In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about 9 summertime productivity tactics. As summer gets into full swing and the weather gets nicer, these tactics will help you stay productive all summer long.
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Mike: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about nine summertime productivity tactics. This is Startups For the Rest of Us episode 344.
Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?
Rob: Well, you remember how I was sick last week, over the weekend, I don’t know if it became or developed or if it always was but I basically got strep throat again. I have never had it in my life and then I have had it twice in the past eight months. Both of the times, it has been our six year old’s class, we get an email that’s like strep throats going through our class. My six year old is like a carrier. He doesn’t get it but then I wound up with it both times.
I was wrecked over the weekend, sleeping. Basically, in and out of consciousness and Sherry on Sunday morning was like, “Dude, you have to go to urgent care.” Both times I’m like, “Ugh, it’s such a waste of time. I’m not that sick.” She’s like, “You’re a wreck.” Sure enough I go in and did a test. 10 minutes later, they’re like, “You have strep.”
Mike: That sucks.
Rob: But the good news when you have it is that they give you antibiotics and it fixes you up right away. Within six or seven hours of taking the first pill, I felt quite a bit better and then the next day, you’re up at 60%, 70%. The day after, you’re 80%. It’s a much faster recovery if you can use the antibiotics. That was that. It was a bummer. Half speed this week because of it.
Mike: If you’d only gone in like three or four days in advance.
Rob: I know. When I still felt fine, when I just had a head cold.
Mike: It could be worse. At least you’re starting to get over it now.
Rob: I know. I do feel better and I’m really enjoying the summer. I think it is because we live now in a place that has more broader seasons or more noticeable seasons, but I just don’t remember having this kind of euphoric feeling of like, “I want to be outside all the time.” Right now, I’m actually not sitting in my office. I’m sitting out on a deck overlooking the street, the trees, the breeze, and stuff. I just didn’t used to do that as much because year round in California, you can be outside but there’s just so much going on right now.
It’s an interesting thing. I feel like I’m working a little bit less and I want to work a little bit less but during the time that I’m working, I’m hyper productive, hammered out. Honestly, it felt like a day or a day and a half worth of work the other day in four or five hours. I was just that full race car speed and all the stuff poured out of me. I had this to do list that I expected to take literally multiple days and I just hammered everything out. I think it’s part of this vitamin D and being able to easier exercise and all that.
Mike: One of the things that contributes to that or could contribute to that is the fact that like you said, when you lived in California, it’s almost summer time the year round and our brains act as a difference engine where we are able to notice stark changes but if there’s gradual changes, we don’t notice them nearly as much. That’s probably a contributing factor to how you’re seeing things different in Minnesota versus California.
Rob: For sure. How about you, what’s going on?
Mike: I think last week I talked about how it was probably going to take me at least a week or two to get my self-signup process and I’m probably about halfway done after working about a week on it.
Rob: Why does that take so long? It doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated.
Mike: You wouldn’t think. The issue is that a subscription inside the software was originally tied to a user. What it would do is it would create the subscription first and then create the user. It was just because the way things were built early on and because I’m decoupling that where you have to create the user account first like there’s no backend subscription that it’s tied to. All these other things break because of that. I’m going through it.
I’m kind of hacking things together. There are a lot of things that I’m overlooking and making this blanket assumption that just says, “Look, if you don’t have a subscription ID, then you really don’t have an account. You’re just not going to be able to login,” which makes complete sense. It’s just that there’s that decoupling right now that a ton of code had to change to make that work. Just because database constraints and things like that.
Rob: Got it. You’re not just building a time flow. You are refactoring your data model and then building that. Is that correct?
Rob: That makes sense. We went through a couple of these really early on with Drip and I remember Derek spending like a month and a half twice, at two different times basically trying to decouple things in the data model because we, together, had just made the wrong choice early on. If you’re doing that, that makes sense but I would separate that in your head like, “Alright, this is a necessary refactor,” because that’s going to make everything better long term if you decouple the subscriptions from users. It’s going to give you more flexibility.
