TEDxUW 2014 Talk – Productivity

Posted on March 20, 2014

I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on productivity with the TEDxUW community this past Saturday (March 15th).  For those that were not able to attend, I will link to the video when the TEDxUW team publishes it in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, several people have asked for more information on the tips I provided and links to the products I suggested.  I hope my tips help you become more productive!

I have found three items which have been critical for improving my productivity.

1. Exercise every single day

According to the Ontario Ministry of Health regular physical activity provides almost limitless benefits for adults, including:

  • Improved sleep, digestion, posture and balance.
  • Stronger muscles, bones, and immune system
  • Reduce stress levels and relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety

In general, exercising has so many positive health benefits that we should consider it be one of the most important elements of our lives.

2. Plan your day

Spending time to plan out exactly what tasks need to be completed that day provides a roadmap for exactly how to spend your time. Planning your day doesn’t need to take an hour but rather I find it consumes about 10-15 minutes.  Simply write out your list tasks for the day and prioritize them.  With your list in hand, you start working on the first task with focus until it is complete.  Once complete, move onto the next task on your list until you are finished the list.  Tasks in general should not take longer than 25 minutes at a time and if longer you should break them into smaller sub-tasks.  For example, “graduate from university” isn’t a suitable task to write at top of your task list each morning.

The best part of having a plan is that at every single point during the day you know exactly what to work on as the answer will already be sitting in front of you.

3. Improve yourself every single day. You need to set aside time to build your own skills every single day.

Brian Tracy calls it the “golden hour” and I have seen it with many other names.  No matter what you call it, you should set aside at least one hour every single day to improve yourself.  Read a book that can help you improve your skills.  Listen to a video or learn a new development framework.  The goal is to improve your skills but to do so outside of a specific work or school task.

The key is ensuring that you are setting aside time to push your own limits and bring in new knowledge every single day.

Get up early!

One of my favourite habits to ensure I make time to exercise, plan my day and get quality time to improve myself is waking up early. I set my alarm for 4:45am every morning.  I have been successful in getting up early since October of 2013 and now cannot imagine going back to my previous approach of staying up late every night.  The biggest benefit for me of getting up early is that I know at 7am that my kids are getting up.  So, there is pressure to get as much done as possible in the morning compared to working at night where the only pressure is your own exhaustion.

Several studies have correlated waking up early with success. Here are some of the benefits.

Better grades – studies have shown that college students who identified themselves as “morning people” earned a full point higher on their GPAs (USA) than those who were “night owls”.
Get better sleep – sleep experts say that going to bed earlier and waking up earlier leads your body to be more in tune with the earth’s circadian rhythms which offers more restorative sleep.
Paying yourself first – by performing the important tasks early in the day, it ensures that you have the willpower and focus to get them done before the other commitments in life start taking precedence.

Here are four tools that I use to better measure my life to ensure that I can manage it effectively.

1. FitBit

I absolutely love my FitBit and can say it has definitely changed my life.  By measuring my steps every single day I get a good estimate of my activity level for the day.  By evening if I haven’t hit my goal of 10,000 steps (8km per day) then I head out for a family walk.  Through competition with my family, it ensures that we are all striving towards the top.  myFitnessPal integrates seamlessly with my FitBit to help me track what I eat and tells me when I have eaten more calories than I have burned through activity.

2. Office Time

Out of all of the apps I use on my phone, Office Time has likely changed my life the most.  When I started at Velocity, I was working on my own startup called NextUp Labs and it was very important to me that I ensure both Velocity and NextUp Labs were getting the time they needed.  I started using Office Time to measure exactly where and when I was spending my time.  I use it to track time spent on individual projects but also the activities within those projects (meetings, work, education, etc).  Imagine if you started tracking the time you were spending on school each week – how much time per course and what activities you were performing as part of that course?  I can guarantee that the results would be very surprising.  We tend to over-estimate how much time we spend on individual activities.  You would find that the time you are spending is not equal across all of your courses.  You would notice that infrequent activities like group work actually take up less of your time than you believe right now.  And of course, the real time sinks in your life that you take for granted (travelling to and from campus every day) take up a lot more time than you believe when you add it all up.

By truly understanding where we are spending our time, it allows us with the opportunity to better manage it.

3. Audible

I love leveraging my down time in the morning while getting ready or when driving to work to listen to audio books that will make me better at what I do every day.  Last week, I listened to Chris Anderson’s “Free” and this week I am listening to Dale Carnegie’s “Win Friends and Influence People”.  Audiobooks have enabled me to take back time in my life and make it extremely productive.

4. Renew
Renew is a hardware unit that sits on my bed and measures my sleep using low frequency radio waves.  It allows me to determine when I am sleeping, how long and whether in light or deep sleep.  It allows me to passively measure how well I am sleeping and I have proof that drinking alcohol before sleeping will ensure you have a poor sleep.

We are all given the same 24 hours each day.  Only we can choose what to do with it.  What are you waiting for?

2 Replies to "TEDxUW 2014 Talk - Productivity"

  • Ryan
    October 2, 2014 (11:10 pm)

    Great article and presentation, thanks for sharing. Do you still use Office Time and recommend it?

    • Mike Kirkup
      October 2, 2014 (11:13 pm)

      Yes, definitely. One of those apps I use so many times per day that I have lost count.

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