Productivity tips on Medium

By night (often late night), I’m a blogger. By day, I write content for a small software company. I take care of social media, blog posts, how-to articles, UI text, etc. If it’s written content in any form, I’m in charge of it.

When I sleepily trudge into the office at 8 AM every morning, my routine is to make myself a cup of Earl Grey; reply emails, user reviews, and support requests; and browse TechCrunch and Medium for relevant news. I have an account on Medium, which I only use for favoriting posts in case I need to find them later. I do my blogging strictly on WordPress.

The reason for that is simple, I guess. I’ve always blogged on WordPress (well, not counting my preteen Xanga days, I suppose), and it would be a hassle to switch over. Medium offers a crisp, clean reading experience, but there’s less opportunity for authors to customize layout and presentation, which has both its pros and cons.

I don’t explore a lot on Medium, but I tend to browse the top five posts for each day. The topics for these posts don’t vary much: the tech industry (usually with a focus on user-friendly design, Silicon Valley, and startups), entrepreneurialism, and productivity.

I’m always looking for ways to increase my productivity, so I tend to click on the latter. And they’re always a huge waste of time. It’s funny how something I look to as a resource to increase my productivity just ends up wasting valuable time.

The problem is this. Whenever someone writes a post about productivity on Medium, it goes the same way. It’s always the same advice:

  1. Sleep early and wake up early. Get at least 8 hours of sleep.
  2. Prioritize: do your most dreaded tasks first to make sure you get them done.
  3. Avoid checking social media and emails until the afternoon.
  4. Set daily, weekly, and yearly goals to work towards.
  5. Journal so you can reflect on yourself.

…And so on.

The problem I have with these posts isn’t that they’re not inspirational. They were inspirational to me the first few times I read them. But the more I read, the more skeptical I became, and I realized that this advice simply didn’t work for me.

I once read a post on Medium where the author said that they slept at 9:30 every night and woke up at 5 every morning, spent the first hour of their day doing all sorts of productive things (exercising, journaling, eating a healthy breakfast, meditating, etc.), before starting their work day by tackling their biggest project first, and not checking any emails until 2 PM. The post was riddled with sentences like “You think you can’t do this, right? The first few days are hard, but you’ll get used to it!”

The problem is, nothing works for everyone. Obviously you should take all advice with a grain of salt and adapt it to your own lifestyle, but I find that the advice around productivity on Medium is just so singular. It’s always wake up early, get lots of sleep, journal, meditate, eat healthy.

These things obviously work for many people. But not everyone is most productive early in the morning. I’ve certainly done lots of my best work late at night, in a quiet space in front of my laptop. And not checking my email until 2 PM would certainly get me in trouble with my boss. Not everyone is their own boss, working from home, free to structure their day as they’d like.

Trying to understand your own productivity in terms of someone else’s can be the biggest waste of time.

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Getting back into writing

Since I was a little girl, I loved to write. I crafted little fictions about my stuffed animals, my classmates, and sometimes fantastical worlds that I dreamed up. And as any aspiring writer should, I loved to read.

Now, I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get paid to write. Sure, it’s not the novels I dreamed of writing as a child. I work in technical writing and marketing for a software company, so instead I write how-to articles, corporate blog posts, and website content. I spend most of my time thinking about the nature of words, how to clearly and concisely explain concepts to strangers, and I read a lot of articles on Medium about startups, Silicon Valley, and content strategy.

The trouble is that I’ve neglected this blog for over a month. I told myself that I was busy, but I wasn’t busy. I was lazy. This blog is mostly a book review blog, and I’d slogged through One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the past three weeks, not because it is a bad book by any means, but because I was being lazy. And today I actually sat down, intending to write about the book, but I found I didn’t have much to say about it, or no insights that I thought worthy enough to share.

So I’ve been in a slump, you could say. One of my own choosing. But the other day, I ran into this quote by one of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

I could say that it’s difficult to find time to write, which it is. But the truth is that I simply need to make it part of my routine, until it becomes engrained within me. Obviously I can’t follow the same routine as Murakami, but setting time aside each day to write and recognizing that writing is a time-consuming, laborious act is obviously key.

A few years ago, one of my friends told me, “You can always make time.” In other words, being busy should never be an excuse. And, to be honest, if I really scrutinize my schedule, I’ll see that I’m not very busy at all. I can always cut down on the time I spend on Facebook, or Reddit, or whatever other time waster I like to indulge in.

Even if I have to wake up an hour earlier each day (which would put me at a god-awful 5 AM), I promise to put aside time to write each day, to contribute thoughts that will eventually result in a weekly blog post. Because writing is important, and as much as I love technical writing (and I do actually love it), sometimes I need to write my own words about my own thoughts.

Finding time to read

One question I often get asked is, “How do you find the time to read?” Finding the time to read is difficult if you, like many of my acquaintances, are a college student juggling your classes, a part-time job, extracurriculars, a social life, etc. Throughout my university career, I managed to stay an active reader, reading my own novels of interest in addition to my class readings. A lot of this comes down to simple time management.

I remember last August being one of the busiest times in my life that I can remember. I was taking two classes, working a part-time job, tutoring, volunteering for the BC SPCA, taking swimming lessons, and still trying to make time for friends and family. I was pressed for time, sleeping less than I should, and eating quick meals on the go. But still, I managed to find the time to read for pleasure. And here’s how I did it:

  1. Read on the go. I’m not the type of person who can sit for hours at home with a book and a cup of tea. It’s nice, sure, but when I’m home I like to be lounging, watching my favorite guilty pleasures on Netflix. To be honest, I have too short an attention span to be reading for hours on end at home. I do most of my reading on my long commute to and from work or school, always sticking my Kindle or a book into my purse. You’d be surprised how much time you can find to read. I pull out a book when I’m waiting for a friend, taking a short coffee break at work, or otherwise killing time.
  2. Read what you enjoy. This is a hard lesson that I’ve had to learn. I’ve often been encouraged to read certain types of books, but what I’ve learned is that just because a book is a well-established literary masterpiece does not mean it is right for you. I’ve tried to get through A Tale of Two Cities countless times, and it still sits on my shelf unread. Whether you enjoy chick lit or crime novels or both, read books you actually like.
  3. Waste less time. We’re all liable to sleep in on the weekends, roll around in bed and watch pointless YouTube videos. I love to relax as much as the next person, but I’ve learned to limit myself. One trick I have to making the most of my time is leaving the house earlier. If I’m meeting a friend for a lunch date, I’ll just leave the house an hour or so earlier, grab coffee, and sit and read until it’s time for lunch. I make progress on my book, and I also make use of time that I would have spent just lying around.
  4. Set a reading goal for yourself. Goalsetting is a general habit I have that applies to all of my life, not just my reading. I keep a few Post-It notes stuck on my desk, which detail goals I’ve set for myself. One of these is to read a book every month, which so far I’ve kept up with. Actually having this written down and having to look at it everyday will force you to take action.

Making time to read, like making time to do anything, I think, just comes down to time management. What are some of your tricks to keeping yourself on track?