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1. Supporting Ambient Music

I like to listen to music when I work. Well, most of the times. Especially when I’m alone or at home. At work, I don’t listen to music because I’m cautious of my attention and wouldn’t want to bother others. People might want to talk to you and I don’t want to turn them down, and I can’t focus 100% on the music when there are people around you. But when alone, I let the music take over. But, don’t get me wrong. Music can mean different things to each of us. I like ambient music. Some world music, some trance, some psychedelic, mostly just music and not songs. Songs distract me, unless when I’m in the pub or watching TV or something – when I can attend to the lyrics. When it is just ambient white noise music, it runs in the background, like a pattern of waves that keeps you pushing whatever is that you’re doing – sort of like a substrate. Mostly, I listen to Spotify, because it lets me discover new stuff and they have a huge collection of world music.

2. Go full Screen

Especially when you’re writing or doing a task that requires focus. I try to go full screen on the browser. More space frees your mind and space and makes you more relaxed. Less space is more clutter. This is just a psychological thing I guess.

3. No headphones

I read somewhere that headphones lets you focus on the music and cuts you off from distraction. I tried – didn’t work. When using headphones, I’m constantly, subconsciously checking if someone else is calling me, or my phone is ringing, or bothered about what’s going on around me – an earthquake? That’s just me I guess. I feel more open and relaxed when I’m connected to the space around me. Headphones cut me off and makes me panic. Kinda. Sorta.

4. A shower before

I have friends who think best when running, when biking, when driving. I’m no different. Just that I think best and ideas pop when I’m in the shower – mostly. Or may be I just realize it more often when in the shower. Any thing that lets you break off from the normal stream and focus on yourself is good I guess. For me, that’s a shower.

5. Paper and Pen

Good ol’ pen and paper is the best productivity tool. Not notes, not voice memos, not evernote. Thought it’s uncool once, but I guess it is cool what works. And paper and pen does. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s just scribbling. And I have a difficult time figuring out what I wrote, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like, I can remember what I wrote even when I can’t read what I wrote. Again, a psychological thing I guess.

6. No Tabs Open

One thing, we’re all guilty of is opening a lot of tabs together. And I hate this. It’s necessary though. After a day’s work I end up with some odd 20 tabs and I know folks who might have more. But whenever I want to focus on something, I close them all and just stick to one or two.

7. Start to finish in one go

Do the whole thing in one go. Stop and you lose momentum. Heck, I’ll totally forget where I was. I’m better off doing that one task in one go rather than in phases. Be it painting, or a spreadsheet, or a report, grab whatever you can in one stretch or you lose it all.

8. The Diesel engine

You know, I think I’m more like a diesel engine when it comes to work. I need some time to warm up, make a few bad strokes before getting into the groove. So I always keep a buffer time before any important task. The first 5 minutes is going to be crap. I’ll probably start off, then scratch that, start all over, do some extra research, make a few calculations wrong and then in some time, it should all fall into place.

9. Basics first, meat later

And by that I mean, put all your thoughts together. Number them down. Brood over it for some time. Then you can add the meat, the frills etc and beef it up. If I go the other way round, building it bit by bit, it’s going to be a drudgery. Boring.

10. Meditation

Probably the most valuable among this list. By meditation I don’t mean sitting cross legged on the floor or closing the doors around you. It’s more like a refreshing break from what you’re doing and focusing on yourself. A long breath. A few more. Some inner focus. Just a minute of meditation might feel like ages when done with the right intensity. I do this every time I’m beginning to feel out of place or stressed or just too busy to think.

11. Silence

Can’t stress enough. I think I’m selfish sometimes to be silent when I’m not supposed to be. Like in a conversation or a group meeting. But when you’re silent, you learn more. You listen more and understand more. Sometimes, we listen just to argue or to raise a question. I used to do that a lot. But then I figured that I’d be so much focused on what question to ask next that I’d be totally missing the point what the other person is saying. Instead, I just become silent and listen as much as I can. I keep questions in my mind and when the right opportunity comes, ask them. The good thing is that, when you listen more, the questions get answered automatically. You cannot be greedy and impatient. Ask only when it’s absolutely necessary – like when the person you’re talking to is going off track or not answering the questions you have in your mind.

12. Support system

Having mentioned all the hacks, this cannot go without saying. You’re vulnerable to mistakes, sometimes big ones and you need a safety net to hold on to. A support system that will take care of you even when you’ve messed it all up. It could be your friends, your work colleagues or your family. Having them, who can laugh at your mistakes, protect you and be there for you when you need them, makes all the difference.

What are your favorite productivity hacks?