I think a lot about how I spend my time.
One thing I think about is the different qualities of free time, broadly speaking.
The naive approach is something like this. I have low intensity thinking time, and I have high intensity thinking time. The most productive type is high intensity thinking time. So I'll simply fill my schedule with high intensity thinking to be maximally productive - voila!
It doesn't work like that.
I've noticed that if I try to squeeze in a really difficult book on a workday, on breaks, it will ding my productivity in my work outside those breaks.
Because I have to think hard, and those breaks are necessary spacing, and without them (if I'm thinking hard, continuously) the cuts come from other areas - like work. And work is an area where I really don't want to cut productivity, during the day.
So most of my day, realistically, has to be low intensity, to maintain productivity: checking a news site, social media, a blog, dropping a line to a friend.
Looked at that way, it's clear: it's a lot easier to increase your productivity by incrementally pushing up on the low end, than doubling down on the maxed-out high end.
Related to this, a year ago, I had an idea:
Why don't I try to edit my free time towards being more productive?
The one really limited quantity I have is time. I don't think I can think much harder than I do, now. But I can waste less time, by making my wasted time slightly more productive - in effect, by converting it, at a very modest rate, into part-fun, part-work time.
First, I started by improving the quality of what I already read.
Next, I worked on adding more quality information sources: not just what I already read, but what I should be reading.
The Best Sites for Tech / Entrepreneurs
My goal here was to find sites where I could entertain myself and learn something useful, at the same time.
My list, in order of importance, is:
Here follows the list of sites I frequented, and how I changed the way I used them.
I think of Twitter as the site with the most obviously monetizable potential. I hear of people getting jobs through Twitter, breaking into Venture Capital through Twitter, making high-powered connections through Twitter. For someone in technology, only Twitter gets this kind of rave reviews.
I had been using Twitter some, so I increased my usage. I also started being more deliberate about who I followed. I dropped a lot of the loud but fun accounts and focused on ones who talked about programming topics that would matter to me.
Less of this.
Then I started using Twitter in a more targeted way.
I followed more programmers, more people posting coding observations, and some venture capitalists, for their business focus.
I also made a point of engaging with conversations with big audiences and high engagement more often, while contributing useful content. There was nothing underhanded about this: I wanted more people to see what I had to say, and I wrote in places where they would see it. It worked.
I started using Hacker News. Of all the changes I made, this probably had the biggest impact.
Real talk: I'd heard it referred to as the Orange Hellsite, so I steered clear, except for occasionally checking articles I felt meh towards. I went back and took a more serious look, and tried using it intentionally for professional tips. This meant avoiding a lot of the huge polarizing threads and focusing on the mid-sized ones to small ones, with technical content.
Also known as HN.
The reason Hacker News is good is worth explaining. There are many technical topics you can learn, but it's hard to get a sense of their respective value, what makes one exciting and one less interesting.
Hacker News has a good eye for something that's useful and interesting, at the same time. For technical content, it's a sweet spot they hit right.
There was a definite 'before' and 'after' for Hacker News. After, I started switching product and side project ideas towards that were influenced by it. I needed to learn how to make things that would gain traction, and for this Hacker News was very good.
Finally, I added Product Hunt to the Mix. The truth is that I create software products as services and I need to learn distribution, and that's what Product Hunt does.
It was also instructive to start watching more closely about what rose to the top. That also shaped my thinking about what I could, and should, be doing.
Of everything I mention here, I probably found it the least interesting, but I'm learning to take an interest, and it's definitely relevant. So I'll continue on.
Reddit's subreddits (that is, discussin groups centered around a topic) are some of the best sources for consumer review-type content online. I've already gotten in the habit of adding "site:reddit.com" to my search queries, when I want search results that haven't been distored by underhanded sales tactics or bad faith answers.
However, my reddit usage was more titled towards hobbyist usage. I changed that, and consciously modeled it after something more work-oriented.
I went through the subreddits I subscribed to and consciously pruned them, removing the most click-baity stuff. Reddit is like Twitter here: it kind of rewards click-bait, and as the basic unit (subreddits or user accounts) grows larger, you see more it. So you have to strike a tough balance, between useful and popular.
As an example, I removed myself from subreddits named after common English nouns - technology, for example - and added myself to the subreddits for specific technologies - reactjs, lisp.
Incidentally, this had the effect of making reddit feel a lot more 'dry', but that seemed like an acceptable tradeoff.
I started dropping in on a couple sites I didn't use that frequently, but would now make a point to visit occasionally.
The aggregator lobste.rs picks up articles I don't see everywhere, and has choice morsels now and then.
The site indiehackers.vc has good articles from a business perspective.
I don't think it's possible to work a miracle through this. I can't do massive work through social media and it's basically a hobby. But I can elevate the quality of what I read, and make myself more productive as a result.
I'd encourage this for anyone else who'd like to see an uptick in their productivity, and more progress at the end of the day. It's worked for me, and I'm glad I did.