Productivity Guide: What I've Learned After 15+ Years Working For Myself
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Productivity Guide: What I've Learned After 15+ Years Working For Myself

Topic
skills

If you're a productivity nerd, you might not like this article.

If you aren't, you might find hope here.

The Reality of productivity

The reality of productivity is this: the older you are, the less likely you are to become a productive machine if you aren't already one.

The older you are, the harder it is to break habits and create new ones. It is what it is. Life isn't fair.

I'm not saying it's impossible to become a new person later in life, it's just statistically less likely. But hey, people beat the odds all the time. So, if you want it bad enough, the words you just read should motivate you.

On the flip side, if you are getting discouraged, consider that a sign that you don't really want it bad enough, or that maybe you're not ready.

This nifty heuristic also applies to success—the older you are, the less likely you will become successful. After all, if you were going to be successful, you'd already be, statistically speaking.

  • If you were going to be productive, you'd already be productive.
  • If you were going to be successful, you'd already be successful.

If you're super green to all of this, here are the wisest words I can muster: If you want to become successful in anything that does not naturally, you will have to become a different person.

How much of a different person will depend on a bazillion variables. Some need a massive overhaul of their their inner world, while others need only a few habit changes to get them going in the right direction.

Don't confuse what I'm saying here: "become a different person" does not mean you have to become a completely different person.

Or maybe it does mean that... if you need to become a completely different person that is productive and successful, that is.

I don't know. Only you can answer that.

The fact that you're reading this suggests you are at least open to becoming a different person. So, as long as you don't stop, you'll get there. I believe in you.

Don't stop.

Productivity First Principles

Because I'm obsessed with First Principles, let's start with the most important thing you need for productivity.

Focus

Without focus, you won't do anything in life.

Productivity without focus is like a chicken running around with its head cut off (apparently they really do run around after you cut their head off).

We can simplify this to:

  • More focus = the fewer hours it takes to get results
  • Less focus = the more hours it will take you AND the lower quality your results will be (ouch)

This is why I always give the same advice when asked about success.

I tell people this: Start with a 2-hour-a-day deep work routine. Then every day, without fail, stick to that. If you can do that, given enough time, you will win.

If this was all you did, you'd be ahead of 99% of people.

Thus, a first principle of productivity is: Until you can do two hours a day of deep work, do nothing else because nothing else matters.

Really. Nothing Else. Period. You're welcome.

....

You still here?

Ok, so I guess you want more tips and tricks. Since that's the case, I'll talk about myself a bit since that's always fun.

Me:

I'm the CEO of a natural food and supplement company called Wild Foods. I started Wild Foods from my one-bedroom apartment in Austin after moving to Texas in 2015.

This was me "pursuing my dreams."

Back in Florida, I started a CrossFit gym with a friend and one of his friends. One sued me (the friend). The other one (his friend) quit and emptied our bank account of $9500.

You've heard partnerships are hard, right? Understatement.

Do it yourself if you can. And if not, spend a lot of time with your potential partner before committing—like marriage. You could try being roommates first since that would be a reasonable representation of your future partnership.

After each of those separate fiascos, I finally brought on a friend to pick up the slack (guess I don't learn my lesson the first time). That worked fine for a couple of years until it was time for me to move on.

I needed to pursue my dreams, and living in SWFL and owning a small business was not it. So I sold him my half of the business and headed West. I am proud to say that the business is still alive and kicking, ten years later. (Here.)

A business and life lesson: The two founding partners that "exited themselves" from the business, completely due to ego, gave up a bucket load of financial upside. The company had its best years soon after they left. Business and life lessons do not come cheap, let me tell ya. Hopefully, they learned something.

Before my business career, I played poker professionally for two years during the poker boom. Towards the tail end of that crazy ride, I started my first business, a juice bar inside of LA fitness.

What I've learned working for myself

During my entrepreneurial journey, I've only recently felt like I kinda got a hang on this productivity thing.

