This is a collection of habits and perspectives that I use to stay motivated and productive.
- 👔 Working Remote? Get Dressed.
- 🌅 Work Early
- 💺 Create A Separate Workspace
- 🤔 Definine The "Why" Behind The "Why"
- 🎨 Paint The "Why"
- 🎯 Set The Goal —> Lock It In
- ↗️ Level-Up Trio
- 🚏 Trello Roadmap
- ✔️ Source Of Truth List
- 📅 Schedule Tasks
- 👋 Form Weekly Accountability Group(s)
- 🎓 Find a Mentor(s)
- 🟢 No Matter What, Start
- 💬 Attend Demo Days
- 😴 Go To Sleep!
- 💪 Eat Clean & Workout
- 🙏 Have Grace
- 📜 Bad Interviews Are A Study Guide
- 🖥️ Use Topic Specific Desktops
- 📖 Summerise Tutorials
- ☁️ Always Have Cloud Based Notes Ready
- 🍽️ Do The Dishes
- 🍿 Watch Movies
- 😍 Screenshot Encouragment
- ✍️ Write
These are two things that I both strive for and struggle with constantly. In this post, I have put together 25 helpful habits/tips that I have found success with over the years.
Some of these tips might be new to you and others you probably heard 1,000 times. However, I find it is often the common sense stuff that I quickly forget to do and makes a big impact.
While I am a very dedicated and hard-working person, I am by no means a "productivity machine and supreme motivation guru". I admit to having many moments of wanting to quit when things get boring and often feel intimidated by new challenges.
To be honest, a lot of the tips/habits on this list were initially shaped by feeling out of my depth and impostor syndrome.
I developed them because I was insecure at school amongst "real artists" and later on "real developers". Or felt woefully underqualified while working remotely for a fast-paced design agency 2,500 miles away.
In those times my motivation to do well was out of fear of failure instead of excitement to get better. I got really good results, but I beat myself up along the way.
Last year I decided to make a lot of changes and pursue what I really found fulfilling. (A career in development.)
Instead of trying to just keep my head above water, I have been motivated by curiosity and excited to master a new craft.
There is joy behind this sort of motivation and productivity, It is so much healthier and often yields better results.
Below are 25 habits that have helped and continue to help me stay on top of my education, work, and mental health. I hope some are helpful to you and I would love to hear how you stay motivated or productive as well.
I am a huge believer that intentionality sets a mental tone.
My first full-time job out of college was for a design agency in New York, while I was based in Las Vegas.
Sure my Zoom background was of my 1 bedroom apartment, but the people I was working with and talking to were in a design studio or conference rooms.
Getting up 1.5-2 hours before work, taking a shower, and getting fully dressed set a tone. It was all for the purpose of being presentable at work and doing a good job there. The mental shift helped me drown out any distractions, because "I had gotten ready and was at work".
A lot of people I have read about or seen on YouTube say that going to bed and waking up earlier leads to productivity. Part of this reason is that if you go to bed at 8:30 pm - 9 pm you will skip the time your just watching movies or gaming. So you are using your awake time to be more productive.
For me personally, during college, I found I got my best work done at night because everyone was asleep. However, at the job mentioned above, they were 3 hours ahead of me. So I had to work from 6 am – 3 pm.
It was a challenge at first, but I have now come to really enjoy it. Like at 12 am, the world is really quiet at 4 am. I love the feeling of working out, showering, and eating before 6 am. The rest of the day feels endless and like I can accomplish anything.
If you want to try it, schedule something for 30min before you normally get up. Having something tangible to do at wake up time, can help motivate you to get up earlier. Every few days move the time back until you have hit your optimal wake-up time.
Working from home can make it a real challenge to disconnect. I would often work for 3+ hours more, just because I was already at my computer when an issue popped up.
In my first apartment, my "Workspace" was in the living room, which was also partly the kitchen. The only time I didn't physically see the computer was in my bedroom or bathroom. It can mentally takes a toll, because I was always seeing "work".
A big thing my wife and I looked for when moving was for an extra bedroom to be an office space. The ability to literally close the door on work at the end of the day has been a game-changer. I didn't fully realize its impact until making that change too.
It is very easy to get burnt out by not having a physical separation between work and personal life.
In the same vein, I typically do my personal projects in a different room than my freelance work. Again, I am a big fan of intentionality. By creating in a different space to work on personal growth and creative projects, I feel ready to get to it the second I walk to that spot.