We can talk offline. It would be probably boring to talk about it in the podcast but just how we architect it in Drip where you can have a bunch of different users and subscription is the master and then there are accounts which are a separate thing. That’s what’s in the drop down list in the upper right and how they’re all many, many in essence and I guess given us a maximum flexibility to allow agencies to have the flexibility to do what they want and individuals for it not to be too complicated and that stuff.
I’m assuming that’s the direction you’re headed. As long as you have it on the back end, as long as your table structure supports that, you don’t even have to build the code to do it yet but obviously changing the data model later is really time consuming. That’s what you want to do.
Mike: All the stuff and the data model, that’s exactly what I’m dealing with right now. I knew in the longer term that it would be an issue but I kept pushing it off and pushing it off. Now, I have to bite the bullet and just say, “Alright, I got to do something about it.” There are hundreds and hundreds of places where the subscription ID is referenced directly on the user account. It shouldn’t be there. It never should have gone there but I don’t want to go through and make all those changes now because one, it’s time consuming and two, it’s going to be risky, to be honest. I’m pushing some of those things off and refactoring some things and just making that assumption that, “Hey, you have to have a subscription ID in order to log in.”
Rob: And hopefully writing a lot of unit tests.
Mike: I’m definitely adding unit tests to this one.
Rob: Cool. What are we talking about today?
Mike: With the onset of summer, I’m sitting here next to a giant window that looks out into my backyard and I’ve noticed that the day has gotten progressively nicer and nicer. Even in New England, sometimes it just rains right up until early summer. In fact, it was still raining pretty continuously for the last couple of weeks so earlier this week it started to clear up so I’m looking out the window thinking to myself, I’d really like to be outside right now.
I thought it would be nice to go through some summer productivity tactics that people can keep in mind. I realize this is only applicable to probably half of the world because people on the other hemisphere are going into winter at this point but at the same time, these types of tactics you’re going to apply as you’re going into summer whether that’s now or in six months.
Rob: Sounds good. We have nine summertime productivity tactics. Let’s dive in.
Mike: The first one is time box your day. Essentially what this is is putting a hard stop on the end of your day so that you know that at some point, you’ve looked at the clock and you know what that time that’s going to be, that’s the end of your work day. This is I think especially important for people who work from home or out of a home office and have a lot of more flexibility and can find themselves in a situation where they’re working extended hours because they really want to get something done.
The idea here is really just put that hard stop on the end of your day. I think this is a general tip that is a good practice to follow but I think it’s more important in the summer time especially when you’re looking out the window and there’s this draw to go outside just because it’s nice out and you really don’t want to be spending the time in front of your computer.
Rob: I think it’s important to do this and I think if you have flexibility with your schedule, that cuts both ways. It’s as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Probably the best way I found to approach it is to think of the day in three chunks, three four to six hour chunks. There’s your morning, there’s your afternoon, early evening, and then there is your evening or late night.
I don’t like to work three of those in a row. You can work up to two in a row. To be honest, when I was younger, when I was in my 20s, I was a momentum player. I would love to do these long, 15 hour sometimes longer work days and then take the next day off. I don’t so much enjoy that anymore and you have to be doing some pretty specific tasks in order to do that. I used to be able to write code like that for an extended period of time but you can’t be creative for that long. You just don’t have the juices.
Nowadays, I think I can work any two in a row and then I need to take the third off. If I work afternoon, evening, I’ll take the morning off. I don’t do that as much anymore now that we have more of a normal schedule. But you get the idea here. I think that time boxing your work day and getting the maximum productivity out of let’s say the four to eight hours that you’re going to work in a row, which is what I recommend, I know a lot of founders who work for four to six hours a day and get a ton done.
I think if you actually think about what your day looks like, if you’re sitting at your desk for eight or nine hours, if you’re really hammering it, you could probably get all that done if you didn’t have any distractions and minimal interruptions and you just went full force with the music and the caffeine and just went in the zone for a good solid four hours. You can get as much done as you can in a full day of screwing around. Time boxing is something I definitely believe in.
Mike: The second one on this list which probably should have been first was to keep what’s working. Really what that means is don’t throw away all the productivity tactics and hacks that you’ve put together over past the six months to a year because it’s summer time. If you got those to the point where they were working for you, whether that’s getting up early, or taking a break at 11:00AM for an hour, or taking an early lunch, things like that, if you find that those particular things are working for you and have worked for you, don’t just immediately throw them away because it’s summer time.
