About a year ago this time, I was working a full time job with over an hour commute each way. I was in the middle of my MBA program and was doing all the day to day activities for our mobile app business. A year later now, I have quit my job to turn all my focus to growing the business. My classes are not as demanding as last year and we have three part time help to help with a lot of day to day activities of the Business. With all that extra time, I was hoping to be at the peak of my productivity and get a lot more done than what I was able to a year ago. However, the truth is that I feel like I was more productive and getting more done when I hardly had a spare minute. I have less focus and feel as if I am constantly achieving less than what I was a year ago .

I am starting to realize that my brain is more productive when there is a time crunch and a deadline. Even though, I am not a  big fan of structure, It seems that I cant do away with all the structure and minimal structure  might just be what I need to restore my productivity. I recently, read the book "Flow" by Mihali Chikcent Mihaly, and his definition of Flow hit close to home for me. Mihali defines Flow as a state of mind

Wikipedia Flow

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Flow theory postulates three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state:

  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.
  3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one's ability to complete the task at hand.

It seems I was having easier time achieving state of flow last year. With limited time, my goals were clear and I could not afford to be scattered very often. I had that good balance between stress and productivity.

I have been going through a lot of blog posts about productivity and habits lately and been trying to implement few small changes in my daily habits. Two changes that have made the most impact so far are:

  1. Use of the App productive to create a routine and build habit.
  2. Setting concrete deadlines with tasks and subtasks.

The Done-it List


I have never been good with lists and structures. However, after I quit my job to focus on building my business, I have been struggling to stay focused and yearning for some structure.

I experimented with many to do list apps but none of them seemed right for me. I read all the suggestions about not having too many items on your list so you do not feel discouraged about not getting to all of them, but I just couldn't help putting too many things on my list.

So, I decided to experiment with a done it list rather than a to-do list. I have a notebook where I write down items I do during the day as I complete them. To keep it simple and clean, I start a new day on a new blank page and simply list items as I would have on a to-d0 list but the only difference being I write down after I complete the task. This has been an immense help for me to stay focused and productive. I have been doing this for couple months and so far I have found out that the done it list helps me:

  • Easily see what I have achieved in a day/week/month.
  • The thought of having an empty done it list at the end of the day motivates me to stay focused.
  • Makes me feel less guilty when I take an afternoon off to do whatever I want( I usually put that on the list as well)
  • Helps me easily see what tasks or activities I am spending most of my time on and if they align with my goals
  • Since I write the list in the order I perform the activities, it helps me understand if I am more productive when I start the day with certain activities versus others.

For a guy who has never been a fan of lists, this is a huge change in the way I work. I feel like I have a more of a free flowing schedule while creating some kind of structure with a done it list. This approach lets me design my day the way I wish while providing a system for feedback and accountability.

I’d love to hear if there are some simple techniques that help you with focus and productivity

Idea generation tools


We often hear that there is nothing else to do, or we think we are not creative enough. I am one of those people as well. I dont consider myself creative and am always looking for ways to be more creative. After having quit my job recently to focus full time on our app business, I am struggling even more with creativity, focus and idea generation. Couple weeks ago in my Marketing strategy class, we spent some time talking about idea generation tools and techniques that is helpful to teams and individuals. This made me think a little more about techniques I had been using for idea generation and not realizing that is what I was doing. I wanted to spend a little time going over some of the idea generation tools and few tips that I believe are useful in getting the creative juices flow.

Idea generation  tools and techniques

Brain Purge idea generation technique-

Setup  a timer for 2-5 minutes


  • 1.Give each participant a stack of 3 x 5 cards or large sized Post-It notes
  • 2.Write one idea on a card – pass it to person on your right
  • 3.Read the idea from the person on your left, improve the idea (on a new card), or develop a new idea and keep passing cards to your right.  .
  • 4.Continue the process until time is up.
  • 5.Categorize ideas into groups – on a flip chart, table, or wall

Note:  works well as a first activity in an idea generation session.  Gets ruminating ideas out on the table.


