The last two weeks have been insanely productive for me because of two small changes. Want to hear what they are?
Of course you do.
Forest and Streaks.
No, I’m not talking about streaking through the forest (as invigorating as that may sound), but instead my two favorite new apps. Both of these were recommended by Sean McCabe, so if you hate them, blame Sean.
The pomodoro method is one of my favorite ways to work. I start by writing a todo list down on paper. Then I choose the top item, work on it for 25 minutes, take a quick break, then move on to the next item.
Forest builds on that timer idea with a fun twist: For every 25+ minute chunk of focus time, you plant a tree in your forest. If the time you commit to is less than 25 minutes, you plant a bush instead. While not as stately as an evergreen, it’s progress.
If you stop focusing and do something else with your phone, the tree dies. Then you have a dead tree in your forest.
Create on the computer, consume on the phone
I’ve long been a believer of creating and consuming on different devices, so when it’s time for focused work I sign out of social apps and quit Slack. Then there is nothing on my computer to distract me. Then I start a tree growing session in Forest. Now for the next 25 minutes my phone is locked from use (unless I want to kill a tree).
Usually sometime in the 25 minute stretch I’ll press a magic key combination: “CMD + T, FA, Enter” to end up on Facebook…except I’m logged out so I’ll close the tab, remember I’m supposed to be focusing, and get back to work.
Make a commitment
The other powerful aspect is committing to focus for a certain amount of time. Even if I only have 10 minutes before a meeting I can get a lot in if that is focused time. So I make the commitment to myself (and my small grove of trees) to make something happen in that small window.
I even have accountability from friends on how much focused time I had that day. Because Sean and Ashley (another forest loving co-worker) are friends in the app, they can see my stats and forest. That also means I can brag to them about how much I got done!
Tracking and stats
The final feature I love is being able to see which days were more productive than others. Or to set a goal to have more hours of focused time this week compared to last week.
As I use it longer it will be fun to see stats month to month!
The more focused sessions you have, the more coins you collect. Get to 500 coins and you can unlock new types of trees. I just got a treehouse (obviously).
Download Forest on the App Store
I just started using Streaks two weeks ago after having dinner with Sean. I’m a huge fan of building habits based on not breaking a chain of days on a task. My app Commit (which has since retired as I focused on ConvertKit) is based on this principle. The same principle I used to write 3 books in 9 months!
Streaks follows the same principle, but has a lot more functionality. First you define a task you want to do every day (mine is writing), and then set the your interval, icon, and any reminders.
I have three streaks going:
- Skip breakfast
- Publish every Monday
Yep, that means you can set streaks for particular days. Writing and skipping breakfast (intermittent fasting) happen every day. For publishing I am going for consistency, so I just need to make that happen every Monday.
Download streaks on the App Store
A couple notes
First, you might notice that my streaks are relatively short. Other than publishing, I’ve been breaking the streaks each weekend. I don’t mean to skip writing on the weekends, I’ve just been busy at a conference or with family. That’s going to stop. For skipping breakfast, I’m more flexible. If skipping breakfast means missing weekend family time, I’m going to cheerfully break that streak for a day. We’ll see if I change it later to just be a weekday habit.
Second, I’m famous for writing 1,000 words a day (for 600+ days in a row!), but this streak is simply to write. As I try to rebuild my writing muscle I chose to set the bar lower. Simply write, for any amount of time, and it’s considered a success! That makes the habit easier to form and keeps the bar lower.
This is my fourth Monday in a row publishing a blog post. It wouldn’t have happened without these two apps and a renewed focus on simple habits to create more than I consume.
What works for you?
10 Responses to “My secrets to a productive week”
Forest has been a complete game changer for me.
I find myself going to my phone for distractions whenever I’m feeling resistance to enter some particularly deep work.
I track my time with RescueTime on desktop (and the native Screen Time feature newly introduce in iOS 12), so I know where my time is being spent. I also know when and where I’m most likely to get distracted.
I can preempt these times of likely distraction by starting a Forest tree timer on my phone. Now I can’t use my phone for an hour or two without killing the tree.
The Forest app is smart in that it uses both positive and negative reinforcement. If you successfully complete the timer, you see a nice tree on your plot of land. However, if you break your focus by leaving the app to check something else like a notification, you not only don’t get that tree, but a DEAD tree is displayed on your plot of land for all to see (at least, the people you’ve added to your friends list).
The more you focus, the more coins you get to unlock new species of trees. And don’t worry, there are no in-app-purchases. The coins are just used to unlock new trees and motivate you to stay focused longer.
Tip for Streaks: You can also convert a habit into a “Negative Task” if you want. For instance, you could create a Negative Task called “Checked Twitter”. This is easier than making a Positive Task (default) called “Didn’t Check Twitter” that you’d have to remember to check after your entire day was over.
You can also set limits in Streaks. For instance, if you decide it’s okay to allow yourself to check Twitter twice in a day (meaning, 3 times is considered failure), you could set a “Misses Per Day” to 3.
Similarly, if you want to drink 3 bottles of water per day, you could set “Completions Per Day” on a “Drink” habit to 3.
To set limits, tap the cog/settings icon, then tap the “•••” on the habit you want to change. Here, you’re find options.
Some of the more advanced options are buried under yet another “•••” icon (this time, at the top right of the screen). In this menu, you’ll find the option to convert the task into a Negative Task. You’ll also find an option called “Hey Siri”.
“Hey Siri” let’s you record a phrase for that particular habit. Some examples for me:
• “I ran today.”
• “I read today.”
• “I walked today.”
• “I stretched today.”
I can simply say, “Hey Siri, I walked today,” and Siri will respond, “Done!” An animated completion of my habit will display on the lockscreen.
Additionally, Streaks includes a Watch app and complication (it looks beautiful on the Infographic Analog face if you have the Series 4 Apple Watch), which you can use to complete a habit from your wrist.
Believe it or not, there are still two other ways you can complete habits in Streaks: from the Today screen (if you add the widget), as well as 3D touching on the app icon from your homescreen to complete the habit via the popup without having to enter the app at all.
Thanks for all the tips and for recommending the app in the first place!
I love the insight, thanks Sean and Nathan!
Typo: ” and then set the your intervals, icon, and any reminders.”
Great post! Going to try out streak.
I’m going to give Forest a whirl. If I like it enough, I think I’ll invite a few people to have some friendly competition on who can have the more epic forest 😎
Thanks for the recommendation homie! I appreciate reading your posts as of late and am looking forward to reading more.
Rather than getting discouraged from “breaking the chain” on a weekend (when skipping a habit might actually be a better thing, such as spending quality time with people), I use Reinhard Engels’s idea of S-days (“Special days”). You can skip your habit on Saturday, Sunday and special days such as close birthdays or holidays and it doesn’t count as a break in the chain.
I haven’t used Streaks, but the Way of Life app allows you to skip your habit on an S-day without breaking your streak.
I am trying so hard to figure out a better system to organize my life. I will check these out! I’m really not sure anything can replace the analog and immediate gratification of a to-do list on paper, written with a great pen.
Jesus Alfonso Velez Valdez
Awesome, these recommendations came just in time. Any Streaks known alternatives for Android on t
he Google Play store?
Thanks for the great article
Interested to know, do you only track your work activity? Or do you additionally track other elements of your life like sleep, exercise etc? If so, how do you think about the balance between them in relation to productivity?