Category Archives for Self-Employment

Site Redesign – Comments Welcome!

I’ve been working on a site redesign for a couple of weeks now. I have been learning a lot about using custom themes for another project and decided to apply what I have learned to this site as well. I also wanted a logo that exemplified the core “freer tomorrow” theme of the site. After some trial and error, and some custom CSS work by my daughter, I think it is ready to go.

What do you think of the new design? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Thanks,

–Bill

 

Can Pomodoro Technique Make You More Productive?

It has been a while since I last made a post in this productivity series. The Pomodoro Technique, created by Francesco Cirillo, has been around for a long time. I have been using the basic to boost my writing productivity for more than a year. But I knew there was more to it than I was using. So I put off writing this post until I read Cirillo’s book, “The Pomodoro Technique.”

Would the rest of the technique be as useful as the part I already use? Here is what I learned:

As a writer, I need to sit my butt down in my chair and put words on paper. On big projects, I need to be in front of the computer for many hours every day. I need to be able to crank out lots of coherent, interesting content the whole time.

But I am vulnerable to getting into a kind of trance when writing. I may sit down at my desk and start writing. When I look up again, I discover that 3 or 4 hours have gone by, and I haven’t moved from my chair. I’ve been spinning out content like a mad man.

However…

While I can be in a writing trance or flow for hours, I can’t maintain full concentration during that time. While the quantity of words on the page keeps growing, after a while, the quality of the writing suffers. I need to take breaks once in a while to stay productive.

I’ve tried taking breaks when I feel that my quality is dropping, but it is hard to do it on your own. It takes attention away from the work. In the back of my mind I am constantly worrying at it (“Is my writing still good? Is it time for a break? Should I push myself just a little longer? Would this be a good day to go out for a pizza?”).

Plus, when I do pull away, it is easy to get sidetracked, and start doing something else. I tell myself I will play 10 minutes of Desktop Dungeons or something similar, then get back to work.

desktop dungeons

It is easy to get sidetracked when you control your own work breaks.

Two hours later, the guilt finally drives me back to the work I was supposed to be doing. Clearly, I need some external power to impose worktime discipline on me!

Enter the Pomodoro Technique

While looking for a solution, I kept seeing mentions of the Pomodoro Technique. At first, it seemed ridiculous to me. Get a tomato-shaped timer and magically become more productive. Yeah, right!

Even so, I kept reading about people who swore by their little tomato timers. So I decided to give the technique a try.

The Pomodoro Technique divides your work day into 30-minute chunks (called Pomodoros). It uses the timer to control what you do during those chunks. It tells you when to start and stop work. And forces you to take short breaks before your concentration flags.

Tomato timer to the rescue!

This means the timer is key to the whole technique. You can go the classic route and buy a kitchen timer (maybe even a tomato-shaped one). Or you can do what I did and look online for a Pomodoro timer app. There are free apps out there for every type of computer or mobile device.

I have found that the timer provides the worktime discipline I need.

Right now, I am using an Android app called Brain Focus. It runs on my tablet, which sits on the desk next to me. The app handles the whole process of setting the times for work and breaks. This saves me from having to set a physical timer for 25 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 25 minutes, and so on all day. I know myself well enough to know that I would grow tired of doing that. I abandon the whole technique.

The basic plan is that you set the timer for 25 minutes, then start working. When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break. Then the cycle repeats. 25 minutes is a short enough time to stay focused on the task, but enough time to get some solid work done.

The 5-minute break keeps you from getting bored or burnt out. It lets you recharge and recover. I like to get away from the desk for those 5 minutes. I go to the bathroom, get a drink, or do a few exercises. Anything to get my blood flowing and my conscious mind off what I am working on.

This leaves me refreshed when my 5 minute break is over and it is time to get back to work. At first I worried that this kind of work cycle would disrupt my flow and make me less productive.

I was wrong. When I use the technique I am far more productive.

Adding Nuance to the Technique

There is actually another time cycle to the Pomodoro Technique. After every 4 Pomodoros, you get a longer, 15 to 30-minute break. This break lets you do things like eat lunch, respond to ‘urgent’ messages, or whatever else you need to do.

