An aspiring computer scientist's musings on technology and society.

Strategies for Self-Directed Productivity

#productivity #lifestyle #minimalism

Thanks to the quarantine, I've been thrust into the shoes of a remote worker or an entrepreneur that must structure my own day. Gone is the set routine of commuting to campus, attending classes, and having dinner with friends. Now that I spend my whole day at most a few meters away from my bed, I've been relying on some new strategies for self-directed productivity.

Healthy Habits Matter More

Under normal circumstances, not taking care of my health wouldn't have been such a detriment to my productivity. Even if I was lethargic and sleep-deprived, I'd still be dragged to lectures by classmates and find ways to sit in the library long enough to somehow get work done. As that's not the case anymore, healthy habits are doubly important. As such, I am:

  1. Prioritizing sleeping enough hours.
  2. Working out every day. At-home bodyweight workout is simple and practical.
  3. Making sure I don't skip meals. When someone prone to depression is stuck at dorm alone, it's easy to neglect nutrition.

Morning Routine Sets the Day

It's so easy, without a daily commute to campus, for me to end up doing nothing if I can't get started with the day. There's no, “I'm on campus now, might as well go to the library.” Instead, I signal to myself that it's time to start working through a ritualized morning routine.

  1. I wash my face then make my bed first thing in the morning.
  2. I have a prepped meal for breakfast.
  3. I meditate for 30 minutes. I follow The Mind Illuminated's techniques.
  4. I work out, no matter how short or how light.
  5. I shower and get dressed as usual. I find that it's easier to lounge around all day if I'm wearing pajamas.
  6. I plan the day using time blocks on a calendar.

I learned it's important to do the same “morning” routine even on days that I sleep in. This allows me to start the day, albeit a bit late, rather than not starting it at all.

Mental Clarity on Long-Term Goals

During a normal semester, I'm inundated enough with short-term emergencies. (Read: assignments) However, without the time spent commuting, socializing, and lectures watched at 1.5 times the normal speed, I suddenly have a lot of time to fill.

For the first week or two, I spent this time playing video games and binging anime. However, I quickly started feeling even worse. I realized that high-quality hobbies make me feel more fulfilled at the end of the day than mindless entertainment. As such, I crippled some of my technology to make mindless entertainment less accessible:

  1. Distracting websites are blocked.
  2. Distraction-Free Youtube extension hides everything except my subscribed channels.
  3. My PC is set up exclusively as a work machine, while my iPad is my media consumption device. That allows me to separate work with leisure.
  4. I uninstalled all games and deleted my accounts.
  5. My phone is hidden in a drawer during the work day.

Despite all these drastic measures, I would still find ways to circumvent the rules if I didn't have a strong motivation to do something else. This is why, for me, mental clarity on my long-term goals is so crucial. That is, deciding to give a serious stab at my dream of becoming a scientist gave me very clear short-term goals.

  1. Keep on studying ahead with undergraduate-level computer science. That includes data science & algorithms, computational theory, computational complexity, computating organization, operating system......
  2. Keep up with current computer science research. Read, at the very least, Communications of the ACM and Journal of the ACM. Even if I don't understand most of what the scholars are saying!
  3. If I'm mentally drained, there are other useful things that CS majors should know that don't require as much focus. For instance, I can practice my LaTeX or Bash scripting or read more casual books and magazines on science.
  4. When I'm finally drained of all my brainpower, I find it's already time to sleep, and countless things to learn remain. That is the power of a strong enough motivation.