Have you heard of caffeine naps before? Looking for the ultimate second brain tool? Our newest Productivity Ninja here at Think Productive shares his Ninja approach to taking breaks and reviewing like a champ as well as sharing plenty more secrets to his daily productivity and agility. Take it away, Lee…
Occupation: Productivity Ninja, Project Manager
Company: Think Productive
Location: Margate, UK
Other job titles in life: Father, Husband, Home Owner, Taxi, Bank.
Not necessarily in that order.
What’s important about your workspace?
Anyone I work with will tell you about my OCD when it comes to my immediate surroundings. I hate clutter and having things laying around for the sake of it, distracting me from the work at hand. Order and simplicity are the words of the day for me. However, being a predominantly mobile worker, my physical workspace is never usually an issue. Armed with a Macbook, unlimited mobile tethering and cloud storage, I’m able to leverage agility and work from almost anywhere. This means that my craving for a clean and tidy physical workspace now transfers to the digital arena. I can’t deal with desktops that have multiple shortcut items on there. Documents areas that have no structure are a no-no for me. Multiple applications open at once, vying for my attention when I want to just concentrate on creating? No thanks!
Which ninja characteristic have you got nailed the most?
I would say that has to be Stealth and Camouflage. When I need to hide, I do exactly that! I’ve been scheduling ‘Meetings for One’ for several years now, whereby I’ll add a meeting to my Shared Calendar which is just for myself, allowing me some focus time. When others check my availability for a meeting that is usually a waste of my time, they will see I’m unavailable.
I’ve also got a lot better with turning off the notifications on all of my devices and using applications such as Freedom which will block certain applications and websites based on a schedule if you so wish. Helps me a lot because I’m human and that dopamine rush that we get from a notification affects me as much as anyone.
Which ninja characteristic are you still working on the most?
No question here – it’s Ruthlessness. I guess I try to adopt as much Stealth and Camouflage as possible because, when somebody does get hold of me, I find it so hard to say No! If I hide, I can’t be in a position where I have to potentially upset somebody!
Also, as I’m trying to build up several areas of my business, I can find it difficult to say No to certain projects or collaborations because the fear of missing out on potential opportunities is so great. I know that once I have Ruthlessness nailed, I won’t look back, yet I sympathize completely with any of my delegates who struggle with this particular characteristic. It’s hard being nice!
Which five apps could you not live without?
Just five? This could take a while.
OmniFocus – This is the Task Manager I use on both iOS and Mac. I know it’s pricey, I know it doesn’t allow for collaboration and I know it’s only on Apple platforms, but I’ve tried other apps on the market and none of them fit my work style like OmniFocus does.
DEVONthink Pro Office – Part of my agility means that I have a reliance on my paperless workflow. DEVONthink Pro Office is the heartbeat of that and is what I refer to as my second brain. It has so many functions – it’s a file manager, a research tool, a Project Management database – there are far too many uses to list here (although my site has MANY posts on how I use DEVONthink!)
1Password – I’ve worked in IT for almost my entire working life, so I understand implicitly the need for security. 1Password allows me to create and store unique, complex passwords in a highly encrypted database that I can access from any of my machines. It’s not just limited to passwords. I have all of my software licence codes, passport information, secure notes, configurations for devices – anything that I don’t want exposed to prying eyes. It’s all in here.
TextExpander – TextExpander is great. If there is any kind of text that you find yourself repeatedly typing, TextExpander allows you to assign that text a small abbreviation. Now instead of typing that longform text, simply key in the abbreviation and the text will transform in front of your eyes! I have so many uses for this. I input email signatures with the abbreviation xxsigtp (Think Productive), xxsiggm (my personal Gmail), xxsigsol (my business email). I use date stamps a lot when making notes on the various projects I’m working on so I type xxds to automatically put in today’s date. A date/time stamp is xxdts. It’s configurable to your own way of working.
I counted how many times I used it yesterday – forty three, and that was a very quiet day for me.
Amazon Prime Video – I’m a human being, right? I need an app for downtime and Amazon Prime Video is the only way I can get my Parks and Recreation fix – without doubt my favorite program at the moment.
What’s your favorite piece of stationery?
What is a paperless guy’s favorite piece of stationery?! Well, I actually have an Evernote Moleskine notebook and Cross pen which I love. There are certain meetings I will attend where laptops or tablets are frowned upon, so it’s good to have a high quality pen/notebook combination for such occasions. I can then scan the notes and Evernotes handwriting recognition will digitize them and make them searchable for me.
When in the day do you have the most proactive attention?
I’ve always been a morning person and I’d say that there are three times during the day where I can get in the zone – 6:00 – 8:00, 10:00 until 12:00 and then between 3 and 4:30pm. This is when I schedule in my high attention tasks. Sometimes, the afternoon session may be dropped – for example, if I’m working from home and find myself on a school run however the first two will form the cornerstone of my productive day.
What’s your trick for when you’re tired or struggling with attention in the day?
I’m pretty lucky in that I live sixty seconds from the beach. As soon as I feel my attention starting to drop, I’ll grab a large glass of water, pop on a podcast (either productivity or football, dependent on my mood) and then pop out for a fifteen/twenty minute walk. This almost always does the trick.
If not, then it’s clear to me that my body/mind are telling me to slow down so I’ll listen to it and work on some low energy tasks. This could be filing, scanning documents or simple maintenance on my devices. Either that or I’ll take a caffeine nap. For this, I’ll drink a cup of coffee, and then immediately lay down and close my eyes. Invariably, I will doze off and then I’ll wake up in about twenty or so minutes when the caffeine slowly starts to take effect. It takes me a couple of minutes to get my bearings, but as soon as I lift the lid on my laptop and start my next session of work, this caffeine nap has done the trick.
What’s your best advice for reducing stress?
If my wife reads this, she’ll laugh but trust me, I’m a lot less stressed than I used to be. The main reason for this? I review religiously. To most people, R and R means rest and relaxation but I review religiously which, in turn, leads to rest and relaxation.
Most of my stress came from having too much on at once and not having a clear view of my horizon. I’d clear one project only to have an abrupt email from someone about another two that I will have forgotten. By having a regular review cycle, I can walk through every single one of my projects and feel confident that the next action I have assigned to them is appropriate. This has led to a much lower stress level because I know that when I’m playing with my kids, everything else is in hand. You can’t buy that.
What’s your email regime?
My email regime is pretty simple. I process my email twice a day and I only do this from my Macbook or iPad Pro. That’s right, it doesn’t get checked on my phone at all. I have two reminders in OmniFocus that pop up. The first at 12pm, the second at 4:30 and these are the times when I will process my Inbox. As I have been at Inbox Zero for around two years now, processing takes no longer than thirty minutes at a time.
What’s your favorite way to take a break in the middle of the day?
Definitely a walk along the beach with a great podcast on. Sometimes, I’ll even find a nice spot by the beach and meditate if it’s particularly peaceful. Very hard to do this at home with the children about so it’s important to grab the time when you can.
What’s the secret to your productivity?
I understand that my brain has a limited capacity and I write everything down. I mean everything. I’m rarely away from my phone and use it as my conduit to my second brain (DEVONthink Pro Office). My life, like so many others, is so busy, I understand that I can’t trust myself to remember things. So everything I do get’s documented, whether it’s in a filing system, a reminders app, a notebook or a journal. I write it down and I review it.
Anybody who does that will see levels of productivity they never thought possible. It’s totally achievable.
Want Lee to come in and show your team his productivity tips and tricks? Get in touch with our team here.
By Hannah Urbanek
Hannah is Think Productive’s Head of Outreach and is the voice behind a lot of our blog and social media content.