The thing to remember is this: I still struggle with productivity.

The other thing to keep in mind is this: I still put in the hours.

I'm always testing and tweaking and trying to figure out my "perfect" productivity routine. When I get bouts of inspiration, I'll fire up a spreadsheet and build my new "perfect" system. This system usually includes neat blocks of time allocated to the various projects I'm working on. I map out my "perfect day" without a minute of waste. I even earmark extra hours for personal time. How could it possibly not work? It's so simple, so beautifully planned out.

It never works.

I soon "regress to my mean," which is a fancy way of saying I return to my average. Through this process, I've tried countless apps, methods, spreadsheets, and notebooks.

I've learned a few things about productivity through this process:

  • There is no perfect routine
  • Less is more
  • Do as little things as possible, and go deep on them
  • You don't need to track every little thing
  • Protect your deep work routine and you can fail at everything else and still win
  • Distractions are toxic
  • Give yourself space
  • Meetings aren't productive
  • Small things that spike dopamine don't matter most of the time

My productivity philosophy now is based on giving myself space and keeping things stupid simple.

Instead of trying to load my day with every possible thing I could do in a 16-hour day, I plan one or two big things only and let my habits (my mean) take care of the rest.

With this new system, I'm trying to implement some of these lessons I've learned over the years, like:

  • Give myself room to let creative chance happen. The more I cram into my routine, the less opportunity there is for inspiration to strike.
  • Remove anxiety that comes from feeling 'unproductive" while working to remove the illusion that every day is supposed to be a bastion of perfection. This isn't healthy, and it gets in the way of doing my best work.
  • I've already proven I can get the easy things done like email, inbox management, etc., so I don't need to worry about those. That's part of my "mean," and it will get done.

A fluid productivity routine

I find that my energy and desires fluctuate. Sometimes I'm not in the mood for specific work, like writing or podcasting. With a fluid routine, it's OK if I record later or skip it altogether. Of course, you can go too far with this, so I still have a studio session programmed into my daily routine as a general rule.

I also plan to write every day, though some days I want to write more, and some days I don't want to write at all. With my previous productivity mindset, if I didn't write—or if I skipped anything I scheduled—I'd get anxiety from feeling unproductive.

A dose of anxiety is good because it keeps you in check. You want to give yourself space, just not too much space. So if I were to go 2-3 days without writing or recording, I'd have a justified problem.

Keep in mind, as I say all this, I'm philosophizing as someone who still puts in the hours. If you've never managed yourself before, ignore all this and focus on your two-hour-a-day Deep Work routine.

Don't be too hard on yourself

I'm working on not being too hard on myself when it comes to my productivity.

I'm working on letting go of the idea that there is a perfect productivity system. And I'm tweaking so I can figure out the best way to manage my energy, motivation, and inspiration while balancing a family and my health.

As Aristotle called it, "The Golden Mean."

It's not an easy thing to figure out.

To illustrate the length I almost went for my productivity, I was this close to buying a Tuff Shed with the goal of decking it out with AC to create the perfect office studio space. This would give me a quiet place to work during the day.

I instead spent the $10,000 on gold and silver.

I write this in 2020, so at the time, that money seemed better spent on bullion considering the FED just printed 7 trillion dollars. Read more about my Plan B and start preparing yours today.

Honestly, the Tuff shed purchase isn't as absurd as it sounds. I might still end up pulling the trigger on one eventually. I'm willing to make this investment because environment is everything for focus and productivity and living in a house with multiple adults and soon to be multiple children is distracting.

I've found some ways to mitigate the distractions around the house, like soundproofing and scheduling certain things during my son's nap, but there are still more distractions and interruptions than I care to admit.

So yes, I'm a big believer in having an office away from home, especially if you have kids.

The too many projects trap

I have too many projects.

If you are getting started, focus on one project.

One YouTube channel or blog or product or business.

