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Surfing productivity

Productivity for me comes and goes in waves. Looking back I can never identify where the wave exactly began but I can always tell when I was surfing it a few days later. At that point I wonder how could I have possibly done so little during the days before that.

However, I’ve learned that as much as I’d wish, these waves don’t last forever, and at some point my productivity levels will return to the sane ones. So when I realize I am on a wave, I unplug from the world and try to ride it as far as I can, knowing that there is no telling when the next one will appear.

Those days I jump out of the bed, quickly make my coffee and am ready to go. I sit down at my desk and disappear in the digital world and submerge only after good 6 hours of work. I then briefly check the social networks and say good morning to the US/Eastern side of that is waking up around that same time. We chat a bit, but my work doesn’t stop. I find myself in front of the monitor another six hours later, still rolling full steam with a functioning mind. I’m aware of the risk of burning out, so I try to not over do it and kill the will to work the next day. But even if I blow a fuse, it won’t kill the wave, it will just give it a small dent. A good sign of a long wave for me is rolling like that 2 weeks, but sometimes it can be a month or even two.

Anybody who has swam in the ocean might perhaps have observed that surfing waves without a surfboard is a tedious process. The body is in the water too deep to glide and the hands are not fast enough to keep with the wave. I believe same goes for productivity – there are preconditions to be met. For me it’s stability and I get there via a routine. Here are bunch of tricks I stick to:

  1. Sleep – I try to wake up every day the same time, but I don’t worry about when I go to sleep.
  2. Time tracking – I track how I spend the time. Knowing how much I spend on activities helps me stay in control and helps me decide if I have done enough or not of whatever I’m doing. If I’ve spent 4 hours on a problem, should I keep pushing or should I consider different approaches or perhaps cry for help?
  3. Switch! – You can switch between seemingly identical activities to prevent yourself from getting tired – my work is programming. But after a long, and sometimes tiring day, I might switch to one of my hobbies which also is programming. Interestingly, it feels very different – it’s not the same tired.
  4. Sound or no sound – I love music but I get headaches when working and listening at the same time. I discovered this just by accident when a few days I forgot to start the music player. So now that I know, I turn music off when the challenges met require to throw me more brainpower at it.
  5. Rewarding yourself – after a successful feat or a tough challenge or even a long battle that ended with failing – I award myself with goods ranging from a second cup of coffee (I stick to one a day), to ice cream and movies or a bunch of beers.
  6. Lastly, there are no rules – it’s me setting them and me breaking them. The very thought that I don’t have to wake up in the morning makes me want to wake up.

These are a few that keep me rolling and help me in keeping my rhythm. It’s easy to get off-beat and then it takes awhile to get back. When the team was coming together for Dash about two years ago, the reoccuring theme of our asynchronous stand-ups and sitdowns we do, was complaints about still needing time to find the rhythm. We were spending time, but the satisfying feeling at the end of the day was missing. I think everyone in the team seemed to understand that. It was about recalibration, changing your working patterns, learning new people and new means of communication. And soon enough we found the rhythm, we found basic set of rules to follow – for us daily stand-ups and sit-downs were a huge help – and we started rolling.

So catch your wave, don’t rush it, and when it’s there – let it flow and enjoy. And once the current wave has ran out, be ready to catch the next one!

Toms is user interface engineer at, you can find him in flickr ( and on google plus ( As everyone else, he loves long walks and idle chats as much as singing in the rain and flying kites.

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