How I Stay Productive: Graham Clarke

Next up in our ‘How I Stay Productive’ series is our brand new Productivity Ninja, Graham Clarke, who is spreading the Productivity Ninja love in Ireland. Not only does he have three Public Workshops coming up in Ireland over the next two months, but he also found the time to sit down with us and let us discover his productivity secrets.  

Productivity Ninja Ireland

Occupation: Productivity Ninja for Think Productive in Ireland

Company: Think Productive

Location: Ireland

Other job titles in life: Film Festival Director, Solopreneur, Sustainable Travel Consultant, Education & Training Officer, Outdoor Pursuits Instructor

What’s important about your workspace?

That it’s not at home, has lot’s of natural light and a complete lack of clutter.

Which ninja characteristic have you got nailed the most?

Definitely Unorthodoxy. I take a lot of pleasure from problem solving so I’m very much playing to my strengths with Unorthodoxy.

Unorthodox productivity training

Which ninja characteristic are you still working on the most?

Ohhh. Difficult question. If I’m honest with myself it’s probably Human Not Superhero.  In a traditional sense I have a Type A personality. I tend to set high expectations for myself and those around me. I hate ambiguity. I’m ambitious and impatient. Very self critical. And I don’t take enough pleasure in my own success. So I find I need to regularly remind myself that while hard work may be a variable of success (depending of course on how you define success) – hard work needs to be balanced with patience. And coupled with an acceptance that I’m not going to be operating at 100% every day. And I won’t get everything I want done everyday. And that’s ok. As long as I keep making forward momentum.

Human Not Superhero

Which five apps could you not live without?

Ha! I could live without all of them 🙂

In terms of how I organise myself the 5 apps that I use the most are

  1. Todoist
  2. Google Calendar
  3. Drive
  4. Gmail
  5. Pen & Paper

I also wrote a blog post about how I organize my day using these apps called How I Plan My Day Like A Productivity Ninja on Medium.

What’s your favorite piece of stationery?

I am a sucker for a good notebook. Preferably a grid-lined Moleskin. As I’m left-handed finding a good quick drying, non-smudge pen is the stationary equivalent of my Holy Grail.

When in the day do you have the most proactive attention?

I’m one of those annoying ‘morning’ people. My most proactive attention time is generally between 0730 – 1100. I also often find the 90 minutes before I go to bed reasonably proactive too. Even though I’m tired I think the fact that I’m trying to get to bed by a certain time forces me to focus on working as fast as I can. Usually…

What’s your trick for when you’re tired or struggling with attention in the day?

I love this question. Because I’ve thought a lot about it in the past. After extensive non-scientific research by myself, on my own behalf, I have found the following works for me 90% of the time every time 🙂

Step 1 – Go for a 20 minute walk.

Step 2 – After the walk set a 90 minute block of time to work. Using the Pomodoro technique, do three 25 minute blocks of work over the 90 minute period.

That’s it. For me, this is the biggest ‘hack’ in my productivity toolbox. Interestingly I’ve known and used the Pomodoro technique for years. But it’s only in the last 6 months that I’ve started using it regularly. When I find myself without wind in the attention doldrums. I think the reason I never really embraced the Pomodoro  technique was that I didn’t think there was enough value in working on something for only 25 mins and then taking a break. I was wrong.

What’s your best advice for reducing stress?

It depends on the cause of the stress. If the stress is caused by not knowing what to do next or a lack of prioritization then by far the biggest win is to get off the spinning hamster wheel of work and do a review of your work landscape. And then apply spectacular levels of Ruthlessness. It’s likely that 20% of your work will generate 80% of the results you’re looking for. Conversely 20% of your work is causing 80% of the stress. Get out the scalpel and go to work. Cut anything that doesn’t take you towards your goals. That however is much easier said than done. From my experience most of us struggle with that level of Ruthlessness.

Productivity Ninja Ruthlessness

If your stress is not being generated by any of the above, then the best advice that I can give is to regularly practice meditation. It’s the one productivity habit that could make a real long term difference to your work life. As it’s also one of the hardest practices to consistently do, it’s probably the least practiced habit.

What’s your email regime?

I try to process email only once a day for 90 minutes between 1530 and 1700. If I’m expecting an ‘urgent and important’ email I may open my inbox in the morning to process that email. I organize my email around  three email folders. @action, @waiting-for and @reference.

At around the same time I process any Slack communications from the Think Productive team too. My email ‘regime’ doesn’t always look like this. But most of the time it does.

What’s your favorite way to take a break in the middle of the day?

I always try and get outside and get moving for 20 mins.

What’s the secret to your productivity?

I organize and execute around priorities. It’s that simple. The easy bit is the organizing. The hard bit is the execution.

In real time how I do that is through goal setting. Yearly, quarterly and weekly. Each day before I finish work I list out the 3 most important things I need to do the following day. I then block out time to work on them. That’s it.

By Hannah Urbanek 

Hannah is Think Productive’s Head of Outreach and is the voice behind a lot of our blog and social media content. 

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