(Don't laugh, but for a long time, my "homework/creative/blogging space" was the carpeted area in our bedroom closet. It was quiet, cozy and a safe place to explore new code.)
In late 2019, early 2020 I made the goal to go back to school and change careers to development. It was a great goal. It was also a huge financial, time, and mental undertaking.
As with anything that requires some level of sacrifice and discomfort I found it helpful to identify the "Why" behind it.
But not just the first "Why", but rather the "Root Cause" behind it as well.
Why do I want to go into web development?
I want to build websites from the ground up.
Why do I want to build websites from the ground up?
As a designer who also accounts manages, I often feel ignorant in client meetings when technical/code questions come up. Learning how to code will help me feel capable.
The Root Cause Why: I want to become a developer to feel empowered and capable as a web creator.
Having a powerful and emotionally resonant "why", is a huge motivator in the beginning. Over time, however, this can feel too broad, compared to the sacrifices being made. "Is this all really worth it?" kept creeping in when things got difficult.
This is why painting a clear and expansive picture of the benefits of the "why" is important.
One of my other "Why's" for changing careers was for more earning power. Root Cause "Why": To buy a house in a specific timeline and be able to own it outright in a specific timeline.
Every few months my wife and I painted in that picture a bit more...
- What sort of house and where?
- What experiences would we have in the rooms?
- Who might be our realtor?
- If it has a garage maybe we could pick up new hobbies like cycling.
Continually filling in the details helps me keep motivated to learn one more thing or get up a bit earlier when I am tired.
Once I figured out what I want to do and why it was important to do, the question becomes how to go about accomplishing it.
In the example of changing careers, there were several things that needed to happen first. In other words, I needed to set some goals.
Now it easy to set a goal within the moment, but I often find it hard to follow through when life gets in the way. I actually tried to get into development back in 2017 but lacked the follow-through to make a meaningful change.
So I have since learned to adopt a "Lock It In" mentality. The Bootcamp was not cheap, but we decided to pay for it upfront in cash, from our savings. This way there was a monetary loss if I quit.
I also told as many people as I could (including the admissions office) about why I am choosing this goal and where I could see myself potentially failing in it. Calling out the reasons why I might quit ahead of time, helped prevent them from becoming options in the future.
I am a multi-approach type of learner. Through trial and error, I found that developing in 3 core areas helps me retain information and grow.
This is where I got the technical knowledge and also discover new ways of thinking. I love video instruction.
Building things allow me to apply the technical knowledge and feel empowered by seeing it work. (Huge motivation boost.)
This is so important to further engrain the concepts from the courses and discoveries in the projects.
I try to at all times have one in each category active. A highly productive day to me is doing a course in the morning, spending a few hours coding, and splitting up the time by writing. (Like I am doing right now. 😉)
With many goals, big and small, I find it really helpful to create a roadmap in Trello. I like to follow a Kataban workflow, where tasks start from a "todo", move to "doing" and then archive in a "done" list.
With the above set-up, there are three "ToDo" lists. One for each of my "Level-Up Trio" areas that we talked about above. It allows me to quickly capture ideas and flesh them out later.
Under "doing" I do try to have one of each topic area in progress as previously mentioned, but this is a flexible rule. For example, I am currently taking two courses in React to prepare for an upcoming job. So I'm ok with not doing a project during this time.
After "doing" there is a "Blog Batching" list, which holds articles I have written already and are ready for scheduling. That way if there is a really busy week, I have a post already lined up for that Monday.
Lastly, everything I completed is stored under "Done", with the date it was finished on.
This set-up lets me track my overall progress and keep a balanced approach to my coding journey.
On the topic of Trello, I also suggest using it to be a "Single Source Of Truth" solution.
I learned the need for this during my last role as a Digital Design Director. It required managing the workload for a global team in different timezones, multiple client accounts, and my own project load.
This meant a lot of communications over email, Slack, text message, other Trello boards, Basecamp, Zoom calls...
It was a mess. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of notification coming across the screen.
- Decide if the incoming notification was urgent.
- If it was, then it became the new priority.
- If it wasn't then I'd capture it as a simple card on Trello, indicating the nature of the alert and where it was sent from.
If an email came in I would create a card that says "Check XYZ email".
If a Slack channel started revving up, a card called "Respond to Slack channel Accounting before 3 pm" went on the list.
If a team member had a non-urgent project question, I posted a card called "Schedule project review with XYZ".
