Yes and No
A binary philosophy to being productive, and life in general.
Many people have asked me lately how do I publish ~10 quality, long articles each month while also being meticulously organized in several other aspects of my life. Well, I’m certainly not ultra-productive like many amazing humans of the world, but I’ve developed an effective binary model that I think keeps me more productive than most.
The idea is simple: If indulging in something is positive long-term, repeatedly keep trying to do that over things that provide instant gratification but aren’t healthy in the long run. So here’s a simple Yes and No page, partly inspired by Julian’s website, that reflects my priorities, and captures my life philosophy in general.
Don’t judge. Instead, take from it what you can.
Read articles, instead of browsing posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or any social media.
Write blog posts, instead of frequently tweeting or posting on social media.
Respond, don’t react. Whenever possible, I iterate on my reaction to something important for 12-24 hours before talking about it. Applies to work emails too.
Rest, chat, walk, or sleep, instead of binge watching movies, shows, or TV. I only watch any of the latter things when I’m eating, with rare exceptions for movies.
Feed Readers to follow websites and blogs, instead of getting news and information from Google, Facebook, or Twitter, who serve biased thought bubbles to drive engagement for ads, not expand your horizons. An RSS or a feed reader also allows me to keep track of over a 100 sites with incredible efficiency. I use the amazing Feedbin as my reader but Inoreader is nice too.
Apple Mac and iPhone, instead of Windows/Linux and Android respectively. It’s a pragmatic choice to strike a balance between an excellent user experience, safeguarding my digital privacy, and not wasting my time fiddling with endless toggles, or obsessing over ideologies.
Say no to people. Social and professional connections aren’t always a positive. They can be a real drag if you try to stay nice to them all the time.
Reader-supported writing, over ads, tracking or sponsors. It’s the right thing to do, and it incentivizes me to produce better writing quality.
Minimal (modern) lifestyle needs in general. Good for me, and Earth.
Pay for quality digital work, especially by indie folks. Demanding that everything on the Internet be free is ridiculous, and won’t sustain good things.
Domains and websites, instead of using closed platforms for sharing my work and thoughts, so that I can own my digital identity.
Tea or Coffee, instead of alcohol, smoking, or cold drinks.
Poems and cards, instead of giving material gifts of consumerism.
Pizzas, Subway sandwiches, and Vada Pavs, because a human needs to be happy.
Note: I’m only human, so I’m not always successful in not doing these things but the binary system keeps me on track overall.
Digital nonsense: A modern phone is a stress-giving machine that wants to grab my attention all the time. Here’s how I deal with it. Just say no to:
Notifications and badges: My default is to deny notifications of any kind to all apps except communication aspects of critical work or social apps. Even then, I keep sound, vibration, and banner pings off.
Apps: Most services have perfectly functional websites. Installing apps for almost everything means I give them increasing opportunities to indulge me. I only keep about 20-25% of the apps people typically do on average.
Read receipts: For most things, it doesn’t matter if and when someone read my message. People will reply anyway if and when they want to. Read receipts are stress builders, and enable others to interrogate me about the most mundane things, so I just turn them off wherever possible.
Instagram, Facebook, or any network that makes me a slave of the attention economy, and is actively against an Open Web. My only cheat here is unavoidable use of Twitter. I’ve certainly minimized its use though, and it’s not as anti-open-web as most other popular services.
Activities. Don’t indulge in:
Being awake overnight: I’m not a kid anymore, shouldn’t mess with the biological system in the name of fun.
Music: No reason, just not my thing.
Shopping and discount-buying: Consumerism exists to keep selling me stuff. By falling for discount shopping, I’ll spend more for things I likely didn’t need in the first place, one after another. The trick is to simply not shop generally, and set spare spending limits for when I do.
Long novels, to avoid indulging in an eerily specific work that has little lifetime value to me beyond gratification in the present.
Games, to avoid seeking life satisfaction in virtual realities. Only exceptions are games played in small social groups.
Complaining or feeling bad about (impartial) successes of others.
Videos and podcasts to consume information. They’re great mediums for many things, including entertainment, but are fundamentally poor for referencing, quoting, or looking up specific information. This is a hill I’m willing to die on.
Writing in the passive voice: Unlearning academic writing, which is unnecessarily complex, was one of the best things I did in life.
Calling: I prefer text for most communications as it can be silent and asynchronous, and doesn’t abruptly demand my undivided attention.
Birthdays, anniversaries, and all such days of social celebration with little meaning to me. Besides, these days people connect with hundreds of people, which means everyday it will be someone’s birthday, anniversary, or whatnot.
Privacy-invading software; use any sane pro-privacy ones instead. I also default to not providing any app permissions to most apps unless it absolutely blocks a core function. Much the same for giving away private information to services.
Generalizing and stereotyping: This isn’t fully possible. I’m as flawed a human as any, constrained by my experiences and upbringing. But I try to avoid actively generalizing and stereotyping people and their communities.
Telling bad things to people during or after conflicts. Instead, I’m learning to say why something didn’t work for me. Dragging conflicts is a persistent brain drain.
These “Nos” I’ve been successful at never doing. So I’m putting them in a hall of fame for a little self pat on the back. :)
Write clickbait articles. It’s harder to avoid than it may seem.
WhatsApp forwards, reading or sending them.
Astrology, Homeopathy, and any Pseudoscience.
Fanboy-ism of any person, company, product, or brand. Successful at not doing it since becoming a working adult.
I hope this binary system helps you be more productive. I will update this blog post as and when I remember more things or develop new habits. 🚀
If you create such a list too, share it in the comments and I’d love to check it out.