There are situations where really readjusting your schedule and doing a complete overhaul on it are warranted but I wouldn’t say that going into summer is one of those things. You can play around with things, experiment a little bit, but I wouldn’t make such a drastic change unless there were some major reasons for doing that. Like you’ve got into a car accident and you’re on crutches for a while or something like that. You don’t have that with the summer time coming.
Rob: The third tactic is to take outdoor breaks. Maybe you’re eating lunch outside, maybe go for a walk before or after lunch or an early afternoon when you start to get tired. Early afternoon, it’s a tough spot coming back into work. You can use this time to think about hard problems while enjoying the weather and getting some vitamin D.
To give an example of this, this morning, I was sitting outside. I was drinking coffee. I was thinking about stuff. I did a little bit of email. I responded to everybody’s Slack messages and then I had a hard problem that I wanted to think through so I hopped on my bike and I rode around this lake that’s right near us. It’s called Lake Harriet. Literally, from the time I jumped on the bike until the time I got back into the garage, it was like 20 minutes, maybe 25 minutes but it was a perfect amount of time for me to think through this issue and it was very much like when you have major epiphanies when you’re in the shower, when you’re doing dishes. Bike riding is the same for me.
It could be walking. It could be running. It could be whatever but just being outside for those few moments really kicked my day off in the right fashion. By the time it was 10:00AM, I was highly motivated to come back and just hammer out a bunch of stuff that I had to get done.
Mike: I remember when I used to work at a pedestal software. One of the things that we would do, the guys that I’ve worked with on my part of the engineering team, we basically take a walk around. There is this interloop inside the office campus that we’re at and every day after lunch, we would just take a couple of laps around that and just talk about some of the different things we were working on and it was really nice and motivational to have that time not just to get the outdoor time but also to talk about the things that we were working on. It was almost like a mini meeting but we were getting that a little bit more of a creative spark by being outdoors.
The fourth tactic is to change your working hours. Some companies refer to this as summer hours but I think that there are a lot of different variations that you can put on to this tactic. The first variation is two four day work weeks. You can take Wednesdays off or Fridays off. Most companies will take a half day on Friday but you can also do other things. You could say, “We’re going to do six hour work days instead of eight hour work days.” And then you do that every single day of the week.
Or you can shift your schedule a little bit and get up and start working at 6:00AM and you can be done by 3:00PM or 4:00PM or just start later and end earlier. There are a lot of different ways to play around with the schedule but just shifting your schedule a little bit to give yourself more time during the summer to enjoy the summer, all that’s going to be very helpful and beneficial for your motivation.
Rob: If you’re in control of your schedule, if you’re founder, you have flexibility, now is the time to do it. Now is the time to take that extra day off to shorten your days. You’re not going to regret it. I guess that’s what I’ll say. It always sounds scary to think about changing your work schedule and that you’re not going to get as much done or you’re competitor is going to catch you or whatever, it’s pretty unlikely.
You can always change. Try it for two weeks, maybe a month, somewhere in that range and just commit to doing it even if it feels weird, even if you don’t love it, commit to doing that and then figure out if you actually are enjoying the summer more.
The thing is you need to figure out something to do with that time. The hard thing is if you work for four or six hours and you say, “Alright, I’m not going to work.” You have to now go ride a bike. You have to start playing the guitar. You have to go paddle boarding. You have to fill that time with something. Otherwise, we all naturally will revert back to working. Fill it with a hobby or exercise or something so that work doesn’t constantly pull you back to the laptop every time you see it.
Mike: There are other things to keep in mind when you’re doing that is that that time is really spent rejuvenating your mind and mental energy. It’s not as if you are at a dead stop at that point. It’s like you’re really recharging your batteries. This analogy came to me the other day where if you’re doing a cross country trip and you need to maintain an average of 50 miles an hour, if you stop for four hours, your average speed at that point is zero. But the reality is you are allowing yourself to be able to move faster in the work context when you take those breaks.
