In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about how to plan for better productivity. Based on a blog post by Noah Kagan, they discuss some different tactics including organizing time by energy level and value.
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Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about planning for better productivity. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode 361. 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. Rob, I’m back, your coup failed.
Rob: Aw man, I was going to ask if you listened to the episode last week. That’s funny. Did you listen to it or did someone…
Rob: You made it back. I figured I’d exiled you and this is my show now.
Mike: No, you know what, it’s funny because for whatever reason, it reminded me of the very first Micro Conf that we ran and the survey that I sent out afterwards. I don’t know if you remember this but the last question on the survey was who’d win in an arm wrestling match, Mike or Rob?
Rob: I don’t remember that.
Mike: You don’t remember that? 75% said that you would go down.
Rob: I would go down, yeah, well that makes sense. What do you think of the episode?
Mike: It was good. It’s probably always awkward to record something completely by yourself. I’ve listened to podcasts before where it’s just one person talking but I think there’s a lot to do with delivering content. Sometimes, it works out really well, sometimes it doesn’t. I think it depends a lot on whether or not the topic or the content resonates with you, and then there’s also the appeal of listening to the person who’s speaking.
Rob: Right. I did realize that I talk fast normally, but for some reason when there’s no one else on the podcast, I talk even faster. I just string the sentences together. I was listening to it at 1.5 speed and I was like whoa, you need to pause, dude, you need to have some space between the sentences.
Mike: Well, that actually also plays into when people are doing public speaking, they get excited and nervous. People tend to talk fast when that’s the case. But people, I’ve noticed, also talk fast when they are extremely knowledgeable about a particular topic because they want to get everything out as much as they possibly can.
Rob: Yeah, it’s like excitement and passion for this stuff.
Rob: That’s cool. Good, I’m glad you enjoyed it. What else is going on this week?
Mike: I’m in the middle of finishing up implementing [OWAF 00:02:20] inside of Bluetick in an effort to basically streamline the onboarding process because right now when somebody signs up, the first thing you have to do before anything else is set up a mailbox. If you’re using Gmail, it can be problematic at best. I’ve been getting on a call and essentially walking people through manually. It sucks. It’s not just that it sucks because I have to talk to them, the problem is that sometimes it doesn’t always work or you have to go into admin settings or each situation can be different based on how your G-suite account is set up or what admin settings are and which ones aren’t set.
It can be very difficult to figure out, and users will probably never be able to figure it out on their own. I’ve had a few go through and have no problems, but then there’s ones where settings were all over the place or they’re not an admin and the [OWAF] should just completely get rid of all of those things and just take care of it.
Rob: That would be really nice. That sounds like a nightmare when you talk on the phone like that, you can’t just have a single KB article or some type of walk through and you got to almost trouble shoot it, custom consulting just to get on boarded is pretty rough.
Mike: I do have a KB article for it. If I were to print it out, it’s probably five or six pages, which sucks. You can go through it, but I’d rather the person not have to. If that’s their first experience with it, it’s not a great experience. I really try to avoid that. Plus, I’ve had people who even I couldn’t get them on boarded because it just did not work. We couldn’t figure out what the settings was. Things worked for a little bit, and then Google has this algorithm in the background that if they think that it is hacks, it will just block access. You got to be kidding me, but [OWAFs 00:03:55] gets around that kind of stuff.
I’ve got it mostly working right now, mostly just going through some testing and making it so people can convert their existing mailbox over to using [OWAFs 00:04:05] instead of the app passwords that they have to use right now. But yeah, open to employ that out in the next couple of days and move on because that’s just been a nightmare.
Rob: It’s one of the few cases where you may actually have a silver bullet. Most of the time, it’s like oh, this is still not going to solve it. But if it actually does, that’s a big deal.
Cool, well I want to talk about MicroConf. We have save the dates for MicroConf Started Edition and Growth Edition next April in Las Vegas. Tickets are going to be available in the next few weeks. Mark your calendars now for Growth Edition is April 23rd and 24th, it’s a Monday, Tuesday. Of course, we have the Sunday evening reception on the 22nd. Started Edition follows that, much like last year, it is April 25th and 26th. If you are interested in hanging out with a couple hundred successful or aspiring to be successful bootstrap, startup founders, you can get on the mailing list at microconf.com. Historically, MicroConf has sold out pretty quickly. You will want to be on that mailing list if you want to get the first grab at tickets. In addition, MicroConf Europe is happening here in about five weeks in Lisbon, Portugal. Tickets are still available for that, microconfeurope.com.
Other than that, in terms of work, we’re doing a lot of scaling stuff. We have gotten out ahead, it’s so nice. Remember how several weeks ago I was talking about how cues and scaling were just a big issue. They’re perpetually going to be a big issue but we’re well out ahead of them now, it just feels like you have breathing room. Basically, I put together, it’s called a platform engineering team. It’s people, they’re just going to be working constantly on the scaling now.
Typically, every four to six months, we would turn our attention to it and then we go back to building features. It’s at the point now where we just have a staff of—it depends how urgent it is—between five and eight engineers who are just constantly going to be looking at how to 2X this and how to 5X this. We’re doing a chunk of it in a sprint for Black Friday, even though our volume is historically not gone up that much on Black Friday, we do just want to make sure that we can send emails very quickly. I think the other day, they 2X or 3X our email throughput with three, four weeks of work. They re architect something and they decoupled something, doing something asynchronous. You just slowly make those wins, that’s a big one. If they can 2X or 3X it again, we will be sitting pretty even based on our most pessimistic estimates of the volume that we’ll need to send.
Mike: That’s awesome. Sounds like things are firing on most, if not all, cylinders at this point.
Rob: Yup, it is good. It will be nice to get past that. We’re still working on features but we definitely have slowed feature development just a tad in order to make sure that we’re well equipped for it and then got some good stuff cooking for the end of the year.
Mike: Very cool.
Rob: What are we talking about today?
Mike: Speaking of optimization, we’re going to be talking about planning for better productivity. This episode is based off of an article that I read over on Noah Kagan’s blog at okdork.com, we’ll link it up in the show notes. It was a series of time management tips. We talk about time management tips a couple of times on this podcast but we haven’t gone in depth into anything in probably 100, 150 episodes or so. I’ve went back and made sure that we hadn’t done that recently.
I wanted to take some time and dig into a process that he outlines on this blogpost because the title of the blogpost is Time Management, Tips of Insanely Busy People. Because of a lot of the things I’m doing, more or less juggling back and forth between all these different activities for Bluetick, it’s been difficult to prioritize things properly and make sure that I’m spending enough time in a way that allows me to move forward in every direction as opposed to making too much progress in one direction and not enough process in others.
I took the time to actually read through this and start applying some things already. So far, this week, it’s actually worked out really well. I’m getting up early and reprioritized when I do certain things. What its helped me do is essentially helped me put myself in a position where I make time for the important stuff and then rearranged the time where I’m making poor decisions or my glucose levels are low and not able to make good decisions and push that off to times where I know that that’s more of a recovery time for example.
We’re going to go through this. The thing that jumped out at me the most in this particular article is that there was a line in there that said success is fundamentally about how you spend your time. If you think about it, conceptually, if all of us had the same amount of time in the day but some people are much more successful or much more productive than other people. Kind of want to take a look at this to see if there are ways that I can apply some of the stuff that we learned and wanted to share some of that stuff.
Rob: Indeed, let’s dive in.
Mike: The first thing that comes out of this article is the recommendation to list all of the different categories of work that you need done. There’s a screenshot in this article where he’d list out all the different activities that he does into the different categories. He’s got green for gym, salmon color for Sumo work, purple for podcast planning, recording, and brainstorming, and then he has grey for growth or learning or consuming, whether that’s reading, or podcast, or whatever. Then, red is all sorts of random stuff that he likes to do. His calendar is—I won’t say it’s completely full—but there’s a lot of places where there are areas of time that are blocked off for these different activities.
The basic idea here is to figure out what things you need to be doing and then categorize them and figure out what times of the day that you are spending time on those things. If you have five different things that you need to be spending your time on, are you actually spending the time there and what times of the day or what days of the week are you spending the time?
Categories might be marketing, engineering, or support. Another category might be your downtime, rest or recovery time, which is really winding down for the evening. That’s the way I look at it. Shutting down your computer at 7:00PM or 8:00PM to put you in a position where you can actually go to sleep at night.
Rob: Yeah, I think this is an interesting exercise to do. I’ve never thought—you have work in quotes, a list of categories of “work” you need to get done because you include sleep and social time and exercise. I think it is good to think about those things as something that you have to have on your calendar because although we don’t think of sleep as being a form of productivity, it’s something that allows you to be productive the next day.
I’ve never calendared something this specifically, I have done time blocking during the day where I’ve blocked out tasks to work on whatever it is, writing, or eating. I’ll put lunch in there or obviously meetings are time blocked, but I haven’t gone outside of my 9:00 to 5:00 schedule. I don’t time block stuff in the morning or after work. I don’t know that I would do that permanently, but I do think it could be an interesting experiment. It kind of reminds me of I don’t have a personal budget, but I did at one point. I tracked it for a couple of months and it gave me a decent sense of what we were spending. That allows me to have a ball park now.
That’s what I feel this would do, I wouldn’t want everything time boxed all the time but I do think doing this one or two weeks could give you a better idea about where you’re slipping and give you the discipline, that reminder dings and it says which task, that if you’re not getting stuff done, either you’re not giving yourself enough time, you’re not realistic enough about estimates, or maybe you’re getting distracted and it can be a reminder to get back on task. I like the discipline and just the idea of tracking everything for a period of time just to see what it actually looks like on your calendar and how it feels to work like that.
Mike: One of the things that I found when I was going through this was something that I haven’t done for a while now. Pay more attention or pay enough attention to exercising and going to the gym. Part of that was because my shoulder was all messed up for a while, but I also recognized that when the end of the day came along, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 at night, I lost the decision making ability to actually go to the gym. I would think about it and I would say no because I didn’t have the willpower to actually go to the gym at one point. It’s like I’ve been making decisions all day long, some of them were very difficult, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I think that a lot of people fall into that category, and I’ve done this myself in the past where after a hard day at work, you come home, you eat dinner, and then you sit on the couch and watch TV, but then you also snack which is a universal problem almost but you’ll sit there with popcorn or potato chips or something like that and you’ll veg out in front of the TV. You can’t stop yourself from eating those potato chips or the popcorn or whatever, and it’s because you don’t have any decision making capabilities left, you’ve lost the willpower.
What I do for example was I switched my schedule around and I put gym very first thing in the morning. The past four days, I’ve gotten up somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning and gone to the gym which is not normal for me. I do not do that, but I’ve actually found it very easy to get up and go to the gym first thing in the morning just because it’s the first thing I have to do. I’ve had a decent length of sleep, go to the gym, and it’s hard to discount going to the gym that early because I’ve made no other choices at that point.
Rob: Wow, that’s impressive. I have heard that exact thing that you slowly lose willpower during the day and that’s why midnight snacking and making poor decisions, buying things on Amazon late at night or whatever, are so much more common than when you have the energy.
It’s interesting, a big part of this I think is knowing yourself and how you work. There are certain times of the day where you are going to be more productive. The majority of people are most productive in the morning when you’re fresh. I find that I get a second wind often around 10:00PM and I used to work from 10:00PM to 2:00AM was when I’m ultra productive, like in college, at that time. That’s when I would do all my homework. And then even when I got out, I would write a lot of code when I was consulting and didn’t need to be in a day job, I would write a lot of my best code at night.
