Improving Productivity

This post supplements a presentation originally delivered at WordCamp Los Angeles 2015.

Most folks have to work to make a living, which is totally fine. Many of us have chosen to work in the WordPress world because if we have to work, we want to work on something we enjoy with people we like. In doing so many of us have become freelancers and entrepreneurs. This makes us responsible for our own time, and time is a precious and limited resource. Let’s not waste work time working. Waste time somewhere awesome.

Most of what I have learned regarding being more productive is either through friends or reading articles. I use Flipboard for all my reading; specifically I subscribe a productivity board. Not everything I read works for me. But it exposes me to new ideas which are worth trying, and sometimes things flow brilliantly.

This presentation is broken up into two parts: tips and tool. Tips are the tricks I use everyday to try to get more done in a given work day, and Tools are apps, code, and services I use to get those tricks done. Everybody is different and this is what currently works for me, and I am always looking to improve. So take what makes sense for you. Modify it, change it up, reject it outright and find your most productive you.


  • Set goals/Make Lists – Have a way to measure productivity and give yourself a metric for success.
    • Be reasonable – Be honest about what you can accomplish in a day’s work. Anything else sets you up for failure and frustration. I like to always give myself one more task that I think is possible. That way if I get done early I am not scrambling with how to fill the free time.
    • Flexibility – Stick to the plan, but do not be too rigid. Life comes at you in all directions so be ready to roll with the punches. But do not let the loudest voice govern your priorities.
    • Assess – Assess at the end of the day. Enjoy the success and acknowledge the failures; learn from both.
    • Plan – Take some time to plan the next day. But at the end of the day, you are in the best position to know what needs to happen on the next work day. And you can always change it in the morning, because you are flexible.
  • Reduce distractions – Starting and stopping a task is a killer for productivity. Every time you stop, especially when you are in the zone, you need to take a moment or two to get back on track. Give yourself a clear window to work. Also recognize how you got to the zone and try to replicate that environment.
    • Planning – Treat production time like meeting time and schedule it.
    • Distractions – Avoid anything that will divert your attention. Turn off alerts. Turn off email. Turn off phone.
    • Rest – Like any muscle, the brain needs time to recover. A well rested mind is much more productive than a taxed mind.
  • Automate repetition – Time spent, cutting, pasting, finding, and repeating in any way can usually be automated. Find ways to shortcut the repetition.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts – It is estimated that we spend an extra 2 seconds going for the mouse and bring your hands back home. For average computer usage, that estimates to 8 days per year. Keyboard shortcuts can help you reclaim much of that time.
    • Be aware of patterns – Noticing every time you reach for the mouse. As soon as you see a pattern for a particular action, take a moment to discover if there is a keyboard alternative. Things for me include highlighting text, moving the cursor to the end of the line, closing any HTML tag, everything in Gmail, etc.
    • Retention – Of course, retaining this new knowledge it key to it being useful. So, unless you have a few days to devote to learning all an app’s keyboard shortcuts, try to pick up just one or two new keyboard commands per day. Make an effort to use them and let them become rote before trying to squeeze more in.


*Paid, Subscription, or Freemium Applications.
**Some command line or a smart friend required.
When considering buying a production tool, always weigh the price to the cost savings.

  • Alfred* – Alfred helps me keep my hands on the keyboard. It allows for quick access to any application, search documents, etc. If you purchase the PowerPack you can also create workflows to automate repetitive tasks. (Thank you Brandon Dove, via John Hawkins)
  • Dash* – Dash brings coding documentation offline. I dip into documentation all the time for WordPress, jQuery, Sass, etc. All that is now available for me offline so I can keep working while when I don’t have WiFi. (It also integrates with Alfred for quicker searching.)
    • As an added bonus, Dash also allows for customizable snippet integration into most text editors and text fields.
  • Emmet – Emmet is a plugin available for most text editors that provides a shorthand for developing markup. It is also customizable, so you can really bend it to your specific needs. (Thank you Jaffe Worley.)
  • Coding – Code is a the root of what most of use do. For those all too common bits of code we are always diving back into old projects for, boil them down to their essence, and bring them into the light.
    • GistGitHub’s code snippet repository which is easily shared and available when necessary.
    • CodePen – A more complex code repository allowing for HTML, scripting, and styling. Excellent for prototyping or maintaining the core of complex functionality. (JSFiddle is also very popular.) (Thank you Rona Kilmer)
    • Yeoman** – Scaffolding to get your to your starting point quicker.
    • Bower** – Easily include 3rd party assets into your project without having to manage them in your repository. (Thanks you Jacob Arriola)
  • BrowserSync** – Better than LiveReload, BrowserSync will inject new styles, php, and scripts into multiple browsers or multiple devices on save. (Integrate using a task manager like Gulp or Grunt.)
  • Harvest* – Track your time and invoice clients. (Sends automated follow up emails for late payments.)
  • BidSketch* – Create and electronically sign estimates, proposals, and contracts. Allows you to create segments of text you can reuse in other documents, and save starting templates.

