¬†Are your 37 notifications, 63 unread emails, and 19 pending action items stressing you out to the point you can’t get anything done? This post might help.
I’m often depicted as a productivity freak with 100 chrome extensions, Mac apps, sophisticated to-do lists & timers. While productivity isn’t the end goal, it sure is a useful friend for busy people.
Productivity is defined as a total output per one unit of a total input.
And that exactly what this post will be about: reducing input while increasing your output. In 2016, distractions have become the norm with always more apps, notification centers like smart watches and so on. I strongly believe computers can help us achieve more; that is unless you learn how to use them properly.
I’ve already talked about how to prioritize your tasks by either doing, automating, outsourcing or delete them, read this blog post first if you have not yet: huge time-saver!
The habits & tools presented in this post are based on my experience and situation; I encourage you to experiment with them, customize your use of them and add some more! Never stop experimenting!!!

Reduce Input (distractions)

Let’s be honest, as much as we like to feel important and the action most of the notifications, emails or messages (hell even calls!) are not that urgent and important. As an example, when was the last time you missed a phone call? Did something tragic or irreversible happen?

I’m not telling you never to check them but rather do it on your terms. In other words, let’s say you had 100 attention points per day. How would you rather spend them: by getting disturbed every 5 minutes by a Facebook notification or spend them on things that matter?

Less really is more. The lesser your brain is distracted and filled with unuseful information, the¬†more efficient you’ll be.

Habits

  • Turn off notifications. That’s right, as a start turn off your mobile & laptop email notifications as well as Facebook notifications and so on. Now. You don’t need them right away. Don’t believe me? Test it for a few hours and days and your life will change as mine did. If you’re on a Mac, turn off your notification center.
  • Check your messages & notifications at set times. Now, of course, you’re going to check your emails & notifications a few times per day. Do it on your terms.

 

Tools

  • Install an Adblock for your browser (mobile & desktop).
  • Get StayFocusd¬†for Chrome or a similar distraction blocker.¬†Sometimes you have to trick yourself to be productive.
  • Get Facebook Newsfeed eradicator¬†and prevent yourself from scrolling indefinitely in your Facebook feed. We’ve all been hooked; this is the best cure I’ve found.
  • Every blank tab is an occasion to lose focus. Get Momentum¬†and you’ll see a beautiful landscape and productivity-focused features.
  • Get Inbox when ready for Gmail¬†Chrome extension. Even if you¬†just want to search for an old email, if you see¬†some unanswered emails good chances are that you’ll turn into a monster and try to answer them. This extension allows you to hide your inbox while letting you search for emails or write new ones.

Inbox when ready

 

You should now feel way less overwhelmed. Doesn’t it feel good?

 

Increase output

Even if reducing interruptions and cognitive load makes your more productive, you’ve only worked on one part of the input-output relationship. Now let’s focus on increasing output. That were things get interesting.

Here is where I let you into my secret productivity garden and share my hacks regarding hardware, shortcuts, habits, and tools!

Habits

capture-decran-2016-12-13-22-16-19

 

  • Make a habit of having a copy every document on the Cloud,¬†whether it’s with Evernote (you can get a free month of Premium here) or Google Drive.¬†Not only will you never lose them and will be able to access them from anywhere but it’ll also make sure they’re safe.
  • Listen to white noise¬†and/or songs on repeat.¬†This habit both helps you separate from your immediate environment but also allows you to get¬†in the zone.