I find that this helps a lot too. Even with the 5-minute breaks, after 2 hours (4 Pomodoros) of hard work, I am ready to step away for a bit. Then when I come back after a longer break, I am ready to settle in for another 2-hour push.

So far so good.

Going Deeper into the Pomodoro Technique

As I mentioned above, I decided to read about the full technique before writing this post. I was not happy with what I found.

First, Cirillo’s book tries to fit your entire workday into Pomodoros. This sounds logical, but it is impractical. Some tasks don’t break down like this.

For example, the book suggests that you dedicate the first Pomodoro of the day to planning the day. But I don’t need to spend the first 25 minutes of my day figuring out what I am going to do the rest of the day. That is a 5-minute task.

Likewise, one of my daily tasks is Spanish lessons. But the length of my Spanish lessons varies, and doesn’t map well to 25-minute chunks of time.

The book recommends using excess time in a Pomodoro to review what you have been working on. But after spending a few Pomodoros learningg Spanish conjugations, I am done. No way am I going to spend more time on them to fill the space in a Pomodoro!

Worse, from my perspective is the rigidity of the system. Interruptions are not allowed. If an interruption takes more than a few seconds, the Pomodoro is over. You should abandon it and start over from scratch.

Mr. Cirillo does offers a system for quickly dealing with interruptions. That helps, but this concept still doesn’t work for me. My life is filled with short interruptions that I am not willing to ignore. At the same time, I’m not willing to restart a Pomodoro that is almost done because of a short interruption. Following that rule would make me angry instead of productive.

One last objection. The book advocates tracking and managing all your work based on Pomodoros. This feels like a stretch:

  • This task takes 2 one-person Pomodoros.
  • That task takes 1 two-person Pomodoro, which is NOT equal to 2 one-person Pomodoros.
  • I completed 5 one-person Pomodoros and one 3-person Pomodoro today.

There is a certain logic to all this. If you are going to work in Pomodoros, measuring and managing with them makes sense. But for me at least, it is way too much.

Can the Pomodoro Technique Make You More Productive?

The Pomodoro Technique can boost your productivity. But you need to be smart about how you use it. When I need to stay focused for long periods, using a Pomodoro Timer is a definite benefit. Give it a try the next time you need to put in several hours of focused work.

But going too far with the technique can be counterproductive. The more advanced aspects are too rigid and constrained for me. Trying to build my whole work life around the Pomodoro Technique would drive me crazy. Still, if you like the basic technique, buy the book and try the rest of it. The full technique works for many people around the world. Maybe it will for you too.

Do you use the Pomodoro Technique? Do you like it? Do you use it all or just the timer part? Am I crazy to use it the way I do? Please share your thoughts below.

 

NOTE: This post originally appeared on STEEMIT.com

To Become More Productive, Stop Working

A lot of getting productive has nothing at all to do with your work. Think about it. We’re not machines. If we don’t take care of ourselves in general, we are going to be a lot less effective at anything we do.

This simple fact was brought home to me last night. I am in a Thursday night pool league, and have been doing very well. But yesterday, I suffered a mild case of food poisoning after eating lunch at a local restaurant.

By evening I was feeling okay, so figured I had better go play. It was too late to get a substitute and I didn’t want to let my teammates down.

It didn’t go too well.

I could not get it together. The focus wasn’t there. I couldn’t string together two good shots in a row. It was not an impressive showing. Not being 100% healthy in my guts affected my ability to shoot a pool ball.

We are complex systems and everything affects everything else. That’s why we sometimes need to stop working to become more productive.

The idea here is that we need to attend to various non-work factors if we want to be productive in our work. There are three factors in particular that you need to get right if you want to be productive.

You need to:

  • Eat Right
  • Exercise Your Body
  • Rest Your Mind

We should talk about these three factors in some detail here. You’ll soon see why they are so important. You’ll also see why stopping work to address them will make you more productive, not less so.

Eat Right

I am sure you realize that food is vitally important. And that “eating right” can help you be more productive. But knowing what is right to eat can be hard. There is so much conflicting advice to sort through.

And man is it hard to eat right when you are scrambling to get stuff done. I’m sure I am not the only person to work through their lunch to meet a deadline. And I’m sure I’m not the only person to grab a snack from the vending machine instead of eating a regular meal. After all, I was really busy.

