Tag Archives: success

Productivity is prioritization

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

“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.

Join the Conversation

You might, like many of us, have some goals or dreams, personally or professionally, that you have yet to fulfill. Sometimes you feel stuck in a rut and wanting more. Often the feeling is one that is self-perpetuating as you lose enthusiasm and the energy to get out of it. Sometimes without taking action to dig yourself out you can end up burnt out or depressed.

Action is the key.

One action that I’m advocating for today is to join into the local, national, or global conversation that it happening around the goals you have both personally and professionally. I believe that participating in, rather than listening in, is a sure fire way to pull out of a rut, reenergize yourself, and getting your brain to work creatively again.

Conversations happen in many ways and in many places: in the open, behind closed doors, in meetings, over the phone, email, on message boards, and in the media. Some of those are available to you and some of those you have to force your way in.

I have an example of the latter from my job. Our company had started working on a web portal for our clients which is an idea I had long advocated for. For reasons I do not know (I was the only person at the company with a technical background) I was not included in almost any of the discussions leading up to the development nor any of the discussions during the development process. The development was outsourced and, while there technically was one person leading the project, in reality there were eight different people who were trying to control the project.

If the project was a human I imagine it felt like this:

I have eight bosses, Bob.

When the portal was finally launched it was something that neither our internal people nor our clients wanted to use. In fact, only one person logged in and interacted with the software in the first four or five months it was live. Obviously there was a problem.

I took this problem to be an opportunity and forced myself into the conversation. The first step was to write up nine pages on what I thought the issues were and ways to improve them (basically it all boiled down to vision and software being a tool that people use to solve a problem). I followed that up coding a different vision of the portal (in 1/20 of the time and for 1/1000 of the cost of the original). I demoed that and also created a forty slide presentation that highlighted the ways it would streamline things for our staff and would scale as we grew.

It was some of the best work I had done in a long time. It had dragged me out of the rut I had been in at the job and got my brain firing on all cylinders. New ideas were popping up as I was trying to sleep and I even had two dreams about it.

What brought me to that point was that I felt that you can only be ignored for so long. I responded by taking voicing my opinions and taking a lot of action. I did not see a downside. By forcing yourself into the conversation the worst case scenario is that you build up a body of work that you can repurpose into a blog, book, podcast, product, or company.

On that project, while I think I did get some people to ask the questions that should have been asked at the beginning, all of my efforts and suggestions were generally acknowledged but not acted upon. For whatever reasons the powers that be decided to continue down the path they were on.

It was not the wasted effort it seems to be. Out of it I have come up with a great idea for a company, an idea for a book, learned Ruby on Rails, and had some amazing discussions with some of my colleagues about the future of the industry.

This blog is another way that I am joining in a conversation. I am using it as a way to reach out to potential customers for StartOpz. I believe those people to be either entrepreneurs or employees at startups or small businesses. They are interested in starting and scaling their efforts to build a successful business. Hopefully some of my posts help them do that in some way. I know I have already learned a lot from them.

When things settle down a bit I also hope to get further engaged in the conversations around the various issues that are important to me and to find ways to help whether that be through charity or more hands-on efforts.

Words can be leveraged more than money can ever be. They are powerful in that they can incite action in others and that other people can pass them on thus reaching more people that you have ever met in your life.

The conversation is happening right now on the web on sites like Twitter and Reddit. It is happening on blogs (write posts and leave comments), in books (write one and self-publish), and in emails (find people in your field of interest and just write to them). It is happening at conferences around the world and at your local coffee shop.

Talking about what you do and what you want to do will get you excited and keep you excited about the efforts you are making to reach your goals. It will incite the action you need to get out of a rut or avoid it completely. It will keep you feeling alive.

Reduce busy work. Increase luck surface area.

There is a concept known as luck surface area that suggests that the more you do, and the more you tell people about it, the greater your chance for success. Spend your time creating and communicating with your peers and you will be recognized for it.

The idea that being busy lowers your chances for success seems counterintuitive to that. After all if you are busy then you are by default having more interactions than someone who is not.

Busy work such as emails, Twitter, phone calls, etc. only increase your luck surface area if they are a part of a concentrated effort to network and move your efforts forward.

Being busy does not create the body of work that others will take notice of. Serendipity will not occur from paper pushing but, rather, will occur by setting goals and continually working to achieve them.

But first you must free yourself from the chains of bureaucracy and inefficiency that plague most organizations.

Paper pile - April 2011 - 2 by Sebastien Wiertz used under CC License

Combatting Busy Work

The best way to combat busy work is to implement systems that decrease the amount of time the work takes and, just as importantly, the amount of brain power devoted to it. For most people the place to start is in the inbox.

To start with do not spend all day inside your inbox. Check your email no more than a handful of times a day. You might be under the impression that your customers and coworkers would think the world is ending if you do not quickly respond to their emails but you would be wrong. If people needed immediate responses they would not use asynchronous communication and would instead pick up the phone to call you.

(I am aware that some people inexplicably expect email responses to be no more delayed than the speed of light allows. They often do funny things such as using words such as urgent or ASAP in the body of the email instead of using the high importance flags (and often on things that are not urgent at all). Those people need to be coached and it is up to you to do it or else you will never be able to fully focus on the things that really make a business successful.)

The second step is to turn off email notifications. Disable the new email pop-ups in Outlook and turn off the beeping on your phone. Those take you out of your train of thought and, as a knowledge worker, nothing is more important.

Now you are ready to tackle your emails at your own schedule rather than somebody else’s. Getting Things Done presents a very effective system that can be applied to your inbox. The system is:

“Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It.”

The premise is that if an email only takes a couple of minutes to act on or respond to then do it right then. If it can be delegated then forward it on. If neither of those can happen (it needs more than two minutes of your attention) then you defer it by putting it on your to do list or your calendar and then filing the email away out of your inbox.

(A pro-tip on your to do lists: You can drag an email to your tasks in Outlook or you can forward emails to services such as Asana, Evernote, or Trello to automatically add them. Just like with your emails address your to do list in your own time frame.)

By applying that system to each item in your inbox a few times a day you will arrive at the fantasy state know as Inbox Zero. It is much easier to achieve focus when diving into a project with no emails to address.

To lessen the number of emails you have to address each day setup filters so that certain emails are automatically filed away or added to your to do list.

Once you have tamed your inbox and created a single proper to do list (rather than writing tasks on whatever scraps of paper you have on your desk at the time) you are ready to tackle the busy work.

Start by documenting step-by-step each thing you do for one day. The next day spend some time going over that list (might help to include the boss on this) and identify anything that no longer needs to be done due to changes in the business. You would be surprised at the number of things that people do because they have always been done and nobody has bothered to stop and question it. Stop doing the things that do not need to be done.

Continue looking at the list and figure out where steps can be automated with a little technology. Investing a little bit of time and money automating processes will pay off in spades later.

Now you should have some systems in place to serve as defenses against busy work so that you can work on building the kingdom.

Startup Stock Photos

Capitalizing on Real Work

Begin by taking the time to identify things that are truly urgent which are the activities that are central to your business’ success or survival. That is where you want to concentrate your efforts.

Prioritize the activities and then set goals with actionable steps and timelines for each activity that you are going to create a project out of.

Those projects vary from business to business but could be a product launch, developing a new feature, a marketing campaign, or hiring. The bottom line is that you are trading busy work for the work that pushes your business forward.

That is the type of work that will increase your luck surface area and make others take notice of you both inside and outside of the company.