Until recently I felt too busy to think about how I was getting things done. It was all about crossing off the next thing on the to-do list.
This is one of the first things I wanted to adjust after my job change. Here are eight shifts I've made to better direct my time and energy.
When I’m writing I keep Wifi turned off. This creates enough friction to keep easy temptations at bay. It’s like I’m buying my brain flowers to apologize for all the times I mistreat it with schizophrenic multi-tasking. My brain is grateful. Yours will be too.
No pinned Chrome tabs
Chrome used to be my mind map. Pinned tabs for various email accounts, calendars, Google Docs, articles I intended to read, etc. This resulted in me working almost solely inside Chrome, which made the distracting between-tabs-clicks way too easy.
I approached breaking free of Chrome in a few ways:
1) Separate email and writing from Chrome.
2) Use bookmarks to design my browsing habits rather than mindless surfing.
3) Bookmark articles I’m interested in but don’t immediately read (to date I’ve gone back to read exactly zero of them, which says it all).
4) Keep open tabs to a minimum (no more than three or four, ideally).
After these changes my Chrome usage has plummeted. It’s no longer a default state. Now I look at the web when I have a reason to.
To separate email from Chrome I shopped around for an email app. I picked Airmail because of its basic UI and how it handles multiple accounts. Parts of Gmail I miss, but overall the ability to be focused about correspondence has made a noticeable difference. Apple Mail can also do the trick, it’s just buggy for me.
I started using Outlook at the recommendation of Craig Mod. The design is soothing and non-attention getting. Calendar and contacts are effortlessly folded inside the app. Top notch.
For writing I moved from IA Writer (which I like) and Google Docs to Bear Writer. I like Bear because of how easy it is to access my directory of writing, how quickly I can start a new note/doc, and syncing between the desktop and phone apps.
One thing Bear has not helped as much with is recording spontaneous notes and ideas. I spend a lot of time walking around NYC finding inspiration. I’ve tried using Siri, notes to self, and other ways to take down a quick thought. None have worked the way I want. I’m considering going back to keeping a notebook in my pocket. Other ideas?
"The portable whiteboard"
I spend my working time with three things in front of me: my laptop, a stack of books I’m reading, and a 8.5" by 10” sketchpad and set of colored Sharpies. I call the sketch pad and markers my portable whiteboard.
Whenever I need to outline an idea or think through something deeply, I turn to the portable whiteboard. The ability to think in a flexible, physical space is liberating. I have more breakthroughs using the portable whiteboard than my laptop or any other tool. Highly recommended.
Unfollow everyone on Twitter
It took me several tries to defeat my Twitter addiction. The first move — made a few years ago — was to remove Twitter and all social media from my phone. This ended my mobile usage, but increased how often I used Twitter on the desktop.
I would get trapped in Chrome loops: check Gmail, check Slack, check Twitter, check Gmail, etc. I could (and did) spend hours this way achieving absolutely nothing. It’s the productivity version of "playing" an arcade game without putting in a quarter.
Eventually I came up with a more drastic solution: unfollow everyone. This has been the best answer. Now Twitter is such an unsatisfying experience I rarely go there. I’ll continue to keep my account for self-promotion, but it’s no longer a source of information. To date I have experienced literally zero ill effects and many positive effects from not reading Twitter.
I’m a longtime Tumblr fan but the writing tools just aren’t great. I’ve used Medium but I don’t want to be associated with the startup/life hacker zeitgeist. The only way I could think to have a truly neutral space was to create my own. I tried Wordpress but the setup process was too involved (maybe the tenth time this has deterred me from WP). While not cheap, Squarespace is great. I'll keep using them.
Any habits or gear recommendations to share? I’d love to hear them!