You’ve got to resist these urges. Working through lunch might get that report turned in on time. However, you are likely to be less than 100% for the rest of the day. Your blood sugar levels will drop and you will be craving food.

This will lead you to the vending machine, where you will find only unhealthy junk. The junk food will drive your blood sugar up, then bring it crashing down. It will be hard to focus, possibly even to stay awake. And that will drive you back to the vending machine to repeat the cycle.

How to Eat Right (to Make You More Productive)

Now I am not a nutritionist or any kind of medical expert. Still my research and my personal experience tells me a few things. Foremost is that for most people, eating right means less carbs and more protein.

The US government recommends a diet made up of lots of carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. If you look around the USA, you can see the results. They aren’t pretty. Eating the recommended diet results in serious weight gain. It also tends to leave you far from your most productive.

usda food pyramid screen capture
Screen capture from USDA Food Guide Pyramid pamphlet.

One simple step you can take to be more productive all day is to eat a high-protein breakfast. Many high-performance people extol the virtues of a high-protein, low-carb breakfast. One such person is Charles Poliquin, who trains many Olympic and professional athletes. He says that this kind of breakfast leaves you feeling fuller. At the same time, you consume fewer calories.

Why? This kind of breakfast results in a slower, more prolonged rise in your blood sugar than a carb-heavy meal. This keeps you awake and alert, allowing you to concentrate better for longer. At the same time, with stable blood sugar, you are less likely to have cravings for junk food.

Combine all these effects and it is easy to see how this kind of breakfast can set you up to be more productive.

Try eating a high-protein breakfast for a few days and see if you notice a difference. I know that I am definitely more productive when I have the discipline to start my days off this way.

Exercise Your Body

We evolved in the wild, hunting, and fighting, and running for our lives. So it is only logical that our bodies are adapted to a life of action. Sitting in front of a computer for hours a day (as I am doing right now) is not natural for us.

Our world doesn’t force us to be active to survive the way our ancestors were. Several years ago, I visited a recreation of a Colonial New England town. I was told that people back then worked so hard that they burned over 6,000 calories a day!

Few of us would want to go back to that, but we do pay a price for our easier lives. Our bodies are not adapted to the sedentary modern world. We don’t perform as well if we never get any exercise.

Adding some exercise to your life will improve the functioning of your body. That can make you more productive in whatever you do. Happily, we don’t have to live the strenuous lives of our ancestors to benefit.

At almost any level, some exercise is better than none. And a little more exercise gives you a little more benefit. If you are not already doing so, it makes sense to start exercising. And if you are already exercising, try doing a little more.

I am not going to try to tell you what exercise program is right for you. That is way beyond my field of expertise. And I am not going to share my workout program with you. I am a 58-year old guy who was out of action for a long time after contracting the Chikungunya virus. My needs and circumstances are pretty atypical.

I can make a couple of suggestions though.

Number 1 is, start slow, and don’t worry about impressing anyone. The goal should be to do a little more than you are doing now, without injuring yourself. Impressing people with your pullup prowess doesn’t matter if you injure yourself.

Number 2 is, if you are far out of shape, talk to your doctor before starting. Exercise is good. Giving yourself a heart attack or a stroke is bad.

Rest Your Mind

We tend to forget this, but thinking requires physical energy. Our brains burn something like 20% of all the calories used by our bodies. It is unclear whether thinking harder actually burns more calories. Whether it does or not, we do know that concentrating on something drains us over time.

rest your mind to be more productive

Your mind is a busy organ. Sometimes it needs rest.

We can only concentrate on one thing for a limited amount of time. The amount of time varies from person to person, but we aren’t machines. We simply can’t stay completely focused on one task all day.

So what do you do when you need to be productive all day?

You can try to power through the mental exhaustion. But don’t expect to get good results. You can’t do your best work in this state.

I frequently take siestas during the day. The difference in productivity between right before and after the siesta, is amazing. I sometimes find myself thinking, “Wow! I was really stupid earlier today.”

Why such a huge difference? Right before the siesta, I will have worked hard for hours, and I am tired. Those two things, sustained focus and tiredness, really make it hard to be productive.

