team that taught me that fun teams are better teams. We came together in the Entrepreneurship Program during our high school and worked together for 3 years on several projects.

As a team, we really knew how to have fun. The first thing on our agenda at meetings was always Halo or Team Fortress 2. We would meet up at Glenn’s place and play a few rounds of Halo or Team Fortress 2 or both before starting proper discussions.

We could never sit down and complete our discussion or work in one session. Very often, we would end up playing Guitar Hero, watching a movie, going for a swim or laughing at Glenn’s “great” singing halfway through our meetings.

How did we do?

In the first year, our business idea didn’t make it to the Semi-Final round of our school’s annual Projects Day Competition but our case study presentation was outstanding (more on this below).

In the second year, we make it to the Grand Finals of the Projects Day Competition and was also selected to represent the school for the Stanford Global Innovation Challenge!

In the third year, we made it to the Grand Finals of another business plan competition called, Best Business Idea.

Makes Work More Enjoyable

Wefie

We might not have won any of the competitions, but I don’t think the issue was that we had too much fun while working. In fact, I feel that our performance was pretty impressive and it was because we knew how to have fun.

Parts of the projects that were supposed to be tough didn’t feel that bad. Sometimes, boring work became fun and enjoyable. We never really had any intense debate because someone would often crack a joke when the atmosphere became too tense. This fun work dynamic also made the competitions much less stressful for us.

Meetings were not only enjoyable, but they also became wonderful memories that we would continue to laugh at up till now. These shared fun experiences brought us close together as a team.

More Productive And Creative

The other benefit that I experienced during that period was the increase in productivity and creativity. It might sound counter-intuitive, but taking time off to play while working actually made us more productive and creative.

For example, in the first year, we had to present a case study of an entrepreneur to the class. Every other team presented with a set of powerpoint slides.

But we didn’t. I don’t think we used any powerpoint slides at all.

We role-played the story of the entrepreneur we selected. I cannot remember the exact story now. I think that the entrepreneur came up with new machinery to improve the efficiency of certain factories.

2 of us acted as machines by wearing cupboard boxes over ourselves and protested against a factory manager (another team member). Donning a cape, the entrepreneur (the fourth team member) “flew in” and saved the day. At the end of the skit, we played a short video that we created about the entrepreneur.

I can still remember that the music we used was “Eye of The Tiger”. We had so much fun singing along while preparing the presentation.

The teachers were so impressed that they made us present it again in the next class. Other teams had already left when we first presented because we were the last team to present and teams left after they have presented.

Better Performance

A lot has been said about happy teams performing better and from this experience, I feel that it’s true.

Because meetings are so enjoyable, we often look forward to the next meeting (or play session, depending on how you look at it, but we still get work done).

Although we did not win the Projects Day Competition in the second year, we were the only team from the Entrepreneurship Program to make it to the Grand Finals. I believe that it was because our team was the most fun and happiest team in the program.

Balance

While I love fun teams, I feel that there has to be a good balance between work and play. Someone in the team has to ensure that we do not have too much fun and end up not producing any results.

For this team, it was usually the team leader, Wen Shan, or I who would feel that we had enough fun and it’s time to get things done.

It also helped that every team member is responsible enough to understand that work has to be done.

We know how to have fun and we also know how to get things done.


(This is my 25th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)