Over time though, having kids wrecks that. I learned to try to adjust back to mornings. I do think that knowing what constraints you have and knowing your own personal body clock is another big thing that you’re going to want to know before you start putting things on the calendar during the day.
Mike: One thing you mentioned there was doing code late at night and getting that second wind. I can do that as well but for whatever reason, you’re walking out the door and going to the gym at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 at night, that takes a lot more effort and willpower for me to do it than sitting down and coding does.
Rob: I agree. I’m on the same boat.
Mike: I think that it’s partly because of how interested you are in what it is that you are trying to get as a goal. I think there’s a lot of things that factor into that, but I recognize that I was not going to the gym and it was because I was pushing it off until later in the day. I didn’t have the willpower to make that decision anymore. It really helped.
Rob: I’m actually reading a book right now called Sleep Smarter, 21 Essential Strategies for Better Sleep, or something like that. In it, he talks about how they’ve done studies and that exercising in the evening is actually not good, that it amplifies stuff and it can negatively impact your sleep. Some people say I exercise in the evening, it makes me tired and then I go to sleep, but the studies have shown that that doesn’t tend to be the case in general so it is actually better to work out—I think he said no caffeine after 2:00PM in general, and you get the most sleep benefit if you worked out in the morning. If you worked out in the afternoon, it was a wash. Then if you worked out in the evening, it was a detractor to your quality of sleep, so something else to keep in mind.
Mike: Let’s move on so we can get into some of the different experiments that Noah had gone through in this article. The next step is after you’ve listed all the different categories of where you think you should be spending your time, your ideal workload for the week, then track how much time you’re actually spending in these areas. It’s very easy to put yourself in a situation where you think that you’re spending an hour on something and you actually spend two, or three, or four because one we’re not very good at estimating our time, but two we’re also not very good at looking back retroactively on oh, how much time was it that I spent on that yesterday? Unless you’re tracking it right at that point, it’s very easy to mis-estimate how much time you’ve spent on something.
Rob: Mis-estimate? Remember that bushism, mis-underestimate? That was good.
Rob: I think it’s really easy to go through your day on autopilot, and especially with ADHD inducing tools like Slack or Twitter or Reddit, if those are your jam. Even your email inbox. You can just wonder from thing to thing, checking them every 10 minutes, and that could be your whole day and you never get anything done. I think this entire thought process is a way to help you not do that and also looking at a calendar and actually slapping an hour on something and saying I only have an hour to do that, it’s a great way to force yourself to get stuff done and to focus. I think especially, I would pair this with my most productive times of day, I would pair it with a small amount of carefully titrated caffeine, I would have a playlist like deep focus or I have some punk playlist that I put on loop. I think that is the way you’re going to eek out the maximum productivity, but it’s the first step here as you’ve just said, becoming aware of where you are spending your time versus where you think you’re spending your time.
Mike: That’s exactly right. Once you have figured out where you are actually spending your time, you start to compare it against what your ideal time would look like so that you can analyze that and figure out where you need to make adjustments in order to improve it.
The first experiment that Noah had done was he went through and organized his time by what he called energy level. There were a couple of different things that he classified some of the work as. He has manager time, maker time, which he was talking about on this podcast before where manager time is you’re doing things that require management capabilities. For this type of stuff, you need anywhere from 30 to 60 minute blocks of time to handle that stuff. Whether it’s taking phone calls, or meetings, or checking email, or managing people, or doing certain types of planning work. Those are all essentially manager time.
Maker time, he says block off two to four hour blocks of this time so that you can really get into something. That includes writing, coding, any sort of creative activities where you need a couple of extra hours of uninterrupted time in order to work on it. If you’re interrupted, it’s going to throw off your schedule and you’re not going to be able to be as creative and be as productive on that stuff.
Rob: In my opinion, I’m kind of a self identified maker in general. I hate manager schedule, I’ve happened to have had a manager schedule for the past several years as I’ve been running Drip and I still do. When you’re a manager, you need to be constantly interrupted because you have to keep other people unblocked. You can’t make them wait 30 or 60 minutes to hear from you in general. But as someone who is strictly, since I was 8 years old, has been a maker, whether that’s writing books, writing blog posts, writing code, building things, I think the entire point of this should be to protect your maker time and to make it predictable and make it something that is deliberate and something that will not get interrupted.
The work environment these days, especially with tools like Slack, I’m going to say it again, I’m a little bit of a Slack basher. As much as we use it and it’s helpful, it is like being in a meeting all day with people. It has real pluses and minuses, obviously it improves communication for remote teams, but at the same time it’s just a constant interruption stream. I wind up snoozing. I’m snoozing Slack more and more. These days I’ll do one hour, sometimes I’ll do two hour blocks. I’ll tell people look, if it’s really urgent, you break my snooze. It’s easy enough to do that with just a click. All that to say, I think that maker time, it’s really easy in today’s work environment to lose your maker time unless you’re extremely deliberate about blocking, essentially snoozing or blocking all your notifications and then not allowing yourself to wonder off into the abyss of time suck.
Mike: One of the things I noticed when Noah was talking about the results of this planning exercise and going through this experiment where he organized his time by maker time versus manager time, you look at the proposed schedule that he wanted to do and it was very repetitive from day to day. There’s reading at the beginning and then morning rituals and then writing for several hours, that was his maker time, and then back to some manager time task. And then in a couple of places he had more maker time schedule.
But if you look across that, it’s very repetitive from one day to the next and it assumes no interruptions. It assumes that nothing is ever going to change in your schedule, there’s no other meetings that happen to come up on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning, and it forces everybody else to work around your schedule which I think depending on who you are, that can work in some cases and not in others.
Rob: Yeah, depends on how much control you have. I think if you are a founder or the CEO and you can dictate your schedule, I think you’re in a pretty good position. I think if you are working for a small startup where communication is fairly easy let’s say, or on an eight-person team and the culture is to just allow people to be makers, I think you probably have a pretty good shot at this. I have worked at places where that isn’t the culture, marketing driven cultures and sales driven cultures, I’ve worked at companies that are both. They’re all about this interrupt driven thing and it’s all real time.
The space that you’re given both in terms of time and in a lot of times in terms of how offices are set up are not super conducive to allowing you to actually create stuff, allowing you to have that maker time makes it really hard and you have to go out of your way to do it. It’s going to depend on how much control you actually have but I do think that odds are pretty good that if you’re a knowledge worker and either a founder or even just someone working at a startup, I would bet you could pretty dramatically improve your ability to carve out that maker time.
Mike: Something else that I found interesting about this was that one of the lessons he learned about this particular experiment was that how he spent his time was not necessarily how he spent his attention. I kind of draw an analogy between that and going to the gym for example where you can go to the gym and it’s time that you have to spend but you don’t necessarily have to pay attention very much when you’re at the gym.
If you’re just on a treadmill or elliptical machine or lifting weights or whatever, you tend to not have to pay that much attention to it. You just mechanically do those things, but you can listen to audio books or podcasts and things like that. One of the big benefits of that actually has been my ability to get through a lot of my backlog of podcasts that were queuing up that I hadn’t listened to that I wanted to but I just hadn’t really found the time because I was spending so much time doing all of these other tasks. I didn’t have the time available to sit down and just listen to a podcast, I couldn’t pay attention to it. I just didn’t do anything with them.
The second experiment that Noah had done in this was that he organized some of the different tasks that he needed to do by what their value was. I really liked the way that he separated out the different types of activities. What he did was he created this little spreadsheet that essentially classified all of his different activities as either $10 an hour, $100 an hour, $1,000 an hour, or $10,000 an hour activities. He categorized them into each of these by saying if it is incompetence activities, then that’s $10 an hour, these are things that you constantly encounter failure and frustration or conflict, you’re stressed out about them, you just do not like doing them.
Under those, he put things like running errands, working on social media, cleaning and sorting things, attending meetings, stuff like that. I think that for each of us, our list is going to be different for what is going to fall underneath each of those buckets. I think the point here is to make sure that you understand what the value of those activities is not just in your personal life and in your business but you personally. Because if it’s something you don’t like doing, you’re probably going to push it off, and then it becomes more of a cognitive overhead because it’s going to be in the back of your mind and it’s going to interrupt your thoughts when you’re doing other things.
Rob: And the next rung up are the $100 per hour tasks. Just as a note, Noah pulled this list from Perry Mashalls’ book 80-20 Sales and Marketing. $100 per hour tasks are things like solving a problem for a prospective or existing customer, talking to a qualified prospect, writing an email to prospects or customers, creating marketing tests, outsourcing simple tasks, customer follow up. It’s that next level up where you’re not essentially doing the work that is kind of one-to-one stuff but it’s either revenue producing—I guess some of it is one-to-one but it’s more about revenue producing or bulk stuff like writing an email to a group of prospects where it’s one to many and there’s some leverage here, or it’s like you said, outsourcing, which is something that is gonna really give you quite a bit of leverage.
And just as a note, Noah calls the $100 an hour work competent activities. It’s tasks where you meet the minimum standard but they cause you anxiety and they feel repetitive. I think that’s a good way to think about them.
Mike: The next rung up on the letter is the excellent activities which are classified under the category of $1,000 an hour work. These are tasks where you have superior skill and reputation but you don’t necessarily enjoy them, you just don’t have the passion for them. Under his list for these, these are things like planning and prioritizing your day, negotiating with prospects, building your sales funnel, creating pay per click campaigns, delegating complicated tasks, writing sales copy, other things fall into that bucket. Again, those tasks are specifically for him. These may move around for you.
Rob: And then the top rung of this ladder are unique ability activities and these are the $10,000 per hour work tasks that you can do. Noah defines them as tasks which you show superior skill, energy, passion, and desire for never ending improvement. I guess this is actually yeah, it’s Perry’s list and then Noah says he used a four tier system from Dan Sullivan to group them. He’s kind of combining the two things, the dollar per hour and then the rungs of the ladder, the incompetence all the unique abilities.
$10,000 per hour stuff may be things like improving your unique selling proposition, creating new and better offers, repositioning your message and your position, negotiating major deals, selecting team members, public speaking. These are really high value, high impact tasks that frankly, you’re probably one of the only people in your organization who is capable of doing them and they’re within your zone of genius.
Mike: What I like about Noah’s assessment of this is that it’s not important that you actually make $1,000 an hour or $10,000 an hour doing these things, but the relative value between the different tasks and those different categories, that’s the important piece. Those are the things that you need to pay attention to and make sure that you’re spending enough time on the stuff that would provide a heck of a lot more value than the things that are low value that perhaps you enjoy doing them but they don’t provide a lot of benefit to the business and they really don’t move it forward.
If you’re spending an exponential amount more time on support tasks, you really enjoy doing it, that’s greta but it probably doesn’t move your business forward because there’s other things that it is taking time away from that you need to dedicate some of that time towards.
Rob: What I’ve noticed is that if you’re a solopreneur, then it’s likely you’re going to start off doing all of these and then you slowly outsource the lowest ones on the totem pole. The higher you get up in this ladder, it’s harder to find good people at a cost that you can afford if you’re a boot strapper. What I’ve seen is that as my team grew and then post-acquisition, that it is so much easier with a, a larger team, and b, more resources, more money to be able to find people who can do these things very well and find someone whose zone of genius is outside of yours, who’s not a co-founder but actually hiring a director or a VP or a whatever who can really level up and do $1,000 an hour and $10,000 an hour tasks.