If you do those in the middle of the day, you’re going to be able to move faster and make better progress while you’re working versus having your progress decrease over time throughout the course of the day so that by the end of it, you’re only operating at 10% or 20%, when if you took a break in the middle, you’d probably be able to get yourself back up to 70% or 80%. It’s really just a balancing act and being able to rejuvenate yourself as part of that time that you’re taking off.
The fifth summer productivity tactic is to schedule your vacation time. I think this is something that most people will probably have done quite a bit of by now. Like we plan our family vacation probably six months in advance so around January or February time frame but these are the types of things that allow you to get out of the office for an extended period of time. It’s not just the weekend or a couple of days in the middle of the week. Usually, you want to take several days off in a row in addition to the weekend. We try to take at least a week off. If we can do more, we will, but it really depends on what other things are going on.
Now that my wife owns a business and I own my own business, it makes the scheduling a little bit more difficult just because of all the different things that are going on. You really want to be able to take these times and schedule those vacations with everybody so that everybody can just enjoy the time off.
Rob: Our sixth tactic is to learn something new. This goes along with what I said earlier about learning to fill this extra time that you’re going to eek out of your day. Learning something new obviously can be motivational, so consider spending some time this summer learning a new skill that you can put to a good use during the summer. Later on learn to play the guitar and then you could play now on the outdoor patio and the during the winter when everyone is sad and it’s dark and cold, you can sit inside and play. Or again, pick up paddle boarding or get a bike.
About a year ago, when we moved into Minneapolis, we’re near some lakes, Sherry bought two stand up paddle boards and within a couple weeks of us getting here, I’ve actually quite literally picked up the guitar again. I used to play all the time. I was in a couple of bands years ago. I’ve been picking it up lately and just learning new songs. It’s been fun.
I actually got a road bike. I’ve had a comfort bike for a long time but these things are so heavy and I’ve been riding back and forth because there’s bike trails basically from my house to work. It’s about a 25 or 30 minute ride. My big comfort bike was so heavy that it’s taken like 45 minutes because I just couldn’t get the big ol’ steel frame going fast enough.
Sure enough I talked to Anne on the Drip team. She’s big time into cycling. She gave me some recommendations. I got a really nice road bike off Amazon for $550. I say it’s really nice. For me, it’s really nice. It’s an entry level road bike but this thing is awesome. It’s super light and it feels like a kind of a neat little new hobby to be able to ride this bike around.
That’s what I’m saying. Like this morning, I actually don’t like exercise. It’s not something I enjoy. I’m not into it. People say, “My day is a wreck without exercise.” Mine is not so I have to force myself to do it. I used to play sports in college and what I liked about that is it forced me to exercise basically. I loved being around the team and I love the competition. I didn’t actually love the physical exertion. It’s just not something that I naturally need.
Having a bike around or this lake or just some outlet has been this excuse for me to get outside, move around, get the endorphins pumping and staying in some kind of shape. Of course summer is the time to do that right after several months of being indoors during the winter.
Mike: Instead of taking 40 minutes to get to work, it only takes you 38 because you’re old, right?
Rob: Yeah, exactly. Nice one. No, I get there in about 25 on a good day and 30 if I’m taking it easy. It works out nicely. Given that the ride is about 25. My drive to work is like 16, 17 minutes with no traffic but on the drive home, it’s 25 to 30 with traffic so it’s essentially equal but I get the exercise out of it so it’s pretty fun.
Mike: The seventh tactic on our list is to schedule fun time. This could be specifically summer fun time or something that you dedicate time to on a regular basis. One of the things that I enjoyed doing lately is there is a local meet up where they play board games. I’ll go there on Friday nights but during the summer, you have a lot more options so whether that’s riding your bike.
We have a pool as well so our kids love going swimming in the pool pretty much all year long. Right now, it’s kind of cold. It’s probably mid 60’s right now, pretty close to 70 I think in terms of the pool water. But as the summer marches on, it’s just going to get warmer and we have a pool cover. It’s going to be nice to be able to go out there and just hang out by the pool for a little while. We typically have friends over on the weekends, most weekends I’d say, but there are also times where they’ll just come over in the middle of the week because it’s summer vacation so the kids don’t have school. They just come over and do their thing. It’s nice to be able to sit there and just take the time in and enjoy the nice weather outside. That is essentially scheduled fun time at that point.