Shortcuts and hacks are all around. Any time you are at a meetup, or coworking, or collaborating, when you see someone else do something awesome, stop them and ask them how so you can be awesome too. And always be sure to pass it on.



Follow up (9:25 27 September 2015):

I have received many great suggestions since the presentation so I will share some here. The following are all things I’m currently trying and excited to incorporate info my daily workflow.

  • 17hats* – As the name cleverly implies, this service tries to bring all the administrative tasks for the freelancer/entrepreneur into location, including project management, time tracking, invoicing, accounting, and more. If this works as well as I hope, it will cut out four subscription services I current use. Very excited about the potential cost and time savings. (Thank you Diana Hobstetter) **Further Follow Up 11:17 28 September 2015** 17hats is great if you are a solo entrepreneur, but does not yet allow for teams.
  • Witch, by Many Tricks* – (Apple specific) Better than command-tab to cycle through applications, Witch also allows the user to not only to cycle through applications, but also cycle through documents/tabs/etc. within applications. (With keyboard commands!) (Thank you Alicia St. Rose)
  • Spectacle – Move and resize windows with keyboard commands. And this is also an open source project, so the price point is my favorite. (That said, if you do find this useful, consider donating to the development team to keep this project going forward.) (Thank you Justing Tucker)
  • WP-CLI** – The WordPress Command Line Interface is something I have been aware of for sometime, but never taken the time to learn and incorporate into my toolbox. (But now it may be time.) Through the command line, you can have WordPress do nearly anything you would have it do through the Admin GUI, and quite a bit more. But since it does done through the command line, you are not waiting for page load time or using the mouse clicking around the admin. (Thank you for the reminder Gary Stetler)

Alaska Summer 2015

Alaska marks the 50th and final state visited by my wife. (I am well behind in the low 30s.) Alaska lives up to its Last Frontier hype. Views are grand, flora and fauna are abundant, and rules are guidelines at best. We flew in, rented a car, and road-tripped the state as best we could in two weeks. And as most Alaskans are quick to tell you, Alaska is twice as big as Texas…three times as big at low tide. (Special note, if you try this yourself, and you totally should, know that every road is under construction 24 hours a day during the summer. Plan accordingly.) If you like the outdoors, Alaska is nothing but. But for all the grandness and splendor, the highlight for me were the sled dogs in Denali National Park and Preserve.

(Photo credit to JFB for the better of the wildlife photography)

Scotland Spring 2015

Over spring break we took a trip to Scotland to continue is our latest trend of travel where it is not hot. (Admittedly we’ve gone too far as all the places we’ve been have not only not been hot, but actually snowed at least once during the trip.) A few things I now know about Scotland:

  1. As a rule, the folks are quite friendly. Way to buck that stereotype, Scots.
  2. Haggis is delicious. (I ended up having it at least once a day.) Also blood pudding is delicious.
  3. For the most part, Scotland operates strictly between 8 and 5. Plan your days accordingly.
  4. History and grudges go back. Way, way back. No tale has less than 300 years backstory.

The Story of Me


Last Christmas my wonderful wife gave me a National Geographic DNA kit. (On our trip to Morocco, one of our travel companions had completed this process and I was fascinated.) Today my results came in. For the most part, if you know me, the results are not too surprising – lots of northern European action. But there are two points that are interesting. One, I am 18% southwest Asian, which any number other than zero would have shocked me. Two, I am 2.8% Neanderthal. Most people have somewhere between 1% and 4% Neaderthal DNA, and the average person has 2.1%. So now I have a built in excuse when I do something stupid! “I’m just a caveman…”

If you’d like to see the full infographic of my results, click here.