It’s pretty unique to find someone like that. It is very expensive. In general, it’s expensive. Obviously, you can find a unicorn somewhere, a diamond in the rough. These are things that are more of a challenge to do with a small team and/or a bootstrap team, but it’s still something that I think you should strive to do.
Mike: I think one of the things that Noah’s getting at in terms of assigning the dollar amounts to these is that it’s not necessarily how much it is of value to the business but if you were to do those things, what would you want to be paid for them, or what could you potentially get paid for doing those things? The $10,000 an hour work, you could potentially get paid a lot more for them versus the $10 an hour stuff. It’s stuff that you don’t like, it’s stuff that you’re not good at. Those are the things that you can mentally classify as oh, I need to outsource these, oh, I need to delegate these tasks to somebody else, not just because you’re not good at them but also because they don’t bring you any joy or fulfillment in your daily life. Chances are really good that you’re probably going to push those off to the future or just simply not do them. That’s where you get out of balance in terms of the amount of work that’s getting done in some of the different categories. Does that make sense?
Rob: I think it does.
Mike: Once you’ve classified all these different things and looked at the different ways you can cross section them, you look at when these different activities take place in your schedule and then adjust your schedule to fix what’s not working and then optimize what is working. If the things are not working, if there’s a balance that is completely out of whack for example, the activities you should be spending a lot more time on you’re not, those need to either get delegated or you need to dedicate the time to do those things. That could be by pulling away time from those activities that you really simply do not like doing or you’re not very good at. Take those things, offload them, outsource them, and move on to doing the things that you are really good at because you can provide yourself or your business a lot more value by doing those rather than those lower level activities that you just simply don’t enjoy.
Rob: Realize that Noah ran two experiments. One, he organized his time by energy level. The other one, he organized his time by the value. It’s a different way, it’s a different lens through which to view the tasks that you have to do. He had different takeaways trying both of those. It doesn’t come out at the end and say you should do one of these and the other one didn’t work, it wasn’t like that. I kind of feel if you’re going to do this that you should try both of them and see which one works better for you, but I also think just doing each of them will be a learning process for you to figure out which tasks you should no longer be doing, which ones are at your $10, or $100 levels, that you didn’t even realize you were doing. I think that’s a big part of tracking your time and running through these experiments is going to do.
Mike: I think if you’re really strapped for time, the title of the article as I said is Time Management, Tips of Insanely Busy People. He has a 80-20 version of the article at the bottom that you can go take a look at. It’s only a couple paragraphs. It gives you all the different highlights, and some of them we talked about in this episode. It’s a very interesting read, I would definitely highly recommend going through and taking a good, long look at this, especially if you’re strapped for time and find yourself juggling a lot of different things.
Rob: I think that wraps us up for the day. We have zero questions right now in the queue. No voicemails, no written questions. If you have a question for us, you can call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can email email us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.
Mike: Isn’t saying you’ve got no questions kind of like announcing on Twitter that you’ve got no emails in your mailbox which is going to let people comment on it so then you get more emails?
Rob: I don’t know, but that would be good if people send us questions then we’ll have them for the next Q&A show. Man, we were doing Q&A shows every other week trying to get through those. It was pretty cool the volume of the questions that were showing up. I can’t remember the last time we’ve literally had zero questions in the queue. I think it may have been a couple of years ago.
Mike: Yeah, I think so. Oh well. Hopefully we’ll hear from people and we can answer more questions on the show.
Episode 344 | 9 Summertime Productivity Tactics
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.
Items mentioned in this episode:
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.
That about wraps us up for today. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail at 888-801-9690 or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for the full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
Episode 299 | 7 Entrepreneurial Blind Spots
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about 7 entrepreneurial blind spots. They outline some areas that people can overlook but can potentially cause issues down the road. This topic was inspired by a case study Mike is putting together on self-funded launch statistics to help people make better decisions for their business.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike [00:00]: In this episode of ‘Start Ups for the Rest of Us,’ Rob and I are going to be talking about seven entrepreneurial blind spots. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” episode 299.
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: [00:25]: And I’m Rob.
Mike: [00:27]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week Rob?
Rob: [00:30]: Well I’m in Minneapolis, sir. I’m only one-hour time difference off from you now.
Mike: [00:34]: Very cool So now I don’t have to schedule things much later in the day.
Rob: [00:37]: That’s right. So it’s been fun. I just got here a couple days ago and you had mentioned that you’ve been to Minneapolis but this is really just my second time. I’ve been here for two days a couple months ago. And it’s a pretty sweet city. Obviously, you know the big thing everyone thinks of is the cold and it’ll definitely be getting cold here soon but, there’s a lot of really interesting things going on here. Really good culture; there’s good museums, great bands come through, and the food scene is really top notch. So far I’m a fan.
Mike: [01:05]: Well now that you’re there I can tell you about the time that I went there in the middle of January, and it was so cold that the LCD on my car literally took several minutes to light up.
Rob: [01:15]: Yes.
Mike: [01:17]: Because it just wouldn’t light up because it was –
Rob: [01:18]: That is going to be so much fun. It’s going to be awesome. You know I did a Connecticut winter and a Boston winter.
Mike: [01:23]: Oh, it’s so much worse.
Rob: [01:24]: That’s what I’m hearing. I heard that it’s colder here but less snow. Is that accurate?
Mike: [01:27]: It is. Yes, because when I was there it was god awful cold but, I mean there was very little snow. It didn’t snow much at all but it was just bitter cold, and when the wind comes through it’s just ridiculous.
Rob: [01:40]: I will be looking at what I can do to work out of the Fresno office for a few weeks there in January because it will be like 70 something there. How about you, what’s been going on?
Mike: [01:50]: Well, I’ve been going through the data migration that I talked about a little bit last week, where I had to move a ton of stuff onto new data storage system. And I kicked that off yesterday, right now it’s about 53 percent done it’s been running for, I don’t know, almost a full day at this point. So needless to say, babysitting something like this kind of sucks. It’s very distracting because if something goes wrong the whole thing stops, and then you have to go in, figure out what went wrong and restart everything and fix it. It’s just kind of a pain. But for the most, part I’ve only had to restart it once and everything else seems to be going pretty well. So hopefully this will be done by tomorrow and I can move on to other things.
Rob: [02:25:] I hate background jobs like this it totally keeps me from being able to focus on work. I keep checking it every 15 minutes, just to check on it, and that’s still like the worst way to be productive. Especially if you have something like you’re trying to write, or you’re trying to do something that requires some type of calm mind, that’s the worst.
Mike: [02:45]: It’s kind of interfering – I’ve got this other thing I’m doing right now where I’m trying to gather data for a study. And I sent out an email to my mailing list essentially to ask people to volunteer information for their self-funded products that they’ve launched, or that they’ve tried to launch. And the goal of this case study is to try and aggregate as much information as I can about different types of products that people have attempted; what stage they got to, whether they launched or not, how much customer development they did in advance, how much money they spent, how much time they spent, and whether or not they deem that as a successful product launch and are they still working on it today; what happened to it in the end.
And the goal of this is to be able to publish data around that so that people can make determinations about oh, I’m working on this particular type of product – let’s say it’s a SaaS app or maybe a WordPress plugin or something like that, and they’ve spent X thousand dollars, and four months of time on it. Is that normal for that type of product or is it in edge cases, is it an extreme. Or have they not done nearly as much as what other people have done? Because most people are kind of operating in this vacuum where they don’t know that type of information. So you get four months, six months in and you don’t know how to compare yourself relative to other products that have launched along those lines. And it’s hard to make decisions about whether or not you should keep going and push harder or whether you should walk away.
Rob: [04:08]: Remember the four to six month rule I used to throw out all the time. I was like four to six months of spare time is what you need to do to launch. Now that may not apply to what is being launched but I think that for morale, for most people that’s about the extent of what I’d recommend for a first timer, launching a product. Like if you go longer than that, you’ve picked something to hard, you’re not working hard enough on it, or you’re just going to kind of lose morale, you know, and lose motivation after that. I find it’s really hard to keep going six months of hacking away in your basement.
Mike [04:38]: I tend to agree with you but at the same time that’s a general feeling that is not backed up by fact or data.
Rob [04:45]: Right, it’s anecdotal. It’s like –
Mike [04:48]: Exactly.
Rob [04:50]: [crosstalk] a dozen people, but it doesn’t have a very high in for those who have done statistics.
Mike [04:53]: So I’ll link that case study in the show notes, in case anyone listening to this wants to contribute data to it. And I actually put in the case study at the bottom, you have the option to say hey, please make everything that I tell you completely anonymous. Or if you’re more along the lines of share everything, I may take some of the things that you send in and make a full in depth piece of the case study about that, just kind of a highlight of that. But I leave it up to the people who are kind of contributing the data to make that decision or determination based on how comfortable they feel about it.
Rob [05:22]: Very cool, so as you said we will link that up in the show notes. So the good news for me is there’s just been a lot going on the last few weeks with Drip. I mean now that the Leadpages acquisition has been finalized and announced, and we’re moving forward with actually taking advantage essentially of the vast resources that they have, we’re able to move quickly on things that have, frankly, been on my list for a long time. Some things that we’re going to be implementing in the next month or two have been like in my notebook for a year or two because they just required resources that we didn’t easily have access to, or it required to much money. You know it’s either too much support, too much money, or too much engineering time, or something. And now we just have the ability to take advantage of that very quickly because there’s just such a big team here, able to support us.
Like one example of that is, we launched a one dollar a month plan that supports up to 100 contacts. I don’t know if you remember if you heard Dharmesh talk about cheapium plan; like not going freemium but cheapium where you’re basically charging cost. And that’s the idea here i to get as close to free as possible but still keeping it reasonable. And there’s spam concerns and stuff. If you make a free plan you kind of have to have a whole team doing anti-spam stuff.
So anyways, this one dollar a month plan for full marketing automation, it’s unheard of. The tools that are comparable to us are one 199 bucks a month and up. And that’s where they start. There is one competitor who used to have like a nine-dollar plan but they pretty much, for all intents, discontinued it. So even they now are $49 a month and up. So even though this plan is loaded to a 100 subscribers it’s still a really interesting offering in the market. We think that not only can early stage people use but even people just looking to kick the tires. It kind of means you can just have a trial forever. Like if you just want to kind of try some stuff out on a simple thing, or see about the new workflow feature, or whatever, it’s like paying a buck a month to have access to it is kind of trivial. So when this goes live we will have announced it the prior week and I’m interested to see – it’s in a couple days and I’m interested to see the response to that. But, really excited about that.
And that’s one thing, again, that you can’t do as a bootstrapper because you can’t handle the support load because instantly just get way more trials and the revenues not there immediately to be able to support all those users. So that’s pretty cool. The other thing we did, which is just awesome – again this was something I’ve always wanted to do but needed the money is we were able to double our affiliate commission. We used to pay 15% recurring and we pay 30% recurring now. And right away we notified our affiliates and we just kind of got all these positive reflections. We’re like, man, if this is the stuff you can do when you have essentially Leadpages or more money or more resources, then keep doing this, keep going in this direction.
