The art of productivity: my 3 tips

Productivity has been dear to my heart for over 20 years. Ever since starting University, after my careers advisor at high school bluntly informed me I’d never go to university, I wanted to be efficient with my most precious asset, time. Without giving too much credit to that event, I think university also taught me discipline. Discipline is the base foundation of productivity.

What does being productive really mean?
Well it means a number of things to different people. To me it means being able to maximize my time wisely when executing so that (a) I get closer to my goal/s and (b) am a better version of me then the day before.

Time is a resource you are mostly in control of and one you cannot get back once passed. Treat it like your life depends on it. It often does.

It’s no rocket science that a good productivity strategy requires a good system that you have to habitually follow. Habitually follow is that core foundation. Discipline. If you lack self discipline than that’s where you should start 1st before carrying forward with my strategies.

3 tips to give you superhuman powers

Tdlr;
1. Use a system to getting things done,
2. Live by a Calendar for planning, reflection & communication of your time,
3. Automate the boring & tedious parts of your life.

Let’s unpack each tip to see what I actually mean and tools I have adopted to improve the success of it.

(a) Use a system to get things done.

A system is just some process that you can follow to reduce the burden of information overload into actionable footprints.

Your brain holds a limited number of stuff in context and laying those memories down into long term memory is an exercise in itself. During childhood remembering was effortless but as we get older (and wiser) long term memory requires a pain/strong emotion to lay down those memories.

The best strategy here is to have a process like GTD (Getting Things Done Method created by David Allen) and a tool to serve as an extension to your brain. I believe your mobile phone when used wisely can be that extension to your brain to jot down thoughts, ideas, stuff to do, etc. so as to not forget. Collection is also the 1st step in the GTD method followed by processing and execution. Check out my prior post on the GTD Method if you are keen to learning it. There are other methods you can employ like [The Pomodoro Technique] for focused execution to [Decision Matrix] for better decision making.

Tool I use

GSDFaster

GSDFaster uses all 3 of the mentioned productivity processes in a list making fashion. I built this app because I was annoyed with other productivity apps getting acquihired and killed off. A productivity app should serve a lifetime and sadly none do. Gsdfaster is released to public because I maintain it myself for me and want you to also benefit from it.

(b) Live by a Calendar for planning, reflection & communication of your time.

Using a calendar is probably one of the best things you can start doing today. A calendar is free and exists in every smartphone & computer.

I’m often surprised how many people do not use a calendar or think that a calendar is only for work purposes. A calendar gives you reflection, perspective and the ability to control time on your terms. We refer to that as being proactive with your todos/goals. The inverse of course is a reactive approach where others tell you what to do to achieve their goals. Think about this for a second. Thanks to Mike from Social Capital for [explaining] this mindset approach (proactive vs reactive) in a powerful form.

How I use my calendars: yap, more than 1. I have 2. Personal and Business. They both share events so I can avoid overlaps. They are both Google Calendars which are synced between my Mac and mobile devices (iPhone & Android) making sure I always am on top of what’s next. No excuses. For personal calendar my wife uses to schedule me for family matters and for business my team at [Veryfi] has full visibility and access to schedule me. I still accept or decline an event but the idea here is to (a) give transparency to the important folks in my life at the moment and (b) motivate me to reflect, plan and own my time wisely.

Having a calendar means that you can be proactive not reactive in how you get things done. It means you own your future not someone else.

I also recommend you to;

  • Every Sunday evening spend few mins planning the week ahead. This includes blocking blocks of time for thinking, travel et al. for the week ahead this really gives you a mental concept in your mind of what awaits. Your subconscious mind can then get to work solving the complexities!
  • Every morning review the day ahead. Just that day to make sure you are on track.

Warning: you might become happier. It’s fact that achieving stuff releases serotonin, the feel good chemical.

(c) Automate the boring & tedious parts of your life — data entry!

Yes data entry is a pita! A pain in the neck, fingers literally! It also robs us of hours with our loved ones and is boring as hell.

Now, I’m not referring to just digitization but actual automation.

Digitization is the process of using say a spreadsheet on your computer vs doing it the old school way with pen & paper. But not just any spreadsheet, I use Google Sheets since it’s centralized in the cloud and accessible by all my devices (even offline). I also invested in Hybrid Cloud Solutions for work. This is better than old school but let’s nudge it up more.

So what’s automation? That’s the new field of Machine Learning (ML) where the service learns from your behaviors and suggests what you should do next. Don’t confuse this with AI which is a rules based dumb system around since the invention of computers but today touted by marketing as the holy grail. ML is real-time and creates a wow. f a service touts itself with ML/AI but takes minutes to execute on its promise than its as good as fake news! More on that in a future post.

So, the benefit of ML automation is you can relieve your brain cycles (energy) from the mundane stuff and repurpose it for bigger and better things that actually move the needle of progress. Onwards I hear you say!

My 2 favorite ML powered services are:

  • Gmail app for email. Gmail uses machine learning (those complex algorithms & models) to analyze your emails and then suggest few options to fast reply. This is safe! Because it’s machines end-to-end. I loveeeee this feature. I no longer have to type that reply, grammar check it and then OCD over whether it’s the right reply. Thanks Google!
  • Veryfi for financial bookkeeping. It’s amazing how much & many spend transitions we make each day. The [application of this tool are endless] and I use it for business and personal needs. For personal budgeting to make sure I spend less than I earn (basic wealth strategy) and for business to comply with Uncle Sam (tax office— burden of proof). But the real benefit is eliminated data entry. All I need to do is point the app at a receipt in my hand, it extracts all the background noise (including my hand) and reads data in real-time! It doesn’t end here, it will even categorize the transaction based on my prior actions so my accountant can get me a larger refund and tax season no longer feels like a rush job through a pile of receipts. Tax reporting done!

Disclaimer: I built GSDFASTER & VERYFI for my own needs because the tools on the market were a data—privacy concern to me and some like the bookkeeping space use human cheap labor which again reinforces my main concern around data—privacy and I do not want anything to do with supporting slavery.

Ok, if you have read this far than I salute you. Thank you kindly for getting lost in my mind. I love feedback. Go ahead, let me know what you think on this topic that has been deer to my heart for over 15 years. Onwards!

Author: Ernest W. Semerda

Aussie in Silicon Valley. Veryfi CoFounder (#YC W17 cohort). GSDfaster Founder. View all posts by Ernest W. Semerda

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