One. Not two. Not three. Not 19. One. Not two. Not three. Not 18. One.

The more you take on, the more your productivity will suffer, and the less mental space you'll have for creativity.

I'm drawn to a lot because I varied interests, and I find opportunities in everything. They call it the entrepreneurial curse.

I've read all the books—80/20, The One Thing, Deep Work, Essentialism, and just about every important book in the productivity space.

Yet I still struggle with taking on too many things.

What I need to do

I need to simplify, reduce, and be ok with putting in fewer hours and doing less things.

I need to figure out my 80/20 efforts and be content with putting my best 3-4 hours a day into that 20%. Then be ok with letting other things get minor attention or none at all.

At 35 years of age, I now have to manage my energy. I can no longer work 16 hour days like I could as a 20-something. These days, my creative work takes more out of me, and I get tired earlier than I used to. (I used to work until 4 in the morning like it was nothing. I now get sleepy around 10:30 pm.)

As they say, change is the only constant in the Universe, so you'll have to continuously adapt to getting less young.

Here's my actual schedule:

  • Wake up around 9am
  • Spend 30 or so minutes downstairs with my son
  • Leave and drive to local coffee shop where I do my morning thinking/goals/writing routine
  • After a couple hours, head back home
  • Once I get home, I go immediately to the studio to record for the day.
  • I record then edit.
  • At this point, I might take a meeting or catch up on email or cook my first meal of the day.

My projects

The Ancestral Mind youtube channel, blog, and podcast - This started growing when I doubled down on the "carnivore diet" keyword. I'm now expanding to other topics related to health as the channel grows.

The Escaping Fragility Podcast and YouTube - my new solo show covering whatever I'm interested in. The hardest part of growing this is honing in on searchable topics and keywords. These are easy for me from an energy perspective since I can record videos for days when it's something I've written and/or thought about. That said, there is a lot of busywork on back end—editing, uploading, thumbnails, tags, SEO, etc.

My personal blog Colin.coach - This is also where bring everything together and where I host all my written content.

CEO of Wild Foods - We have a team in Austin of 5 (used to be 35). Our parent company manages other parts of business out of Orlando. My new partners have simplified my role and removed many of the things I used to have to worry about on a daily basis. This is a huge mental burden off my plate, and has freed me up to do more content. It still requires a massive amount time and energy to manage the team and our various projects, but it is much simpler and less frantic than it used to be.

A note about business and focus and founders

I've noticed that the less I think about the business, the more the crew slips and things slow down. The more I focus on the business—think about it, manage it, follow up—the faster things get done.

This is why you here about the importance of focus in business; because a business only grows if there is at least one human 100% focused on it.

When you're a small company, success always comes down to the founder(s). I can't think of a more important metric for a new company than the founders' focus.

Look at Elon Musk and each of his businesses. He's obsessed with working every second.

Steve Jobs single-handedly saved Apple from bankruptcy before proceeding to make it the most successful company in the world.

Other examples include Larry Eliason with Oracle and the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

There are plenty of other examples of this founder phenomenon.

This is what I did for five straight years—I focused 100% of my attention on Wild Foods. My entire net worth—and money I didn't have—was on the line. Year after year, I kept investing more time, energy, pain, torment, and stress.

And it paid off.

We grew from $220 of sales month one to finishing 2015 with over $500,000 in gross sales. We doubled the next year. The year after that, we did $1.5 million. The year after that, we doubled again.

Then we hit a plateau.

That's when I realized I was moving too fast for the business itself. I wanted to launch new products and keep doing new things and the business wasn't ready for it. It was my overactivity that caused our supply chain and cash flow problems.

So an opportunity came back to bring on a partner to take a lot of this off my hands as well as infuse much-needed capital and manpower into the business. It has worked out perfectly.

What I realized is, when you're stuck in the weeds—building email funnels, writing newsletters, testing landing pages, creating ads, etc.—it's easy to lose sight of the broader strategy, direction, and market.

