This post is part of a 6 article series about productivity.
If you’re confused right now about reading this in the blog of a VFX artist, I’d recommend that you start from the introduction. Otherwise, here’s all the articles in order, in case you’d like to jump to any specific part once they’re all available. I hope you enjoy!
After discussing what productivity means (or might mean for you) and showing my top tips for setting up your own system —or at least the ones that I’d tell to my younger self—, I’ll now discuss the processes and rituals that have most influenced my current habits. Not that they’re the best and I’m sure they’ll change through time, but definitely big contributors to my own system.
If any of this resonates with you or informs any decisions, then I’m already happy!
Time blocking and Task Batching
Time blocking is by far the time management method that most helps me, reducing context switching fatigue/overhead to the minimum. I believe we tend to greatly underestimate how much energy will be drained away from us every time we need to switch from one task to another. So I always do my best to group any tasks that are related to the same topic or require a similar mental and/or physical state, and then do them right after each other. Here’s the main ideas:
1. 📬 Batch emails at very specific timeframes.
I learned this from Tim Ferriss and it changed my life. No one will die (most probably) if you don’t check and reply emails every single minute. And doing it all in a batch will help you focus your attention just once and get done with it.
Bonus tip: This allows me to go out and write them in the Sun, hitting two targets at once, while the Sun even gives me some useful energy for the email-writing mood!
2. 🧘 Long periods for Focus Time without interruptions.
I set chunks of time for deep or creative work every single day, probably far longer than most normal people should but I really need this because of how I am, and took long to understand the big impact this has on me.
Bonus tip: I literally have a task named Focus Time scheduled on my work calendar so that everyone can see it and be aware of the parts of the day when I can’t have any meetings and I won’t reply to emails or chats.
3. 🎤 Sociable or managerial mode all at once too!
In my specific case, I tend to prefer switching into “meeting mode” after lunch: where I’ve already pushed through the focus part of the day, and “the day is already won when the most important thing is done”. So then I can happily switch into the disperse mode, where I do all meetings that are necessary, reviews, calls, emails, chats, and so on!
Bonus tip: That way not only the type of task is batched but also the type of energy frequency your brain needs to be dialled into. Introverted and extroverted energy focalised at different moments. Again, probably overkill for most people but I just have too much inertia for context switching.
4. 💧 Never be too rigid: embrace the flow.
Might be that the most productive time at something is super unexpected, and in those cases I always favour the flow state over “what my plan says”.
Flow state is scarce and priceless, so whenever it comes it tends to take priority and I don’t feel bad for it. Like right now with writing this article which I shouldn’t be doing based on my previous plans for the day. But it will be fine. Just reassess later! It’s a cycle, so all good – there’ll be time for thinking and planning, BUT just not right now. Okay, so back to the matter at hand!
Separating Capture, Process and Review
Our brain is amazing, but it’s not the best tool for storing and organising every fleeting thought or task. Mostly because any single thing we have in our minds means an opportunity cost you’re paying for something else that we could be thinking about (or even just being present!).
This is where the principle of separating the stages of capture, process and review comes into play, so that ideas and tasks don’t get lost while at the same time you know you’ll only give them the appropriate attention when time comes. And this works like a charm for me, ever since I managed to turn it into a habit.
1. ✍️ Capture Everything Immediately
Find a system that lets you instantly jot down any idea, task, or information that comes to mind… could be a physical notebook, a digital app, or even voice memos.
As I’m a fan of digital, I make sure that writing down a note or task is never more than one click away (literally!), loads fast and I don’t even need internet connection. This way you can quickly get it out of your mind, resting assured that you won’t forget.
In the next article I’ll go more a lot into the details about my favourite steps in this process.
2. 🗓️ Dedicate Time to Process and Plan
Once you’ve captured your thoughts (notes and tasks!), it’s essential to set aside specific times to process them. This means going through your list, deciding what’s actionable (and when), what needs more information, and what can be delegated, postponed or even mercilessly discarded.
I tend to do this at the start of each day: schedule and dedicate 10 minutes to go through my inbox (or “everything I quickly captured yesterday”), decide what to do with it, and then go ahead and make a plan for the day.
Again, I’ll delve a bit deeper into my specific process and planning in the next part.
3. 🔍 Schedule Regular Review Sessions
Life is dynamic and priorities shift all the time, so regular review sessions can really help to look at the big picture of your life, making sure you’re really working on what’s important and that nothing falls through the cracks.
I tend to do these on Fridays or Sundays.
As I’m quite action-oriented (or future-looking… ok, impatient), Review is probably the only process where I have to dedicate a big amount of conscious effort in order to go ahead and do it and not find an excuse to do something better. However, from the times that I avoided the weekly review for 3-4 weeks in the past, only to later find I had completely missed the point on my priorities, I really would not recommend skipping it!
Setting Goals and Milestones
Systems are great for doing stuff but goals are the compass that guides what stuff is more relevant to do, informing our daily actions and decisions.
That’s why I found that writing down your goals in life can later have a really rewarding effect whenever unsure about what task to do next. A simple text note might be more than enough, which is exactly what I do. I tend to have it split in this way:
🏔️ Long term goals (5-10 years):
Looking 5-10 years into the future can really help to tell if the direction you’ve gone in the past 1-2 years is roughly taking you where you want to go.