But then comes the siesta. Sometimes I sleep. Other times I read or simply rest with me eyes closed. Frequently I will be back at my desk, focused and working productively, in 20 minutes. It’s surprising how much of a difference such a short break can make.

This works because I am resting my mind. During a siesta, I am not concentrating hard on anything, even if I am reading. I am getting physical rest as well as relaxing my mind.

Whatever “energy” it is that allows me to stay focused runs out after a while. I need to step away from the work every so often to recharge that energy and be productive again. Whether you realize it or not, you do too.

If you work in an office, you probably can’t take a siesta in the middle of the day. But you can do something to rest your mind every so often. Even something as simple as walking to the restroom, or chatting with someone at the water cooler for a moment can do it. I am sure you will be more productive when you return to your work.

Conclusion

Non-work factors definitely play a part in becoming more productive. Eating right, exercising your body, and resting your mind are all things that take minutes away from working. But all of them make you much more productive, despite the lost minutes. Try it yourself and see.

References

References used in this post:

Productivity Power-Ups: Planning & Pareto Principle

Let’s add some more tips and techniques for getting productive. Today, we have these two Productivity power-ups to discuss:

  • The Pareto Principle
  • Planning Ahead

As in the previous post, we will cover these two techniques in some detail. This should be more useful than giving you a list full of one-liners like, “Plan ahead to stay organized” and so on. Since getting productive is the goal, let’s dive right in.

The Pareto Principle

There is a good chance you have never heard the phrase, Pareto Principle. But you have probably heard the more common name for it, the 80/20 Rule.

the pareto principle
The Pareto Principle can guide you to the most productive activities.

Vilfredo Pareto started the whole thing in the 1890’s. He noticed that a small percentage of the peapods in his garden produced the majority of the peas. He noticed similar patterns elsewhere. For example, he saw that that 20% of the people in his native Italy owned 80% of the land.

This general pattern shows up throughout the natural and man-made world:

  • The majority of the wealth on the planet is owned by a small percentage of the people.
  • The majority of the health gains you get working out come from a minority of the exercises you do.
  • The majority of the money earned by book publishers come from a minority of the books they publish, and so on.

Pareto and Productivity

What does this have to do with getting productive? You can apply the Pareto Principle to your work as well. In general, 80% of the results you get come from 20% of the work you do. What if you could identify the 20% of your work that gives the bulk of the results? Couldn’t you then:

  • Spend more time doing the stuff that gets the best results?
  • Spend less time doing the stuff that doesn’t get good results?

In other words, by changing what you work on, you could get more results for the same amount of effort. That seems like a pretty good definition of getting productive to me!

To make this happen, you need to do two things.

  1. Keep track of the time you spend on each work activity
  2. Figure out the returns you get from each activity

With this information, you can see which things generate the most return for the least effort. Once you know this, you can start looking for ways to do more of the productive stuff and less of the unproductive.

Exceptions to the Rule

As you well know, for every rule, there are exceptions. The approach I described above isn’t foolproof. Some things you do don’t have well-defined results, or have results that you will only be able to see in hindsight.

Let’s take responding to posts on social media. In general, there is no direct payoff from doing so. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop doing it. As I was reminded recently, making meaningful comments to posts can be a great investment.

But commenting on people’s posts is also a speculation. The only way you will know for sure that it paid off is by looking back. It might result in more followers who eventually become customers. It might result in a job offer of some other valuable connection. Or it might yield nothing.

What’s the Answer?

You need to decide how you are going to deal with stuff like this. Try setting aside a certain amount of time in each day or week for these kinds of activities.

You could schedule 10% of your time for social media and other stuff you can’t assign a specific value to. Then, somewhere in the future, analyze the results. See if the time you spent generated good results.

Planning Ahead to Be More Productive

Just sitting down and going to work without a plan will only get you so far. As we saw when talking about the Pareto Principle, some activities contribute far more to your productivity than others. Imagine that you simply sat down at your desk and worked as hard as you could all day. You probably got a lot of stuff done, right?

planning ahead
Planning ahead can boost your productivity.