This way I only had to check one place for my next steps and didn't have to worry if I had left something urgent waiting.
I found it very beneficial to schedule tasks in my calendar or ToDoist app.
This was especially important when I transitioned from full-time work to freelancing. Without structure and deadlines, I began to lose motivation to get things done.
When I see there is a 1-hour block available for a course and then 3 hours following that of client work, I am more inclined to make the most out of that hour.
Developers and Designers can both fall into isolation easily. (All we often need is some good music and a fast internet connection to be good for the next 10 hours.)
This is especially true during pandemic times, where many people are now remote. For me, isolation can breed self-doubt and/or make me lose perspective on why it is important to keep pushing towards the goal.
Developing strong accountability groups of people with the same or similar goals can really help with this. Texting often and meeting over Zoom regularly has been a powerful way to stay on track.
I currently have two different accountability Zoom meetings a week, both of which help motivate me in different areas.
The first one is with my coding buddies from Bootcamp. We check-in on our current dev projects and courses. If a technical roadblock appears we help each other solve it.
The second is with a buddy who is developing his own business. While our industries are different, we encourage each other on the broader subjects. Things like: freelance, job searching, goal setting, and content creating.
Accountability groups are often made up of peers that are at a similar place as you. A mentor however is usually a few or many steps ahead. While they can provide encouragement, they are pivotal in providing direction and are a mile-marker to strive for.
I am lucky enough to have several mentors in both development and life that help me stay, or sometimes adjust the course.
My development mentors have been guides in suggesting what technologies I should learn next and stack to use in projects. When a bug comes up that I've spent hours on, they may help point me in the right direction to solve it.
My life mentors have helped me form the "Why" behind the big goals and suggest important questions I need to ask when I am making key decisions.
As you can see above, a good mentor doesn't give me the answer outright. They help me solve it on my own.
I hate to admit it, but my first response when facing a project is often "I can't do this". I'm scared of the unknown failures I might fall too. I'm overwhelmed by both the details available and the details I need to still discover to be successful...
So what do I often feel like doing? Procrastinate.
Here is the thing. Whether I am scared, overwhelmed, or anxious — the thing I need to accomplish won't just go away. The longer I wait, the only thing progressing is my fear. That is it.
So I have since learned to start anyways. I don't need to know all the details. I just need to pick one thing in the project and start.
In the past that has looked like...
- Opening YouTube and searching for any tutorial.
- Reading the creative brief one page at a time.
- Reaching out to a team member to start a brainstorm.
- Reaching out to technical support for help.
- Opening up VS Code, Figma, Photoshop to pseudo-code/-design the very basics.
Usually, once I do one small thing to start, the second step presents itself and then the third.
The last thing is that of all the scary, overwhelming and stressful projects that I have tried to avoid — I have never once failed them in the end.
Looking back the only thing holding the project back was my fear, not a lack of intelligence or experience. Each project has always ended in success, once I took that hard, yet vital first small step.
A great way to get out of imposter syndrome and to gain inspiration is to attend a demo day. (Shout out to Las Vegas Developers Group).
These online (and someday in-person) meetups allow you to present without any judgment what you have been working on to other developers.
I found it to be almost like an interview, without any of the pressure. It is fantastic practice and can bring really nice encouragement from the participants.
The other thing it does is expose you to what other people are working on. I love seeing someone present their Twitch clone, and then someone else previews a complex database integration.
Sleep makes everything better. No, seriously. Going to bed gives our body and mind a chance to process and recover.
I have (and sometimes still do) pull multiple late nights and all-nighters to get some code or design done. It feels really productive at that moment. I even feel like a "real developer"!
However, it always comes with a trade-off. For days afterward my body is depleted. My focus is off from not getting enough rest and I can't be as productive or positive. Plus, often times my solutions from the night before don't hold up because I was fatigued.
Something I am trying to work on now is separating good work from hard work. One doesn't always mean the other and often the best results come when there is balance.
I love snacking, coding, and listing to Tycho. That said this practice is working against my ability to grow as a developer.
It is crazy how much I can eat and how long I can sit when engrossed in a new feature or bug. Just like with a lack of sleep, not moving regularly, and eating junk food depletes my energy.
I found that working out and refraining from sugar, wheat, cheese, and processed food helps my mood and thinking capabilities.
A silver lining during the pandemic, is my wife is now also working from home. This means I have a consistent workout partner and accountability partner for my diet.