Rob: I think doing something at least once a week is a good way to think about it and a good way to map it out. In the past couple of weeks, some things that I’ve done is during my work day the other afternoon, on one of the work from home days, I went to this super cool coffee shop. I got some iced coffee. Normally, my afternoons are not as productive as my mornings but this afternoon, it was. It’s that new environment where it inspires creativity or there is something about the chaos of being in a new place and of course getting lightly caffeinated in the afternoon was great.
We have been going to, there are these outdoor concerts at the Lake Harriet band shell here near our house. There’s like five nights a week of different bands. There are cover bands. There was a Beatles cover band. There are drum circles and all kinds of stuff so we’ve been riding over there. It’s about a five, seven minute bike ride so we’ve been taking the kids after school. We’ve been swimming in the lake, that kind of stuff.
It’s like having one or two of those a week to look forward to as a family. We’re also doing Monday night is family movie night and we’re watching movies about historical things of like people doing hard things, overcoming hard things. We watch Hidden Figures, about the African American women in NASA, we watched Apollo 13, that kind of stuff. People struggling. It’s like lessons for the kids but it’s also good films that we want to see.
Getting some stuff, this is also good to do in winter, to be honest. We were doing some of these things especially the indoor things in winter just to have something to look forward to each week but it’s definitely time to up your fun game.
The eighth tactic is to revisit your annual goals. We’re getting close to the midway point of the year and you want to revisit them now so that in September, you don’t have to cram six months of work into three or four months. In fact Mike, you and I should maybe, just at the beginning of next episode, do a little touch base about where we stand with the goals that we set forth last December.
Rob: This is a good time to do it and you’ll either find yourself well ahead of schedule or you will remind yourself that you are not actually exercising twice a week or that you’re way ahead. It’s always good to reflect on these every couple of months and summer is a good time to do it.
Mike: Yeah, I’m definitely a little bit behind on my exercise schedule but part of it is due to my shoulder being out of commission for the past six months.
Rob: Mike, Mike, Mike, oh man.
Mike: I know. I’ll get there. I’m not too far behind but it could be worse. Anyway, back to our list, number nine is to allow for cheat days. Essentially what you’re doing with a cheat day is giving yourself permission to just throw in the towel on any given day for whatever reason you feel like and just walk away and do anything that you want at that point. Really, the idea here is setting up those rules in advance so that you don’t feel guilty about taking that time off.
If you’ve already given yourself permission to take time off whenever you feel like it because something came up that you just want to go do, whether that’s just going to see a movie in the middle of the day or going out running for example, if you have like a nature trail nearby, you want to go run through the woods or if there’s a hiking trail, you can do that as well. Go to a pool. Go to a basketball court, anything along those lines.
The bottom line here is just giving yourself that ability to do those types of things in the middle of the day and just call it quits on the day without feeling guilty about it. That’s a huge piece of this.
Rob: Is the gist of this episode that we’re telling people not to work during the summer?
Mike: I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to go that far. I think that looking around, what I’ve seen historically over the past couple of years is that business for people like you and me, it feels like it ramps down a little bit during the summer time. It doesn’t seem like things are picking up. It’s not like the beginning of the year or after summer time where things are really picking up and the pace is hectic. It feels to me like this schedule seems to be much more dialed back in the middle of July for example.
Same thing happens for a lot of businesses, second or third week of December. The businesses, they don’t do a lot, at least not our types of businesses. The demands are a lot less pressing and you can take it easy. I think that it’s a good time to recharge your batteries and not put the pedal to the metal because you don’t have to. There’s no real driving force to make you do it. Everybody needs a little bit of time off.
Rob: It’s interesting that the advice of only working let’s say six hour days, I actually think that for a lot of people, that would be better year round. That you would actually get more done with more focus time if you time box your day, if you got out and did some exercises instead of sitting in front of your computer for another hour clicking around on social media or doing whatever you’re doing when you’re getting distracted. This is stuff that can apply if used well. It can apply and actually improve your productivity in a counter intuitive way, meaning working shorter days. I believe you can actually get more done because you can be so focused about it.
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