But were you working on the right things? The things that benefit you the most or whatever was next on your to-do list? Would your time have been better spent working on this task or that one? Do you even remember what things you worked on?

How Planning Ahead Helps You Be Productive

If you don’t plan ahead, you will have a hard time being as productive as you should be. There are a bunch of benefits to planning ahead. They include:

  • You will likely come up with a better plan than if you are improvising in the middle of your work session.
  • You will be able to produce instead of constantly stopping to figure out what to do next. Just follow the plan.
  • It anchors you when people interrupt you. When you have a plan you are trying to meet, it is harder to get pulled into other people’s issues.
  • You have a basis for applying the Pareto Principle. You can look at the day’s plan to see how much time you put into each task.
    The plan helps you to keep working on the most important things instead of the most urgent or most fun.

Planning tomorrow’s work tonight lets you jump right into it in the morning. It also gives your subconscious time to work out some of the details and issues while you sleep.

I am lazy, but sometimes do plan ahead. When I do, I get better results than when I just wing it, or scramble together a plan in the middle of everything else. Give planning ahead (including planning the night before) a try. See if it helps you get more productive.

Share Your Thoughts on these Productivity Power-Ups

What do you think about using the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead to be more productive? If you have experience with either of these approaches, we want to hear about it. Please leave a comment so others can benefit from your experience.

References

Here are links to some resources related to the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead:

More Ways to Eliminate Distractions

After my last post I realized that I failed to cover two more ways to eliminate distractions. The first is something that I have experience with. The other I have not tried, but many successful people seem to do it regularly.

So check out two more ways to eliminate distractions. We’ll move on to other types of tips in the next post.

Clean Your Workspace

When I first read about this tip, it sounded crazy to me. Clean my workspace? I don’t have time for that. Why waste time cleaning my desk when I could be writing instead! I can reach the keyboard, see the monitor, and find my notes when I need them.

clean your workspace to eliminate distractions
Cleaning your workspace can reduce future distractions from within your own head.

What does the cleanliness of my workspace have to do with writing?

It turns out that cleaning your workspace can make you much more productive.

How? It is a way to eliminate distractions.

When my subconscious doesn’t want to work, it is very good at finding excuses to avoid working. The endless temptation of social media is one good way to avoid work. But even if I have my social media shut down, there are lots of things close at hand to draw my attention.

“Oh yeah” That receipt over there on the corner of the desk. I’ve gotta file that thing before I forget.”

“That dirty plate from my afternoon snack. I should wash that right now. Can’t take a chance on getting bugs!”

“I really do need to get back to work on that Raspberry Pi project over there. It has been sitting half-finished for weeks!”

You get the picture. The more stuff that clutters up your workspace, the easier it is to distract yourself with it.

The solution is simple: clean your workspace.

Before you sit down to start working, make sure that your workspace is clean. If you clean up before you start every work session, this should only take a few moments.

How clean does your workspace need to be? To a certain extent, this depends on you. I am pretty weak when it comes to workspace distractions. It is best if I don’t have anything interesting in front of me other than what I am supposed to be working on.

You may be stronger or less easy to distract than me. So you might not need to do as thorough a cleanup job. The key is to remove anything that might distract you from your field of view.

Try this tip out for a few days and see what you think.

Eliminate Internal Distractions by Journal Writing

Sometimes the distractions that make it hardest to get productive are in your own head. If you have lots on your mind, or are beating yourself up inside, chances are you won’t get any work done. Journal writing might be the solution here.

journal writing by girl
Journal writing can help you get distractions out of your head.

NOTE: This is not a technique I use myself. I am giving you my interpretation of the things I read and heard about this over the years.

A few moments of journal writing can clear your head. Somehow the act of getting stuff down on paper does the trick. This is true whether you make use of what you wrote, or you ignore it, tear it out of a physical journal, or burn it all.

NOTE: Check out this post for another way getting stuff out of your head and onto paper can make a huge difference.

Conclusion

There we go. Two more tips to help you eliminate distractions and get producing.

Do you have any experience with cleaning your workspace to increase your productivity? Do you use Journal Writing to clear your head? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Getting Productive

Getting Productive Again When You are Stuck

Unless you are independently wealthy, being freer tomorrow requires a way to make money. But if you are like me, you sometimes get stuck. This article is designed to help you get unstuck.

