Energy Management > Attention Management > Resource Management > Task Management > Time Management
A complete breakdown of my productivity methodology and processes to ensure that I'm working both efficiently and effectively.
Energy Management > Attention Management > Resource Management > Task Management > Time Management
Buckle up folks, it’s a long blog this time.
I can't remember where I came across this hierarchy - I think it was just a random post by someone I saw on Reddit a few years ago, but I really liked it, so I decided to build a framework around it.
If I feel that my productivity is suffering or I'm having trouble focusing, I'll start looking at Energy Management, then work down the hierarchy and try to identify the issue and take action to fix it.
This is arguably the most important element and top of the hierarchy.
The human body is a biological machine and if you give it garbage input, then you're going to get garbage output. If I want to perform at a high level and really crush my tasks, then I'm going to need a lot of energy to do it.
The areas I focus on to maintain high energy are:
🌞 30min daily walk
Getting a cardio boost and some daily Vitamin D from sunlight is super important. This article from Medical News Today states that:
Being in the sun generally makes people feel good, and there are many scientific reasons for this effect.
One of these is that exposure to UVB rays causes human skin to produce beta-endorphins, which are hormones that reduce pain. Their other benefits include:
Promoting a sensation of well-being and improving mood
Boosting the immune system
Helping wounds heal
Helping people feel more alert
Increasing job satisfaction when a person’s workplace has access to sunlight
🏋️♀️🥗 Exercise & balanced diet
The benefits of regular exercise and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle (especially important for me since I work at home) are well documented.
Regular exercise can lift your mood and improve your sleep patterns by changing chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones. This article by the CDC goes into more detail.
The food we eat also has a huge impact on the energy we have throughout the day.
This article from Snap Fitness states:
Nutrient-dense foods will digest and therefore be released into the system over a longer period of time. On the other hand, easily digestible food (sugary/simple carbohydrates) will digest much quicker, causing the body to feel hungry again in a much shorter time frame. This can cause spikes in the release of energy into the bloodstream, immediately followed by lows. Ideally, the goal is to maintain energy levels through the day without these extreme highs and lows. Eating well keeps our energy on a relatively level base from morning until night.
Also, make sure to increase healthy fats, which the body will use for energy more compared to unhealthy saturated and trans-saturated fats. These unhealthy fats can make you feel sluggish as the body fights to break it down and absorb harmful byproducts. Food that is also iron-rich, like dark leafy greens, can also help provide a boost in energy because iron helps deliver oxygen to working muscles and the brain, which is what they run on.
Once I started eating healthier, I definitely felt the benefits throughout the day
💤 8hrs sleep
When I was in my 20s I could function at a decent enough level with around 5.5-6.5hrs sleep, but once I reached my 30s this changed, unfortunately! After some trial & error, I found that 8hrs per night is what I need.
I make a conscious effort to prioritise my sleep and will never work late into the evening at the expense of my sleep as I’ll just be an unproductive and unfocused mess the next day.
Some people find that playing an ambient sound or white noise helps them sleep - for me it’s listening to an American cop show like Law & Order or NCIS. Every night I’ll stick an episode on the iPad along with a 60 minute stop playing timer and this has helped me easily fall asleep for the last 10+ years. Weird huh? 🤷♂️
You can have plenty of energy, but if you’re using it to troll people on Twitter or watch cat videos all day, you’re not going to get an awful lot of work done!
It’s SO easy to get distracted by Whatsapp, social media or answering a quick e-mail.
I wish I had the discipline not to check social media or news websites, but I’ll find myself working and suddenly I’ve been on Facebook for a few minutes and I’m like “wtf, get back to work”
To make this experience a lot less stressful, I use an app called Freedom which allows me to add a list of sites/apps to a blocklist across all my devices (laptop, phone etc.) for a set period of time.
When I try to access Facebook, for example, a screen will pop up saying “You are free from distractions” and I won’t be able to access the site. I’ve definitely noticed the number of times I check these sites has gone way down.
☕ Decaf coffee
Around 10 years ago I would have laughed in your face at the suggestion of drinking decaf coffee. I used to drink a minimum of 9+ cups of coffee per day with 2 sugars - it was the fuel that powered me throughout the day and I needed it to get shit done….. right!? Wrong.
I experimented and switched to decaf coffee along with replacing the sugar with Natvia 100% natural sweetener and the difference after a week or two was amazing.
Instead of being wired all day from the caffeine and glucose spikes from the sugar - I was able to more consistently focus on tasks and didn’t find myself getting distracted as easily.
Most importantly, I wasn’t getting burned out during the middle of the day for a 90-120 min slump before picking up again.
This quote from an article by Paul Cantor sums it up pretty well:
But the great irony in this age of anxiety is that we are all meditating, becoming mindful, trying to calm down. And yet we stimulate ourselves to no end, feeding ourselves information that is — if you pay attention to the news — basically insane, all while hopped up on a psychoactive stimulant, caffeine, that makes it hard to do exactly that which we so desire.
I’ve written a previous post on the benefits of journaling - here is an extract that explains the daily template I follow to ensure my attention is focused on the right things:
🧐 Affirmations - These are 5-6 key statements I read every morning to centre myself and get focused for the day.
🎯 Top 3 - The top 3 most important tasks for the week. A useful reminder of what I should be working on. Just because you're busy, doesn't mean you're making good progress.
🌄 SOD (Start of Day) - The first thing I'll do every morning is a SOD. This is a brain dump of whatever I'm thinking about. It's usually a conscious stream of utter nonsense that I write for a couple of minutes, but I always feel much better after doing it and sometimes there is a gem or two of insight that's come from the subconscious.
