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In this post I'll go over some of the key productivity principles that I've picked up over time.
Plan your day the night before. You'll realize how much free time you have in a day, once you start dissecting it. This is not so that you can fill up your day with work. This is so that you can realize that there is enough time in the day to work and chill.
For example: without a plan you might spend four hours a day switching between social media and your work, when without social media could have finished your work in an hour.
But remember to not be very strict with your plan. Instead of making a schedule, plan sessions by tasks rather than time. So don't write down "I will do this from 9:30 to 11:30" because your mind will then optimize to filling up that time with the least amount of effort possible.
So, it would be good to have a measure. Such that you know when to stop. The point of this planning is not discipline, it is mindfulness.
Another thing that helped me a lot was day streaks. Keep track of things you want to do everyday. Unlike a todo list or a daily schedule, this isn't time bound. It is used for acquiring long term results.
For example: I want to study Japanese everyday, or exercise everyday, or read a book everyday. Once I do these activities, I put a tick for the day and they form a chain of ticks which I am compelled not to break.
Again, it would be good if you have a measure. As an example, you may choose to run for 2 kilometers everyday. However, there are several activities for which it is not immediately apparent what that measure could be. For these activities it helps to break them down further.
It is also important to have a reasonable measure to live up to, the key is to do the same thing everyday. So instead of doing a lot in one day, choose a measure that will allow you to keep up for a lot of days.
Once you have allocated time for doing something, the best way to make use of that commitment is to start without thinking too much. Jump into your work as soon as possible.
Don't spend too much time in tasks that only make you feel productive, such as spending too much time thinking about what tools would be best for your work, instead of actually working. Don't plan prematurely. Don't think too far off into the future. Just start.
You are a product of your environment.
Never trust your willpower alone, creating an inducive environment is a must. For that, make sure there are no cues in your environment that may break your flow.
For example: block access to social media applications based on time. If you use an app for 2 hours a day, you can set for it to be blocked after 1 hour of usage.
But just like any measure, your brain will always find tricks around these things, so keep iterating until you find what works best for you.
Edit (13/03/2021): Updated the post to talk about getting into a productive cycle, rather than just optimizing once you are already productive.