I’m always aware that these long term goals will most probably change, but still thinking of them not as a destination but as a compass can really help to give a sense of direction to your life. In my case I try to answer these:
- Who do you want to be in 5 years?
- What things do you want to be doing?
- What would really motivate you?
And then it never hurts to check how that is aligning with your current and past actions.
⛳️ Mid term goals (1-2 years):
What would you like to achieve in the mid term?
I think the beauty of these goals is that you can aim quite big but at the same time they can be broken down into digestible chunks.
A mid term goal for me could be “I want to work with my colleagues on the vfx of a high budget film” or “I want to have my own online learning platform”. And both can very easily be broken down into smaller goals.
💥 Short term goals (1-3 months):
I’m a big fan of setting quarterly goals, as I feel 3 months hit a sweet spot where it’s a big enough time span to let you organise yourself properly around the different actions to achieve it, while being short enough to give a sense of pressure and be able to see the horizon getting closer all the time.
I always have some quarterly goals and personally like to make them aligned to the natural year. So new quarters start in January, April, July and October.
By the way, it’s September 30th now and one of my goals for this quarter was to finish a productivity system and publish something about it, …so you can see how the added pressure to complete something can make wonders 😄
Another interesting side effect of this quarterly organisation is that “you only get to plan your quarter when it starts, so you better plan nicely and then you better stick to the plan for the next 3 months till you plan again!”. This has a nice deadline effect on me and removes the need to constantly reassess if what I’m doing is important.
If this sounds interesting and you’d want some more ideas on how to dissect a quarterly goal into actionable items (projects and tasks), there’s a nice concept called QMWD (Quarter → Month → Week → Day).
So, to sum up:
Long term goals inform mid term goals, which inform short term goals, which you can probably translate into into actual projects and tasks you can act upon.
Treating the body as your hardware
...and making sure it’s optimized
Treating the body with the respect and care it deserves is something that I’m consistently amazed at how it does not just help the physical wellness, but far from it, it is intrinsically linked to professional efficacy and the quality of output I can deliver.
I would dare to say it’s one of the highest leverage tools I have to optimise for work productivity. So even if some task at hand feels purely abstract, just about thinking or “brain things”, I’m always surprised at how much effect the body can have on it (and vice versa).
“Most people think they have a software problem when they actually have a hardware problem”.
– George Mack (Modern Wisdom)
Some of the main areas that I try to stay on top of for health are the following (TLDR; nothing new):
1. 😴 Sleep
Sleep is my non-negotiable foundation for optimal brain function, and I can feel how it creates a positive feedback loop: better sleep leads to better productivity and vice versa.
My pre-sleep ritual includes reducing information overload (news, social media, etc), minimising exposure to blue light, and making sure to have a light and/or early dinner, so that my body can then focus all its energy on sleeping when it’s time do to it.
This winding down period helps me to transition away from work and prepare the mind for rest. I really try to adhere to a consistent sleep schedule. A nice and convenient tool that I’ve used every day since 2018 is the Oura ring, as it tracks many parameters (oxygen, movement, heart rate and variability) and sleep patterns without me having to do anything at all (except charge it once a week), and that in turn can sometimes help me make informed decisions about any needed adjustments to my routine… or more commonly, detect stuff that really makes me sleep worse and maybe I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I’m aware that this is completely unnecessary, and there’s many alternatives on the market (including most smart watches) if you even want to try tracking some sleep parameters to see if it’s any useful to you.
I’ve also experimented with a lot of other parameters to help sleep as nicely as possible, from sauna or a fresh and pitch black environment, to many different ways to promote nasal breathing and potentially improving oxygen flow to the brain during sleep.
Another topic that had me intrigued and researching in the past is grounding, the practice of ensuring an actual electrical connection to earth (yes, there’s even scientific evidence that it could be helpful and we’ve been grounded for most our evolution! 1 2 3 4 …). In the case of sleeping, as there are some gadgets that make it easy to stay grounded, and we spend such a big part of the day in bed, I thought it would be an extremely easy and non intrusive intervention on my life, and with 0 recurring cost of energy or money and no drawbacks if it didn’t work! So why not…. and so, for 5+ years I’ve now been grounded at least 1/3 of the time without even thinking about it.
Going back to sleep, each person’s different but I love tweaking any variables that fall under my control and can proudly consider myself a perfect-sleep pursuer (which isn’t always possible but no need to stress! You’ll get a new opportunity basically tonight…)
2. ☀️ Sun
Sunlight significantly impacts my energy and mood. I seek early morning light exposure every day I can, and even schedule outdoor meetings when possible to soak up some more sun.
When I worked full time as film digital compositor, sunlight was a luxury, so now I treasure it more than ever and notice a substantial positive effect on my energy.
3. 🔄 Circadian rythms
This is mostly the result of combining the previous two points. Trying to align and reinforce the natural circadian rhythms (or sleep-wake pattern) has improved the separation between rest and work modes.
I feel how the more restful my rest mode is, the more productive my work mode becomes. They reinforce each other!
