Productivity Hacking

a Chao(s)tician's Toolkit

CACR Productivity Brown Bag, 29 March 2019

How To Learn

  • Read Getting Things Done
  • Keep a planner--any planner--for at least three weeks.
  • Start tweaking to better fit your working routines and preferences.
  • Check out our resources Gdoc for more to read and explore.

DO NOT waste your valuable mental resources on remembering things.

Rule Zero:

  • Get dates, details, and to-dos out of your head and into a system as soon as possible.
  • Trust is paramount: if you aren't consistent with your system, you will be tempted to use your brain as a back-up.
  • Regular review ensures that you are spending your time and energy on the right things.
  • There are benefits to going analog

The longer you use your system, the more you will know what you want out of it.

What should a hacker collect?

  • Action items
  • Notes from meetings / other comms
  • Ideas
  • Questions
  • Things to discuss with people later
  • Tips and How-Tos
  • Anything you might want to remember.

My System

My Stuff

Routine : Do More, Remember Less


       Mentoring Check-ins, OMQ work block, catch up on side projects (and laundry!)

       Balcony Time (plan my week)

Weekday Mornings (pre-office):

       Check planner to understand my day, check chat and email for emergencies

       record non-emergencies in my book for later

At the Office:

       Unload backpack, boot up computer, grab coffee, long walk through offic/chat (20 min)

       Keep book up throughout the day, 3 or so email check+triage sessions, many notes

       Create or update next day's spread before I leave the office

Less Often:

       Big look at high-level goals about every 90 days, or when there's a change or frustration

Productivity is not a talent: it comes from disciplined iteration.

Rule One:

Three sources of productivity:

  • Finding more time in which to do work.
  • Fitting more work into the time you have.
  • Doing more impactful work.

Finding more time

  • Get rid of time waste: forgetting, confirming, being incorrect, lateness, goofing off, busywork
  • Delegate where appropriate.
  • Find the time creep: interruptions, distractions, poor communication, etc.
  • Practice mindfulness: reclaim waste that seems beyond your control.

Strategies and Tools

  • Use a time tracker to find out where your time is really going...or just make a list.
  • Build relationships with people more junior with you, so you can delegate in a way that is useful to them.
  • Always carry work with you, reclaim "dead time" waiting in lines or when an activity has down time.
  • Eliminate things that force you to re-do: use an organizational system to eliminate forgetting, re-checking, and similar waste.

Fitting more work into available time:

  • Practice and improve process and tooling to make common tasks faster and simpler.
  • Document everything so that you aren't facing the constant interrupts involved in remembering.
  • Work on self-discipline: an ordered mind that is focused on the task at hand, and does not wander down rabbit holes or off-mission will produce more than an absent-minded professor of three times the intellect. 

Strategies and Tools

  • Pick apart oft-repeated processes and look for ways to shave off time.
  • Look for ways to improve tools and automation.
  • Train your mind to repeatedly  re-evaluate what you are doing at the current moment according to your personal and team goals, both to find the best take-aways from what you've done, and to decide what to keep doing or do next.
  • Work on things that let you snowball... where are the long-term gains?

Consider fitting in more non-work, too.

  • Many hackers think they are resting when they are not, think they are at their best when they are not.
  • Braindead clicking doesn't recharge people: try to eliminate it in favor of social time, exercise, or contemplative time.
  • Reduce noise in your life that can make you wonder where the time went.  Try eliminating backlit screens for an hour before bed to sleep better.
  • Think and write down what is really important to you, and make time for it.  Quit saying "maybe someday".
  • The unifying theme: you should live as mindfully as you should work, or your work will suffer.

Doing more impactful work:

  • Grow your process, tooling, and documentation to the point that the already-solved stuff can be delegated.
  • Actively mentor, or you will have no one to delegate to.
  • Deeply understand the team/org mission and your own interests, don't waste time on things that are unlikely to pay high dividends.
  • Build your skill at working with people very different from yourself: like-skilled people don't amplify one another.
  • Coordinate with others to avoid cross-work and duplication, look for chances to make different works build upon one another.
  • Be an example that builds up others.

Strategies and Tools

  • If it's not clear enough to dump in the lap of someone who has 1/5 your experience with minimal instruction, it's not a system.  As you master things, systematize as much as possible.
  • Find relationships between different things you are working on, and things you and colleagues are working on: how can you avoid duplication of effort, or make a sum greater than the parts?
  • Active cross-mentorship between members of a team helps the team work together more smoothly, in addition to helping with individual problems a team member may need help with here or there.  Teams work best when they deeply understand one another's strengths and abilities, and feel free to leverage them.
  • Scheduling is a big deal, especially for knowledge workers.

Discipline is not a dirty word.

Rule Two:

What it's not

It's not powering through "just because you were told to".

It's not subject to the artist's conceit.


It's not going to happen overnight.


It's not going to be without setbacks and just plain falling off the wagon. 

What it is.

Choosing the right thing over the feels-good thing.


Constant iteration: improving processes, tools, relationships, and self.


Being reliable to others.


An attitude of "what can I do to help" more and more often than "what's the minimum I'm responsible for? what am I owed?"


Awareness of your ability to lead by example, regardless of your role.

Productivity is not all-or-nothing.

Rule Three:

A little is better than none.

Trying to do ALL THE THINGS right now will probably drive you crazy and cause you to do almost none of it in the long run.


Choose a basic habit or two, and think about adding or changing after you have done those long enough that they have become routine.

You can always add more later.

Much of what we talk about here is aspirational.  Even the big productivity geeks here don't do it all all the time.


We each do something consistently.  Then, we occasionally pick something to add, tweak, or experiment with.  It may be great, terrible, or temporarily useful.

Productivity Recap:

  • Get a system, your brain is too valuable for storage and related interrupts.
  • Productivity comes from:
    • Finding more time in which to do work.
    • Fitting more work into the time you have.
    • Doing more impactful work.
  • Discipline will get you there.
  • Complex, ambitious projects succeed due to collective (team) productivity.
  • It's about the journey, not the destination.

An aspirational talk about being organized and effective,

courtesy of Emily Adams and Susan Sons

CACR Productivity Brown Bag

By Susan Sons

CACR Productivity Brown Bag

Things we do over lunch.

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