The last few months have been a tough time for getting work done. Between moving, spending 10 days in the USA taking care of my Mom’s estate, visiting my daughter, and getting married, it has been tough to concentrate on my writing. Especially when you consider that I was without Internet access at home for 6 weeks straight!

But all that is in the past. You can expect to see the FreerTomorrow articles flowing once again. I’ve broken through the delays and the procrastination and am back on duty.

Tips and Tricks for Getting Productive from Other Creative People

To get things going again, we’ll talk about getting going again on your projects after an extended stop. I recently posted a message in a writer’s group looking for people’s tips on how they get and stay productive.

As luck would have it, right after I posted that message, I came across several tips that other creative people use to get the content flowing. While some of these tips are specific to a particular field, most of the information you will find here pertains to getting going again on anything that requires creativity and initiative.

In the interest of getting productive, I’ve decided to turn this into several posts. I planned on one big post, but seeing how my list of tips has grown, and how much there is to actually write about them, that seems like a bad idea. What I will do is give you a reasonably deep look at one or two tips in each post, along with one or more links to places where you can find more information on this topic.

This approach will let me get content out the door in a timely manner, and let you evaluate each tip more thoroughly than you could in the usual, “10 Tips to Productivity” list style article.

The first tip in this post is:

Eliminate Distractions

For many of us, distractions are a major impediment to getting started on our work and staying focused as the day goes on. A noisy environment, the lure of social media, even a messy desk can serve as distractions to keep us from getting productive. Fortunately, there are ways to at least reduce, if not totally eliminate, each of the common types of distractions.

Do Not Disturb Sign

Eliminating distractions can make a huge difference when getting productive.

For example…

Social Media

Social media is a highly addictive, and very persistent, type of distraction. It can be very hard to ignore that beep, or buzz or whatever sound your social media apps use to notify you that there is something new and shiny to look at. Once you let social media grab your attention, it is very easy to burn 10, 20, 30 (or more) minutes before escaping back to doing actual work.
Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to cut down on social media distractions.

Disconnect!

If don’t need to connect to the rest of the world to work, disconnect for a while. Disconnecting your computer from the Internet is all you need to do to prevent the problem. If you use a smartphone, you will want to disable its Internet access as well. This may seem extreme, but it is a sure-fire way to eliminate this form of distraction and be more productive.

Mute It!

What if you can’t disconnect? Maybe you need to use the Internet in your work. Or maybe you are on call for something and must always be reachable. We can deal with this too.

Try muting all or part of any social media apps that you don’t need to do your work. Pretty much every social media app gives you some way to mute individuals, or groups, or all alerts at once. This gives you the ability to customize for your specific circumstances. Sometimes all you need to do is mute one or two people or channels of communication to eliminate most of the distraction.

For example, on Whatsapp, I get more messages from my brother than from everyone else I know put together. They are useful, but can really interrupt my work flow and normally don’t have any urgency. That means I can ignore messages when I am working and read them when I have free time. So, when I want to really reduce my social media distractions, I can mute him on Whatsapp while still being available to other people.

Depending on what devices and operating systems you are using to connect to the Internet, you might be able to find some sort of app that blocks your access to most or all social media, without keeping you from visiting other sites.

Making this work does require some discipline, both from you and from the people you communicate with. In reality, most social media stuff is not time-sensitive, or even very important. Yet there is a lot of pressure to be online all the time, and to respond to alerts immediately.

Disconnecting from the Internet, or muting social media channels will keep them from interrupting your work. But you still need to convince yourself that you are not missing out on anything important by ignoring this stuff until later.

You also need to change the perspective of the people you communicate with regularly. If you and Sally chat a lot on some messaging app, she may become upset if you suddenly start ignoring her messages until the end of the work day. You may need to explain to some people what you are doing and why. Let them know that you still value your interactions, just not when you getting productive work done.

The second tip we will talk about today is:

Kill the Noise!

It’s noisy where I live. Cars, kids, construction and other sources of random noise can be very distracting. Keeping external noise out is a tough job, unless you can sound-proof your workspace. I did that once, but it is generally not practical. Even so, there are ways to reduce the noise-related distractions you experience.

