Habits to be more productive and organized

  • Lifestyle

I recently read a book about productivity and organization at work. More precisely about how to achieve the same amount of work in a smaller amount of time. It's french book called "La 25eme heure" ("the 25th hour", nothing to do with the movie though) and it made me change my habits. I'll sum up the book advices here, and show you what works for me.

People who know me will say I am very organized and my room always look very clean and tidy. Yet, this book I read made me realize I could do better. In this post, I’ll briefly sum up the key advices the author give and show how I have implemented it.

About the book

The book is written by Guillaume Declair, Bao Dinh and Jerome Dumont. They are investors and entrepreneurs from France who decided to talk to many very successful entrepreneurs and gather their productivity and lifestyle habits. They compiled the advices in this book in a very clear and concise way. I am going to try to make an even shorter version in this post, but I do recommend you buy and read their book, there’s much more than these few lines.

The book helps you to improve on three levels: organization, focus, and speed.

Organize

The idea here is to adopt habits to let you spend more time on meaningful tasks.

  1. Learn how to say “no”. It’s important to ignore all the queries that are not related to your goals and priorities. Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve and kindly explain you’re not going to be able to fulfill that request.

  2. Use todo lists a lot. Write down everything you should to on a todo list so you don’t need to remember it and you can keep focusing on what you’re doing without being distracted by this new task you should not forget. When you look at your todo list, if there are tasks that will require less than two minutes, do it now.

  3. Prioritize three tasks per day. Think about what are the three things I’d be happy to achieve today, write them down on your today’s schedule and start working on them. It’s important to have them in your calendar so that you know you can’t plan anything else that would keep you from finishing these tasks.

  4. Isolate “passive tasks” and start with them. Passive tasks are tasks that you won’t have to do yourself, but that still require some work from your side. For instance if you are to delegate a task, you need to specify and explain it to someone. Do these tasks first because meanwhile they’re handled by that other person, you can work on other things.

  5. We often procrastinate when a task seems too complicated or dull. When facing such task, it’s good to split it in smaller tasks, and get them done one at a time. If the task is very boring, set a deadline to force you work on it and try to find a way to make it more enjoyable.

Focus

Now that you’re more organized, let’s see how to be more focused.

  1. Inbox Zero. Archive all your read emails and when they contain something you should do or think about, mark that down in your todo-list. It’s also enough to check your inbox twice or three times a day. Avoid reading your mails on the weekend, you deserve a clean break.

  2. Setup a morning routine and clean your desk (physical and digital), you won’t work efficiently if your desk is messy (I know I can’t).

  3. Asynchronous communication: These are means of communications where you do not expect an immediate response, like email or texts. Use them instead of phone calls, unless there’s an emergency. I have also stopped responding to phone calls from people I do not know, unless I’m expecting a call.

  4. Notifications: Deactivate most of your phone notifications. Keep only the most important ones. I am only keeping texts, phone calls and emails. I also block every app on my phone passed 11pm to force me not to use it before going to bed.

Speed

Organization and focus won’t be enough to be more productive. Work faster with the following tips.

  1. Proper breaks: It’s important to have breaks during the day and don’t hesitate to have proper lunch breaks. You’d feel more productive and creative after a clean lunch break than after a stressful one where you’re barely eating and working at the same time.

  2. Exercise: Sport will keep you healthy and you’d feel more productive after it. Also make sure you’re eating healthy.

  3. Body’s clock: If you feel more efficient in the morning, move your meetings in the afternoon so you can work faster on meaningful tasks.

  4. Automate: If you’re doing something more than once, try to automate it. Use tools like Zapier or IFTTT.

  5. Shortcuts: Use keyboard shortcuts a lot, the less you use your mouse the better.

  6. The 80-20 rule: Also called the Pareto principle, this rule suggests that 20% of the efforts will achieve 80% of the work. Sometimes we can try to overachieve something and lose time on smaller details that are not worth it. Keep that in mind.

Lessons learned

Now that we both know what the book recommends, let me talk about how I implemented their advices and what works for me.

Home screens

First, I reorganized my computer and phone screens. I wanted my screens to look tidy and have only the apps I use the most.

First, here’s my computer’s desktop screen. As you see it’s pretty basic and I tried to keep only the apps I’m using the most in the dock, that is:

  • Spotify: I always have something playing in the background
  • Spark Email: We’ll get to that later
  • Google Chrome: Shocking right?
  • Trello: I’m using Trello as a todo-list and I also keep track of what I am working on, what’s done and what’s blocking me for finishing something.
  • iTerm terminal: I’m a computer scientist, I love terminals!
  • Whatsapp: While I’m not using it when I’m focusing, the desktop version of Whatsapp is so handy, it’s much faster to reply.

Now here’s my phone screen. Again, I’m trying to keep it very simple, elegant and well organized. Here are the apps I’m using the most:

  • Phone, texts, Whatsapp, Messenger, etc … for talking to friends and family.
  • Google Agenda: For my calendar, even though my email app has an integrated calendar, I like Google’s version. Maybe I’ll switch one day who knows.
  • Notion: This one I love. Notion combines a lot of tools to make it a very handy place to store all your notes, ideas and documents.
  • Habit: This is an app I discovered recently and it helped me a lot. Habit is very simple, you write down the habits you wish to do on a regular basis and the app reminds you to do them. You can then mark down whether you accomplished that habit or not. It’s very stupid but it motivates me and I have been more serious about my habits since I have this app.
  • Notes: Even though I use Notion for keeping notes, I use Notes to quickly write down something that I will then develop and move to Notion.
  • Firefox Focus: This browser is very handy because it does not track you, flushes the history and cookies every time you close a page. You have less distraction and more privacy. I like that.
  • Focus To-Do: is an app based on the Pomodoro Technique. We’ll also get to that later.

Emails

For emails, I am using Spark, an email client available both on mac and iOS. I love the design and features, I have used Apple default email app for years but I switched for Spark a couple years ago. My favorite features are the integrated calendar, the ability to schedule emails, snooze them, make templates, etc …

My emails have always been clean-ish and quite organized, but what the book taught me was to aim for “inbox zero”. Before reading the book, I was keeping all my emails in my inbox, and flag the important ones that I had to remember about. What I am doing now is archive every email right after I read it. If the email contains a task I should plan, I am saving that task in my todo list. I use Trello as a todo list, and Spark has the ability to save an email as a Trello card, so it’s very convenient to use both.

Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is a very famous method for being more productive at a given task. It’s a time management system that lets you work for 25 minutes straight with no interruption and deep focus. After these 25 minutes, you’re allowed to have a short break and then back to a 25 minutes session. After 4 sessions, you can take a longer break, like maybe 20 minutes, before starting the next round.

This really helped me getting more things done, especially things like programming, reading or writing articles for this blog. I highly recommend it. You can either use a timer, or your phone timer, or even an app, there are hundreds of them available. I personally chose Focus To-Do.

Conclusion

I hope this post was useful to you. I hihgly encourage you to read the book. Let me know if you have some techniques that work very well for you!

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