Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

A Few Guidelines for Productivity

We all want to become productive or be more productive. To that end, we experiment with and adopt systems, tools, and techniques. Sometimes, those systems or tools or techniques are complex. Or we make them more complex by twiddling and twerning.

Become more productive doesn’t require you to shoehorn yourself into someone else’s way of doing things. All you need to do is boil everything down to it essentials and follow a few simple guidelines.


Many people speak in terms of rules. Rules for just about everything.

I focus on guidelines. Why? Rules tend to be a tad inflexible. And far too many people treat them that way. Rules are carved in stone. Rules are sacrosanct. Any deviation from the rules is cause for alarm or punishment.

Guidelines, on the other hand, are fluid. They’re malleable. You can modify them as you see fit.

Let’s take a look at a few of the productivity guidelines that I follow.

The Six Week Guideline

We all amass information. Notes, interesting articles and blog posts to read later, images, quotes, ideas. And much more. All of that information collects somewhere — whether in folders on your computer or in a note taking tool like Evernote or Simplenote or Instapaper.

That note taking tool or that folder becomes a graveyard for your information. It’s a pile of facts and articles and notes that you’ll never get to. Ever.

So, every six weeks do a purge. Look at what you’ve collected over the last six weeks. As yourself these questions:

  • Have I looked at the information since I captured it?
  • Will I be able to read it or act on it in the next six weeks?

If the answer to one or both is no, then delete the information. Keeping it around just adds to your overhead. It serves no purpose and you can free up space for what you will be able to tackle.

The Four Tasks Guideline

If you look at the to-do lists that many people compile, you’ll notice a common theme: those lists are long. Some stretch for pages. A to-do list like that paralyzes. It causes stress. It induces procrastination. It’s a recipe for not getting things done.

Instead, focus your to-do list. Keep that list short. Turn it into a daily to-do list. Look at the tasks, and choose four of the most important items. Complete those tasks today. Don’t worry about anything else. Just focus on those four tasks.

You should also take a close look at your to-do list. Are there any tasks in there that you’re unlikely to get to within the next six or 12 months? If so, delete them. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll get to them someday. Chances are, you won’t.

The Use the Power Button Guideline

Are you one of those people who has their phone turned on 24/7? Are you glancing at that little screen in your hand at all hours of the day and the evening?

If that’s you, ask yourself why you’re doing that. If you don’t have a compelling reason to be doing that, then take action. Take control away from your phone. How? By turning it off.

Have a set time each evening to press the power button. I usually do that at 7:00 p.m. My phone doesn’t get turned back on until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. If someone needs to reach me, they can leave a message or send an email.

By turning off my phone, I can focus on whatever work or learning I need to tackle. I can do that without interruption. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done without that distraction of your smartphone.

The Digital Fast Guideline

You don’t need to be connected at all times. Sometimes, you need a break from technology and connectedness. One of the best ways to do that is by doing a digital fast.

A digital fast cuts you off from all forms of electronic communication for a period of time. That can be a morning, an afternoon, or full day, or a weekend. No internet, no email, no social media during that time.

How does a digital fast make you more productive? It lets you concentrate on what matters. It lets you ponder problems that are nagging you. It lets your mind go fallow. All without the distractions of our age.

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