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 any repetitive process.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts – It is estimated that we spend an extra 2 seconds reaching for the mouse then bringing your hands back home on the keyboard. For average computer usage, that estimates to 8 days per year. 8 days! 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)

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