This is why removing myself from certain parts of the business was the best thing for the company. I can now direct my focus on the 20% efforts that will really move the needle.

Personal life Productivity

On top of my work, I manage to stay lean and fit and healthy year-round. I get 8 hours of sleep every night.

I cook most of my meals at home, often for the family.

I exercise each day (I'm lucky to have a home gym) Pic

I get outside each day, ideally in the sun, and take walks with my son.

I read fiction at night and nonfiction during the day. I've read over 100 books a year for the past three years (I believe I'll hit between 50-75. I've slowed down a bit).

I play video games sometimes (much less than I used to). I often watch one one-hour show at night. Lately, I've been skipping it altogether to work or read.

Most of these habits are solidified through years of routine, so I don't have to think about them to maintain them. I just do it.

My productivity schedule

After my studio time, I immediately rip and edit the footage.

I used to split up the editing time and recording sessions, sometimes editing later in the day or on another day. Then projects started piling up, and I was getting behind. So now, I edit right after I record 99% of the time.

This slight change has allowed me to crank out more content in less time. This is the power of systems and constantly tweaking your 80/20 (editing is a 20% activity).

A good thing about recording each day is I'm a few shows ahead, so I can take off anytime I want.

When I first started recording, I was doing too much. I decided to do a daily show, and that lasted for a while until it didn't. So I dialed back gave myself time to find my routine.

By identifying the recording bottleneck and combining it into a single recording and editing session, I've cut my editing time down a lot.

So now I always have a few videos in the queue and I publish 3-4 times a week and it works fine and I don't feel rushed.

It took me taking a step forward then a couple back to hone in on this routine. And that's often what it takes.

How effective are you?

Effectiveness is not something I hear talked about in productivity advice... like ever.

The more effective you are, the more you get done in less time. This frees you up to do more of that thing or move on to something else.

Sometimes I watch other people operate a computer. Maybe they have a few hotkeys down and maybe they can use a mouse kinda fast. Generally, it irks me to watch since it feels so slow and ineffective.

I've built up my computer skills over 20+ years now. As a gamer, hotkeys are a must, so translating that to work was easy.

But most people don't think about this part of productivity. Since we are usually using a computer in our work, knowing how to navigate your respective software tools is paramount to saving time and being productive.

Productivity principle: learn hotkeys and shortcuts and the ins and outs of your software and devices!

Batching

Another simple way to become more effective is batching.

Batching is adding repeatable tasks into a single bucket of time versus doing them one by one at different times.

For example, if I need to create thumbnails for my videos, I might wait until I have 5 videos ready to go. Then I only have to fire up my thumbnail design app once. After I do a couple thumbnails, the rest are that much easier to get done. I reach a mini flow state.

The same can be said for editing, writing, data entry, email, etc.

(And for email, you are MUCH better off if you check your email once or twice a day tops rather than checking it multiple times throughout the day.)

Batching is a powerful, and underused, productivity hack.

Productivity Systems

Thinking in systems will make you better at everything.

Ask yourself this question about everything you can: How can I automate this, outsource this, simplify this, or delete it altogether?

Then build repeatable systems every chance you get.

The more you think in systems, the more opportunities to save time and get more done show. They are everywhere. You just have to look for them with a fresh set of eyes.

Another opportunity you have is to cull anything you aren't really into.

Ask yourself if it's a HELL YES or not. If it's anything but HELL YES, kill it.

That includes good, even great things. Do only what is HELL YES right now. If it's good enough to do later, it'll come back to you.

As I said before, you are always going to do better if you focus on one thing. Especially in the beginning, you have to focus.

I didn't build my personal brand while I was growing Wild Foods. I could have, but I didn't, and the results speak for themselves.

I had a lot of false starts, too. I would go on Instagram with my new "posting schedule" that was theoretically supposed to take no more than 15 minutes a day. This lasted a few days tops.

