I love productivity articles. I’ve written many of them. Quite frankly though, many of them are either repetitive or painfully obvious. You know what I mean. Wake up early, meditate, do deep work, blah blah blah.
So, this article is dedicated to some tips that aren’t wildly common. Some tips expand a bit more on the common ones and a couple are relatively unique and go against the grain of what we're told by gurus in the productivity space.
Let's get into it.
#1 Track Your Sleep But Never Look at It in the Morning
The psychology of energy and sleep can be as powerful as its biology.
Studies show that perceiving sleep to be subjectively unrestful can negatively impact energy the next day compared to having the same amount of sleep but perceiving it as restful. (Source)
Essentially, believing we slept well can make us feel like we slept well, even if we slept poorly (and vice versa).
So, track your sleep and use it to gain insights that can improve your sleep quality going forward, but never look at it first thing in the morning, especially if you might not have gotten optimal rest.
I'm also a huge believer that "the energy to work comes from doing the work." If we perceive that we've had poor rest, we might not give ourselves the chance to really drive ourselves into a state of high energy.
#2 Caffeine Is Most Effective 45 mins after Waking
This might not effect a ton of people, but it was a big time breakthrough for me. I drink 5 hour energy shots in the morning (one of my vices, I know) but I was taking them immediately before brushing my teeth and washing my face.
I had caffeine in my system within about 5-10 minutes of waking.
Our bodies send a surge of the stress hormone cortisol in an effort to wake us up. When cortisol is high, caffeine doesn’t do much for your body (except for temporarily relieving your caffeine addiction symptoms).
I was basically pumping gas into a car that had the gas cap on.
So, waiting until the cortisol levels dip back down before drinking any caffeinated beverage will give us more bang for our MGs of caffeine.
#3 Stop While You're on a Roll (Ernest Hemmingway Trick)
This is a little trick that dramatically improved my writing output.
The logic is that stopping before you feel like you've reached a point of writers block, a clear end or fatigue makes it much easier to pick back up the work later. It also allows your brain to subconsciously work through the process and ideas involved while you sleep or go about other tasks.
Common sense would say "ride your inspiration and motivation as far as you can," but Ernest Hemmingway suggests that we should stop just before we're tapped out.
I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it. I always worked until I had something done, and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.
Leaving an “open loop” makes it easier to pick back up later. Having unfinished work gives us a mild sense of stress that creates a stronger desire for us to remember to come back and complete it.
Writing is the best case example for this, but the approach can also be applied to other types of work that you start and stop daily.
For example, if you send out a weekly newsletter, don't try to write it all in one sitting. Stop midway and pick it back up in a few hours or the next day. I almost never write my weekly newsletters in one sitting.
Now, this method doesn't apply across the board. If you're working on a task that only needs to be done once and can be completed in one sitting, by all means, work until it's done.
#4 Twitter (X) Can Give You Exponentially More Value Per Minute Than Reading Non-Fiction
Many of us take for granted the fact that the greatest minds on the planet are spilling out their knowledge for free online everyday.
The best part about tweets is they provide highly concentrated value.
Creators aren't worried about sharing too many of their secrets. They want to go viral and grow their followings.
For example, I love the books of author Ryan Holliday, but they are long and take 6 hours+ to get through. However, he spills the biggest nuggets that are also in his books on Twitter daily.
Twitter is like speed reading the best books on the planet every time you log in (if you set your feed up correctly).
I recently wrote about turning your Twitter into a powerful hub for education and business here. Definitely check that out.
#5 [Some People Should] Ditch Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations became a staple of the productivity and self-development niche. This is an example of a tip that can be helpful for some people, but can have the opposite effect for others [Source].
Studies suggest that positive affirmations work but only for people who don't need them.
Two experiments showed that among participants with low self-esteem, those who repeated a positive self-statement(‘‘I’m a lovable person’’) or who focused on how that statement was true felt worse than those who did not repeatthe statement or who focused on how it was both true andnot true. Among participants with high self-esteem, thosewho repeated the statement or focused on how it was truefelt better than those who did not, but to a limited degree.Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certainpeople, but backfire for the very people who ‘‘need’’ themthe most
From Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others Research Paper by Joanne V. Wood W.Q. Elaine Perunovic, and John W. Lee1
For me, positive affirmations make me feel less confident. "Why would I need to trick myself into thinking things are a certain way or I am a certain type of person? If those things are true, why am I working so hard to convince myself?"
Although I don't necessarily believe in them, I do believe in the power of believing. If you believe they work for you, awesome! Keep them up.
However, for me, when I need some positivity, I like to crank up some music. It doesn't have to be cheesy happy ("Here Comes the Sun" or "Don't Worry, Be Happy," are a bit heavy handed for my taste). Just listen to something that makes you happy.
Of course, these aren't mutually exclusive. If you like your positive affirmations, you can also listen to that positive music.
Should You Avoid Country Music? Researchers Say Maybe.
I enjoy a little country music, but did you know there have been studies linking country music to higher suicide rates?
Researchers Jim Gundlach from Auburn University and Steven Stack of Wayne State University hypothesize that topics often present in the lyrics of country songs — such as “marital discord, alcohol abuse and alienation from work” — can foster a suicidal mood among those who are already at risk. [Source]
Of course, not all country music has negative vibes (drinking, divorce, low wages etc.)
There is a lot that goes into this, but I found this interesting and wanted to share.
#6 There Is Actually a Good Time to Multi-Task
This will be the most controversial point in this post and the only one that I don't back up with any sort of data or studies.
It's a rookie mistake to think that multi-tasking is a good thing. If you've read more than 2 posts on productivity, you know that multi-tasking just means doing multiple things poorly.
However, if you're like me, you might have a window of time that is ideal for soft core multi-tasking.
For me, it's while watching sports on TV.
Gasp! Watching TV AND multi-tasking?!?! [Clutches pearls].
Yes, this is a double no-no in the productivity space.
However, I'm a realist and this post is supposed to cover things others aren't talking about.
I enjoy watching football and baseball games. Why be productive if we don't get to also enjoy ourselves at some point?!?
I'm absolutely spending time watching some games each week but much of the time doesn't have any action. Commercials (which are about 25% of the airtime of a football game), breaks between plays, coach challenges etc.
So, unless I'm with my kids or friends, instead of just sitting there blindly staring at the idle time of the games and their commercials, I have my laptop handy and I crank out a small amount of work that requires little mindfulness and creativity.
Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't ever kick back and truly relax, but I bet there is a time where this approach makes sense.
I'm also not suggesting that you start watching TV during your traditional work hours. Absolutely do NOT do that. This is just a little bonus time that works for me and might work for you.
#7 Avoid Crypto Investments Unless You Know What You're Doing (Most Don't)
Although the industry is riddled with scams and fraud, this is not intended to be a diss on crypto. Rather, it's a diss on the distraction that is Coinbase (or whatever crypto apps and trackers you're using).
It's death by 1,000 paper cuts.
The volatility of crypto lead me to an unavoidable urge to regularly open my apps up and see how much "money" I had made or lost.
Obviously, until you sell, you haven't made or lost anything, but that doesn't seem to make a difference.
If I was up, I was in a good mood, if I was down, I was in a bad mood. It was a roller coaster of wasted time and unnecessarily strong emotions.
The worst thing was the urge to do something about each crypto spike or plummet. Since I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did, my moves were driven more by emotion and than logic and knowledge.
Everyone is a genius in a bull market and I got in in 2017 right when the surge started that made all of us feel like financial geniuses.