▶ Dplan (Day Plan) - I fill this out the previous day. It's an hour by hour breakdown of exactly what I'm doing for the day
🥓 Food - What I'm having for breakfast/lunch/dinner
🔖 Notes - This is where I journal throughout the day and process information. I'll include random thoughts, useful snippets of information from articles, meeting notes etc. This is generally filed with around 500-1000 words or notes/text each day.
🌚 EOD (End of Day) - I answer those three same questions every single day. I listen to a lot of business podcasts and read articles, so any key points go here. The "what did you learn today" is great for knowledge retention.
If I download a new app/service, then the first thing I’ll do is go into the notification settings and turn everything off.
Notifications are “focus vampires” - they slowly suck the life out of your focus and condition your monkey mind to get used to the notification dopamine hit. It takes at least a few minutes to get properly focused on a task, and if you’re being constantly distracted all the time, you’re never going to get into the “flow state” of getting proper work done.
The only notifications I have enabled work e-mails on desktop (not on phone) along with Whatsapp, SMS and phonecalls on my phone.
I honestly can’t imagine getting notifications from Facebook, LinkedIn, constant e-mails etc all the time - it would impossible to get anything done lol.
This is only something I picked up in the last few years and after initially thinking “why the hell am I wasting my time sitting here”, I’ve come to realise the benefits.
I use meditation as a mental reset for work.
After I’ve done around 6-7hrs and I’m starting to feel a little burned out, I’ll load up the Calm.com app and spend 10 minutes doing a guided meditation session.
This helps release all the high-speed internal chatter and processing my brain has been doing for the last 6-7hrs and allows me to reset and crank out more work, along with building my mental strength and focus.
Having the correct resources is critical. You can have all the energy and focus you like, but if you’re working on an old PC using Windows 95 and a floppy disk drive, you’re not going to be very effective.
I could attempt to do all my work on a 13 inch cheap Chromebook, but I wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as I would be with my current set-up:
I believe that anything in life that is used at a high frequency deserves investment. If you’re using an older PC or a crappy keyboard and mouse then please upgrade!
A high-quality webcam and microphone make a huge difference on Zoom calls - your audience will appreciate clear HD video and high-quality audio :)
My key pieces of software are as follows:
Shift - This app consolidates all your different pieces of software into one central location so you can easily switch between them and not have 594 trillion Chrome tabs open.
Google Podcasts - I listen to a lot of podcasts and I love the user interface of the app - very well designed and easy to use. I’m pretty much in the Google infrastructure for everything else anyway lol
YouTube Premium - This includes YouTube Music (similar to Spotify) which is great and I love the UI etc. however the mega bonus is that it makes your normal YouTube experience completely ad-free. Imagine never being shown an annoying ad on YouTube ever again? It’s great!
Hey.com - This is an e-mail service like Gmail or Hotmail, but it costs $99 per year. That’s right folks, I pay for e-mail lol.
Calm.com - Meditation app
You guessed it - I’ve written a previous post about this topic already. Here is an extract of how I manage my tasks:
My day is generally built around filling the time blocks that recurring tasks don't take up.
So, for example, in Recurring tasks, I've got things like:
- Morning protein shake & start work every weekday 0645
- Walk every weekday 1045-1115
- Workout every Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 1445-1615
- Cooking & cleaning every day at 1715-1830
This gives me the following free time blocks:
0645-1045 - I try to allocate "deep work" or accounting/finance technical tasks in this block as I prefer to get them out of the way first.
1115-1445 - Free block to clear WIP. I'll work on anything that's required here
1615-1715 - Admin block. Dealing with any admin or replying to e-mails
1830+ - I'll spend around 45mins in the evening updating ToDoist and Roam Research (blog to follow on this) and plan the next day out hour-by-hour
Check out the full article if you want a deeper dive into my task management process.
I used to be really bad at keeping focus.
I found the longer I would allocate to a task, the less effective I would be. Let's say I allocated a 2-hour slot to doing an accounting job:
0-30mins - pretty good, focusing on the job
30-60mins - start browsing websites/apps 2-3 times for a few mins
60-90mins - still working on the job, but start browsing websites/apps at a higher frequency because I’m getting a bit bored
90-120mins - yeah I'm totally bored now, maybe I can just read something on LinkedIn since that's kinda like work...….right!?
Get a to-do list and a timer.
Set your timer for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the timer rings.
When your session ends, mark off one pomodoro and record what you completed.
Then enjoy a five-minute break.
After four pomodoros, take a longer, more restorative 15-30 minute break.
The 25-minute work sprints are the core of the method, but a Pomodoro practice also includes three rules for getting the most out of each interval:
Break down complex projects. If a task requires more than four pomodoros, it needs to be divided into smaller, actionable steps. Sticking to this rule will help ensure you make clear progress on your projects.
Small tasks go together. Any tasks that will take less than one Pomodoro should be combined with other simple tasks. For example, "write rent check," "set vet appointment," and "read Pomodoro article" could go together in one session.
Once a pomodoro is set, it must ring. The pomodoro is an indivisible unit of time and can not be broken, especially not to check incoming emails, team chats, or text messages. Any ideas, tasks, or requests that come up should be taken note of to come back to later. A digital task manager like Todoist is a great place for these, but pen and paper will do too.
I use a free website called Pomo Focus and pin the app to the browser window so I can easily access it. I'll also enable the Freedom app when active in a Pomodoro session to keep focused.
I love to work alongside this YouTube channel which is from a dude in Tokyo that plays chilled lo-fi beats with rain sounds and follows the Pomodoro timing cycle.
And there you have it folks - my complete system. I would love to hear your comments and/or feedback so feel free to get in touch! :)