It’s exciting to be able to do that stuff because whether you come up with good ideas – sometimes you come up with a lot of good ideas and a lot of them are impractical because of lack of funds; or lack of design talent; or lack of developer resources or whatever. And just seeing things really open up. And that was the intent. Like we talked about last week and the episode where we dove in. That was really the intent. And to see two of them just come up right away and for us to be able to push those, it feels really good.
Mike [08:21]: That’s awesome. I really like the idea of having that $1 a month price point for somebody to kind of get their feet wet with Drip just because, as Dharmesh had said, it’s the cheapium it’s not freemium. But it kind of forces them to actually pull out their credit card, too. It’s one step up from a free trial or from that free plan. I think MailChimp used to have, and they probably still do; they have that 2,000 subscriber limit on a free plan but they will put their branding and marketing on there. And then for $10 a month you can pay for their 500 subscriber option. But the one dollar a month plan, that’s interesting. I like the idea of it.
Rob: [08:55]: Very cool. So what are we talking about today?
Mike [08:58]: Today we’re talking about seven entrepreneurial blind spots. And the idea for this show actually came about because of the case study I’m putting together. And it made me think about what sorts of other blind spots people either are running into that are obvious to them after the fact and they look back and they say, “oh yeah, I should have known that,” or they talk themselves out of seeing it as a potential issue because they just weren’t thinking about it or weren’t taking a step back to kind of evaluate their situation. So I wanted to outline a couple different places where people might run into an area where they could run into potential issues down the road if they are not thinking about those things.
Rob [09:34]: And numero uno is?
Mike [09:37]: And numero uno is, being an entrepreneur is more about the journey, not the goals. And this one actually came to mind partially because of you selling Drip to Leadpages. And one of the things that kind of comes to mind is that most people say I’m going to build a business and I’m going to sell it and I’m going to make tons of money and then I’m going to walk away. There’s actually a couple of different things in addition to that.
Most people don’t think about the fact that they probably have to stick around for a little while. But if your whole goal is to sell the company, when you get to that point, what then? What meaning is there in your life? What is going to make you happy beyond that? Because if that was your whole goal, if you finally achieve that goal, then what? What is your life really about at that point? So I think it’s more about understanding that if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing then maybe you’re doing the wrong things. And that your business goals are probably pretty important but they don’t necessarily define who you are as a person either. It’s really about getting to a particular place, and enjoying a particular journey as opposed to the whole focus is getting to that goal.
Rob [10:35]: There was a study done once on – it was med students who were going through medical school. And they found the people who hated medical school but were just doing it for that goal – I’m going to become a doctor, I’m going to become a doctor. Like once I get out everything will be good. That those people were extremely unhappy once they became doctors. There was some correlation there. Whether they just didn’t belong there, it wasn’t something they enjoyed and they were really being forced to do it by their parents or by societal scripts, or whether they were just naturally never going to enjoy the journey and maybe once they became doctors they were like I’m just going to retire. I’ve just got to make enough money to retire. But there’s a correlation there.
At the same time this one is really hard for me to embody. I am not a journey person. I’m very much goal-oriented and I would say, of the entrepreneurs I know, the vast majority, 80-90%, are goal-oriented. And so that’s why this is such a big blind spot. I have to remind myself constantly to take a deep breath and look around and say, these are the good ole days. You’re going to look back on this time right now in a few years and you’re going to be like, “man. that was awesome.” And truth be told I look back to the very early days of Drip with Derek hacking away on code. And he and I used to sit out behind my house by this koi pond and hammer away like that. I remember it just seemed so romantic and so fun, but it was tough work. I mean it was like we had no revenue and you don’t know if this thing is going to succeed. And then Derek and I in the office together, once we finally got an office, man I bet those days were cool. But it’s like they were fun and I remember then but, man, it was a lot of hard work. And there was a lot of stress of like is this thing ever going to take off. And then each step of the way, once the team got to about four or five, I remember starting to tell people this in like team meetings where like this is a really good time, drink this in, because being at this size, it’s a unique step. No company can stay this way forever. Drip’s not in this competitive space, not going to be able to stay like this. So we’re either going to get big, or we’re going to get acquired. We kind of talked or raise funding or something.
And there were different options there but, I think that is the one piece of advice that I would give based on this. About enjoying the journey; is just take time once a week to look around and think, boy we have it pretty good here. Like you’re not slogging away in a cubical for someone else, depressed at your day job, working a nine to five. To me that is the alternative to what we’re doing. And even though what we’re doing is and can be stressful, we are in control of it. In fact, even better advice; I was talking to Ruben Gamez from Bidsketch – this is seven-eight months ago, and I was like kind of burning out on stuff and slogging through email. There’s stuff that piles up. There was HR stuff I was handling; I mean just kind of everything. And he said why are you hating this, you’re the founder. You’re in control of this, make it change. Change this and make it fun, because that’s why we started our own companies; is so that we don’t have to feel this way. And it’s like sometimes it just takes someone to tell you that. To kind of snap you out of it and be like what do I have to do to snap out of this? And that’s actually when I hired Dawn, the assistant who then took a bunch of that stuff off of my plate.
Mike [13:39]: The second entrepreneurial blind spot is that estimates for anything that you’ve never done are going to be wildly inaccurate. And I think in my experience – and this is more anecdotal than anything else – but anything that you try to put an estimate on that you’ve never done before is probably going to take something like five times longer than you think it will and it will probably cost twice as much. And that’s true whether it is development costs, you’re outsourcing things, or trying to build a marketing campaign and you’re trying to determine what’s going to be your cost per acquisition for advertising campaigns; something along those lines. And anything that’s outside of your direct control is probably going to take at least two times longer than you think it is. Even if you’re trying to be a little bit cautious about what those estimates are you’re still probably going to be wildly inaccurate because you don’t necessarily have a good understand of what to expect when you’re trying to put those estimates together.
Rob [14:27]: So when I estimate and I was writing code, I got to be pretty good at it because I used to do it for fixed price projects. And so I got to where I would overestimate just enough that I was pretty accurate as long as something crazy didn’t come up. But that one took years of having bad estimates and having stuff not working. And so, for most people who don’t have to develop that skill, it’s just never going to happen and that’s okay. But, you then have to realize it, that you’re just kind of always going to underestimate. The problem is a lot of us just look at a high level thing and we say the feature is to add a page that does X. And into an existing app, if you just throw an estimate out – you can say “oh, it’s going to be a few days, it’ll be done in the next few days.” But until you sit there and even if you take five minutes or ten minutes on a piece of paper and you actually think through what are the database calls or is there anything beyond just some basic crud that I already have ORM for? Or maybe I’ll have to write custom sequel because that one table is big and I need to work around an index. Or maybe that UI’s going to be a little tricky. As soon as you start sketching it out it’ll start popping up of like man, that’s going to take a lot longer than I thought.
Because I remember in the old days someone throwing out I can build – a typical Web app, Web pages, it’ll take me like two to three hours. But then when I actually watch – because I was kind of being a product manager – it was a tech lead at the time. So I was coding and also looking at other people’s productivity. It did only take the person two to three hours to hack things together. But then it was almost double that in the discussion of what the page should do; going back and forth with the end user, in essence. There was kind of project management time; it was like circling back because there was a bug, so then you’d need another 30 minutes. Then there was CSS browsering incompatibility issues.
So just on and on and on. And it would literally be two to three times what just that initial two to three estimate was accurate in a sense, but it wasn’t the whole cost of building that page. The real cost was more like a full day’s work; six to nine hours. That’s where I think if you’re really going to bare bones estimate things, I think at two to three times multiple tends to be what I think about. Unless you find that you developed a skill and are pretty in tune with how long it’s going to take you to code it. It’s a lot harder to estimate for someone else. And I’d try not to do that unless I know them really well. Like Derek and I will estimate stuff together and I will throw out how long do you think it’ll take; two days or whatever? And we’ve worked together long enough that I know how he works. But if you don’t know someone, like a contractor, you’re going to be off by ridiculous valuations.
Mike [16:47]: I was just going to point that out; that all the examples and stuff that you were just talking about were all for your own estimates. But when you’re doing an estimate for somebody else, they’re skills are different than yours so your estimates or assumptions about what they do and don’t know, whether it comes to technology itself or familiarity with the code base, are going to be just off. It’s really hard to be accurate when trying to do an estimate for somebody else.
Rob [17:12]: In fact, I try to avoid estimating for other people. And if I were to have someone doing a project and they were developing or working on it, I would sit with them and help figure out what all the components were, and then I would ask them to estimate. And then, probably sanity check it again; like “what do I think I could build this in?” And walk it through to get an idea. Because, again, most developers estimate too low and that’s a problem. If they’re too high, you can talk about bringing them down. But typically they’re going to be too low. And I would almost encourage people to increase it at that point so we could get a more realistic view of when stuff will be delivered. Because that can create stress, right? That makes a journey not fun when you think something’s going to take a week and it takes two or three weeks and you’ve committed to someone or you’ve even committed mentally to yourself and then you just feel behind the whole time.
Mike [17:53]: That’s actually part of the data migration that I’m going through. I thought that it would take me a week, possibly two at the most. And here I am, almost four weeks later and it’s just kind of getting to the point where we’re pushing it out. So it sucks to be in that position but there’s only so much you can do.
This actually leads us a little bit into number three, which is you can only be productive on one or two things at a time within a given time period. By a given time period I mean over the course of several days or several weeks, not really within an hour or two. Because you really can’t multitask very well within that hour or two. But if you’re trying to do an estimate and you say this is going to take four weeks, that’s not the only thing that you’re going to be working on during that time. So that context switching back and forth between, let’s say, coding activities and marketing activities, there’s a cost associated with that. And it’s very difficult to be completely done with a particular task and then move onto the next because there’s always things that come back. There’s always bug fixes or things that need to be tweaked. Whether it’s a marketing campaign and just text on a page, or whether it’s actual code and a customer decides that “I need this to work a little bit differently, can you go in and fix this?” Well, if you’ve already moved on to working on your marketing campaigns, then you’re getting dragged back into the coding. And the reverse can happen as well.
So it’s really hard to just completely be done with one specific thing and move on. Those lines in the sand are very difficult to draw. So if you have two sets of things that you’re working on, one of them is maybe four weeks of coding and another one is four weeks of marketing tasks, chances are good it’s probably going to take you closer to ten or 12 weeks in order to finish both of those. Even though individually, the estimates are only about four weeks each.
Rob [19:26]: I think this is a type of multitasking. There’s kind of micro-multitasking, which is where you’re just sitting there and you’re checking Twitter and you’re checking your email and you’re bouncing around and you’re trying to write a blog post and you’re doing 20 things at once. Then there’s this macro-multitasking, which is what you’re talking about where you have too many high-level projects going on at once. And it is just chaos. There’s a couple things that I’ve started to do. You have to be a little bit in control to be able to do this. If you’re an employee and people are just throwing stuff at you all the time and you can’t control it, then it makes it harder. But I’ve tried to be extremely deliberate about picking what is – like you said, one or two – the highest priority things, and really digging into those. And then wrapping them up until they’re finished.
And it depends on the length of these projects. I mean if you’re trying to write code and do marketing it is hard because those are both ongoing things. There’s always more code to write, there’s always more marketing to do. But if you break it up into projects where like maybe for one-week marketing is just split test on the home page, and then it’s testing out some Twitter ads to a landing page, then those are kind of smaller projects and they may take a while to reach fruition or for you to be able to determine if they’re successful or not.
