Being productive is hard.
I've been doing this entrepreneur thing for 13 years now and only recently felt somewhat dialed in with my productivity routine.
Here are a few things I've learned over the years, as well as some things I'm still working on:
1. You need a way to capture ideas and to-dos - use a basic inbox system that you will process daily.
This could be a GTD app, one with an inbox, or something like the Drafts app for quick idea capturing. You could use your email, but that is not ideal if you aren't on top of your email game.
Note on email: I used to email myself notes as an inbox since I knew I would always process my email by day's end, but I no longer do this because I've tried to get OUT of my inbox as much as possible.
When it comes to email, answer slowly and only within a decided-upon window. Don't be the type that lives inside your inbox. All that will do is increase the number of emails you send and receive while getting the same amount (or less) done.
I now use Asana as my primary GTD software.
3. You need to choose and stick to a productivity solution—ideally based on the Getting Things Done method.
Make sure you use due dates and assign follow-ups or recurring reminders to checkup on things.In business, where you have to coordinate with other people to get things done, your ability to follow up with others is a superpower. It's annoying, but it is unavoidable. People need accountability to get things done. Otherwise, you let your results default to the average speed and attention that most people give most things. As someone that wants to get things done in the short time I have here, this is not acceptable. So I'm aggressive with my emails and phone calls, and status update requests.Employees, manufacturers, shipping companies, you name it, if you don't stick on them like a barnacle, they will move at a snail's pace.This is where the GTD method comes in beautifully. By using reminders and due dates and a religious inbox processing routine, I am always on top of things.The key is to make sure you always process your inbox, and you use dates. This will keep you miles ahead of people.
4. A must-have tool for email is Boomerang for gmail or Mixmax
It's unfortunate, but I tell my employees all the time that they will have to do other people's job for them.As an entrepreneur, speed and execution are my bedfellows. For most employees working at an organization, their incentives do not align with my own. Most employees move at an average pace, and few go out of their way to garner business or get things done quickly.Few people in organizations are incentivized or interested in speed of execution. There are many reasons for this, but it's a reality that I long ago accepted (even though it still boggles my mind from time to time).If you are in sales, marketing, or anything that requires results, your single greatest skill is your ability to follow-up.
5. I use Asana. So does my team
I tried Todoist for a while but didn't like it. We were still using Asana for business, so I decided to bring it all under one roof. That said, I do have a separate workspace for my personal projects. I tried mixing the two, and that's a bad idea.
When I'm wearing the CEO hat vs a creative hat for writing for filming a video, my mental state is at different ends of the mental spectrum. Don't mix them.
6. Use subtasks as checklists
When you create a project with multiple steps, brain dump every subtask you can think of. Since humans can only comprehend a linear understanding of most things, any complexity increases the chances your team will execute effectively and on time. Confusion always slows things down.
7. Respect your system
Make changes as they come up, but be careful with changing things too often.The newest app or gadget always promises a better workflow, but I've found that most of the time, they are not needed, or worse, can ruin your entire routine.Be very careful with adding new steps/complexity to your system.Keep things simple. When you have your system down as a habit, based on first principles, you can tweak here and there.
8. Avoid sorting and resorting lists
I've been bad at this. It feels good to sort things as if that itself is making progress. It's not.
9. Use due dates and your calendar to offload items from your mind and/or from your To-Do list
This is a valuable strategy for helping you focus and getting distractions out of your line of sight. It's one of the core tenants of the GTD method.
More than anything else, you must commit to your system and routine. Nothing else matters if you can't show up and do the work.
A solid morning work routine is a great place to focus on. Get that down, and it will serve as the foundation for everything you do.
Here's my routine:1. Morning routine of: Reading/Thinking/Goal setting/Reviewing/PlanningThis is my favorite work time of the day. I do this routine on my iPad, which I find helps me focus since I'm missing the ease of distraction that comes easier on my Macbook.
I've reactivated my daily writing habit in 2020, and I'm fucking thrilled about it.
It's become integral to my morning routine and planning content, organizing my thoughts, and otherwise getting more done each day.
What I found about my daily writing practice is it's a release. It allows me to batch my creative projects. When I write, my content then becomes one or more of the following: a blog post, email newsletter, video script, social posts, LinkedIn post, etc.
3. Choose my #1 ThingThis is based on Gary Keller's book The One Thing.The simple idea here is to pick one important thing each day and knock it out.This is harder than it sounds. I'm still working on getting good at this.Sometimes it's hard to identify the #1 thing because I have so many things to do. Those easy tasks that give you a dopamine spike when you mark them off are usually not #1 Thing candidates because they don't move the needle all that much.Avoiding those small tasks for the big, often hard, ones is what the #1 Thing philosophy is all about. Read the book. Read it 5 times. Then practice.4. Shallow work.My current aim is to keep all my shallow work inside this window. I still sometimes check email later in the day. The occasional text or phone call slips through. But those have become fewer as I've built systems and expectations with my team.After I complete this shallow work window, I turn my phone off and become unavailable until the next shallow work session. This is also known as batching. Batching interruption-based work, like slack, email, texts, is the first thing you have to do if you want to do great work.It is that important.Slack, emails, and texts have a tendency to suck you into the vortex of "manager" work. This pulls me away from "maker" work, what Cal Newport calls, "Deep Work."My deep work is always a form of creation—recording, writing, editing—and I feel my most productive when I'm exercising this muscle regularly.Read this article by Paul Graham on the difference between the maker schedule and the manager schedule. He is so right about meetings; btw, it can ruin an entire day of creative work. Meetings are jarring, sap energy, and are a huge distraction that all take away from creative work.6. Recording and Editing SessionThis is my daily 1-2 hour creative deep work session in my studio. This might only last 1 or 2 hours, sometimes even 30 minutes. But it always feels the most draining.That's good. That's a sign that I'm doing deep work that matters.My goal during this time is to record 1x piece of content, and if I have enough time, get it edited and completed.
My single greatest bit of advice for productivity is this: build a setup that allows you to do uninterrupted, distraction-free work every single day.
Time for a break.7. After that, I usually spend time with fam and eat my first meal (IF IS WINNING!)8. I often do a later work session of shallower work like research, learning, reading, etc.I used to get more of my Deep Work done at night, but since having our first child, I have less energy at night and tend to wake up earlier. So I had to shift my schedule for deep work. This is as important as your workspace setup: you must manage your time of day and energy levels.
A final note on environment
We recently moved to the country, about 45 minutes outside of Austin. We did this for a few personal reasons.
As it relates to my productivity, I wanted a simpler life with less options and thus less distraction.
A bustling city like Austin has myriad distractions, from people to restaurants to movies to events to shopping, etc.
I have found the sheer volume of options to be a distraction for my creative mind. They are a form of Resistance, as coined by David Pressfield in War of Art.
So part of getting outside the city was the mental calm that comes with fewer options.Did it work?Yup… though not perfect.Since moving to 10 acres in the country, I've increased my output and dialed my schedule.But I've still run into snags.I'm still figuring out optimal schedules and desk placements.For example, my downstairs studio pickups a lot of sound from the rest of the house. My room is mostly quiet, but Allison likes to use my bed to watch TV and relax, and often Darrow comes with her. This turns into a distraction.So I'm still working on my workspaces and getting them dialed in. Investing in sound panels and soundproofing as much as I can has helped a bit.If I wanted to, I could build an external workshop to solve these issues, but I'm not there yet. I do have plans for that in the near future.