A Life of Productivity tip #19: make a procrastination list

A Life of Productivity‘s tip #19 may seem a little counter-intuitive:

Make a procrastination list. Make a list of high-leverage activities you can do the next time you procrastinate. This will let you stay productive while your mind wants to push away the things you have to do.

I’m…not sure about this one. On the plus side, if you’re an Olympic-level procrastinator like I am, it’s got to be a plus to fill that time with things that will actually benefit you, rather than watching an old episode of American Dad for the fourteenth time. And there’s surely a deeper point here about the benefit of being honest with yourself, acknowledging you’re not always going to be working on the right things, and planning how to deal with that.

But I’m just not sure that this would work for me. I’m what the full ALOP article refers to as a destructive procrastinator. When I’m putting off a blog post or a run or a difficult phone call, I don’t do laundry or wash up or alphabetise my spice rack. I faff around on Facebook. I piss about on Pinterest. I nap. If I’ve got a list of useful things I can do while procrastinating, I assure you that I will find a way to put off doing them.

I’m keeping an open mind, though. The article had some interesting-looking further reading, which I’ve added to Pocket. If nothing else, reading it will give me chance to put something else off.

A Life of Productivity tip #50: take more breaks

This is A Life of Productivity‘s tip #50:

Take more breaks. Breaks let you step back from your work, recharge, come up with better ideas, slow down, reflect on your work, and ultimately make you a lot more productive.

I’m sharing it today for 2 reasons.

1. it’s good advice. Read the full article for more on how breaks make you more productive.

2. Today I seconded a motion at our full council meeting expressing Manchester City Council’s support for the trade union movement, so it seems like a good opportunity to remember that the right to breaks at work is just one of the many things we all owe trade unions. Click here to see my speech.

A Life of Productivity tip #60: Coffitivity

Some of A Life of Productivity‘s tips have caused my friends to raise a sceptical eyebrow or two – I think none more so than #60:

Download Coffitivity (web, Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac). The ambient hum of a coffee shop has been proven to boost your productivity and creativity. Coffitivity simulates that same vibe on your computer.


Explaining to my nearest and dearest that I am wearing earphones not to listen to Taylor Swift but to, essentially, pretend that I’m in Starbucks, turns out to cause much merriment. “Technology has gone too far,” quoth my other half. “Are you going to make yourself a pretend coffee as well?” wondered a colleague. Arf arf arf.

A year ago I probably would have laughed along, but here’s the thing – Coffitivity works. Last November I had my annual crack at NaNoWriMo and – for the first time in six years of taking part – actually completed a 50,000-word first draft of a novel.

Over half of those words were written in the last 2 days of November (don’t try this at home, folks) through the old-fashioned lock-yourself-in-a-room-and-don’t-come-out-until-you’ve-done-it method. I needed something to listen to – if only to drown out other, more distracting sounds, like distant dogs and burglar alarms and the weird mystery noise coming from the takeaway downstairs – but I find music with lyrics too distracting when I’m writing fiction, and don’t know enough about classical music to pick something to listen to. So, having seen ALOP’s reference to Coffitivity earlier in the year, I gave it a go.

ALOP refers to a study that suggests people are more productive in coffee shops – like Family Guy’s Starbucks Writers in the image above – because, basically, they’re being watched. And it makes a kind of sense that replicating the ambient noise of a coffee shop could work as a kind of productive conditioning. Whatever the reason behind it – Coffitivity works. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A Life of Productivity #12: touch-typing

A Life of Productivity‘s tip #12 looked like it would be useful:

Learn to touch type. The average typing speed is about 40 WPM, and touch typing can boost that to 60–80 WPM—a 50% to 100% increase. The time you save will add up very quickly.

I’m trying to cultivate a daily writing habit; I want to blog more; basically everything I do involves a lot of typing. This seemed like a good way to shave minutes off most tasks.

But first, to find out my actual current typing speed. I decided to use http://typera.net/ because it reminds me of the time that this woman schooled a guy on OKCupid after he mansplained her own typing speed to her.

My typing speed came out at ~71 wpm – nowhere near either of the competing OKCupid typists above, but midway through the apparent speed you can get from touch-typing. So the lesson I’m taking from that is that this doesn’t need to be my priority right now. But it’s always good to learn new things – and a 100+ wpm would definitely save me some time! – so I’m adding ‘learn to touch type‘ to my list of Stuff To Do After The Election. Along with basically everything else.

A Life of Productivity tip #72: completely disconnect from the internet when you have to get something done

Our new campaign office has a wireless internet connection that is often largely theoretical. This is annoying as hell, because most of the time when I have to get something done, emails are involved. It seems like a good point to investigate A Life of Productivity‘s tip #72:

Completely disconnect from the Internet when you have to get something done. 47% of your time online is spent procrastinating. If you want to get something big done, unplug from the Internet.

(Incidentally, that 47% stat is from a study conducted before Facebook, Twitter et al came into popular use. Yeeshk.)

This advice is everywhere, for writers in particular. When the Guardian surveyed successful authors for their top ten pieces of writing advice, one of Zadie Smith’s rules was:

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

And Jonathan Franzen went one further:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

(I’d say ‘I’m sure he meant his or her workplace’, but let’s face it, he didn’t.)

I’m not going to get any writing done in the campaign office (although I’ve already thought it would make an interesting play…) but I can keep a list of other things I need to do which don’t require an internet connection, and use this opportunity to crack through the list without any distractions. Having just wasted ten minutes reading Jonathan Franzen’s entire Wikipedia page to find the source of the quote above, I think it’s an opportunity I should embrace…

A Life of Productivity tip #53: make more friends at the office

This is A Life of Productivity‘s tip #53:

Make more friends at the office. Office friendships increase your job satisfaction by an average of 50%, make you seven times more engaged at work, and make you 40% more likely to get a promotion!

Click the link above for good advice. I’m sharing it today because today is the day we opened Jeff’s campaign office, and as you can see in the picture, lots of new and old friends turned up to help us. (I was there, honest. I’m just not very tall.)

A Life of Productivity tip #5: remember that perfect is the enemy of good

This is another A Life of Productivity tip that came to me during a conversation with Jeff – specifically, while we were taping a large piece of carpet to the ground. (We’ve been putting the new Jeff Smith for Withington campaign office together. It has been both last-minute – it took us a while to find an office – and low-budget.)

“It’s not perfect…” said Jeff, surveying the somewhat wrinkled effect of two big offcuts secured to a concrete floor with duct-tape.

“That’s fine,” I said, and quoted tip #5:

Remember that “perfect is the enemy of good.” Your house will never be exactly 100% clean—something will always be out of place. Particularly with low-leverage activities, know when to stop.

Attention to detail is important, but there’s a danger in making a virtue out of perfectionism. Back when I was a more regular blogger, a friend told me “I just don’t think I could blog as regularly as you do. I’d be too obsessed with making every blogpost perfect and never be able to press ‘publish’.” Which is a socially acceptable way of saying “You’re nowhere near as good a writer in real life as I am in my imagination”, but it also makes a good point. If you get too hung up on perfection, you’ll never get anything finished – or, more likely, never even get started.