You can also do this on your own. Set up the timer as before and grab a stack of  post it notes or index cards to write. Write any ideas related to to the topic on one note card each and keep writing until you are out of ideas. Next, start reading all the ideas out loud. Continue improving the ideas you like and move the ones you no longer thing important to a separate pile. Continue this process until you have significantly narrowed down the ideas. It is helpful to do this without internet connection as it will let your creativity flow without any barriers you might impose by looking up the idea.

What IF idea generation technique

This one is pretty self explanatory. For a problem you are trying to solve, start with what if .......

This can be what if I wanted to create XYZ or what if X was done instead of Y.

--> Next, grab a piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind for that situation in what if format. For example, if you started with what if I wanted to write a new york times best seller.

--> Next continue with what if solutions:

What if I was amazing at writing. What if I was great at marketing a book. What if I had time to write a book. What if I was willing to wait couple year to finish a book. What if I started writing a page everyday.

The idea is to have no boundaries on this thought process, you start with something big or crazy and as you continue with the what if, you start channeling your ideas to ways that can actually help you achieve your goal. You might realize that you are not great at writing but you can learn. You cannot have a new York times bestseller book next month but if you started writing one page a day you would be able to write a book in  a year. Do not let impossibility stop your ideas, writing down the ideas no matter how far fetched it is, will help you continue asking the question and eventually get you to tasks that are achievable.

Grab bag forced association idea generation tools

Get a brown bag and put random items into the bag. Do not over think what goes into the bag, coins, pens, soap, food item, headphones are all fair game. You can just go around the room and put whatever you find in the bag. With your topic in mind, for example, how do I launch a killer app, or how do we double our user base, etc:

  • 1.Reach into the bag without looking – pull one item from the bag
  • 2.If doing in  a group, each group member should take a turn describing the characteristics and traits of the item you just grabbed.
  • 3.Next, using index cards of post it notes, write down all ideas about your topic and  toss it to middle of table. The idea doe not need to have any association with the item you grabbed in step 1. This is just to get the thinking process started. If working alone, just grab the item, describe characteristics and traits and write ideas on the paper as they come to mind.
  • 4.Pull another item from the bag and repeat the process.
  • 5. Continue the process until your timer is done.

The process explained here is unrelated forced association technique but one can also do this as a related forced association by using items that are related to topic of discussion.

SCAMPER idea generation technique

SCAMPER is an idea generation tool developed by Bob Eberie. This idea generation technique utilizes action verbs as stimuli to generate new ideas. This technique can help come up with  ideas either for modifications of a current product or service or a new product based on current product that can be utilized in a different market or put to a different use. SCAMPER is an acronym which stands for:

  • S – Substitute. What can you substitute current product with. For example, stevia is a substitute for sugar. Biofuels started as looking for alternative fuels to traditional petroleum fuels
  • C – Combine. Can you combine two products or features to create a new product?
  • A – Adapt. Can you adapt the current product to create something new?
  • M – Modify. Similarly, can you make any modifications to current product or service to create something new?
  • P – Put to another use. Can you put this product to a different use? This a helpful exercise in creativity. if you start making  a list of various ways an item can be used, it will help your brain to always be thinking of new ideas.
  • E – Eliminate. What can you eliminate in a current product or process?
  • R – Reverse. Lastly, in reverse thinking you ask the reverse of what you are trying to achieve. If your goal is to double your sales, the question you'd ask is What can reduce my sales in half. You can then focus on improving on these items in order to get to your original goal.


Idea generation tips:

  • Do not limit yourself by boundaries. We often tend to discard something by saying " that will be too expensive"or " someone else is already doing that". Those are valid questions to ask before selecting and implementing an idea but at the generation phase it is helpful to set no boundaries.
  • Think like a child. This builds on the first point. As a kid everyone is creative, because we are not scared of failing  or being judged. If we can keep that in mind adopt a way of thinking that takes the fear factor out, the potential is limitless
  • Daydream. Day dreaming is one of the fundamental ways of getting creative juices flowing and generate ideas. Stop worrying about being judged, and dream!
  • Avoid patterned thinking. View things from new perspectives. Try new things including new idea generation tools.

Idea generation Resources:

Mycoted- Creativity resources Helpful Wiki style site with creativity and idea generation tools, Books and puzzles.