Days spent in ‘flow’ is the dream of any creative.

Programmers dream of writing code that works the first time, while your fingers fly gracefully across the keyboard and unicorns dance to the beauty of your code.

Designers solve the client problem first, try and get sent gift baskets as clients weep and thank them for such a beautiful design.

Unfortunately, that’s not usually reality. Way to often you’re pulling all-nighters and working insane hours all because you haven’t been productive.

Part of it is usually a lack of overall planning and part of it is not saying NO to the right things.

Instead of having a well thought out productivity routine, you just ‘work’ each day. If it doesn’t go as expected, you just blame it on not being ‘in the flow’.

Of course you just expected it to find you with little prep to make sure it’s as easy as possible to get there.

So how about 4 tips to maximize your productivity.

Decide what you’re doing the day before

How many of you can tell me exactly what you’re first task is tomorrow morning. I don’t mean that you’re going to ‘work on project X’. I mean exactly what do you have to do on project X in the morning?

How about over a weekend? Do you know what your first task is Monday morning without looking at your TO-DO list or email?

If you’re anything like the rooms I normally ask that question to, the answer is that about 10% of you know and the rest of you have some vague notion about your first task the next day.

  • @todo notes in code that are left uncommitted, so I have a reference for where I left off
  • reviewing my Redbooth list before I leave the office and flagging my task for the next day
  • leaving a note on my desk before I leave for lunch with what I was working on

Email probably doesn’t contain priorities

Forget your stupid email. 99% of the time all email is, is a list of the tasks that other people think should be your top priority at this moment.

During my 2 launch days for my book “Don’t be an Idiot: Learn to run a viable business” I didn’t even open my email unless I was waiting for something directly to do with the launch.

The few times I did open it, I simply pulled all the emails out and slapped them into OmniFocus in the inbox and left them till after launch. Nothing that came in was more important to me than launching successfully.

Funny enough, all the clients that had issues were able to resolve them on their own within a few hours. That meant that when it came time to sort through my inbox in OmniFocus I just removed 90% of the emails I had queued up to deal with since the client had already followed up and told me not to worry about the issue.

Yes 90% of the email I got from clients over 2 days was something they could deal with on their own and didn’t require my attention at all.

My daily email practice is to not check it till 1pm. I already decided what my most important task for the day was the night before. If anything is worth changing that then someone will call me.


My last ‘in house’ web development job was notorious for people just popping by my desk to ask me something. They were good people and they just didn’t realize that when you are in the midst of a coding problem you have to fit the whole thing into your head. Almost any little interruption will mean that you have to jam it all back into your head.

My best tactic was to purchase a set of headphones. 50% of the time I wasn’t even playing music on them I was just wearing them. So when that person came in to the design/development section of the office and wasn’t standing directly at my desk, but was asking me a question I ignored them.

50% of the time they just walked away. Yes that’s right 50% of the time the thing they wanted to ask me about wasn’t worth the walk over to my desk and having headphones on helped me weed those out.

After that, I almost never work without headphones. Right now I’m sitting at my kitchen table on my iPad writing and everyone is in bed. There is no one around to distract me and I’m wearing headphones, listening to music.

Maybe it’s just become a productivity ritual at this point, but I think it’s rooted in something deeper. Putting on those headphones means that when my dog barks casually at something random, I’m not interrupted.

It means that when my neighbor slams their door in my townhouse, I can’t hear it.

It means that all those little things that can pull little portions of our focus away are dead to me.

Depending on where I am I have 4 sets of preferred headphones.

  1. Phillips O’Niell The Stretch (super light and comfy for all day coffee shop working- read my review)
  2. Logitech wireless (my desk headphones so I can pace and talk – read my review)
  3. Ultimate Ears wired (just stay in my travel bags so I always have a set)
  4. BlueBuds X (these are my preferred walking and workout headphones)

Pick a System

I love trying out new software to see if I can pull out a few more iota’s of productivity. The truth is that 99% of the time the reason a new productivity system doesn’t work for you has nothing to do with the system and everything to do with you.

You didn’t actually follow GTD properly and skipped your reviews and then your TO-DO list was a huge pile of dead things that are done, but never got checked off. Or it’s a huge pile of things you meant to do and never actually did.

OmniFocus 2 is unlikely to make GTD work for you if OmniFocus 1 wasn’t your bag.

Pick and app/system that works for you and stick with it. I don’t care if it’s paper or if it’s a custom Excel document or a text file. Stick with it. Don’t chase the newest fad in productivity.

I dedicate 1 or 2 times a year to playing with new project management apps or to-do list managers. That lets me book a week off to analyze my process and see where my current solution (Redbooth) is failing me. Once I have some failure points I can go and try to find solutions that fix the failures.

If I’m not frustrated regularly by my system then I don’t go looking at the newest option on the block, outside of watching the demo video. If it looks interesting I file it away for Christmas time when I let myself dig into new things like that.

The rest of the year it’s dead to me.

photo credit: pedrovezini cc