This question originally appeared on Quora: What techniques can I use to increase my productivity while working from home?
So I decided to write down what six things I do every day that help me with productivity. They may work for you. Or not. They work for me, although I always need to improve.
About six years ago I would say I was 100% unproductive. Everything I did would cost me in either well-being or money.
By "well-being" I mean competence, good relationships, and freedom. So when I say "cost me well-being" I would do things to specifically hurt the above three.
Now, I feel I'm extremely productive. I run businesses, I write books and blogs, do 2 podcasts, and spend time with family.
So what is "productive"?
Things that increase my well-being: my feeling of growth or competence in a field I love (for instance, writing), my relationships with others, and my sense of freedom (which could, but does not always, involve money).
Using that filter, you can easily decide what is productive and what is not. For instance, do you respond to that negative comment on the Internet?
No. Never. That person is dealing with his issues. Maybe he or she needs help from people who love him. But you don't have to give that help. That would be unproductive.
Freedom can also come from needing less, so then you need less money. As an extreme example, if I don't need to own my own private jet then that's $100,000,000 less I need to feel comfortable with what I have.
It's important to note that these three items of well-being are not goals.
I will never be "competent." And my relationships are never finished. And freedom is about my choices right now, not my choices in the past or the future.
A day is productive if I grow in competence. If I grow in my relationships. If I grow in my feeling of "choosing myself" - my freedom to make my own decisions in life instead of catering to the decisions and tastes of others.
My six things (please help me and add to my list):
Reading is maybe the most productive thing you can ever do. Here's what happens: when you die at the age of 100, you've just lived one 100-year life.
But when I read a book in a few days time, I just absorbed an entire life, curated, of someone I admire or respect.
It's like every book I read is a mentor. How many mentors do I have? Thousands.
I used to admire people who say, "I only need 3 hours of sleep a day."
Only later did I find out that most of these people are borderline mentally ill. Think about the people in your life who say they only need 3 hours of sleep.
Be honest. Maybe they are a little...? (Fill in the blank).
Why is sleeping productive? There's brain science about rejuvenating neurons. I read that somewhere.
There's all sorts of studies that show that people who sleep more get sick less, have more willpower, and are less at risk for cancer.
But there's something else., a guest on my podcast, says that the brain's peak performance happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. Meaning: if you wake up at 5am, then from 7am to 9am, your brain is 100 times as active as when it's tired late at night.
So here's what I do. I wake up at 5. I'll read (or take a walk), until 7am, and then I'll start writing. Writing is the activity I love most. I'm a little kid again when I write. So I want my brain to be at its peak. So from 7 - 9am I'll write.
Then, I do a trick. Many days (when I can) I'll take a 1-2 hour nap around 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
Then I know that two hours later my brain again will be peaking. Maybe not as much as before, but enough. So I'll write again. This is why I do my Twitter Q&As at 3:30 every Thursday. Because I know my brain is supercharged then.
I know that if I do the activity I love most when my brain and body have the most energy, then that will create the most value, create the most opportunities for me, improve my competence, and improve my freedom because of the opportunities generated.
EAT AT HOME
I don't like to eat out. It takes so long. And then you have to wait for the bill. And I always feel bloated, and I hate salads in restaurants.
So Claudia and I make simple meals (Claudia has been super inspired byand his wife Julia Platt, so lately all the things we eat come from their book Plantpower) and we are done in about 10 minutes, two meals a day.
So I probably save an hour or two by not eating out or not eating junk that will bloat me and make me less productive.
THROW STUFF OUT
A few months ago, Claudia and I threw out almost everything we owned. What do we really need?
I like reading on the Kindle. How many sheets do we need? We never have guests. How many clothes do I need? I was storing clothes I hadn't worn in forever.
Our house was totally empty. It was really nice. I felt like a breath of fresh air was going through my head.
Einstein says (as an insult), "If a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind, then what does an empty desk mean?" I'm okay with that, Albert! I don't mind having an empty mind.
It makes room for new things, new connections between my memories, new things for me to enjoy. Fewer things to obsess on.
Cleaning the outside and cleaning the inside reduce stress. Every day I try to throw things out. It makes me feel good.
It also make me feel like I need less. Throwing things out tells my brain, "You don't need this anymore," so my brain stops wanting things.
Someone asked me a few weeks ago to comment on "the situation in Greece." Is Greece still a country? I had to look it up.
I guess they are going to default on their debt. So what? This gives TV people something to argue about. I'm happy for them.
People are wired to notice lions much faster than they notice apple trees. That's why we are alive.
Since there are no more lions chasing us down Main Street, the news tries to find other ways to trigger that fight-or-flight reflex.
I don't need to fight or flee in order to improve competence, improve relationships with people, or improve my freedom.
So no TV. No news. No web surfing. No books about current events. No talking to people about current events. No conferences about what's going on in the world.
I never went to a meeting where someone gave me a check at the end. I've never traveled to a meeting where it resulted in me making money or being happier. Most meetings can be summarized in a two-line email.
I'll go to a meeting if it's with my friends. That's fun and improves my relationships. But I never go to any other meetings.
What if you are an employee and you have to go to a meeting? Try to get out of it. Or go for part of it. Or insist you only go if there are no chairs at the meeting (meetings will be faster then). Or find a job where there's fewer meetings. Or show your boss there's evidence that companies with fewer meetings make more money.
I talk on the phone maybe once every other day. Again, the two-line email thing works in most cases.
I like Neil Strauss's approach. He has one hour a day scheduled for emails. His wife has his password so he can't even log onto email before that hour.
I don't email for an hour. My emails are mostly to readers with quick questions or to people I am inviting onto my podcast. I don't email anyone else.
I do use texts though. Because they are faster. And I can text answers to people's questions in my spare time while riding a cab or waiting for my kids or whatever. My phone number is 203-512-2161.
Sometimes I answer questions via text, sometimes on my podcast ("Ask Altucher"), and sometimes on my Twitter Q&A on Thursdays.
Again, if you're an employee somewhere you might be in the habit of responding quickly to email from, say, a boss. But try to cut it down to end-of-day when your brain is moving a bit slower and you don't need it as much.
Only do the thing you love most during your peak productive hours.
Hmmm, I just realized I gave eight ways to increase productivity. Since I've broken the rules (nothing wrong with that) I'll add a ninth.
We're the sum of our experiences and not our material things. Experiences stay with us forever and build us into who we become. They add to our well-being.
Material things get lost or thrown out or lose their usefulness.
A good experience for me is: where I meet friends, where I learn something new, where I learn something new that can increase my freedom.
When I do something I know will be unproductive, my gut reaction is to say, "Ugh, I can't believe I have to...".
Here's my trick: if I always change "I have to..." to the words "I get to..." then I can usually turn the experience into something productive.
Today I have to take my kids to dance recital rehearsals.
But then I get to see them dance.
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