Here they’ve compared my DNA to a German and a Brit:



Morocco Fall 2014

We took a trip to Morocco over the Thanksgiving week. Despite crazy floods and catching cold, we had an amazing experience. I was surprised at how much the landscape of much of Morocco looked like the Southern California desert area. Driving around the foothills of the Altas Mountains was strikingly similar to driving out to San Jacinto or Joshua Tree. Another thing that threw me about this trip was my lack of expectations. For example, with a trip to Paris, there are things I know I am going to see that I’ve known about my whole life, like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. But I didn’t have much insider information with Morocco. All I really knew was the movie Casablanca (which was shot on a Hollywood soundstage, of course) and that it was, to me, an exotic and remote place. Instead of known or expected experiences, it was a series of brand new experiences. This was a definite travel style paradigm shift for me. Now, having seen it, and smelled it, and felt it, and read much more about it, I want to go back, see more and expand on this first experience. (See full Flickr album here.)

WordCamp Ventura County 2014 Recap

I remember when Konstantin first starting talking about putting on a WordCamp Ventura County he mentioned that his vision was for a more intimate, more developer-centric camp. He and the organization team delivered, big time.

Coffee in swag is the best coffee #wcvc

A photo posted by Jeff Zinn (@jeffreyzinn) on

The venue at Green Art People set the tone for the whole event. Right away, it was clear that this camp was going to be an exchange of ideas amongst friends and not a formal classroom which put the whole event at ease. Imagine participating in a groovy think-tank. (I’m not implying the classroom setting is bad or wrong. Each camp style has a time and place. And WCVC did a superb job of establishing the vibe they set out to achieve.)

All the presenters did a fantastic job. I was able take away skills and inspiration from each and every one. Here are some highlights for me.

  • Try using BrowserSync instead of LiveReload when developing front end elements. It has the live reload, but so much more. (Thanks, Alex!)
  • Avoid common mistakes when submitting a plugin to the Repo. (Thanks, Mika!)
  • It is time to start focussing on general WordPress performance, both in core and for themes/plugins. For most benchmark stats WordPress sites are about 20% slower than than the average website. (Thanks, Zack!)
  • Get WordPress communicating with anything using the REST API. (Thanks, Rachel!) (Rachel’s slides)
  • Better coding means coding better. (Thanks, Mike!)
  • Step up your JavaScript game using Object Literal, Immediately Invoked Function Expressions (IIFE), and jQuery plugins. (Thanks, Natalie!)

If you were not able to attend or what the live stream, do keep an eye on for the videos. All are worth a watch. Wes Chychel also wrote up a great review of the event if you want to read more.

Joshua Tree October 2014

Spent an excellent weekend at Joshua Tree National Park, despite our camper being partially incapacitated. (The electrical system was kaput.) Still, we made due and had an excellent time with our friends. The weather was superb. Highlights include: coyote sighting, full Milky Way viewing one night, Barker Dam, Hollywood-ized petroglyphs, Skull Rock, Arch Rock, Keys View, and Wall Street Mill.

Orange County Designer Meetup Links from 3 March 2014

Here are some helpful links from the Orange County Designer Meetup from 3 March 2014.

Sass – Sass is the most mature, stable, and powerful professional grade CSS extension language in the world.

Bourbon – A simple and lightweight mixin library for Sass.

Neat – A lightweight semantic grid framework for Sass and Bourbon.

Bitters – Scaffold styles, variables and structure for Bourbon projects.

Emmet – A plugin for many popular text editors which greatly improves HTML & CSS workflow


Ideal El Porto

Well, the water could have been warmer, but otherwise setting were perfect.  The water was clear and glassy.  There was just enough breeze blowing off the shore to throw a little mist off the crest of the wave.  The crowds were low by El Porto standards.  And the waves, oh the waves.  They rolled in the chest-to-head high range.  And If you picked off the right one, it’d peel all the way to shore.  The Sausage performed beautifully (though I didn’t really do it justice today).  Josh, CW, Mike and I all seemed to have a good productive session. I could have stayed out there forever.  We certainly stayed well past the start of the parking meters by an hour or so, but a parking ticket would have been worth it.  All praise to the surf gods for looking out for us though – no tickets today.

The Sausage Is Back

Big waves on order this week.  I went back up to Harbour to borrow the Sausage again.  Man, I dig that board.  I need to get one of my own.  Although I am tempted to try getting it in a quad set up.  Anyway, big beautiful waves at the Sunset Jetty today.  Long peely rights for the taking.  And I took.  It was very similar to that foggy day in December at Bolsa Chica.  It’s supposed to be even bigger tomorrow.