But as a founder it is tempting to start the split test, start running ads and then be like “wow, well I have some free time this afternoon so let me start two more projects like that.” But then once they do start bringing results in, it’s too many things to monitor. So it’s almost like don’t start that next thing that’s going to take a while. If you do have two hours that afternoon that’s free, don’t start another project. Instead flip back and either hammer out a blog post if you think you can. Like do something that you can start and finish in that amount of time. Something like a blog post I could see just taking an hour to sit down in front of a notebook and think about all the really good ideas. Almost take just a quick mini check-in. Not quite a retreat, but just a mini check-in of what are some things that we should be doing, what are our priorities, and do a high-level check-in like that. Or, hammer through email or just something that, again, you can start and finish in that time frame.
Mike [21:21]: The fourth entrepreneurial blind spot is being able to maintain your objectivity. And this revolves around being able to be objective about the ideas that you have or being able to question your assumptions. It’s very easy to fall in love with a particular idea that you have and assume that you’re correct rather than intentionally undertaking fact-finding missions. I think a popular name for this is confirmation bias. But I think it also involves some psychological components because everyone wants to be right. It’s not so much that you are looking specifically for confirmation of what your assumptions are, but you want to be right.
I think that those two things intertwine very closely, but I don’t think that they’re exactly the same thing. But the key point here is that you know that you’re no longer objective about something when you start to become defensive about the points that you’re making. So if you’re explaining how a product works or you’re working with a customer and they give you a bit of feedback, if you go on the defensive at any point during that conversation then you know that you’re no longer objective about it. And you really need to start taking into consideration the fact that they’re giving you feedback and you’re trying to be defensive about it. “Oh no, you should be doing this. This is how you would do it.”
There’s times where that’s an appropriate response, and then there’s also times where you need to take a look at what they’re telling you and realize that they may very well be representative of a large number of other people, and you’re so close to it that you can’t see that. You are seeing all these other possibilities, but because they’re seeing it for the first time they don’t understand it and you need to look for ways to help them understand it as opposed to trying to change that person’s mind.
Rob [22:52]: When we talk about how founders need to embrace failure or they need to learn to make mistakes, this is one of those hard ones. Because admitting that your idea doesn’t work or being open to it not working is a scary thing to do. And it’s really similar to feeling like you’ve failed. Especially if you’ve spent six months trying to come up with ideas and then you finally latch onto one and it seems like a great idea and then you get a ways in and kind of just bursts. It’s tough to admit that. So I agree. I think this is a blind spot many of us have, including myself. I found myself latching on too long to certain ideas.
Mike [23:28]: The fifth blind spot is around delegation and failing to understand that delegation is not the same as abdicating your responsibility for something. If you are delegating a task to somebody you’re still responsible for making sure that those tasks get done. You’ve simply become the manager for those tasks as opposed to the implementer. And you can go and delegate important tasks to other people. There’s a lot of people, myself included sometimes, that feel that if something is really important then you need to be the one to do it. And that’s not always true. There’s lots of things that you can delegate that are still important things.
One example of that is the bookkeeping. I mean that stuff has to be accurate. And you want to know how your business is doing and how much money’s coming in and what your ROI on the different customers is, and then different marketing initiatives you have. But you don’t necessarily need to be the ones doing those. And if you’re training somebody to delegate those tasks to, especially for small tasks, a lot of people will push that off because it doesn’t seem like there is enough ROI there to hand somebody a task when you’re going to spend almost as much time training them to do that particular task as it would for you to just do yourself. And people will quickly fall into this trap of doing everything themselves because it’s going to take too long to delegate that to somebody else.
And the reality is that you want to hire people for their decision-making ability, not necessarily for their skills. You want to be able to explain to them this is a high level of what I’m looking to have done, go do this and then use an iterative approach to have that come back to you. And you guide the output as opposed to dictating it or explaining every little nuance to it.
Rob [24:57]: It’s a learned skill. You’re not going to be very good at it when you start. I was terrible. And you got to dive in because you just aren’t going to be able to accomplish everything that you need to on your own. Even when I was solo and I had no employees and I had these tiny little apps doing a thousand, two, three, four thousand a month, I had VAs responding to emails; I had folks doing design; I had many contractors that worked with me. And again, when I first started I was terrible at. You get better at two things, one you get better at hiring so you get better people, and two, you get better at delegating. So it just becomes a virtuous cycle.
Mike [25:34]: The sixth blind spot, which I think afflicts a lot of people, is that you’re going to base the majority of your decisions on incomplete data. And there’s lots of different ways that this can manifest itself. It can either be in coding estimates or trying to figure out what you should do for a marketing campaign. And sometimes this leads to procrastination because you’re not really sure what you should do. There’s this desire to be right or to avoid being wrong. And very often that leads to making no decision at all because you want to make the best decision but you don’t have enough information to make that decision. So rather than making any decision you do nothing.
And this is very similar, I think, to the analysis-paralysis, where people have too many decisions to make and they don’t know what to do so they don’t do anything. But I think that fear of a particular outcome can also lead you away from finding the truth about a particular situation, and you’re not necessarily going to realize it. Or it’s sitting there in the back of your mind and it’s weighing on you and maybe it’s a source of stress and you just simply don’t do anything about it. I think a prime example of this is delaying talking to your customers because you’re embarrassed about a question that you’re going to ask them before you’ve even asked the question. And I think that’s probably a major factor here is that you don’t necessarily know what they’re going to say. You may have an idea of it, but you absolutely have to find out what those people have to say. They may surprise you. It may very well be good dues. But if you don’t ask those questions then what you’re doing is you’re really just making a lot of assumptions here.
And those decisions are going to be difficult to make if you don’t go out and find the data. And if you don’t have enough data you have to go ahead and make a decision anyway because these decisions are subject to change. And a lot of that change is outside of your control. There’s things that will happen that maybe you make a decision today, something radical goes on tomorrow and maybe Google indexes a bunch of things and your entire search engine strategy goes out the window. You’re going to have to change how you do things. And that whole thing is outside of your control, so waiting a few extra days, weeks or months is not going to make a difference. Google is going to move forward with whatever they’re going to do and you have to do the best you can with the information that you have.
Rob [27:32]: I really like this one. This was something my dad told me probably 20 years ago. He was a project manager for a large electrical contractor and I was kind of coming up on that path. And he told me very early on the majority of his job is making decisions with incomplete data. And so I think that if you’re listening to this and you haven’t had the experience of having to make a lot of decisions with incomplete data, or when you do you agonize over them and it takes you days, hours, weeks to make them, really think about how you can get faster at it. And the way that I improved upon this, this skill, because I was terrible at it at first and I would get paralyzed over things like – honestly we’d go to order pizza and I would sit there for like ten minutes trying to figure out which pizza I’d wanted.
And so there’s a few types of decisions, right? There’s really important decisions that are hard or impossible to change later. Those are the ones that you do need to agonize over and you need to get as much data as you can. Whether that means further testing, further conversations with customers, you really need to go all out to get that. The other decisions, the ones that are either like not that important like ordering pizza or setting what color the font should be in something, or the decisions that are easy to change later. So that might be important, but you can always change them if things go sideways. Both of those you should make very quickly.
And the skill is in learning to identify which of those three categories it fits into. And then recognizing that as you’re making the decisions. Again, I think it’s kind of a habit or a muscle that you develop to where by default think “boy, can I change this decision later?” And if I can, even if it’s important I just got to make the best one I can given the information I have. And that’s kind of been my mantra because I, personally, as more of a Type A person and someone who is – as I classically said, I’m kind of risk adverse and don’t like to fail and don’t like to make wrong decisions, this was something I really had to break myself out of a habit of because you move too slow if you agonize over every decision.
Mike [29:21]: And the seventh entrepreneurial blind spot is that making a mistake doesn’t mean that something isn’t ever going to work. It means that it didn’t work for you in that particular situation. And what I’ve seen is that if you look around at the entrepreneurial landscape there’s a lot of advice out there. And general advice is not always applicable to every situation. There’s always edge cases, there’s always exceptions. And I say always, I probably should say almost always exceptions and almost always edge cases. Because there are certain situations where that advice is simply not applicable. And it could be that the situation that you’re in, or the business that you have, it’s just simply not going to work for your particular situation.
That said, assuming that a piece of advice is going to work for you in your situation without testing it is often a mistake. You have to iterate through it, you have to make sure that it is applicable to what you’re doing and how your business is operating. And it’s common to take a look at something that you’ve tried and if it didn’t work out just assume that it’s never going to work for you in the future. And I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t go back and do that again, but at the very least it should be something that you consider rather than summarily dismiss as we tried that and it didn’t work. Go back and take a look at the things; what is it that you did? Is there any new information you have? Because going back to what we said before, you’re making a lot of decisions based on incomplete data. And if you’ve done something, now you have more data and you can take a look back at that and say, “do I know more about this situation then I did before, and are there things that I can change or that I can tweak, and make another try at this and do better with it?”
Rob [30:51]: I always take general advice as a rule of thumb that then if at all possible to test and verify I do, like if we have the resources or if it’s something that’s easy to test and verify, I do. Sometimes you don’t. I mean you have to make so many decisions. Let’s say you’re just launching your app, you’re worried about pricing; you’re worried about positioning; you’re worried about copy; you’re worried about getting the code out and tested. There’s so much to do. You can’t test everything all at once. You just have to, at a certain point, email your list and see what works and kind of manually fix it. But for that, like when we launched Drip and when I’ve launched any product, I use the rules of thumb that I’ve developed over time.
And it doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for your case because you haven’t tested it yet. But it’s better than nothing. It’s better than a wild guess to at least start with some common knowledge. But then thinking as I have the resources, how much of this can I test? And if you’re going to test this stuff is to look at the high-level stuff first. You start with big changes in headlines or body copy, or big changes in pricing. There’s a lot you can do, especially if you even have a decent amount of traffic. And I think it’s really important to remember that that’s why all the podcasts and the conference talks and the blog post and everything, everything you read worked in one case, or maybe two cases. And even if it was a study, and let’s say it had 100 different SaaS apps were looked at, it’s still probably going to be more of like an average or a watered down version. And it still may not be the best practice for you. That’s the experienced marketers, the experienced founders that you’ll hear from that will tend to say this has been my experience but test in your own instance.
So to recap, today we talked about seven entrepreneurial blind spots. The first one was being an entrepreneur is about the journey, not the goals. The second is estimates for anything you’ve never done will be wildly inaccurate. And I would say even for things you have done, can be wildly inaccurate. The third is that you can only be productive on one to two things at a time. Fourth is maintaining your objectivity. Fifth is delegation is not the same as abdicating responsibility. The sixth is you’ll probably make the majority of your decisions based on incomplete data. The seventh is that mistakes don’t mean something doesn’t work. It means it didn’t work for you in that instance.
If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690. Or email us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control,” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups, and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
Episode 280 | The Productivity Project with Guest Chris Bailey
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob interviews Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project. They discuss aspects of the book and Chris shares some of his personal experiences with productivity techniques both successful and unsuccessful.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, I interview Chris Bailey, author of ‘The Productivity Project’. This is Startups for The Rest of Us Episode 280. Welcome to Startups for The Rest of Us the podcast helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs to be awesome at launching their software products, whether you’ve build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Chris [00:26]: And I’m Chris.
Rob [00:27]: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. Mr. Chris Bailey, thank you so much for joining me today on the show.