4. 🏃 Complex movement
Complex movement has always been one of my main catalysts for creative and logical reasoning.
Whether it’s climbing, parkour or social sports like tennis, or even any skills without the sport component like piano or drumming, complex movement is such an important driver of my wellbeing and it even is my preferred form of meditation. I also use it as a perfect chance to socialise, enjoy nature, and break away from The Robot Mode 🤖
I aim for at least 3 to 4 sessions per week of fun and complex activities, which is a bare minimum.
5. 🏋️ High intensity exercise
The other piece of the puzzle (for which the previous one can sometimes be enough but not always) is making sure that there is at least a little bit of high intensity exercise at any point of the week.
I don’t over-stress on this as in my case I can already tell how a few short sprints, a bit of resistance training or even simply some minutes during my actual sports where I try to push a bit to the limit (ie. pull ups during climbing or sprints/jumps during outdoor time), it’s already a nice contributor to maintaining or gaining strength.
Also for me this feels like performing a “hard reset”, where any work-related stress quickly falls into its real context.
High intensity exercise is something I can’t recommend enough (again even short sessions a few times in the week) for people like me who spend many hours sitting down and are passionate about their sitting-down job.
6. 🥘 Nutrition
Although I won’t extend on this one, it’s such a critical piece (at least in my case) that I can’t finish this part without a mention to the topic of Nutrition, as it’s the fuel that powers your personal and professional engine, and similar to other variables it has a way stronger effect than I would’ve ever imagined, especially over a longer term.
I gravitate towards nutrient-dense foods that are low in antinutrients and minimally processed, and prioritising local products grown without many chemicals. I know all this sounds obvious but it’s tricky if you really try to prioritise it, especially in this industry where working long hours is something that unfortunately happens some times.
And still, it’s been worth every single bit of energy I poured into it despite the challenge. For me personally, the effort to maintain a balanced and clean diet pays dividends in sustained energy levels, sharper focus, and overall well-being.
In the last article of the series, I’ll be adding some references and inspirations of mine for this topic.
Sorting your stuff by actionability
This has been a highly transformative principle for me in the whole productivity realm, especially when it comes to organising your environment: digital files, notes, tasks, programs, but even useful for the physical environment around you.
“Sorting your stuff by actionability” is a phrase that comes in many forms but this one is my favourite. My biggest inspiration for understanding and applying this concept has been Tiago Forte, with his PARA methodology (he wrote two books and both are amazing).
The PARA Framework
In short, PARA is a framework for organising your digital information, in a way that you sort it into:
- 🚀 Projects: Short term super actionable stuff you should be focusing on most of the time. A project could be finishing a blog post, organising a trip, or setting up a new desktop.
- 🎩 Areas: Your “life buckets”, or sections of continued responsibility in your life. Could be family, finance, work or health. An area is not as immediate as an active project but it’s still something you always want to keep close, as it’s always relevant to you.
- 🔧 Resources: All the info, tools or stuff that is of interest to you or might be useful to have at hand sometime in the future. Just not clear when exactly or for what, so it’s not linked to either an active project or to a life area of yours. Resources could be music, tennis, maths, science, or anything else.
- 🗄️ Archives: The least and most important at the same time. The place for everything that’s not relevant anymore. Completed projects, areas that stopped being so, or resources you now don’t care about or became obsolete. Having a clear place for your archives is what will give you peace of mind for getting anything, at any give time, out of your hair – while in turn knowing it’ll always be there in case you ever need to recover or access any part of it.
PARA is the way that Tiago recommends organising your files, notes and other digital information, and the one that works best for him: literally into folders or categories called Projects, Areas, Resources and Archives, inside your hard drive, your cloud storage, your notes and tasks apps, etc!
In my case this ended up taking a pretty different form (which I’ll discuss soon). However Tiago is also clear that this is very personal and the most important point is the underlying set of principles.
As you can see, “sort your stuff by actionability” basically much sums it up: it’s about making sure that in front of you you only have the things that you will need to see in the short term, and the tools and info you’ll need in order to act upon it. In other words, the most actionable stuff. And the less-actionable stuff, you keep it in a place that you can still access but doesn’t clutter your immediate vision, letting you focus on what matters. See how it’s all linked? The more notions I’m learning the more I see how simple and beautiful and connected all really is.
I am applying these concepts to different areas of my life and not only digital information. They could also be useful in other contexts: from the way to layout clothes in your wardrobe, the invoices, where to keep your books, gadgets or even the kitchen tableware!
These are some of the most important processes I follow to aim for productivity! As you can see they’re all independent from any actual tools or mediums, but instead I see them as guiding principles in trying to stay happy and productive.
In the next part, though, I’ll delve into the nitty gritty of the tools I like and currently use, as well as the reasons that made me decide to use them over other alternatives. This will probably be the most personal choice of the series, but reading about the reasons for my picks might help you think about yours!
If you’d like to know when the other parts are up, read some random thoughts or stay updated on my posts, tools or courses, you can join my (still-upcoming) newsletter. I won’t write often, but when I do I’ll make sure it is condensed and interesting. You can join the newsletter here.