Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

TAG: productivity

Using your commute time productively

Crowded commute

Commuting sucks.

It can be stressful and draining, and you literally lose sleep because of it.

I’m pretty lucky that I only have long commutes two days a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have to drive out to Columbia, MD from DC, and half of that ride I’m with my wife because I drop her off at her job, so it’s not that bad. The rest of the week I usually work at a Cove co-working space, which is a 12-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride.

So commuting isn’t a big problem for me, but it’s a huge problem for many.

Regardless of how long your commute is, I think that it’s time that can be used wisely.

Yeah, you can listen to some morning talk show or watch that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (not if you’re driving, though!).

But there are many things that you can do that can make your commute or travel time more productive. Here are some of my favorites.

Plan your day

One of the things I like to do during my commute is visualize and plan my day.

Most of the time I will have my daily tasks planned out the night before. So on my commute, I’ll think more about how much time to dedicate and what resources I’ll need to complete those tasks.

If you take public transportation, you can use your commute time to write down your tasks for the day and get organized.

If you drive, you can visualize your schedule, think about your goals of the day, and better understand what needs to get done.

Then when you arrive at the office, you can hit the ground running and get to work right away.

Listen to an educational podcast

I love podcasts so much that I started one (though I’m on break now).

Podcasts are great because you don’t need to devote your full attention to consuming them, so you can listen while you walk, drive, ride a bike, or do something else.

I like to listen to my favorite podcasts during my commute so I can find some inspiration, motivation, or even specific tactics that I can apply to work.

Most of my favorite podcasts are related to startups and tech, but there are other subjects mixed in. They include:

  • This Week in Startups
  • The Tim Ferriss Show
  • Recode Decode
  • Freakonomics Radio
  • Talk Python to Me
  • Mixergy
  • Y Combinator Podcast
  • A16Z podcast
  • Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin
  • Bon Appetit
  • And a few others…

Podcasts are a great way to learn while you commute, and I love fitting them in whenever I have time.

Clear your mind

With a kid, a day job, and a startup on the side, life is pretty busy.

Sometimes I like to use my commute time to just disconnect and take in the world around me.

When I walk or take public transportation, sometimes I just clear my mind, listen to the sounds of the city, and watch the people and vehicles around me. I also take the time to appreciate everything I have and how lucky I am to be healthy and have a wonderful family.

This doesn’t sound like I’m being productive, especially since I’m not doing the things I just wrote about in the above sections.

But disconnecting and clearing your mind for a few minutes a day can really help in the long run. You’ll be more relaxed, more creative, and less stressed.

While I don’t do it during my commute, meditation is something I’ve been doing more often. 10 minutes of breathing and relaxation every day can help minimize stress and increase focus on what you need to get done.

How are you spending your commute time, and are you using your time productively? I’d love to hear more in the comments.


How do you deal with distractions from your smartphone?

driving with smartphone

Distractions are all around us, and most of them can be blamed on that tiny supercomputer in our hands – the smartphone.

Obviously, work is where you can be most distracted.

Constantly checking your phone for emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or whatever app du jour you’re using can be so detrimental to completing your tasks. Push notifications make concentrating nearly impossible.

One second, you start a task in the morning. The next second, your friend sends you a message on WhatsApp about the slate of NFL games played yesterday.

Next thing you know, you’re checking on how your fantasy teams did. Then you’re researching a trade for a running back. Then negotiating said trade with other owners.

Oh man, it’s 5PM already? Time to go home!

What did you get done that day? Maybe a fantasy football trade, but maybe not even.

(BTW, that’s not me I’m talking about, it’s a hypothetical story, I swear).

I’m not only talking about work, though.

I walk my dog everyday and many times check my phone while doing it. Next thing I know, she’s eating some food scraps off the ground, and I have to worry if she’ll make me pay for my lack of attention by pooing somewhere she isn’t supposed to.

Sometimes when I play with my daughter, I’ll get distracted and check my phone. While I’m not looking, she’ll run toward our deck and lick the screen door. Or go to my dog’s water bowl and stick her hand in it. Or do something else she isn’t supposed to do.

