Working on a start-up while doing 12-hour shifts as doctor is pretty gruelling. More often than not, I would come home completely destroyed and want to collapse into bed. Also, there are the night shifts, the weekend shifts, the unholy hours worked that was probably during a public holiday.
Doctoring isn’t easy and start-ups isn’t easy. While my colleagues went home to Game of Thrones and a big tub of ice cream, I cracked open my laptop and continued to code through the night (with a big tub of ice-cream, of course).
While it would be awesome to have enough savings to quit your day job and become a full time founder, most are trying to get their business off the ground before they throw everything away. How can you make the most of your free time? Here are eight ways that I optimised my productivity during the weekends and evenings.
1. Caffeine Titration
The amazing doctors at Penn State University developed an app called Caffeine Zone. It graphs the predicted caffeine concentration in your blood versus the “optimum” range and alerts you to take more when you’re getting washed out. Although there have been a number of snazzier apps, I’m a big fan of the original.
2. The 20-Minute Mindset
Have you ever thought, “I’ll just relax a bit, give myself a break then I’ll get to work”. This never seems to work. Why? Something called inertia. Once you’re sat on that comfy couch or loaded up Reddit, you’ll need Herculean strength to switch to a productive task. But you can use inertia in your favour too.
I’m guessing that if you chose to work on a particular start-up there is usually some aspect of it that you find fascinating. I know that once I get really stuck into my code, I don’t really want to stop until I finish making a particular feature or solve a particular problem.
The way to capitalise on this evolutionary productivity hack is to have the 20-minute mindset. If you get home with the intention to just work for 20-minutes on your project, be it your start-up or whatever else you want to work on, you can trick your brain into capitulating. Twenty minutes is such a short amount of time that your brain will view it as low commitment. This mindset is important.
Imagine this conversation:
Me: Hi brain, I’m going to go home today and work all evening after that hard day at work, then I’m gonna skip dinner and go to sleep at 3AM.
Brain: You f**king weirdo, no way are we doing that! Why don’t we just watch a little bit of YouTube and see where that takes us?
3. The Dreaded Post-Prandial Dip
To be productive, we really want to avoid this. The weapon of choice most people choose is caffeine. This is the wrong approach. Because you’ll take yourself over the optimal caffeine level and will inevitably crash harder when you stop taking caffeine in order to sleep. The correct answer is frequent, low carb, high protein meals and snacks around lunch time.
On a productive weekend, I typically have a small snack at 11AM, e.g. celery and hummus, then a medium sized lunch with mostly proteins e.g. grilled chicken or sashimi or beef and then have another small snack at 4PM e.g. almonds + cashew. It’s not about weight loss, it’s about putting high octane fuel into your body in order to function like a Maserati rather than an old Fiat.
4. The 3PM Workout
If you go to the gym or go for a jog that increases your heart rate and get’s your circulation going, you’ll feel more awake and more motivated to continue your good work. Some people might think going for a workout will take time away from their work. But it’s more a question of efficiency. If you work two hours at 20 percent efficiency you will achieve less than the person that works 30 minutes at max efficiency.
I tend to make a point of not doing anything when I am below 30 percent efficiency. Although this article is aimed at increasing your efficiency, there will be times when you’re physiologically not able to do anything useful. For example after a 12-hour night shift, I would be crazy and irresponsible to try and work through the day and then go to work again. Get a good gauge on your own efficiency, then try to maximise and optimise it.
5. The Pomodoro Technique
This is fantastic technique when you are trying to learn something. The idea is that you work for 25-minutes, break and walk around for 5 minutes then restart the pomodoro alternating between work and play. The reason why I use this exclusively for learning is because it leverages the way that human memory works.
Memory is thought to be formed when we change the connections and strength of connections between our neurones. It’s been found that memory formation works best in short bursts surrounding key events. This is why in a typical one hour lecture, you tend to remember only the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes.
There are a number of awesome iPhone and Mac apps that offer a free pomodoro timer. But you can do it yourself too. Just set your timer to 25 minutes, then give yourself five-minutes break and force yourself to grab some water or walk around.
I don’t tend to use this technique when I’m coding or working on big projects, because while it helps learning, it can be quite jarring to be stopped in the middle of a task. But give it a spin and figure out what works best for you.