Productivity Spotlight: David Whitney, Facebook

Written by
Macgill Davis

In this week episode of Productivity Spotlight, we'll speaking with David Whitney, a senior research scientist at Facebook.

Mind providing a short summary of your background, current job, and experience?

Sure. My name is David Whitney. I'm a research scientist at Facebook. My PhD was in robotics from Brown University, and I work on digital assistants for AR and VR.

What’s one aspect of your daily routine that keeps you productive?

I start every morning with a 10 minute walk around the block. Just getting out and getting my blood moving really improves my cognition.

I actually looked up the science behind this. Your lymphatic system is what filters out waste products from your body and brain. Unlike your circulatory system, which has a heart that pumps blood around your body, your lymph moves only through the compression and extension of your own body.

So if you just sit there, your lymph system doesn’t get cleared out. Moving helps move the lymph system which in turn makes you clear headed. Much of the brain fog you experience in the mornings is just oxidative stress from waste that builds up in your brain. Getting moving with a walk helps the lymphatic system drain and filter out that waste.

I start every morning with a 10 minute walk around the block. Just getting out and getting my blood moving really improves my cognition. I actually looked up the science behind this.

How has your daily routine changed since working from home this past year?

I used to commute an hour and half each way from San Francisco to Facebook in Menlo Park. On the bus ride down, I would do all of my shallow work like check email, code review, and take messages. I’d also do that on the commute back from work. Then at the office I would just focus on doing deep work like coding.

I really liked that separation of deep and shallow work.

Since working from home, I’ve had to develop a new routine where I do deep work in the morning. Then have lunch and do shallow work. Then work out and shower. Then go back to doing deep work until dinner. And then finish by doing any shallow work at the end of the day.

Do you subscribe to any productivity methodologies? Why or why not?

No not really. I tried the Pomodoro technique but it didn’t stick.

Who are some less well-known people or resources that you follow for productivity inspiration?

I’ve become a huge fan of morning digest news emails. I find I can get caught up quickly on the news without having the sift through news sites as well as avoid getting sucked into twitter. The two morning digests I really like are Morning Brew and The Information’s daily digest, and in the evening I read CovidActNow’s Daily Download.

The two morning digests I really like are Morning Brew and The Information’s daily digest, and in the evening I read CovidActNow’s Daily Download.

What is the one productivity tool you wouldn't be able to do without? Why?

Rize! Seriously - it’s been a huge boost to my productivity.

Additionally, there’s a GitHub project called AutoRaise. When you mouse over a window it brings it to the front and gives it focus. You won’t believe how intuitive it feels after a little bit. I don’t know why it isn’t the default OS behavior.

Finally, I would recommend Spectacle, but it’s no longer actively maintained. I’m sure replacements exist. A good window manager is a must.

Additionally, there’s a GitHub project called AutoRaise. When you mouse over a window it brings it to the front and gives it focus. You won’t believe how intuitive it feels after a little bit. I don’t know why it isn’t the default OS behavior.

What’s a small change that’s boosted your productivity over the past year?

Separating shallow work and deep work. I set out explicit times to perform deep work which in my current role is pretty much coding exclusively. I’ll turn off chat, avoid email, and solely focus on coding. Then I set aside time to handle team communication and email at different points in the day.

I found that shallow work like email or Slack is just as disruptive to my work flow as Twitter or social media.

What are your productivity killers? How do you avoid them?

Twitter and YouTube by far. I keep my phone out of sight while I’m doing focus work. That’s been really helpful. I’ll even put my phone in another room while I work.

I keep my phone out of sight while I’m doing focus work. That’s been really helpful. I’ll even put my phone in another room while I work.

What’s top of mind for improving your productivity now and moving forward?

I’ve been focused on really learning all the keyboard shortcuts for the products that I use.

My old manager was a keyboard wizard and watching how quickly she could work without breaking the flow was so impressive. It speeds up how I work and prevents me from breaking my flow which compounds over the course of a day.

Macgill Davis is cofounder of Rize, a time tracker that improves focus and builds better work habits.

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