Productivity Principles

These are not correct, but these are mine, adopted and refined from somewhere. I begin by saying “Your milage may vary, but”.

Barely working systems

I define system as a sequence of steps you do one after the other which allows you to accomplish a goal. It can be as simple as the order you walk in a grocery shop to the way you start your day. Overtime, systems become habits. Here are some better examples

  • Note taking
  • Scheduling: Can range from “I’ll remember everything” to “I need every minute scheduled on a calendar”.
  • Reading: Finding things worth reading → storing those links → eventually reading them.
  • et al.

But the biggest mistake I’ve seen myself and many make after they establish a system is when they go down the path of optimising it.

DO NOT OPTIMISE. Leave it as barely working. Anything is barely working when it gets you from start to finish. Further time spend on optimising may or may not have an impact on outcome, but it does take time away from doing the thing. The whole point of having a system is to do the thing. Now, the system itself is taking away time from that.

All hobbies are 4 hobbies rolled into one. Doing and discussing the hobby and doing and discussing the gear. Its true for systems too. We get trapped in optimising tools of the activity than doing the activity itself. I keep beautifying this website than writing article in it. The solution is to do things inefficiently, keep it barely working. Ex:

  • Don’t organise your note taking directory. Dump everything in a stack. Don’t worry, you can find what you are looking for.
  • Don’t over organise your day. Color coded calendars indicating different activity types or priorities are not going to help (I’m talking to myself here.)

Or Nothing

I think I read it first in a podcast of Jerry Sienfield.

  • Decide on a block of time. 30 mins, 1 hour etc, set a timer for that duration.
  • Now before the timer goes off, you can do THE thing, or nothing.

Don’t feel like doing the thing? Just sit there and do nothing. Don’t look at the phone, don’t read a book. do THE thing, or nothing.

Why does it work?

  • You know when it ends. After the alarm goes off, you can relax.
  • It brings your focus to one thing. You know what to do within that block. There is no ambiguity. Every being in your body and willpower can focus on one thing.
  • Its gives you some flexibility. There is always an option of not doing anything. You can sit there and chill; by not doing anything.

Monthly plans

No schedule or strategy is optimal for reality. Things change, life gets in the way. Everything changes. Lets plan for change.

But having a plan that too adaptive is no plan at all. Might as well go with the flow. Monthly is a good trade-off. Four weeks is enough time for any plan to have enough impact. Weekly and is too soon and Quarterly seems too long to suffer through a bad plan.

Make a schedule and follow it for a month. Don’t change the execution for minor flaws. But note them down. Review the plan at the start of the month; edit, change or completely rewrite the plan. Make it better for next month.

Another tangential tip here is to plan for 4 weeks. i.e 1-28 of any month, stick to the plan and take the remaining days of the month off.


I keep joking that everything we do is to sleep and eat. If either of those are not meet, then everything else is pointless. Alarms to wake up is flying in the face of this principle. So

Don’t wake up to an alarm.

Maybe keep an alarm to go to sleep.

Then again, It would be stupid to sleep through an alarm if I have a flight to catch. So, sleep uninterrupted most of the time.

Here are a few tips to change you sleep schedule.

  • Quick cold shower right before your bed time. Don’t take more than 2 min. Otherwise the lazy mind will kick in. Quick shower.
  • Cooler temperature seems to go hand in hand with sleep for me. Is there anyway you can reduce the temperature of your room? See this
  • See the next tip on how to fool yourself time.

Analog Watch

Do you want to fall sleep at 10 while you regularly sleep at 12, get yourself an analog watch and turn in 2 hours ahead. When the watch shows 12, go to sleep. Reduce the time differential at your own pace.

Did the tip looks stupid? How will I believe the time in watch when I know its ahead? I have no idea. But it seems to works. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

You can use the same technique in different situations. Have a exam for 3 hours duration? Turn the time to 9 am when you practise and when its 12 in watch, your 3 hours are up.

Digital watch shows you the time. Analog watches shows you how much time is left.

Calendar. Not to-do lists

This technique is a bit extreme. View time as space by using your calendar program, add every task in the calendar at the time you intent to do it. This forces you to find a time to do the task and decide ahead how long its going to take. Read more here.

I equate this technique to learning vim. Very steep learning curve; very high barrier to entry, but extremely useful and becomes a second nature once you get used to it. Viewing time as space allows you to see the bigger picture.


Paper, docs, white board anything. Do not get trapped into the hell of organising things. Don’t even bother to keep things in one place. Writing is hard. Don’t add any barrier.

Writing has this magical ability to linearise your thoughts. Thing become clearer and concise when you see your own words explaining it to you.

Be Forgiving

This is the most effective productivity principle I have. There is no point in being frustrated when your plan doesn’t work out. The point is to do things. Not do things according to plan. Plan and schedules are tools to doing things.

tags: #stories