Productivity For Hackers


DO NOT waste your valuable mental resources on remembering things.

Rule Zero:

  • Get dates, details, and to-dos out of your head and into a system as soon as possible.
  • Trust is paramount: if you aren't consistent with your system, you will be tempted to use your brain as a back-up.
  • Regular review ensures that you are spending your time and energy on the right things.
  • There are benefits to going analog

Some favorite tools:

  • If you have more notes and to-do items than appointments, or prefer something very free-form:  Bullet Journal
  • If you need some structure, and have more appointments and to-do items than notes: Action Day Planner
  • If you need a LOT of structure, check out the binders by Day-Timer, Franklin Covey, etc.
  • If you stay digital, consider org-mode or any of the Android productivity apps.

The longer you use your system, the more you will know what you want out of it.

What should a hacker collect?

  • Action items
  • Notes from meetings / other comms
  • Ideas
  • Questions
  • Things to discuss with people later
  • Tips and How-Tos
  • Anything you might want to remember.

My System

My Calendar

My Stuff

My Routine: Workday Mornings

My Routine:
During the Workday

My Routine:
Ending the Workday

My Routine:
Not Exactly 8-5

Productivity is not a talent: it comes from disciplined iteration.

Rule One:

Three sources of productivity:

  • Finding more time in which to do work.
  • Fitting more work into the time you have.
  • Doing more impactful work.

Finding more time

  • Get rid of time waste: forgetting, confirming, being incorrect, lateness, goofing off, busywork
  • Delegate where appropriate.
  • Find the time creep: interruptions, distractions, poor communication, etc.
  • Practice mindfulness: reclaim waste that seems beyond your control.

Strategies and Tools

  • Use a time tracker to find out where your time is really going...or just make a list.
  • Build relationships with people more junior with you, so you can delegate in a way that is useful to them.
  • Always carry work with you, reclaim "dead time" waiting in lines or when an activity has down time.
  • Eliminate things that force you to re-do: use an organizational system to eliminate forgetting, re-checking, and similar waste.

Fitting more work into available time:

  • Practice and improve process and tooling to make common tasks faster and simpler.
  • Document everything so that you aren't facing the constant interrupts involved in remembering.
  • Work on self-discipline: an ordered mind that is focused on the task at hand, and does not wander down rabbit holes or off-mission will produce more than an absent-minded professor of three times the intellect. 

Strategies and Tools

  • Pick apart oft-repeated processes and look for ways to shave off time.
  • Look for ways to improve tools and automation.
  • Train your mind to repeatedly  re-evaluate what you are doing at the current moment according to your personal and team goals, both to find the best take-aways from what you've done, and to decide what to keep doing or do next.
  • Work on things that let you snowball... where are the long-term gains?

Consider fitting in more non-work, too.

  • Many hackers think they are resting when they are not, think they are at their best when they are not.
  • Braindead clicking doesn't recharge people: try to eliminate it in favor of social time, exercise, or contemplative time.
  • Reduce noise in your life that can make you wonder where the time went.  Try eliminating backlit screens for an hour before bed to sleep better.
  • Think and write down what is really important to you, and make time for it.  Quit saying "maybe someday".
  • The unifying theme: you should live as mindfully as you should work, or your work will suffer.

Doing more impactful work:

  • Grow your process, tooling, and documentation to the point that the already-solved stuff can be delegated.
  • Actively mentor, or you will have no one to delegate to.
  • Deeply understand the team/org mission and your own interests, don't waste time on things that are unlikely to pay high dividends.
  • Build your skill at working with people very different from yourself: like-skilled people don't amplify one another.
  • Coordinate with others to avoid cross-work and duplication, look for chances to make different works build upon one another.
  • Be an example that builds up others.

Strategies and Tools

  • If it's not clear enough to dump in the lap of someone of 1/5 your experience with minimal instruction, it's not a system.  As you master things, systematize as much as possible.
  • Find relationships between different things you are working on, and things you and colleagues are working on: how can you avoid duplication of effort, or make a sum greater than the parts?
  • Active cross-mentorship between members of a team helps the team work together more smoothly, in addition to helping with individual problems a team member may need help with here or there.  Teams work best when they deeply understand one another's strengths and abilities, and feel free to leverage them.
  • Scheduling is a big deal, especially for knowledge workers.

The role of self-discipline

What it's not

It's not powering through "just because you were told to".

It's not subject to the artist's conceit.

What it is.

Choosing the right thing over the feels-good thing.


Constant iteration: improving processes, tools, relationships, and self.


Being reliable to others.


An attitude of "what can I do to help" more and more often than "what's the minimum I'm responsible for? what am I owed?"


Awareness of your ability to lead by example, regardless of your role.

Productivity Recap:

  • Get a system, your brain is too valuable for storage and related interrupts.
  • Productivity comes from:
    • Finding more time in which to do work.
    • Fitting more work into the time you have.
    • Doing more impactful work.
  • Discipline will get you there.
  • Complex, ambitious projects succeed due to collective productivity.


This was a test, but New Guard will have more talks in the future...

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Productivity For Hackers

By Susan Sons

Productivity For Hackers

Basic-intermediate presentation on productivity aimed at software hackers.

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