Category Archives: Productivity

The downside to Getting Things Done

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

This morning I had a thought that I found a little sad. In my life pre-entrepreneurship there would be mornings where I would wake up and think, “I’d like to finish that book I’ve been reading.” That would be my goal for the day and it would be a successful day if I spent it lying on the couch and ultimately reading the last page and closing the book for good.

I don’t have those days anymore.

The methodology of Getting Things Done has been great overall for me. In particular:

  1. Putting everything on paper (or in Asana) rather than storing in my brain
  2. Do it, delegate it, or defer it.

I never struggle to remember things anymore because I have a system in place that ensures I never forget anything.

However, omniscience is also a curse. Knowing everything you need to do is a weight unto itself and does not lend itself to spontaneity, creativity, or relaxation. It has put me into a state of feeling that I need to be doing the most productive thing with every minute of my day with no time for recharging.

I dread those morning emails from Asana reminding me of my seemingly never-ending task list.

Asana morning email

An even bigger issue than the fact that I never wake up with a day where I have nothing to do is the fact that it seems as if every day I wake needing to do more than I could possibly do. My list never gets shorter! My morning emails from Asana typically greet me with a subject line of, “You have 37 tasks due…”. Great. Just great. Never does that number drop below 36 and I think they stop counting at 50.

Let’s look at the GTD ethos of doing it, delegating it, or deferring it and revisit my list. I count seven things I can do in less than five minutes each. Let’s get those done and trim the list down to 30.

Some of these tasks are ones that I have been putting off for years and never get around to completing. Here is one I created on 5/20/17 and have since rescheduled 15 times. It is something I would still like to do someday but is not pressing (hence why I’ve put it off so many times) so I’m just going defer it indefinitely by removing the due date completely and marking for later which will keep it off of my “Today” list and off of my morning task reminder emails.

Asana rescheduling tasks

A few of these other tasks are ones that are a bit more urgent but also not ones that I need to address today. Those are getting deferred until next week or later.

What is missing from my bag of productivity tricks is delegation. I’m a one-man band at the moment and don’t have someone sitting next to me to delegate to (thankfully as the room would be a bit cramped). Until I have a (virtual) assistant I need to get better about utilizing online services such as Fiverr for accomplishing some of the simpler tasks that crop up. I had success with it a few years ago but, at some point, I started feeling as if I didn’t even have the time to write up a task and stopped using it. That has to change in order to make my busy life work.

Down to 14 tasks to do today (in Asana–let’s not talk about the lists in Trello, Jira, Evernote, and my notebook). The day is half over so I won’t get to them all but things are looking up.

So, the problem is not with Getting Things Done but with me putting too much on my plate and not being able to get it all done. Secondarily, I need to modify the Getting Things Done methodology just a bit and make a clearer distinction between ideas and tasks. Just because an idea forms in my brain (and thus needs to be jotted down) does not mean it should be added to the task list and assigned a date for completion. Those can easily be cards in Trello or notes in Evernote without a date constraint.

I am feeling more spontaneous already.

10 Productivity Tips From Hacker News

Photo by Guillaume Briard on Unsplash

“Suck it up. Stop reading blogs, stop reading HN, stop making excuses. Start working. There are no tips that will break you out of it – just self discipline.” – krschultz

This is the Nike approach to procrastination and productivity (“Just do it”). I like that the advice pulls no punches but I believe it will falter for most people in that it doesn’t reduce big projects down into small, manageable steps. Productivity is as much, if not more so, about state of mind as it is use of time.

“Work on only one thing.” – edw519

Trying to get many things done at once leads to not getting anything done in the amount of time it should take. Irrefutable logic. Additionally, and I think this is particularly important for entrepreneurs, a finished project creates value for your business while you work on the next project. For example you have two projects. Project A will take three weeks to finish and project B will take two weeks to finish. No matter what you are going to be spending five weeks getting both of the projects finished but if you work on and finish project A then it is going to be delivering value (e.g. content that adds leads to the top of your funnel, a new feature that will reduce churn, etc.) while you work the next two weeks on project B.

