Kyrill Potapov on how to maintain work/life balance and stay productive

kyrill

Can you tell us what you do, and what your typical workday looks like?

I’m an English teacher and Human-Computer Interaction researcher, so half the time I’m planning and delivering lessons and marking work; the other half of the time I’m reading articles and writing up my PhD thesis.

Do you have a morning routine as part of waking up or starting your workday? What does your routine consist of?

I’m not sure if this is safe or even legal but I always listen to an audiobook as I cycle into work.

What’s the first thing you normally do when you start work/arrive at your office/desk?

I set a focus for the day on the Momentum Chrome extension. This is the one thing I will be unhappy if I go to bed without doing.

What’s your favorite thing about your daily workspace?

That I have several work spaces (my room, my classroom, my university desk) which I can assign different types of work.

kyrill's workspace

Editors note: moving between workspaces could boost your productivity by “location boxing” different activities.

What does a successful workday look like for you? How do you measure success on a day-to-day basis?

I’m very susceptible to the Zeigarnik effect: unfinished tasks wear away at my self-esteem, so I prefer to do long stints on one task at a time. This is in contrast to the days on which I get caught up in small tasks that don’t relate to my bigger aims or fall down a social media hole.

Do you have any go-to approaches for resetting a bad day and getting back on track?

Changing my physical state: going to the gym. I used to rely on stimulants but when I measured their impact, they didn’t actually add up to more productivity overall. Now I prefer to try to keep things flat through a low carb diet etc.

Stimulants and external punishments are fine for one-off tasks like end-of-unit essays, but for longer projects it isn’t sustainable. As my RescueTime dashboard would show, stimulants got me revved up to send a load of emails and sort through my materials but they also prevented me from settling into the kind of contemplation I need to write. It’s like the Hemingway thing: write drunk; edit sober. The monthly report on RescueTime helped me to reflect on what was worthwhile in the long-term.

kyrill's monthly RescueTime report

Kyrill’s monthly RescueTime report

What’s your biggest productivity struggle? How do you deal with that?

Procrastination. I have to juggle so many things that juggling many bits of information at the same time and reading random things feels important and it’s hard to recognise when I’m time wasting.

Can you tell us about how you’ve been using RescueTime in your classroom, and what you’ve discovered from this process?

It’s interesting to see the lengths students will go to to lie to themselves. I would never look at a students’ data but many students are reluctant to even look at their own data because of the unpleasant feelings associated with realising the extent of their intention-behaviour gap. RescueTime works like a meditation mantra for the wandering mind: notice that you’re wandering and refocus on the task at hand. You had 17% productive time today? OK, just start again tomorrow.

You mentioned you’re working on a MOOC about RescueTime—can you share more about that?

Quantified Self tools assume that data is significant and intuitive to the user – this is often not the case. My MOOC is about setting goals and reshaping them as a result of reflection on the reality. RescueTime provides the reality.

How do you maintain work/life balance? What do you do to recharge when you’re not working?

I use IFTTT with RescueTime to block Facebook and Twitter when I’m not at my desk at home. I have two separate Chrome accounts: one for work, one for leisure. I have a daily meditation practice using the Muse band. I used to fine myself for not meditating through Beeminder and RescueTime but this did not prove a useful strategy. I also read a lot of fiction, naturally.

What’s the best improvement you’ve made to how you work, or a change you’ve made that you wish you’d done earlier?

Having my week visually laid out on Trello so that I’m not constantly running through which lessons I haven’t planned.

Are there any workday habits you admire in others but haven’t been able to adopt yourself?

Digital Sabbaths. I’ve tried not using technology on a Saturday and it really does feel like a cleansing process but I always slip.

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3 Comments on “Kyrill Potapov on how to maintain work/life balance and stay productive”

  1. dreeves says:

    Wow, tons of good ideas and insights here!

    Any chance we (I’m a Beeminder cofounder) could hear more about what went wrong when you beeminded meditation time as tracked by RescueTime? Sounds like potentially super valuable feedback for us!

  2. Hi Daniel,

    The difficulty is in reinforcing the right thing. I didn’t want to reinforce the time spent on the Muse app because a) not all this time was spent meditating, b) it turned meditation into something mechanistic / taylorist. My goal would be to reinforce something which is already mechanistic i.e. sitting down on my meditation pillow and turning the app on. I tried to set up an RT alert to do this as a daily trigger but unfortunately it didn’t always pick up that I was on the app. The most successful method was to use an NFC tag put into my meditation pillow and use it to send a message to the IFTTT Maker channel. This worked well but then I broke the streak and gave up on doing it for some reason. I guess because it was so cumbersome and sometimes didn’t detect the presence of my phone. I could probably put a smart button inside my meditation cushion but otherwise I don’t see how I could meditate with Beeminder without either causing breakdown to my experience or mechanizing something which only works if I preserve my sense of self-determination (autonomy).

  3. dreeves says:

    Great answer! Thank you! Usually we like beeminding the most meaningful possible metrics, like total minutes of meditation. (See http://blog.beeminder.com/whattomind ) Which was your intention. But this might be a case where it’s better to just mind the total number of meditation sessions, since that’s pretty easy to track manually.

    I’m also really keen to smooth out the frictions with automatic tracking of this kind of thing, so this was especially good feedback about that. Thanks again!


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