Chris [00:34]: I am honored. Thank you for having me.
Rob [00:36]: For folks who don’t know, you are the author of a book called ‘The Productivity Project’ as well as the man behind alifeofproductivity.com.
Chris [00:44]: That is me.
Rob [00:45]: I first heard about you on Unmistakable Creative Podcast that Srini Rao hosts. He raved so much about your book that I had to check it out. I’m really glad you have it up on Audible. That’s how I consume almost all of my material. To be honest, I’m really not a fan of productivity books in general. The reason I don’t like them is because I feel like they tell me the same thing over and over like don’t multitask and other stuff, get up early, exercise.
Chris [01:13]: That’s just bullshit. I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear but it’s such BS getting up in productivity.
Rob [01:18]: I know and I wanted to get into that in the interview. That’s what I liked about it, is that I bought it on a lock because Srini raved so much about it. I was probably a chapter in and already I realized, “Oh, man. This is the change in my game.” I started taking notes frantically. I have a Mosca Notebook that only when stuff is really that I want to take with me, I write in this notebook. I already had a bunch of notes scribbled. This was about two and a half weeks ago maybe three weeks ago I started listening. I have a bunch of things that I have adapted and adopted from it. That’s saying a lot because as much information as I consume, I don’t tend to necessarily move as much into my daily routine. Your book has already had an impact on me. I’ve talked about it on this podcast a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to have you on the show just to talk through a few of the things because I feel like you experimented on yourself and that’s the cool part of this, right?
Chris [02:07]: Yeah.
Rob [02:07]: You don’t come off as some expert who has this theory that everyone should follow. You basically say, “I tried this. I failed a bunch of times but some of it worked and here’s what I found.”
Chris [02:16]: I’m personally not too big a fan of those people. That was one of the things I found in this productivity project, is a lot of people call themselves gurus. That’s a good sign by the way. When somebody calls themselves a guru or my pet peeve is a thought leader. When somebody prescribes themselves as a ‘thought leader’, that’s a pretty good sign that they’re not. You hit on one of the things that I think is crucial about productivity tactics is that spending time reading about them is great. They’re entertaining. You can look at productivity porn as long as you want but if you don’t make all that time back and then some, you’re basically just wasting your time. The idea behind the productivity project was to spend a year and experiment with everything that I could find under the sun that had to do with my productivity to see if it helped me get more done or get less done and whether I actually earned that time back. So much of the stuff out there simply doesn’t.
It’s this productivity porn of becoming busier or just doing more instead of achieving more. It might sound corny but I have this idea that productivity isn’t about how much we produce. We can produce e-mail all day long and not accomplish a single thing. We could spend all day on Twitter and not accomplish a single thing. What we’re left with though, at the end of the day, the residue of our day is what we accomplish. That’s what productivity is all about, I think.
Rob [03:40]: Yeah, well said. I have some notes here and one of the points that you make in the book is you say, flat out, most productivity hacks didn’t work. Most of the things you tried didn’t work. Do you have a theory on why that is?
Chris [03:51]: I think because the idea of so many changes is way sexier than what you have to actually do to make the change happen. Waking up earlier is one of my go-to examples as something that just doesn’t work. It depends on your situation because if you have a family, kids, maybe waking up at 5:30 will help you in your productivity because it will give you this bubble of clarity and focus after you wake up. But it depends on what your life is like. The studies out there, at least, show that there is zero difference in socio-economic standing between somebody who wakes up early and somebody who wakes up late. It’s what you do with the hours of your day that matters. You think of the idea of being an early riser that wakes up at 5:30, waking up at 5:30 to meditate, get a cup of coffee and catch up on the news and social media and start a writing ritual maybe. A lot of people have a sepia tone fantasy of what they want to do and what they want their life to become.
It’s so easy to focus on that fantasy instead of what you have to actually do to make that change happen. Everybody on the planet wants to become a billionaire and get a six pack but in the moment, you want nothing more than to play hooky and grab a cheeseburger. It’s the idea of these changes that is so much more attractive than what you have to actually do to make them. That’s another thing. You got to make that time back but you also invest energy and willpower into investing in your productivity. There’re big costs to investing in your productivity which is why it’s so crucial to figure out whether a change is worth making in the first place.
Rob [05:33]: You conjecture in the book, you say, “I believe that I’ve made a 10 X improvement from any of these productivity acts because it takes time and will power to manage and implement.”
Chris [05:42]: Oh, yeah. It’s so easy to look at the idea instead of the cost or something.
Rob [05:46]: In the book, you talk about how you, yourself, tried to become an early riser and didn’t really work for you. I’m a night owl like yourself. My wife is an early riser and I have this phrase, when she gets up at 5:30 and does all these stuff and I say, “The smug superiority of the early riser.” It didn’t work out for you. Why was that? Is it body clock thing? What do you think?
Chris [06:10]: I think it is. We all have different chronotypes, which is how our energy naturally fluctuates over the course of the day. One of the things I did for this project was I conducted research with all the books and academic journals I could get my hands on. I talked to the biggest productivity experts out there, big in reputation not in physical size and I also conducted these productivity experiments on myself where I used myself as a test tube to experiment with things like working 90-hour weeks, watching 300 Ted Talks in a week, becoming a total slob for a week and gaining 10 pounds of muscle mass living in isolation. Getting up at 5:30 was one of the first experiments I conducted. I struggled with shoehorning this habit into my life for three months. After that, I learnt a lot about habit formation along the way if that one. After I had finally done it, I had this routine that productivity dreams were made of or at least I had imagined they were made of.
But then I realized that I absolutely hated the ritual. I had to go bed at 9:30 in order to get a full night sleep, which I absolutely hated. It was either that or struggle through the next day on a low tank of energy. One of the crucial findings I made from this experiment is that just as not all tasks in our work are created equal. We accomplish a lot more doing certain things like engineering a new product or working on a report for whatever it is that the highest return [?] the new job are than we do checking e-mail, social media or attending a meandering meeting of some sort. Just as not all tasks in our work are created equal, not all hours of the day are created equal. Depending on our chronotype, which is when we’re naturally wired to have the most energy, we have varying amounts of energy depending on the hour of the day. The go-to example that a lot of people use for this is if you’re a morning bird, you’re going to have a crazy amount of energy so your wife has a crazy amount of energy at 5:30 in the morning or at least more than what I consider clinically sane in humans.
People like myself and yourself, we have more energy late at night and so we bring more energy to what’s in front of us later on in the day. A change like waking up at 5:30 might not necessarily work as well for people like us. But we can take advantage of this idea, though, that our energy fluctuates over the course of the day. One of the main findings from the productivity project was that everything I researched, throughout the year of productivity, fell into better management of one of three categories; managing my time, attention or energy. The better we manage all three of these ingredients, the more productive we can become. It’s so easy to look at time and this is what we’ve done for hundreds of years. When we work in an office-type environment, it’s simply not as important as it once was. When one person brings twice the amount of attention to their work and they shut off distractions and they can focus deep around their work, they’re going to become more productive, than somebody who is constantly distracted and can’t focus, and accomplish more in the same amount of time.
Energy is the same way. If you don’t burnout at one in the afternoon and instead you cultivate having a lasting energy level throughout the day, likewise you’re going to be able to bring more of yourself to your work so you don’t burnout. When you rejuvenate your energy levels by taking more frequent breaks and doing tactics along those lines, you bring more energy to your work which allows you to accomplish more in less time. Managing your energy is a crucial thing. That goes to when you’re naturally wired as well. Another one of the experiments I did shortly after waking up at 5:30 every morning was charting how much energy I had every hour on the hour for three weeks. Every hour I had an alert on my phone telling me, “Chart how much energy, focus and motivation you have right now.” I charted those and I found that between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and noon and 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. in the evening and onwards, I had more energy than any other hour of the day.
That was when I brought the most energy to what was in front of me. The more important tasks I worked on during that time, as an example writing for my website, doing tedious research or after that writing this book, the more I accomplished in the same amount of time. This is a central idea I think it’s crucial to think about when it comes to your productivity is that productivity isn’t just time anymore. If you don’t cultivate your energy properly, you’re going to burnout. Your productivity will be short. The same is true with our attention. You probably know this better than anyone. Attention is the rarest commodity that we have but it’s not the most limited commodity that we have. Time is. Because it’s so rare, when we cultivate more attention to bring to what’s in front of us and spend it intelligently, we can get that much more done. Man, that was a long answer. I’m so sorry.
Rob [11:02]: No, that was a good one.
Chris [11:03]: You got me going. That was like a trigger question.
Rob [11:06]: You touched on two things that I was going to bring up. This is really good.
Chris [11:09]: This is good.
Rob [11:10]: Probably my favorite concept from the book, one of my strongest takeaways was your framework of time, attention and energy because most books are more about managing time. I’ve always seen, in my work career, there were two things is what I’d imagine it had. There was time and energy. I would strategically use caffeine and other things to help me have the most energy when I needed. But I was missing an element and that’s what I liked about your book. Everything you said lined up with my experience and then added to it and gave it deeper understanding of topics I didn’t quite have my hand on. Adding that third element of attention made me realize why, when I get a bunch of e-mails, if someone’s saying, “Hey, I just need five minutes of your time,” that doesn’t sound like a lot. It’s not the time that’s the hard part. It’s the switching the attention.
Chris [11:54]: I find this way. One of the things I do more and more is speaking around the book, around productivity, around whatever the hell people want me to speak about. It’s weird that people want me to talk at all. I find that if I give a half hour talk somewhere, that’s a half hour of time and that’s a half hour of energy. But I’ll worry about that talk for days leading up to it. It takes days of attention to just do that one talk. It’s an idea like switching to e-mail. E-mail is the pain-point that so many people have. We might not spend a ton of time on e-mail over the course of the day but when we switch between e-mail and every other context of our work 30 or 40 times, which is the average for most people according to Rescue Time, I believe the number is 41 times a day, that’s 41 times than when we have to perform a conceptual shift from one element of our work to another. We never perform that shift productively because it takes energy, willpower, so many things for our minds to switch from one context to another. That’s why you have some days where you repeatedly check your e-mail where you don’t have much to do and you’re exhausted by the end of it. It’s because you burn so much mental juice switching between these different contexts.
Rob [13:09]: Touching on that, during your answer, you mentioned but didn’t name the Biological Prime Time which is your concept of where you stopped consuming caffeine and alcohol for three weeks and you tracked which hours of the day were your, what you call your BPT. Now I’m assuming you must structure your work schedule to do your high energy high attention work around those times. Is that the idea?
Chris [13:35]: For sure. We’re talking, right now, in the middle of my Biological Prime Time. I’m having some [?] to boost. It allows me to bring more of myself to the elements of my work that are more important, like talking to you right now is more important than a lot of the things I’m going to do later on in the day. Why not schedule your day around when you have the most energy? Productivity, at the same time, is so often a process of understanding our constraints. If you work for the men or any one of these things, you might have more constraints than someone like you or I would. But still when you do have that flexibility, it’s crucial to not squander it. Biological Prime Time, by the way, I don’t want to take credit for that term. It was coined by Sam Carpenter who wrote a book called ‘Work the System’ I believe. This was the golden nugget I took away from that book is this idea of thinking about it in those terms.
Rob [14:31]: I’ve read that book but I didn’t remember that term so I’m [?]
Chris [14:35]: Credit where credit is due.