“Get enough sleep.” – Mz

Sacrificing sleep to meet a deadline is something that a lot of us have done countless times. For me personally I find that those late hours are at 25%-50% as productive as my morning hours the next day on a full night’s rest. So it often makes sense for me to throw in the towel in the evening and start fresh. Additionally, lack of sleep has a cumulative effect (as any young parent will tell you) so too many sleepless nights in a row will have an outsized negative effect on your productivity.

As a corollary to this, identify where in the day your most productive hours tend to be and block those off on your calendar if you can. Use the other parts for the day for the phone calls, meetings, email, etc.

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“Find a team partner – and you will be cornered to start “get things done”. Otherwise, you can’t keep show up everyday without any progress.” – hwijaya

Having an accountability partner is a great practice for staying on track. Commiting to a deadline and telling someone else about it is a powerful method for driving focus and accomplishing the task in front of you. For entrepreneurs mastermind groups are often recommended and there are numerous ways to accomplish this in a corporation including what the commenter suggested.

“I write things down. I set micro-deadlines. I force myself to move on after the deadline, or if I really need to finish it, set another deadline.” – snikolov

Writing things down is the key to Getting Things Done. Get everything that is not the current task in front of you out of your head and on paper. This helps keep your mind from wandering and holding onto distracting thoughts.

“Once a week, take something you’re doing ad hoc and systematize it, or take something you’ve systemized and measure it, or take something you’ve measured and improve it, or take something you’ve improved and automate it.” – patio11

Creating processes and automating repetitive tasks is a hit on your short-term productivity but an investment towards long-term productivity and ultimately your success. This permanently takes something off your plate (note there is some time required to maintain upkeep as all processes will change over time) and opens up time every week to invest elsewhere.

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

“Walk – Any time I am feeling distracted or stressed I take a walk outside. It reboots my mind and I come back refreshed. If something was eluding me before the walk it typically reveals itself quickly after returning from the walk.” – endswapper

This is something that I did daily for five years when I lived in a climate where I could do it year round without putting on a parka. I still try to do it as much as the weather and my schedule allow. When I get back to my desk I am much more prepared to tackle my ONE thing.

For some a mediation break might work as well but getting the fresh air and a bit of exercise really worked for me.

“What helps the most for me is just closing out all other applications, chats, and browser tabs and not reopening anything else until I’m finished with work.” – apolymatth

I’m pretty terrible about opening tabs and then not closing them for sometimes a month or two. The problem with this is that they are a continual reminder of things undone. Those chip away at your focus just like those ideas in the back of your head and things you need to remember day to day.

One thing I try to do (and still need to be better about) is taking each open browser tab at the end of the day and creating a task for it in Asana. That way I can schedule reading those webpages along with all of my other tasks. If they aren’t applicable to what I need to accomplish the next day then I’ll schedule them for next week, next month, or possibly even just close and forget them.

“Shut off social media. Kill the noise. (FB, Twitter, Snapchat, HN, $SOCIAL_MEDIA_NETWORK)” – akulbe

Social media is probably the biggest time sink of our generation. Sure it can lead to interesting new ideas and discussions but the reality is that it doesn’t make any positive material difference in your life. By making communication so simple it has lowered the level of what people share thus creating so much more noise. (If you are old enough you remember writing emails to groups of friends–or even letters–which took more effort to write. That meant you tended to not share the shape of the milk in your cappuccino or what you overheard on the bus in the morning. Still couldn’t avoid the politically motivated chain mails though.)

You would be amazed and how much time in the day is spent looking a social media feeds. Add those hours (yes, hours) up and picture what you could accomplish with that time!

Btw, for me Reddit is the killer that is not on that list.

“Love what you do. Productivity is easy when your heart is in it.” – orky56

When work doesn’t feel like work you are in a good place. This reduces the stress you feel about being productive and stress is a productivity killer. It is a vicious cycle that ensnares many employees and one that is hard to step out of. If you aren’t doing something you love you should be doing something else. (I know that is way easier said than done but you can start by mapping out a plan and taking baby steps. It might take a while–years even–but eventually you hopefully will get to a place where getting up and going to work is something you look forward to.)

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl from Unsplash and used under Creative Commons.