 

Tools

  • Good a good to-do list¬†app¬†and get more done. Make sure it works well between your laptop & mobile phone.
  • Use Rescuetime¬†to track how you spend your time when using your computer and optimize. I highly recommend you use their premium version as it allows you to keep track of your computer usage over time & includes a distraction blocker!
  • Pomodoro¬†is a method in which you work in intervals of 25-minutes work sessions separated by 5-minutes pauses. I find this method extremely refreshing as it not only forces you to achieve more in less time. Even if you don’t follow it by the letter, it will still force you to notice how fast time is passing by.
  • Get a clipboard manager,¬†it simply is an app that records everything you copy paste and makes it easily accessible. The one I use is called¬†Jumpcut (for OSX). Huge time- & life-saver!
  • In the same way, get a text expander.¬†Text expanders allow you to set shortcuts for strings of text you often repeat. For instance, each time I type “$website”, it’s replaced by “https://ambroisedebret.com”. You have plenty programs for that, but you set some shortcuts for free on Macs in Settings/Keyboard/Text.
  • We’re always searching for a bunch of files on our laptop, and if you only use the default settings, you’re missing out. Tools like Alfred (OSX) let you overwrite the default search bar for a much quicker, optimized one. Alfred also does a lot more and includes a clipboard manager & text expander.
  • Spectacle (OSX) is a tool that allows you to resize windows easily. Simple but nifty.
  • If you’re a compulsive Gmail user like me and often have to send the same email, install the canned response app. Just do so by going to Settings/Labs/Search “Canned responses”/Click on “Enable”/Save. Then when you’re in an email, you can select & save templates.

 

Gmail canned responses

 

  • As you can see in the screenshot above, Boomerang¬†is also an app I use in Gmail to either schedule emails in the future or make sure emails that were unanswered come back to me. It is such a life saver¬†to never forget to follow-up with people. Even better, you can prepare follow-ups using “boomerang this if no reply in 2 days”. It also gives you the option to schedule emails!

Also pretty useful when reaching out to people.

 

boomerang gmail no reply

 

  • Evernote¬†is my brain in the cloud. As I’m on my way to a paperless life, I take pictures of most of the documents I will need later, business cards I receive (it interprets them and allows you to add the person on LinkedIn directly) and where I take my notes. I’ve been a premium user for more than 2 years now and I can’t recommend it enough. Here you can try one month of the premium plan, on me.
  • IFTTT¬†is my tool of choice for personal life automation and social media automation.

 

Hardware

  • This one is silly but increase your mouse/touchpad speed.¬†It might take you a few moments to get used to it, but this will change everything.
  • Use a second screen¬†for research, blogging, presentations and comfort.
  • Get a good mouse¬†and save yourself from arthritis.
  • Get a mechanical keyboard¬†(I still have to test this one out but I’ve heard great things about comfort and increasing your typing speed by 25%).

 

Shortcuts

I’m often shocked by how many people don’t know the best shortcuts. Let’s say each shortcut saves you 3 seconds, in weeks we’re talking about hours saved.

Either you’re a Mac or Windows person; shortcuts follow a certain pattern. For instance, on Windows, nearly all shortcuts begin with “CTRL” while on Mac they’ll start with a “Command/Apple” key. ¬†You also have shortcuts per app or that are generic.

Also, shortcuts can be per app or generic.

Here are my Favorites (Mac/Windows):

  • Submit or send: Command/CTRL + Enter
  • Change window:¬†Command/Alt + Tab
  • Reload page:¬†Command/CTRL + R
  • Start a presentation:¬†Command/CTRL + Enter
  • Open a new tab:¬†Command/CTRL + T
  • Open a new window of the same program:¬†Command/CTRL + N
  • Mac-specific:
    • Kill tab: Command + W
    • Kill program:¬†Command + Q
    • Minimize window:¬†Command + M
    • Take a screenshot of a selection: Command + Shift + 4
    • ¬†Paste without formatting: Command + Shift +¬†V
    • Open the search bar: Command + Space
    • For additional in-context shortcuts on Mac, there a cheat sheet app for that.

 

Summary

While productivity isn’t the end goal, knowing some shortcuts & using the right apps can save you some incredible amount of time. Especially if you focus on reducing input while increasing output. Here is what we covered:

  • Reducing input & avoid distractions with
    • Good habits
    • Adequate tools
  • Increasing output and make the most of your limited time with
    • Habits to adopt
    • Tools to leverage the power of your laptop
    • Hardware upgrades to consider
    • Shortcuts that will save you some precious time

What are you own productivity hacks? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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Ambroise Debret

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