Rob [14:36]: Indeed. Right within, I think it’s the first chapter of your book. You do challenges during the book. It’s not every chapter but where it’s appropriate where you say, “Look, put the book down, grab a pen and paper, spend 10 minutes and do this.” Your first challenge is called The Values Challenge. You ask the question, “If you had two extra hours in everyday, in every work day or in everyday period because you’re more productive, what would you do with that time? Sit down, think about that and write it out.” What’ the importance of answering that question?
Chris [15:08]: It’s thinking about what you want productivity to do for you. Everybody has a different purpose for productivity. Some people see it as a way of doing more and more and cramming more into the day. But I see it as a way of making more times for the things that are actually meaningful to me. In a typical day, I like to think I’m pretty productive. It would be a surprise if I wasn’t productive after dedicating a year of my life to improving that side of myself. On a typical day, I do my work in six or eight hours; before investing in my productivity, that would have been 16 hours worth of work. I see it as a way of doing everything I have to do in less time so I have more time for the things that are actually meaningful to me like spending time with loved ones outside of that. I’m a pretty big nerd like I would imagine you are and a lot of the audience is. I like soaking in cosmology lectures. I’m learning to program. I totally suck at it right now but I’m putting my [feelings?] out for that.
If anybody knows any good resources, I don’t want to get flooded with stuff. If you want to e-mail me on or two places to learn that, just anything that takes my curiosity throughout the rest of the day. I see it as a way of carving out more time for the things that are actually meaningful. Those challenges, by the way, I’m not a fan of challenges after chapters of a book. I decided to put these in there because they prime your mind to think about ways of implementing the tactics in the book. They’re very simple and they reduce what I talk about in the individual chapters down to something that you can action at the end of them. What do you think about challenges at the end of chapters? What are your thoughts?
Rob [16:51]: I tend to ignore them and skim over them. In your book, I did maybe two or three of them, which is saying a lot because I tend to do zero of them.
Chris [17:01]: Me too. I wrote the challenges for people like you and me who don’t do challenges.
Rob [17:09]: The way I’ve been summarizing your book to people and you can correct me if this is an incorrect summary. What I basically say, “Look, this guy took like 100 productivity hacks and approaches and tried them out on himself over the course of a year and then he basically wrote a book about the 20 or so that worked for him.”
Chris [17:28]: Yeah. That’s a good way of framing it. What I really did is I looked at all the productivity books, the research, the neurological books out there, books about the brain and workplace performance. I also conducted these weird experiments on myself to tell some stories along the way so it’s not boring as hell. I looked at all of that stuff and thought how did these – I think they were more than 100. I’ve never actually counted with everything I experimented with. There were a few hundred things, there must have been, that I tried out; keeping sticky notes everywhere from finishing stuff I had to get done, all these different organizational systems for managing my work and my life and compartmentalizing everything. This is about the 25 things out of those hundreds that actually work and most importantly that actually stuck with me because change the idea of something can be so powerful. But, again, you have to actually do it for it to work. I like that idea.
Rob [18:29]: That summary of it?
Chris [18:30]: Yeah. It’s a good summary.
Rob [18:31]: Cool, even though it’s hundreds instead of a 100 but for some reason I had remembered the number 100.
Chris [18:35]: You just got to put the number u a little bit, make it sound a little bit more impressive. He experimented with tens of thousands experiments.
Rob [18:44]: One of the things you experimented with that I really liked because this is something I’ve long held, it’s like a value, is you tried working 20 hours a week and then your tried working 90-hour weeks and you compared your productivity and you found …
Chris [18:58]: It was about the same.
Rob [18:59]: About the same but you said it was a nominal increase in productivity in your 90-hour weeks. Why is that?
Chris [19:07]: The thing was I felt so much more productive and I think it was because –
Rob [19:14]: Working the 90-hour weeks you did?
Chris [19:15]: Yeah and it was because there was no guilt that sipped into my work. I think so often the less guilty we feel about our work, the more productive we feel. Guilt works hand in hand with busyness. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking a lot about. When you have more work to do than you have time to do it in, the natural incline is almost to dedicate more time to your work instead of more focus and energy and leave those by the wayside, burnout, multitask and try to take on too much stuff. It doesn’t work in practice. Working 20 hours a week, when I looked at how productive I felt, I felt four times more productive in the 90-hour weeks. I felt like I had accomplished that much more. But when I looked at how much I actually accomplished in those weeks; that was the most surprising lesson I discovered from the project by far. I only accomplished a bit more working 90 hours a week. I think it was because of two reasons.
The first is because of Parkinson’s Law, which says that our work tends to expand to fit how much time we have available for it. This is why you feel like you’re living at capacity in your home life but then the new season of House of Cards or orange is the New Black comes out and you suddenly, this magical 10 or 15 hour window opens up over the course of a few days and you find time to watch the entire season. It’s because what we do tends to expand to fit how much time we have. Our work is no exception. I did the same amount of work, it’s just that I expanded and wasted so much more time in the 90-hour weeks. I also didn’t manage my energy properly. A deadline is one of the most powerful things on the planet. Everybody on the planet knows this. Let’s say it’s Monday and somebody tells you, “Dude, you just won an all expenses paid trip to Australia but it leaves tomorrow evening.”
Chances are you would find a way to do most of the week’s work in those one or two days so you could accomplish as much as you need to in order to get on with the imposed deadline. Our work hours are the same way. The 20-hour weeks were the exact same way because I shrank how long I worked for in general, I forced myself to expend more energy over that shorter distance of time so can get it done and it filters down to the individual tasks in our work too; if you have a big project to write, code or whatever it might be. If you, instead of scheduling an entire afternoon to do that and burning some time and attention on Twitter, e-mail and all these different things, you schedule a one and a half hour block of time and you force yourself to stop at the end of that. You’ll force yourself to expend more energy over that shorter distance of time so you can get everything you need to do done. Managing and shrinking how long we’ll work on something for is also a gateway to managing our energy in that way too.
Rob [22:14]: Nice. My most recent blog post I published is called ‘How to Force Yourself to Ship (Even Though it’s Hard)’ and it’s all about how at Drip, the company I run, we don’t set many deadlines but we did have to set one for a recent feature we launched and it just kicked us all into high gear. I’m definitely a believer in that.
Chris [22:35]: Shrinking how long you do something for, it’s a way of imposing a deadline on yourself, whether it’s for a task or your work in general. This is why; I think it’s in Sweden that they’re going to a 30 or 35-hour week. If you have people who are motivated, that’s going to work because they care enough about their work to expend more energy to get it all done. They’ll waste less time. If you have people who aren’t that motivated, chances are they will just slack off for 30 hours.
Rob [23:03]: You mentioned that research suggests that the ideal work week is between 35 and 40 hours?
Chris [23:09]: Yeah. That’s what the research seems to suggest. This is not to say that crunch time doesn’t work because it absolutely does. When you work consistently long hours, your productivity after a few weeks begins to fall off a cliff and become obliterated. It’s not that one 90-hour week is terrible for your productivity because if it’s once a year, it’s really not. Sometimes projects have to ship; sometimes you have to work insane deadlines. But most of the time if you work consistently longer than 35 hours a week, your productivity is going to begin to plummet. That’s a side note, a little Ted debate on working hours. As a rule, people usually work fewer hours than they think they do. You can get this insight when you track your time. One study, I have it here in front of me because I’m weird like that. People who claim to work between 60 and 64 hours a week actually work an average of 44.2 hours; from 60 down to 44.2. People who claim to work 75 or more hours, they actually average 54.9. There’s often a huge gap and it’s because when we think we work longer hours, it’s as if the world needs us twice as much. So often we work fewer hours than we think we do.
Rob [24:32]: Yeah, that makes sense. One of the other things that I took away from your book and I actually started and put my name right away was this rule of three daily tasks or three daily accomplishments. Earlier on with your research, you said on your website that you have this stats page where you tracking how many words you had written that day or how many – you’re trying to quantify it and you realize that was focusing on efficiency and that was a mistake. You started asking yourself, “Did I get done what I intended to do today?” That was your new measure or productivity. I feel like the three daily tasks ties heavily into that. You want to talk a little bit about that?
Chris [25:09]: Yeah. Intention lies at the heart of productivity. This deliberateness, I would equate productivity on so many levels with deliberateness. Being more deliberate about what we spend our time on in general, everyday or every hour in the case of working more mindfully in the moment because it’s in the moment, like we were chatting about earlier, that we want to have a six pack and we also want to grab a cheeseburger. If we can bring the idea of deliberateness down to the moment, that’s where the magic is made as far as productivity is concerned. The idea of managing everything you want to spend time on, it’s something so many people talk about. But so many of the systems out there won’t make you care about what you have to do. The best rule I found for that is, as you’re probably well aware of, it’s almost stupidly simple how easy this idea is. That’s where its power lies; is in inserting these intentions each day.
The idea of the rule of three is this; at the beginning of the day, you fast-forward to the end of the day in your head and then you ask yourself, “By the time the day is done, what three main things will I want to have accomplished?” Those become your primary focus throughout the day. The idea behind it is that it only takes a few minutes, first of all, which makes it so powerful. You don’t have to spend hours organizing everything on your plate. It allows you to insert this intention because it’s hard to remember what’s important throughout the day. When everything hits the fan over the course of the day, these serve as the guiding light for what you want to accomplish over the course of the day. My three, as an example today, I am writing six articles for my website. I am putting together a list of all the places I’m speaking at to coordinate them in one place. My goal is to finish making two talks. It’s a lot of work. It doesn’t include everything, like it doesn’t include our chat right now, the other miscellaneous [poparia?] of the day.
It includes the three main things you want to accomplish. It aligns what you work on over the course of the day, not to what you have to do, like a task list does, but what you want to accomplish when the day is done. That’s really what you’re left with. It works because it’s in that deliberateness that you decide not only what you do and not only what is the most important to spend your time on but also what you don’t spend your time on. You take the time to separate what’s important from what isn’t. I mentioned earlier that productivity is so often the process of understanding the constraints that we have. Some days they’re stocked with meetings. You’ll have less freedom and flexibility to determine what you actually need to accomplish or want to accomplish. By taking the time to understand those constraints, you can become more deliberate about your work over time. At first when I implemented this rule, I learned about it from J.D Meier, who’s Microsoft’s Director of Business Programs.
A lot of people have talked about it before. It was his book ‘Getting Results the Agile Way’ that turned me on to this idea. At first I way overshot the three things and so I would say, “I’m going to write 1500 words today,” and I would write 3000 or 4000 or I would undershoot them. The next day I would say, “Okay, I’m going to write 5000 words,” and I’d write 2000, just as a very simple example. Over time, you begin to settle into this place of understanding the constraints that you have. How much time, flexibility, energy, focus and attention you’ll have, how often you’ll have to switch between these different contexts so that you can get a grip of not only what you’re going to accomplish but how much potential you actually have to do that.
Rob [29:06]: As I said, this is one of the things that I’ve adopted and it’s helped me focus on something I should have been doing anyway. When you say, in the book, it is such a simple thing, thinking of the three things you want to get done in each day. I think you said to do it for the entire week as well.
Chris [29:22]: Yeah, I forget that point. That’s a pretty big point.
Rob [29:26]: Yeah I know.