Kill the noise so you can work

Killing noise makes getting productive much easier.

Work at Odd Hours

Many productive people reduce the amount of noise they experience by working when others are sleeping. I’ve found this to be a productive strategy. I tend to wake up very early in the morning (between 3 and 4 AM). When I have the discipline to do so, I immediately start working on whatever is my top priority for the day. As a result, I can often get in a couple of hours of work without external noise distractions because most people are still asleep!

The same idea applies if you are a night owl. Lots of creative folks are night owls, and are often awake until 2 or 3 AM. Most people are in bed long before then, meaning much less noise to distract you.

Of course, this tip requires you to be able to work at odd hours. If you have an office job, you probably need to be at the office when everyone else is. Likewise, you may not be able to confine your work hours to only those hours when other people are asleep.

NOTE: If you do work in an office, the book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” contains very detailed advice for eliminating a range of office-type distractions. From dealing with co-workers who want to chat, to dodging pointless meetings, this book can help you with getting productive in the office.

In cases where you can’t do all your work when the rest of the world sleeps, I recommend that you…

Try a White Noise Generator

White noise generators create some kind of random sound that can play in the background while you work. “White noise” which is a type of noise produced by mixing together all the frequencies of sound a human can hear.
How does adding noise to your environment reduce noise-related distractions?

Because it contains all the different frequencies of sounds you can hear, the white noise masks the distracting sounds, making it harder for your brain to focus on them.

I used to think that the whole white noise thing was just some trendy bit of pseudo-science. But in recent years I have started using this effect to help me with noise-related distractions. That said, I cannot guarantee that a white noise generator will be effective for you. It appears to depend on how your brain works as well as the particular type of work you are doing at the time.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

“The effects of white noise upon cognitive function are mixed. Recently, a small study found that white noise background stimulation improves cognitive functioning among secondary students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while decreasing performance of non-ADHD students. Other work indicates it is effective in improving the mood and performance of workers by masking background office noise, but decreases cognitive performance in complex card sorting tasks.”

Further confusing the issue is the fact that there are other types of noise generators available to mask noise. For example, I listen to “brown noise” from an app on my tablet. This app, Noise Wall, can generate 4 different types of noise targeted at different circumstances. The brown noise seems more effective for me, but your results may vary.

One more complication is that there are “white noise” generators that can also create a range of random-ish sounds taken from natural or human sources. Waterfalls, ventilation fans, and rain sounds seem particularly common.

To summarize, there are a ton of noise generators out there that can mask out noise-related distractions. I suggest you search online for some free apps that you can test. The odds are good you can find something that works for you.

That’s it for this post. Watch for the next post with more tips for getting productive!

If you have any thoughts or stories to share about these two tips or getting productive in general, please share them below.

Useful Links

Wikipedia, White Noise

The 4-Hour Workweek

23 Productivity Tips from Digital Nomads Around the World

Getting Productive by Killing Distractions on Android

Geoarbitrage: The Live Here, Earn There Approach

As promised, I am going to describe various approaches to Geoarbitrage in some detail. We’ll talk about the approach and how it works, then cover the Pros and Cons. By the time we’re done, you will have a good handle on which approaches (if any) fit into your future.

Ready? We’ll start with…

What is the “Live Here, Earn There” Approach

The “Live Here, Earn There” approach is my favorite approach to geoarbitrage. That’s because it is the approach that allows me to lead the wonderful life I have now. Consider this:

  • I live in the city that is frequently described as the best place in the world for North Americans to retire.
Live Here, Earn There

Living in a place like Cuenca, Ecuador can make you Freer Tomorrow.

  • I rent a nice 3-bedroom house not far from the ritziest part of the city.
  • My quality of life is much higher than I had before.
  • Because I live and work outside my home country, there are several completely legal ways I can reduce my US tax bill.
  • Over the 5+ years I have lived here, my average workweek has probably been 10 to 15 hours. I had over a year where I only had to work around 10 minutes a day to pay all my bills.

“So how the hell can I pull this off?,” you ask. It isn’t that hard to do if you apply the Live Here, Earn There approach to geoarbitrage. The idea is that you earn your money someplace where the cost of living is high. But you live someplace where the cost of living is much lower.