Productivity Powerups Course

Today I’m launching Productivity Powerups which is a free email course that will help you make the most of every hour of your day and help you achieve everything you aspire to. When you sign up you will receive one actionable strategy a day for ten days that you can implement to free yourself from the busy work that is holding you back and instead focus on the projects that will propel you forward both personally and professionally.

All this course requires is about three minutes of your day (so 30-minutes total) to read the emails. Some of the tactics laid out can be implemented immediately while others are habits that you will build over time. Time is only thing you cannot make more of so a small investment of it now will grow into personal and financial dividends that you benefit from for the rest of your life.

This course also marks a renewed focus in this blog on productivity. Our software’s goal is to save you time managing your business and our articles going forward aim to do the same.

Sign up today!

Productivity is prioritization

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“If only I had another few hours a day…” is something that every busy person laments occasionally. As a parent of three young boys it is something that I find myself thinking almost daily. I imagine that I can turn more working hours into more productivity, more money, and ultimately more success. If only it were that easy.

The difference between me and Elon Musk is…well too many things to list here. One thing that we definitely have in common is that we both have twenty-four hours in our day. (Unless he has conquered the space-time continuum which I wouldn’t put past him.) He had twenty-four hours when he started his career and twenty-four hours now. Let’s not look at the seemingly superhuman entrepreneur who is simultaneously building rockets (SpaceX), trains (Hyperloop), and cars (Tesla) while powering homes (SolarCity) and, perhaps most impressive, finding a way to beat Los Angeles traffic (the Boring Company). Instead let’s imagine him at day zero of his entrepreneurial journey.

What did he do better than other entrepreneurs?

Work harder? Plenty of entrepreneurs work hard.

Get lucky? That probably played a part of it but definitely is not the whole story.

Prioritize? Definitely.

When all entrepreneurs have the same number of hours in a day what enables some to be more successful than others? Successful entrepreneurs get better returns on their time. They understand that productivity is not a function of time management but a function of priority management.

If you were to write down everything you do in a day you’ll find that (outside of familial and work responsibilities) a lot of it does not advance your progress towards your goals. Take that hour you spend on Reddit, pick up a healthy carryout dinner instead of cooking, skip the Netflix, and you have freed up multiple hours. But the important thing is what you spend those extra hours on.

Put everything except sleep (exercise, cooking, and television watching included) on your to do list (or block out time on your calendar). Organize your to do list by return on investment (ROI) (with your investment being your time) and you will always be working on the tasks that will have the largest impact on your success.

TLDR: Only do what is on your to do list. If you want to watch Netflix then put it on the list. Order your list by return on time invested. Work from the top of the list down. Success.

Your ONE thing for your next flight

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

I really love Gary Keller’s book The ONE Thing. It is a little long-winded but the idea it presents is very powerful:

“What is the ONE thing you can do right now that will make everything else easier?”

Putting this idea into practice forces you to consistently work on what is important and what will drive your business forward.

Unfortunately is isn’t always that easy. When you are in the office you’re often interrupted by phone calls, emails, and meetings. (I have yet to encounter a meeting that came anywhere close to qualifying as my one thing for the day.) At home I joke that my one thing is getting my children to bed so that I can accomplish my true one thing.

However there is a magical place where those interruptions don’t exist–an airplane. When flying you are free to put on some headphones and focus. This is an opportunity to pound out a blog post, craft a new feature for your product, brainstorm, or whatever task on your to do list that jumps out at you as something you have been procrastinating on because you aren’t able to put together two or three uninterrupted hours.

To make the most of this precious time I plan ahead. I pick my one thing before I leave for the airport and make sure that I have the files and research I need downloaded on my laptop. I get myself in the headspace that I need to be in to be productive (it can be a challenge to do with with security lines, flight delays, and the general madness of airline travel). What I do not do is get on a plane and hope that inspiration strikes.

(This blog post was something that languished on my to do list and today it is my one thing for my flight from St. Louis to Chicago.)

Even as I preach this I must acknowledge that this doesn’t work for all of my flights. Frequently with late afternoon or evening return flights I make my one thing small and quickly accomplished so that I can spend the remainder of the flight letting my brain unwind with a novel.

So I propose that you make the most of you next flight and do one thing that will push your business forward.

Safe travels.