And of course, we can’t leave out the distractions of the smartphone while driving. Dangerous.

As magical as the smartphone is, it is probably the biggest distraction ever created.

We can turn on airplane mode to avoid any incoming communications, but do we?

We can leave our phones at home when we go out for a short amount of time, or place it in another room so it’s not always with us. But do we?

How do you deal with all of the distractions that the smartphone brings? Do you ever put your phone in airplane mode, or leave it in the other room? Talk to me in the comments!

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One monitor or more for increased productivity?

Multiscreen computer setup

I work in an office a couple of days a week, where I have two big monitors. The rest of the week I work from home, where I have two big monitors.

Sometimes I work at coffee shops, co-working spaces, and on the road, where I only have my 13″ laptop monitor.

I’m not sure if I’m more productive using two monitors or one.

The easy answer is that productivity is increased when there is more screen real estate. More screen space equals more room to do more work, right?

Again, I’m not so sure.

I find sometimes that having one smaller screen keeps me more focused.

Having one screen keeps you zeroed in on that one task in front of you, with no where else to go.

When I have a second monitor, I typically place Slack, email, Skype, Hootsuite, and other similar tools on that screen. While those apps are important for me to to stay up-to-date with my team and other things that are going on, they are mostly distractions that get in the way of me doing real work.

Even having another Chrome browser tab open is sometimes enough to be a distraction.

When I’m writing a blog post where I need to refer to research that’s on another website, two screens certainly come in handy.

And of course, I’m in total control of what apps I put on the second screen.

But sometimes it’s better to not have options at all.

What do you think? Are you more productive with two screens or one? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn for future updates. And check out my podcast at!

This is day 33 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

A case study in customer relationship management: Time Doctor

In December 2013, I wrote a guest blog post for the CEA titled “10 Essential Tools and Resources for Entrepreneurs to Get Stuff Done” that highlighted the various software tools and other resources that I use on a daily basis to run my startup and consulting business. That post generated a lot of interest (for me), as it garnered over 10,000 page views and 1,100 Facebook Likes.

The post also sparked the creation of a great case study about social media monitoring, customer relationship management, product trial and eventually, customer conversion.

One of the tools that I wrote about in that blog post was a time-tracking tool called Paymo. I mentioned that the tool was free, which is great, but the interface and functionality of the app lacked a bit (note: the tool’s features and functionality have been updated dramatically since the writing of this post; you can read about it in this review). A few months ago, the head of online marketing of a Paymo competitor named Time Doctor read my post and subsequently reached out to me via email with an offer for a free license.

Time Doctor emailWith nothing to lose, I gave Time Doctor a shot.

Initially, I didn’t feel the need to switch to a new time-tracking app, as Paymo was serving me just fine. But as I continued to use Time Doctor, I realized that it solved issues that I didn’t know I had.

  • The Time Doctor desktop app views my screen, recognizes when I might be diverting attention away from the task that I was working on, and asks via a pop-up whether I was still working on said task. Many times this feature keeps me on track and focused on the task at hand.
  • Also, whenever I step away from my computer while working on a task, Time Doctor tracks the time I’ve been away and asks whether I was on a break or working on that task, and categorizes my choice accordingly. Apparently, I unknowingly step away from my computer pretty often, and this feature helps me track that time easily.
  • Another nice feature is that the app sends me a daily email of the time I spent working so I can see how much I’ve been slacking off. That’s a pretty good motivator.

While I like the app, I really like how the Time Doctor team found my blog post, engaged me, offered me a free license, and followed up to see how I like the tool. And when I responded with some comments, one of the company’s co-founders personally emailed me an update about upcoming feature changes and improvements.

Amidst a cacophony of generic email blasts and online banner ads, this kind of one-on-one attention is certainly appreciated. And while it’s not a scalable user-growth activity, it can pay dividends in the form of converting a customer and even getting a blog post written about the product. Props to the team at Time Doctor for building a solid product and putting together a really responsive team!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Note: Time Doctor did not pay me to write this blog post. I did it all by myself!

There are no more results.