We use lunch breaks to do HITT workouts and eat a lot of veggies and fish now. I still like snacks, but I love the clarity and energy to tackle code more.
This is an important one. I am very hard on myself. My biggest critic of suggested ideas, final results, and level of work ethic is me.
When I make a mistake it is often "confirmation" of what I have known all along. When I have a success, it gets written off as a fluke.
This mindset is not helpful for motivation or productivity. It also isn't a fair and balanced analysis of myself.
Having grace when I don't do well is so important because...
- It gives me permission to try again
- It allows me to set realistic expectations for my goals
- It lets me be free of self-judgment and therefore more creative when generating ideas
If you are also hard on yourself, have grace. I guarantee that you are so much more capable, hard-working, and successful than you think you are.
Let's face it, many people don't enjoy technical interviews and I am no exception.
Some of my worries...
- Will I know enough?
- If I make a mistake, will I be judged?
- Will a simple question come-up that I just freeze on because of nerves?
- Will a complex question come-up that I answer confidently, to only find it their question and my answer were about different tech stacks?
If some or all of the above happens, it is ok. After interviews (or client meetings) that go bad, I like to research everything that didn't make sense.
I end up learning so much because my search is targeted directly because of my weak areas.
Having an optimal workspace set up can really help with productivity. If you are constantly searching for the right program or tab, you can feel overwhelmed.
However, with an intentional setup that divides your screens up by topic — you will know where to find the right thing at all times.
My current setup is an iMac 27" in the middle, an HP 24" monitor on the left, and an Asus 24" monitor on the right.
This allows me to handle production (design or code) in the middle, with the highest quality and tallest screen.
The right screen has all of my communication (Slack, Discord, Email, etc).
The left has google search ready in Chrome and Safari, along with my note taker. (See #21 below.)
I find this setup especially helpful during screen-sharing because I can take notes on the left while on the right communicate with a team member also on the call.
Don't have multiple monitors? No worries, the same thing can be accomplished with Mac OS desktops. You can create as many as you like and swipe between them as needed.
You have probably heard about "Tutorial Hell" and how courses aren't that helpful if you can't remember what to do afterward.
I find it really helpful to write detailed summaries of concepts from the tutorials. The act of explaining in written form the coding concept, its properties, and how it works as an explanation — ingrains it in my mind.
It also has the added benefit that those notes can later become content for my blog articles. :)
This is a tremendous help to productivity because at a moment's notice you can jot down and pull up key information.
It is much easier to clean up rough notes from a meeting, then sit there afterward and try to remember what the next steps were.
I used to do this with Word Docs, but as soon as I changed computers or only had access to my phone — all the notes were no longer available.
It often feels counter-intuitive, but taking chore breaks can help me be productive.
I found that when I take 10min to do the dishes or fold laundry, my mind is allowed to wander during the mundane and repetitive actions. This actually helps me come up with solutions that I would not have gotten when I actively trying to look for them.
Like the dishes above and sleeping, taking a break can help my mind reset, breathe and process whatever I am working on.
However, it is important to also do something enjoyable and truly relaxing during some of these breaks. I love movies and it is usually the thing that gets me completely detached.
As mentioned in
#17, I can be pretty hard on myself. Something that helps during those moments, is to refer back to times where I have done a good job. It is proof to my insecure side that I have what it takes and can do _____.
To help with this, I have created a folder of screenshots of times my bosses gave positive feedback, clients expressed thanks and co-workers gave me encouragement.
This folder is that little reminder that it was all be ok and if I try hard in this situation, I will most likely succeed again.
Throughout this post, I have mentioned writing. It is a great way to help engrain information and ensure that tutorials and notes are captured.
It is also a powerful way to stay on task throughout your goals. I keep a daily journal to catalog where I am at, what I am struggling with, or if there was a win in the day.
Then just a few months later...
"I am almost done launching my React portfolio with a filtering system! I feel so happy to be able think of something, design it and now code it into life."
Writing doesn't have to be pretty or long or short for that matter. Journalling and keeping an account of the progress just helps to process where we are at. Then a little bit later, surprise ourselves with how far we have come.
It can be a huge motivator for sure!
Thank you for making it all the way down here.
I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I am so happy and grateful about where I am at right now. It has come from just sticking with it and incrementally trying each day.
Hopefully, something on this list can help you. I'd love to hear about it if it did and other ways you stay motivated and productive. Happy Coding! 🤓
Thumbnail designed with Figma.