Like many of you, I’ve tried several different systems, and I’ve finally found something that works quite well for myself. The key idea is keeping track of your work and (literally) paying yourself.
I am naturally a very frugal person who has a hard time spending money, especially on items that I want (IE games, movies, electronics, etc). This system was an attempt to leverage that discipline to better myself in other areas (namely accountability and productivity). As it turns out, my wife who is not as frugal, has tried this system to much success as well, indicating that intrinsic frugality is not necessary.
Here’s the system:
There are 4 categories of activities to execute:
- Wake Up Routine – Wake up on time, hop right to the shower, read a book, and then make breakfast. Every part of this is critical (at least for me) because I’m notorious for waking up early because I procrastinated the day before and have deadlines. I also tend to wake up and immediately waste time on my phone. I truly do believe that how you start your day has a large influence on how the rest of your day will go.
- To Do List Tasks – Things never turn out well when I fly by the seat of my pants – I always write my to do lists to be achievable in one day (This skill took practice, it takes a lot of trial and error to finally know how to plan to do lists). Additionally I have a lot of recurring tasks (like feed the dog) that I would always do – even if I wasn’t using this system. Tasks like these are good for “priming the pump” or at least getting something on the score board. No task is too small to put on your list (but they may be too big – if so, split them up!)
- Pomodoros – I employ the Pomodoro Technique when doing productivity sprints. It means working for a set period of time with complete focus. The Pomodoro is sacred – when I start the timer I 100% devote myself to the task at hand. If I don’t think I have the fortitude / availability to do that, then I don’t start a Pomodoro. My 25 minute Pomodoros are always spent towards completing tasks on my to do list.
- Achievements – There are 4 Achievements that I’ve defined for myself:
- Home Improvement (20 Minutes) – Spending 30 minutes (a little more than 1 Pomodoro) improving the house by cleaning, yard work, shoveling snow, etc.
- Self Improvement (20 Minutes) – Spending 30 minutes reading, practicing guitar, working out, learning a new skill, etc.
- Stay off Social Media – I find social media to have few positives that outweigh the negatives – and my life is typically better without it. Dinking around on the internet is a dangerous game that often goes unchecked.
- Complete To Do List – I’ve found that allowing myself to have an an uncompleted to do list at the end of the day damages my accountability (I think things like “I can just put this off till tomorrow”). The reason it’s on your to do list is because you want to complete it today.
Now – the incentive portion – I’ve assigned monetary values to completing all of these goals:
|Wake up Routine||$1.00|
|To Do List Task||$0.10|
|Complete all 4 Achievements||$1.00|
At the end of every day, using a spreadsheet I put together, I enter in how many of these activities I completed, and a resultant “allowance” is added to my total for the week. I’ve carefully balanced these weights such that a productive week gains me around $35.00. At the end of every week I transfer that money into a secondary share in my bank account called “Shane’s Fun Money”. This money has now become my guilt free spending money, and several months into this system, things have worked great. Filling out this sheet is an important part of reflecting on the day, and I (try to) do it even on bad days.
I do use some technology to keep implement this systems. There are alternatives to what I recommend:
- Todoist – used for keeping track of to do lists. I like that I can have it on my phone, a browser add on, and even my browser’s home page.
- Pomodoro Timer – A simple app for keeping track of Pomodoro completion. Admittedly this app kind of sucks – so please find something better.
- Timecap – Used for keeping track of how much time I put towards my achievements
- Google Sheets – Used for keeping track of the incentives.
I’ve identified several synergies in this system:
- Do a Pomodoro while doing achievements to prevent yourself from dilly-dallying
- It may seem like putting tons of tiny tasks on your todo list to increase your “income” is a cheat – but it is not. Putting small easy to achieve tasks on your todo list gets your more invested in the whole productivity mindset and keeps you accountable.
- IF I have to wake up early to complete work there is a risk that I’ll be unproductive and waste time – so I am offered the opportunity to make up for the lost income from the routine by completing 4 productive Pomodoros.
- The 4 achievements are linked together to prevent me from having sunk costs (well I already did 3 of these things…)
Of course if you use this system you can change the incentive and what your activities are. Perhaps your incentive is Youtube minutes, and one of your achievements is staying below a certain calorie count. Or perhaps you can’t afford 30 dollars a week, then adjust the values to a rate that you can afford.
TLDR; Define tasks to complete every day, and literally pay yourself to complete them.