How does a high achieving entrepreneur (that created a very popular training on getting more done in less time) have an abysmally unproductive year?
And how, in less then a day, did I completely turn it around and start operating at peak performance?
A Sordid Tale On How To Have An Unproductive Year
(and create insanely unproductive habits)
(NOTE: This is a long 2-part post. You can skip part 1, the fun section, on how last year was my most unproductive year and go straight to part 2 – the “what I changed in one day to dramatically increase my productivity this year” further down in this post.)
January 8th, 2013 started a quarter of virtually non-stop travel which is a great way to decrease your productivity. For 6+ weeks I was home for a total of 5 days.
And it was an absolute blast!
- I had a Las Vegas trip with my Board of Directors.
- Which then led straight into Traffic and Conversion Summit in San Francisco (and with so many people in the industry attending it seemed like a big family reunion!)
- Immediately after that was 2 weeks on the beaches of Florianopolis Brazil (my third trip there) with 2 friends who had never been there before so of course had to show them why its the best place in the world.
- I then literally got off one plane after my overnight flight home, had a friend meet me at the Dallas airport to exchange bags, and got onto a plane to Vancouver. There I had my first snowboarding experience in Whistler with a group of amazing friends who are also some of the sharpest business minds (plus bobsledding down the 2010 Olympic bob sled run!)
- Then home for a day before going to Vail for more snowboarding and masterminding with some of my best business friends and trusted colleagues.
- Then Chicago for more business (and fun) and my first AirBNB experience (I loved it).
- Next up was Miami and its perfect March weather for my first music festival.
- And finally Utah for one last snowboarding trip with the same two friends who went to Brazil.
And, if you saw the funny email I sent at this time, you know that was when I caught a front edge snowboarding (of course I was trying to go down a hill too advanced for me), face planted hard into the ground thus making my helmet helpful and got a severe concussion. They even wrapped me into the sled (which my friends affectionately called the "Blue Burrito") and hauled me off the mountain.
First, a tip, don't get a concussion lol! They suck!
Second, if you do get one, take it seriously, educate yourself about concussions and give yourself the freedom to take it easy, rest and recover because they can have far reaching effects.
The menat the 2nd quarter of the year was all about recovering from that really bad concussion. For 6 weeks I suffered through lack of mental clarity, focus and motivation. Even if I knew what I should be doing, my brain wouldn’t cooperate in doing it. That was a very humbling and scary time since my business and livelihood depends on my brain.
The next 6 weeks I very gradually started to recover and was close to normal again but now with a large back log of work related items waiting for me.
However, on July 1st, I moved to New York for 3 months. I had been planning this “workation” for the past year but little did I realize the effect the city would have one me.
For the 3rd quarter I was the “kid in the candy store” exploring and enjoying everything New York had to offer. I lucked into the perfect apartment in the perfect location right in the heart of the city (Greenwich Village) with everything just a short walk away.
From great food (up until recently I’ve never eaten a meal at my apartment), great friends, off the charts business networking, an unbelievable social life (during those months I only spent 3 nights at home), a very active dating life and the fold out couch in my living room turning into a hostel for the never ending stream of friends who came and visited me (it was more common for somebody to be staying at my place then not.)
I grabbed hold of the tiger’s tail and held on for as long as I could… which eventually ended the week before Thanksgiving in November when my body shut down on me for a week leaving me glued to my couch and bed, as a sign that it was time to slow down.
Oh yeah, I also extended my 3 month lease 6 more months, sold my car sitting in Dallas and rented out my Dallas townhouse and “officially” became a New Yorker. (Since then I’ve also extended it another year.)
The funny thing to me during that entire time, the most common comment I get when I see friends at events or talk to them on the phone is how much they enjoyed following my New York exploits on Facebook. Little do they know the best experiences never find their way on there lol.
And let’s just say Quarter 4 was more of Quarter 3 only with the holidays thrown in there, a friend staying at my place for 2 1/2 months (which meant lots of great times enjoying the city together) and a week long business mastermind taking place.
And by now, I had firmly engrained a hornet’s nest of bad productivity habits into my life. At the end of a week I would look back and be appalled at how little I was able to get down despite “working” a good amount of hours.
There was some silver linings…
Despite it being one of my least productive years, it was also one of my most fun years ever. And I (meaning my company and our business partners) were still able to accomplish some major goals.
Despite All Of That… Still Had Big Successes
- I launched a new Local Marketing Agency with a business partner focused on creating PPC campaigns for specific industries.
- Created and hosted the first ever Local Summit in cooperation with every other major trainer in our space.
- Launched 2 new products/programs for local marketing consultants (Local Autopilot and 30 Days to Profit). And it would have been a 3rd (Client Launch Formula) but my lack of productivity delayed that one.
- And built up from the ground an amazing network of business contacts and friends in New York, which has the largest tech startup scene outside of Silicon Valley and the largest number of local marketing tech startups.
How I Revolutionized My Productivity In One Day
Pre-Step – Education
During my year end planning, my #1 priority for the new year was to increase (more like revolutionize) my productivity. I knew if I did that, everything else would start falling into place. But, if I didn’t, 2014 would be a really tough year.
And I found the inspiration and wisdom to make the transformation from 2 books and 1 webinar which I highly recommend.
First was a training a fellow New Yorker transplant (came here from New Zealand 3 years ago) hosted. Peter Shallard is called the “The Shrink for Entrepreneurs” and has deconstructed the science behind productivity and broke it into 5 steps.
