How to stay the course & develop great products
As someone who solves problems for a living, you’re called on to be creative, smart, and engaged every day that you’re at work. It’s on you to not just be productive consistently, but also come up with original ideas and implement them on a daily basis.
But when you get stuck in a rut, or feel like you can’t get ahead of your to-do list, it feels impossible to stick it out — no matter how great the product you’re creating is.
Today, we’re going to help you change up your workload and make it easier on you:
All tasks aren’t created equal
Most people make a to-do list and then start on task #1, without creating an overall battle plan for the day, if you will.
The problem with that is that all tasks aren’t created equal and approaching your to-do list in a random way is likely to get random results when it comes to productivity. Take a fresh look at your task list for the week and try sorting them in any of the following ways:
- Type of work, based on categories like “administrative,” “coding,” “design,” etc.
- High-flow vs low-flow activities: high-flow activities are things that put you in flow state, like design, coding, writing, and low-flow activities are ones that don’t.
- How long they’ll take (obviously, base your time estimates off of hard data, if you have it)
- The ROI for the project you’re working on right now — which tasks will move it further along compared to other tasks
Once you’ve sorted your tasks, you can change how you approach them:
- You can use techniques like the Pomodoro method for low-flow or administrative tasks, or two-hour blocks (as suggested by Charlie Gilkey) for high-flow/creative work
- You can use productivity heat-mapping (free download here) to find out what times of day are your most productive, and then put the high-flow/creative
- You can batch similar tasks together (sending emails or writing status updates, for example) to minimize the switching cost between tasks and save time
- Or use any combination of these to create a more efficient strategy for tackling your to-do list!
Creating better ideas
If you find that the standard brainstorming model doesn’t work for you, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s shockingly little evidence that brainstorming actually works. One alternative approach is “brainswarming” — head here for a full-how to on brainswarming.
There are also things you can do that might not seem related to creativity, but can have surprising side effects.
Learning is one of those things, with language-learning in particular having proven benefits in proven benefits in several areas that are useful for work, including creativity. With great free apps like Duolingo or Memrise, there’s no excuse not to try your hand at learning a new way to speak, and seeing how it impacts your creativity.
Meditation also has many proven benefits, but it can be hard for some people to make the time for it — or sit still that long! Another option that has similar benefits to meditation but feels a little more active and can be easier to get in the hang of is morning pages.
The idea with these is that you’re clearing out mental clutter first thing in the morning by writing three longhand pages (or approximately 750 words, if you want to type it). Clearing that clutter out often makes a huge difference in ability to focus and often gives people a way to “think out loud” about their plans for the day (which can make the rest of these tips a lot easier to implement).
What it (really) takes to develop great products
You can optimize your workload ’til the cows come home, but often, developing great products is just a matter of managing to stay the course and stick it out when times get tough. Especially as a remote employee, it can be hard to stay motivated.
On a day to day basis, make sure that you’re taking breaks (both from the computer and from work in general). It’s a good idea to set “office hours,” too — no staring at your email on your phone before bed!
Experts note that taking regular breaks during the workday and enforcing “office hours” for yourself not only keeps you productive in the short term, it can help you avoid burnout in the long term.
If you have a hard time remembering to take breaks, try using something like Posture Coach that prompts you to take breaks. It even gives you stretches to do in the meantime to help prevent repetitive strain injuries and other issues. Remember: it’s hard to have that next big breakthrough or focus on the task at hand when you’re distracted by a twinge in your neck because you haven’t moved from your desk for three hours.
Those are our tips for creating a better workflow that’ll let you do the work that matters — we’d love for you to let us know, on Twitter, what your favorite productivity hacks are.