How I Became Productive

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This is my first post as part of iDevBlogADay, a fantastic site hosted by @mysterycoconut to encourage developers to blog more. I have been waiting excitedly on the list for the last few months, and I’m happy I finally have a chance to deface his site with my ramblings.

Last summer I stumbled onto a book called The 4-Hour Work Week. I decided I could risk one of my Audible credits after seeing it praised many times. It was really a case of the Rule of Seven working flawlessly. I started listening to the audio book while driving home from a long weekend. After listening to the book for an hour I pulled my car onto the shoulder of the highway and took a picture of the mile marker.

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I wanted to capture this moment, to remember this moment forever. The book made me think about my life. It made ask myself some uncomfortable questions, and realize that I had many things I wanted to do before I died. It woke me up and made me realize that I won’t ever have this much free time again in my life. I felt the strong urge to finally use the MacBook I had bought a few months earlier to actually build something for the iPad, which was the original plan.

The 4-Hour Work Week helped me immensely. It helped me figure out that I didn’t need to get better at multitasking, nor did I need to plan every minute of every day. What I needed to do was to remove distractions and enable myself to focus on what is actually important to me. The biggest impact on my productivity was the “information diet.”

No newspapers, magazines, audiobooks, or nonmusic radio … No news websites whatsoever … No television at all, except one hour of pleasure viewing each evening … No web surfing at the desk unless it is necessary to complete a work task…

Timothy Ferris suggests imposing this diet for five days as a way to shock your system into being productive. I imposed it on myself until I completed my first iPad app. I knew that my biggest time wasters were things like reddit, RSS readers, and links from Twitter. It was hard, but four months later I published my first app, No Dice, on November 12th. To this day, I still don’t use an RSS reader. I found that I simply cannot be productive when I have 300 news items to digest every day.

Only The First Step

After finally giving birth to my app baby, I was ready for some serious goofing off. I had a┬ádecadent┬áTV, video game, and news binge that lasted for a few weeks. But something strange was niggling in the back of my head, something had changed. I didn’t enjoy goofing off as much as before, I yearned to built something again.

During my information binge, I discovered that I really liked the iOS developer community. Reading inspirational stories like those of Matt Rix, Jeremy Olson, and Noel Llopis made me really want to join the community. I made this blog and started to capture some of my thoughts about programming and programmer culture.

Productivity Porn

The 4-Hour Work Week isn’t the be-all end-all of productivity. Getting Things Done by David Allen and the Back to Work podcast with the lovable Merlin Mann are two other great resources that dip further into the mechanics of completing projects. Merlin is particularly good at cutting through the nonsense that you think is keeping you from working and telling you to get the fuck to work.

What’s Next?

Now that I have conquered my white whale I’m working on my next projects. That’s right, projects. 37Signals posted a great article a few years back about keeping projects small to make them stay interesting and accomplishable. I decided to try it out and I now have three partially completed apps to show for it, and I’m incredibly happy about it. The interesting thing was, once I got to the third app I found I had actually hit something I really wanted to make. I lost sleep thinking about new features and woke up before my alarm went off in the morning because I wanted to code so badly.

I think that this is the really interesting part about small projects, they let you keep trying new things until you find something you really love to work on. Assuming that the first project you come up with has to be the one you ship can lead to working on something you don’t love. You’re not very likely to fix bugs or add features to something you don’t enjoy. Find something you love and it won’t feel like work anymore.