As my last semester of college is starting to wrap up, I’m under a ridiculous amount of pressure trying to get 8 different projects finished at once, homework, job interviews, and a handful of other things. Before I go mentally insane, I’ve figured out some things that work for me in order to stay productive the whole day. So productive, in fact, that I’ve forgotten to eat until 8pm multiple times.

That might sound a little ridiculous but sometimes when the crap hits the fan you’ve got to neglect things in order to do it all. So here are a few of the life hacks I’ve used to accomplish this.

1. Disable your clock

If you’re anything like me, you are constantly looking at the clock counting down the amount of time until the next class, meeting, or other event. Lucky for me, I have several Android phones that sync with my Google Calendar (I know you’re jealous :P ). This lets me add things into my gcal, sync to my phone, and get alerts on my computer and phone when events are coming up in an hour. It’s single handedly the MOST productive hack I have used to date.

2. Keep your OS clean

The first step is to choose your OS of poison. I do a lot of Ruby on Rails, so I use OSX. This may be Linux for you or Windows for someone else. The key is, pick your OS for work and stick with it. Install the tools you need: vim, Ruby, Rails, whatever. The trick here is to make sure you don’t install things that you don’t need. It’s too easy to leave Pidgin open all day and have people continuously pinging you throughout the day. Same goes with websites and other apps. If you have too many points of contact, you won’t be able to get in the zone. That also means checking your email and RSS feeds once in the morning, once at lunch, and once at the end of the workday. The less the better, especially if you’re expecting an important email to roll in. It’s an email, it obviously doesn’t need a response the exact second it arrives because you would have received a phone call if it was THAT important. Keep in mind that notifications are just another distraction and the people who achieve the most tend to be those who can focus and naturally avoid these things.

3. Learn the tools that work best for what you do

For the longest time, I continued using TextMate and GEdit for writing code. I refuse to use IDEs because I hate their bloat, but I never felt like taking the time to memorize all the commands for Vim. Since I took the plunge, I have been able to traverse so much more code than ever before, and I still don’t know crap about Vim! It’s the right tool for me and what I do. Find yours and become a master.

4. Find your optimum social environment

This is very crucial to me. No matter which of the above things I do, it really comes down to where I’m working. For me, I work best with a pair of noise canceling headphones in a relatively quiet place. People walking around, noises, really anything can distract me at times. Building a good music playlist and drowning out the audio distractions allows me to also drown out the background visual ones as well.

5. Accomplish a small, but good feeling task every morning

Probably the greatest feeling is waking up, doing something that gives you an incredible amount of motivation and confidence, and then tackling some hard problem right afterwards. It’s good to have a schedule or task list for each day, but that’s often hard to do when you’re unmotivated and groggy in the morning. Grab something to drink and pick a small task that can be completed from start to finish in half an hour. There have been a couple occasions where this has greatly benefitted me. Recently, I received an email with some wonderful news in the morning and for the rest of the day I was so excited and confident I was able to do a much better job at an important project I had later that day. Another time on a Saturday morning, I patched in a feature to a new NodeJS IRC library to add SSL support. This got me excited by contribute to an open source project in a language I barely know so much so that I went back immediately to hacking on a project for school and finished some larger features that felt too daunting to jump into cold.


These are a few things that work exceptionally well. Don’t work too hard though, you’ll get burnt out and these hacks will suffer. They work well for me but I’d love to hear what things you use to keep focused on a daily basis.

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