For example, I earn most of my money doing work for companies based in the United States, where the cost of living is pretty high. So the companies I work for pay me what they would pay someone who is based in the USA.

But I live in Cuenca, Ecuador, where the cost of living is a fraction of that in the USA. So my expenses are much lower than they would be up north. This allows me to live nicely while only working a fraction of the time I would in the US.

For example, according to Numbeo, the cost of living here in Cuenca, Ecuador (excluding housing) is less than half that of living in NYC. And the cost of housing is only about 11% that of NYC! Adding to the fun, Cuenca is one of the most expensive places to live in Ecuador, due to all the publicity it gets internationally.

The high cost of living in a place like New York City means you can get paid a lot more than people living in less expensive places.

How to Implement the “Live Here, Earn There” Approach

If you are still reading, I bet you are thinking either:

  • This sounds great, I wanna see how to do it, or
  • This sounds like a crock, I’ve gotta see how he claims this is possible

It really is possible to live here, earn there if you set things up right. In fact, it is much easier than it was even a few years ago when I started. These days, companies are frantically outsourcing work, hiring contractors, basically doing anything they can to reduce headcounts. The old style job (where you had to be in your desk at 9am every day so the boss could see you and lord over you) is quickly disappearing. You might even be able to convert your current office job into remote work and implement the plan without changing gigs.

Let’s take a look at how you could take advantage of this form of geoarbitrage. You implement this approach as follows:

If You Work a Normal Office Job

  1. Start busting butt at the office so your boss sees how valuable you are to the company.
  2. Begin thinking about where you might want to live.
  3. After a few months, talk to your boss about working from home one or two days a week.
  4. Once you can work from home, make sure not to slack off. If anything try hard to be more productive on your days working from home. You want your boss to be impressed with the results.
  5. Make short trips to the locations you are considering moving to. You need to get a first-person feel for what they’re like. No point in going through all this then moving someplace you are going to hate!
  6. Gradually increase the number of days you work outside the office until you never have to be physically present.
  7. Move someplace cheaper and enjoy the benefits of living here and earning there!

NOTE:  Tim Ferriss has a much more detailed plan for making this happen in his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek.”

If You Make Your Living with a Location-Independent Business

This is pretty easy. You know how much money you are making now, and how much you are likely to make in the next few years. So all you need to do is figure out a few places where you might want to live and can afford to live. Then go scout out your top choices and pick the one you’re going to move to.

If You Have Both Regular-Job Income and Location-Independent Business Income

This is the situation I was in. I had a full-time job and a side business that was location-independent. In this situation, it should be just as easy as if all your current income is from a location-independent business. But it can get tricky.

Assuming you plan to live on your location-independent business income, you have to be careful of your assumptions. It is easy to assume you are going to increase your income a lot once you move. After all, you won’t be wasting most of your days at your office job anymore.

This can be a dangerous assumption. You would be much better off assuming that your income is not going to go up. Plan to live on what you have been making with your side gig. If you do make more, that’s great. But if you don’t, you could find yourself in a strange place with not enough money to pay your bills. Imagine getting evicted from your apartment in some foreign city with no friends, no options, and not even enough money to buy a plane ticket home. That would really suck.

The Pros and Cons of the “Live Here, Earn There” Approach

With all that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of this approach before wrapping up for the day.

Pros

  • You can buy far more lifestyle if you earn someplace expensive and live someplace inexpensive. This can mean more free time, more money in your pocket at the end of the month, a higher standard of living, or any combination of the above.
  • You can choose the place you live based on what you like, instead of based on where your job is located.
  • You may be able to save on taxes.

Cons

  • You need a location-independent business that pays well enough to fund the lifestyle you are looking for.
  • You lose the camaraderie of the office environment.

Conclusion

In the next part of this series we’ll talk about the “Live Here, Retire There” approach. It is a form of geoarbitrage that my brother and millions like him are already taking advantage of. While the retiree lifestyle isn’t really a theme of this blog, the approach allowed my brother to retire at 52 instead of 65. The super-early retirement angle is definitely one way to become freer tomorrow, so we’ll talk about it next.