Elastic Productivity Tools
Like most tech bros, I’m a little too interested in productivity and optimizing my life. I’ve even made a few of my own tools to help me stay focused and efficient. In the process of trying to find and build the best productivity tools possible, I discovered common elements among all the productivity tools I found most effective.
I call such tools elastic, because of their similarities to rubber bands. And so, elastic tools
stretch, meaning that they’re designed to allow for some leeway
snap back, i.e. after stretching they automatically go back to their intended form
don’t break, in the sense that you can never stretch them too far
Elastic tools are a marked improvement over standard tools, which typically
are brittle, allowing no leeway
don’t help you get back on track
end up getting ditched
Inelastic Tool Examples
Freedom: gives no way of getting out of a focus session, so when I really needed to access a blocked app I would disable it, and it would take me days to re-enable it.
Blocklist: when I needed to go to a blocked site, it gave me no choice but to disable it.
I had 3 tasks in the windows task scheduler that would shut my computer down at 9, 10, and 11pm respectively in an attempt to enforce a consistent bedtime. However, when I knew I needed to get work done I would disable them, and then go to bed at 2am the days following that, until I would turn them back on.
Elastic Tool Examples
After Freedom didn’t work out for me, I switched to LockMeOut, where I could pay $2 to unlock it for the day. Unlocking for the day is a little too much for my taste, but much better than disabling it altogether.
As for Blocklist, I made my own alternative, where if you really want to go on a blocked website, you have to effectively stare at your screen for ~1 minute. After that, you can go on previously blocked websites for ~1 hour, after which it blocks the websites again. I found that a little bit of boredom is the perfect amount of deterrent.
To replace my shutdown tasks, I made my own tool to shut down my computer every 30 minutes after 9pm. If I need to do work, I can skip the next shutdown. This effectively gives me a maximum of 30 minutes to slack off after I finish working before my computer shuts down.
Things That Should Be Made Elastic
All my lights are connected to smart plugs, which I schedule to turn on at 7am (and off at 9pm) with Alexa. However, sometimes I really need to sleep in, so I adjust the schedule to turn on at 10am, but then I usually forget/am too lazy to set it back to 7am, resulting in sleeping/lying in bed too much. An elastic solution would allow me to change my wakeup time for a day, and automatically revert back to my normal schedule.
“States” on my phone, like grayscale and do not disturb would ideally be elastic too. If I needed to look at a photo or be open to phone calls for a few minutes, ideally I would turn them off, and after a set amount of time they would turn back on.
The general problem of maintaining habits is elastic in nature: you want to push people towards maintaining habits, allow them to break those habits when truly necessary, and make it easy for them to pick the habit back up.
More Elasticity, Less Breaking
If you build or have thought of building productivity tools, please make them elastic! For everyone else, hopefully now you have a framework to assess the effectiveness of potential tools.
I tried to use various things to block distracting websites, but I always ended up turning them off “for a little bit” to look at something they were blocking and, uh, “forgetting” to turn them back on.
Shape the default- the ideal situation is for doing the right action to feel like the default, so it takes no willpower
Thanks for reading my blog! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.