I did this a handful of times, and each time I did, I realized it wasn't the right time and I wasn't totally into it.

Then things in my business changed that freed up some of my time and mental space. So I doubled down on YouTube and my podcast.

As I gained some traction, I realized I enjoyed creating the content. That led to reactivating my writing habit after it had fallen by the wayside a couple of years ago.

This led to an AHA moment: I realized I enjoyed educating through my personal brand. The key is I needed to enjoy it. I didn't enjoy posting on Instagram as much, so I removed it as a priority.

Since I started focusing on creating content I enjoy, my results have skyrocketed.

Productivity Tools

Here are my indispensable productivity tools I use to get things done.

iPad PRO with the new flip keyboard

The battery life, the simplicity, the apple pencil, and the new cool keyword all make this one of my favorite purchases in a while. When I'm tired but want to be productive, I'll lay down with the iPad and write.

I started adding a second writing and editing session to each day by going downstairs to my office and writing on the iPad in my beanbag chair.

Knowledge and Task Management

I use Notion for almost everything—managing my content database, organizing my projects and things I want to work on, saving articles to read later, etc. It's amazing. It's powerful. It gives you limitless optionality for building things the way you want, so be forewarned if you decide to go down the notion rabbit hole. My advice is to keep things simple.

I have a daily work area in Notion where I read my goals and reminders and then read for 30 minutes. I then write.

We use Asana for Wild Foods for project management. I also use it for personal tasks here and there, especially ones that recur.

I use google calendar for meetings and have become better about making sure I pay attention to my calendar since we started having more remote meetings.

I've become ruthless with email, marking all inbound emails as spam if they are from someone I don't know. I've learned over the years that anything inbound via email is rarely valuable.

I use Boomerang for Gmail to make sure vital emails come back to my inbox. I'd say the number one reason most people suck at email is they don't have an app like that. It's that important.

This is what I tell my team with email: Always assume your emails will be unanswered. So it is on you to make sure you have a follow up scheduled.

I used to be obsessed with inbox zero. I realized it was a false sense of accomplishment. Now I use boomerang aggressively to snooze things for later, and I purposely take my time answering emails.

Another tip: I stopped typing out "Thank you" at the end of each email and instead use "TY." I guesstimate this subtle change will save me hundreds, if not thousands, of hours over my lifetime. (At least until I can stop using email for good.)

For editing, I have my iMac Pro. This is my primary workstation.

Personal productivity hacks

I used to have a mismatched sock drawer. If you think about it, socks are something you put on each day—like underwear—so why expend mental energy trying to find matching socks or future out what's dirty/clean and so on? It makes no sense.

So I found one sock I like and bought four packs. I then got rid of every other sock. So now my sock drawer looks like this:

I can't tell you how good it feels to have ONE sock. It seems like a benign thing, but I promise you it's not.

My god, what a difference. Trust me, do this, and if you can take it to the next level with your clothes, DO IT.

When people promote minimalism, this is what they are getting at. You don't have to own anything, but you shouldn't own more than just enough. Just enough is so fucking blissful.

Your stuff owns you. It's a mental drain. It causes anxiety and requires effort to maintain and consider. Material stuff is a mental ball and chain, and if you've moved a lot as I have, you know it's also a financial and physical ball and chain.

You should have only just enough and nothing more. Then use that extra money you would have wasted on gold, silver, and Bitcoin.‍

Productivity conclusion

Conclusions always suck.

If you need a review of this article, reread it.

I will leave you with a few productivity tips off the top fo my head:

Keep things simple

Constantly remove things, not add

Use recurring reminders for recurring tasks

Figure out a basic inbox GTD system, like asana

Read The One Thing and Deep Work, then try your best to become obsessed with each concept

Do a few big things each day and let your mean take care of the rest

Figure out what your desire and purpose in life is. Without desire and purpose, you won't be able to muster the resolve to build long term habits.

Develop an action bias

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