Chris [29:26]: I do it and I should have been cued because I have the three weekly things I intended to accomplish right above that on the big ass whiteboard in my office. The idea is every Sunday I usually do this. I set the three main intentions for the week. The three daily ones won’t always fit into the three weekly ones but often times they do. It reminds you of what’s important throughout the week when you’re carving out those daily intentions too because that’s the process. You figure out what’s important in general but it’s on a weekly basis that you set these very short-term milestones that fit into those ideas. It’s on a daily basis that you execute on them. It’s on a moment by moment basis that these challenges come up with actually working on them which is why ideas like single-tasking, stop multitasking and shutting off distractions can be so powerful.
Rob [30:23]: It seems to me that the idea of this rule of three on a daily basis rule, rule of three on a weekly basis and shutting off the multitasking and all the alerts and stuff. It’s not that they take time to do but it requires deliberate discipline and it’s almost like a certain level of attention and energy that you have to devote, which is step back, clear your mind and say, “What three things do I want to accomplish today and this week?” That’s the hard thing to do, I found. I find that it takes energy and attention to do that. My mind tends to want to resist that and wants to flip into my e-mail inbox because as you called it, that’s the Netflix of the work world, right?
Chris [31:02]: Yeah. That’s why it’s crucial to do it at the start of each day. You only have so much willpower throughout the day and once that’s depleted, your productivity, your focus is toast and you’re going to be working on autopilot. It’s important right at the start of the day, before you jump in to do these things because that’s when your energy is the greatest. That’s when you have the most cognitive juice because you haven’t burned too much glucose in your brain from working on other stuff too.
Rob [31:29]: I think that’s one of the points that I took away from your book; is that these things, like the low return tasks you call them, which are the checking your e-mail, checking Twitter or Facebook or all that stuff that beckons to you that feels productive, that fires with [?] your brain, it’s quite unproductive in general.
Chris [31:51]: I would challenge people if they want to try out the tactics that we’re talking about. Let’s be honest, most people aren’t going to buy the book so let’s make this conversation as valuable as we can. Try these things out but observe how much they allow you to accomplish compared to how you were working before. That’s where the money is mad because these tactics become self-reinforcing once you realize how much more they let you get done over the course of the day. The rule of three is great gateway one to start with. If you start by defining the three daily intentions that you have and then observe whether you actually accomplish them, how you’re working differently, how your working towards those three things, it will become self reinforcing. You can make the connection between getting more done in less time and the tactics that you’re experimenting with. One of the worst things you can do, and this is what I found in the productivity project, is blindly accepting blanket productivity advice because you’ll fall into so many traps, pitfalls and so much stuff that frankly doesn’t work.
I would say that more things don’t work than the things that do. I tried to pick the best ones but maybe not all of these will work for you too. Maybe you’ll resist them more than you’ll feel comfortable with and so you don’t end up doing it. That’s cool too. But when you look at the difference in how much you accomplish when you do the tactics and whether or not you get the time back that you spend reading about these things because that’s where productivity becomes crucial. I think that’s so important.
Rob [33:26]: I would agree. If you’re listening to this, the way I’m approaching the book is not to take all 25 of these and try to integrate them into my work life or my personal life for that matter. I read through it and I took away things that I felt like would work for me, given what I do on a daily basis, my personality, what I know about myself. The notes that I took instead of all 25, it looks like I have 9 or 10 that I feel like are really going to jive with me. I’m not trying to adopt all of them at once. I’m tackling two of them to start with. It’s the five minute meditation in the morning and embarrassingly pretend to do that in my car in the parking lot once I get to work and I just sit there.
Chris [34:05]: That’s cool. At least you’re now driving then.
Rob [34:06]: Yeah I’m now driving. I clear my mind. The fact that it’s only five minutes has made it an easy one or me.
Chris [34:13]: This is a good tip to give people. When you want to make a change, find how resistant you are to the ritual. If you say, “Okay, I’m going to really try and meditate,” and then you meditate, I’m going to say, “Okay, I’m going to mediate for half an hour each day.” Eventually you’re not going to have half an hour or you’re not going to feel like doing it for half an hour and the habit is going to just collapse in on itself. You can combat this though by shrinking how long you’ll do something for until you don’t fell that resistance anymore. You say to yourself, it works for going to the gym, meditation, going of a walk around the neighborhood, for pretty much anything. You say, “Okay. I don’t feel like meditating for half an hour today. Could I do 25 minutes?” The thought of it still puts me off, “What about 20 minutes?” It’s getting better but, “What about 15 minutes?” Getting better, “10?” Yeah, I can meditate for 10 minutes. You meditate for 10 minutes.
When you get to that 10 minute mark, because you’ve overcome that initial resistance because things are never as intimidating in practice as they are in ideas, chances are you’ll want to keep going. The same is true for the gym, going for a run, for pretty much anything; doing your taxes, cleaning up the basement. By overcoming that initial resistance, you can keep going after that. So many other things are intimidating that we want to do. When we shrink and be kind to ourselves in the process and we’re not a total hard ass on ourself for trying to make our life better, we can do that much more and make them stick.
Rob [35:45]: Indeed. I like the way you couch the meditation. I’ve never been a meditator, never really been done it. Your instructions were just be aware of your breath. That’s it. Nothing more complicated than that. You can set a timer for five minutes. Close your eyes. All you want to do is think about your breathing and you’re trying to clear you mind. As thoughts come in, like distractions and such, which they will, don’t judge them. Watch them pass through you like you’re on a freeway overpass, I think, is what you said. Watch them just float away and let them go to the next thing.
Chris [36:15]: Because that’s what you realize when you start to mediate, is that no thought is permanent. No sensation in your body is permanent. No emotion is permanent. That’s what I find entertaining while meditating. You find the weirdest things entertaining after a while. It obviously doesn’t take much to entertain me. I find these emotions that come up in meditation to be so informative in a weird way because I’ll go through a period of boredom and then I’ll go through a period of restlessness and then I’ll be really worrying about something or other that I have to do or a big talk that I have to give, whatever the hell it might be. Then I’ll go through a period of happiness. You experience so many emotions but every time you do, you simply refocus on your breath. It sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Meditation is so stupid in practice because of how simple it is. You’re focusing on your breath. What could be the benefit of that?
The research out there is conclusive around how helpful meditation can be for us. I don’t want to come off like I’m a hippy like, “I have a business degree and I’m more into productivity than anything and so meditation should be the furthest thing from my interest.” The research that’s been conducted around how we manage our attention shows that in an average moment, we dedicate 53% of our attention to whatever is in front of us. We basically leave half of our attention on the table. I don’t really have to talk about this because it’s obvious and everybody’s experienced this. We’re trying to work but then we remember that we forgot to close the garage door when we left in the morning or we begin to worry about what we have to do next or we begin to think, “Oh, crap, I have to focus on this now,” or we begin to worry or we get distracted. Because of all these things, most of which are internal, we only bring about half of our attention to what’s in front of us.
What the neurological research and the attention research around meditation shows is that we can up that number. Instead of brining 53% of our attention to what’s in front of us, we can bring 63% and then 73, 83, 93. I don’t like the word ‘efficiency’ especially as far as productivity is concerned. It reduces the idea down to something’s that really cold and corporate and it’s all about a spreadsheet. There’s no better word to use. If you have two people, let’s say the average person who brings 53% of their attention to what’s in front of them and then you have somebody who brings 93% of their attention to what’s in front of them. The second person is going to accomplish twice as much in the same amount of time. They’re going to get eight hours of work done in four hours because they manage their focus that much more intelligently. This goes to the idea that our work benefits from all the attention and all the energy we can possibly bring to it.
We used to work in factories doing simple and repetitive work that didn’t take much brain power. But when we moved from the factory to the office, suddenly instead of making widgets all day, we could show up hangover if we really wanted to, we could be distracted all day long, we could chat with people all day long and still crank out those widgets. When we went from the factory to the office, suddenly our work benefits from all the focus, attention and energy we can possibly bring to it. This idea – and you can tell that I get a bit excited by it. Excited might be not even a generous term. The idea that building up how much attention we can bring to the moment is something that belongs in a cave in India with some skinny iyogi meditating all day long. It’s bullshit frankly because our work benefits from that focus. One of the things that turns people off about meditation is that that the process is so simple it seems like you’re wasting time. It does take time to meditate but you get those five minutes back 10 times over throughout the day because of how it allows you, not only de-stress, which allows you to bring more calmness, more focus to your work. It also allows you to bring more of yourself to your work, which is a crucial.
Rob [40:33]: That’s a good way to say it. A lot of us focus on time management, blocking out our time and making sure that we’re being fairly efficient with things so that it doesn’t expand. That’s one of the three aspects. The second is energy. I always think about that as maybe turning on some music loudly or using caffeine strategically, which I’ve done for years. The third piece that I hadn’t really sunk home with me until I read your book is that there’s this third element and it’s this attention/focus. That is what you’re talking about here. If you’re able to clear your mind and get a harness, get a hold on all the threads going on, you can improve that third element. With all three of those in check, that’s when you’re absolutely your most productive and when you’re going to get the most done in a day.
Chris [41:16]: Exactly. It seems so simple, right? You just sit. It doesn’t matter where you sit. You don’t need a fancy meditation. You can do it on a chair if you really want to; just observe your breath. That’s it. Observe its [?], its flows. I like to focus on the sensations in my nose. The thing about meditation is that you attention always wonders off. That’s what it does. That’s the way your brain is wired. We’re wired to perceive threats in our environment. We’re wired to think of any mental threat that might come up and be distracted and derailed by that. But we don’t have many sabre-toothed tigers walking around us anymore. Instead, we stresses of the office. We have to bring more focus to the work that’s in front of us. The idea is that every time your mind wanders off to thinking about something else often times like any fantasy. It will wander to any and every fantasy, threat whatever you can think of. It will go there.
The idea is that whenever it does, you gently bring it back to your breath. I like to laugh a little bit at myself at how much my mind wanders off. You can’t be hard on yourself when it does. Gently bring it back and see it as the natural tendency of your mind. Every time you bring that attention back, the neuro signs behind meditation show that it heightens your executive functioning. It heightens the amount of control your brain has over itself. You might think like, “Doesn’t my brain already have a ton of control over itself?” But it doesn’t. You’ve probably experienced that feeling where you’re trying to fall asleep and your mind won’t shut off. There is the mind that’s always churning and always working away and won’t shut up and shut down for the night. But then there is the part of the mind that looks at the brain – maybe I’m sounding like a total hippy now – your mind observes your brain doing all these stuff. You can step back from your thoughts, de-clutter them a little bit, make them a bit calmer and allow them to not get the better of you. I fall asleep very quickly these days, often times within minutes. I’m usually not all that tired when I go to bed. My mind is calmer than it used to be.
Rob [43:36]: Mr. Chris Bailey, your book is ‘The Productivity Project’. Your website is alifeofproductivity.com. You have any other ways you’d like folks to keep in touch with you?
Chris [43:46]: Those are the two main ones. I always hate being selly about these stuff that I do.
Rob [43:51]: No, don’t sweat it.
Chris [43:52]: On Twitter.
Rob [43:53]: All right, what’s your handle?
Chris [43:54]: @wigglechicken.
Rob [43:56]: That’s nice.
Chris [43:58]: The business one is at @aloproductivity.
Rob [44:01]: Your book is available of Amazon and obviously it’s an audio book on Audible, which is how I’ve consumed it.
Chris [44:06]: Yeah, anywhere fine books are sold.
Rob [44:08]: Indeed. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show, Chris.
Chris [44:12]: Thanks for having me.
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