I always thought diaries were for girls. Boy, was I wrong. 

Because of the first quarantine measures related to the COVID-19 outbreak, I had more free time at night, so I decided to start journaling. On April 23rd, it started with a few notes about a copywriting job I had accepted, a few takeaways and questions about an interview with Chamath Palihapitiya I had seen, some to-dos and a Seneca quote: ‘While we wait for life, life passes.

Since then, I’ve gradually improved the structure, adding daily reflection and gratitude questions, and concluding with a weekly review on Sundays. 

After nearly six months of journalling, I revisited my most important notes and compiled these three productivity lessons:

Lesson 1: Breathing is powerful.

Breathing techniques and stoic thoughts counter pain. When I suffer some kind of physical pain, I just focus on my breathing. I also try to trick my mind into not feeling pain. For example, by telling myself: ‘what you’re feeling isn’t pain, it’s pleasure.’ 

Does it help?

Well, my mind doesn’t actually believe that what I’m feeling is something nice, but it does make pain a lot more bearable.

Focusing on breathing also improves my performance when doing exercise. On days when I very consciously focus on my breathing, I can boost my push-up and plank max by up to 20%. I believe this is partly by getting in more oxygen, and partly because I am controlling my emotions better. As I’m focusing on the moment and my breathing, the oxygen gets nicely distributed. When I focus on the result, i.e. the number of reps, I often forget to breathe efficiently. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. 

Conclusion: Focus on breathing to control your mind and boost physical performance.

Lesson 2: Social media is bad

Limiting social media use, especially in the morning, has a big positive impact on my overall performance during the day.

I try not to use socials before noon but it’s very tricky to avoid a quick Instagram or Twitter check while something is loading on the computer. Fortunately, those quick checks don’t impact me too much. The problem begins when I start scrolling my Instagram or Twitter feed in bed. It provokes so many feelings, from nostalgia over homesickness and jealousy of people travelling to faraway lands to anxiety. If all of these are negative feelings, why do I keep using it? I don’t know. People are self-destructive, they say.

It shouldn’t surprise you that these aren’t the best motivators for a productive day. So, for me, it’s better to not use social media at all. That’s why I’ve set a 45-minute time limit for social media on my phone. Because of this, I never spend much time on Twitter or Instagram in the morning. I want to ta save time for later in the day. 

Conclusion: Less social media means more motivation and better performances.

Lesson 3: More focus, more output

My days are more productive when I focus on one project per day. It’s easier to find flow and consistency.

I have many ongoing projects, so planning and setting good deadlines are essential. I spend about three hours per day as an English tutor, I’ve been doing a long-term copywriting gig and I write T3G articles for a few hours per week. On top of that, I do most of the household chores as my girlfriend divides her energy between working at the hospital and being pregnant with our first child. 

In the last week, I’ve accepted a few more writing gigs. Planning is more important than ever now. Before, I would’ve tried to do a little bit of “project A” in the morning, a few tasks for T3G in the afternoon and some hours for “Project B” at night. Fortunately, thanks to journaling, I’ve discovered that I have more productive days when I focus on fewer projects per day. Less is more

Today, for example, I’ve written four texts about home improvement (about 6000 words in total). I’m writing this as a bonus, nearly falling asleep on my keyboard. Workaholic, you might say? It can hardly be called work if you’re passionate about what you’re doing.

I almost forgot that I rewrote the draft of the flow cheat sheet as well today. Finishing one project, gave me the motivation to continue with another. If I had tried to do a bit of each, I probably wouldn’t have completed anything.

Well, I guess I should stop rambling.

Conclusion: Focus on fewer tasks in a day to get more done.

In summary

Everything leads back to focus. Audit your time and where you’re wasting it. Narrow down as much as possible to avoid negative influences such as pain and distractions

What are your favourite productivity lessons? Share in the comments!