Next, I read the book “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. I wrote about this on my Top 2 Books of 2013 blog post. This book first gave me the inspiration to dramatically change my productivity and also 2 major insights (which will cover in a minute).
And last was the book “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg which thankfully the last friend to stay at my place in December gave me as a thank you gift. It made it very clear the bad habits I created in my unproductive life and a framework to change them.
Step 1 – Motivation (Start With Why)
The excellent book "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath does an excellent job laying out the framework to create change (or why change is resisted or doesn’t happen) in your life.
And it starts with the 2 parts of your brain, the emotional and the logical sides. Everything below are all the logical “how-tos”, many of which you already know. However if you don’t first engage the emotional side of your brain and get it on board none of the how-tos will matter.
So right now, take some time and ask yourself WHY you want to increase your productivity? And go beyond the logical answers and get into the core emotional reasons behind the logical reasons.
For me, I’m mainly motivated to move away from failure (read the 4 kinds of motivation here). So every “why” for me has a foundation in “move away” motivation with some “move towards” mixed in there.
- I felt from a business perspective last year was a failure year for me which meant my motivation trigger was fully on.
- I also felt I am currently in the “prime” of my work life and it was foolish and reckless for me to waste another year being unproductive.
- Plus I’m currently sitting on a tremendous amount of opportunity in the 3 main businesses I’m involved in and was not fair to my partners, my team members and myself to not show up at 100% this year.
- And finally, I’m a HUGE believer in surrounding myself with people at or above my level in life and business that lift me up. That meant every time I hung out with my network of business friends and saw them performing at peak levels it inspired (and humbled me) to pick up my game this year.
STEP 1 ACTION ITEM:
What is your “Whys” for being more productive this year? The more emotional they are to you the more impactful they will be in engaging the emotional side of your brain (which if not engaged will ALWAYS sabotage the logical how-to side of your brain.)
Step 2 – Identify and Eliminate Distractions
Next, one of the take aways from the book “The One Thing” was the science behind will power, distractions and decision making in the brain.
Our brain has a finite amount of will power to deal with distractions and make decisions.
That means the more effort it spends dealing with distractions and making decisions on what it should do, the less brain power it has to actually work, be creative and stay motivated and engaged.
Once the “will power” reserve in your brain is used up, your productive day is basically over.
That means, no matter how motivated you are, and how many great “how-tos” you have, if you don’t change the environment (the 3rd major factor to change in the book Switch) then both parts of your brain will gradually tire out and give up on the change to becoming more productive.
The next step for me was to list every “distraction” I was aware of in my normal work day.
Here’s some of the items on the list I came up with.
- Having my email (gmail) and facebook open at all times and being compelled to check them very frequently.
- Having multiple (dozens) of tabs open in multiple browsers.
- Getting side tracked browsing the internet either for research, or to read an interesting article or just to check out espn to see what’s up with the Dallas Mavericks and the NBA.
- And drinking an excessive amount of caffeine, thus draining my adrenal glands causing a severe lack of energy and an almost constant state of lethargicism in my life.
Next I brainstormed on how to remove or compensate for those distractions.
By far the biggest drain on my mental energy was email and facebook. Every time I looked at either one, my brain saw a long list of decisions “which email to read and respond to, which post to read or comment, an article to go read, etc). And if I looked at both of those 5 times an hour, and each required looking at dozens of items (decisions to make), within hours just from those 2 items my brain was running on empty regardless if I actually did any work or not.
Now I have both of those closed in my browser and only open when they are needed. Distraction removed instead of zapping my brain’s willpower and energy.
The same thing was happening with the dozens of tabs I had open in my browsers. Now I only have 1 browser open with Google Calendar open and its on the 2nd monitor (I have a dual monitor setup.) And, if I need to be online interacting with a website I open a new browser in my main monitor. The rest of the dozens of tabs? I use a free Chrome plugin called “OneTab” that automatically saves them so I can open one or all of them whenever I want.
Also my desire to get distracted reading various articles and watching videos was due to my engrained desire to learn. The simple solution for this was to schedule in 30 minutes of reading a highly engaging book each morning to learn from.
And for the caffeine, which I will explain in my morning ritual below, I just switched my pot of coffee with decaf and made a commitment to myself to not go on an afternoon “dirty chai” run.
NOTE… detoxing off of caffeine will be 3 to 4 absolutely horrendous days full of migraine headaches, extreme lack of energy and focus, desire to sleep a lot, aching body (which could cause you to not be able to sleep) and more. I recommend doing this before you take on the rest of these items if you have a caffeine addiction.
STEP 2 ACTION ITEM:
Create a list of all the distractions in your life and then brainstorm ideas to eliminate them.
Step 3 – Your Morning Ritual
Now that you have a plan to eliminate the distractions that zap your mental energy, the next step is to create a morning routine that prepares you for a highly productive day.
I can almost guarantee you, if you look at the normal day of a high achiever, they have a very structured morning routine they follow before they start working.
And by mapping out, step by step, what you are doing in what order it removes the “mental decision making” and instead turns it into an automatic habit that kick starts you into a highly productive day.
Here is what mine looks like:
- Wake up (8:15)
- Start boiling water for my decaf coffee
- Go to the bathroom and brush my teeth
- Brew my decaf coffee (I use a french press)
- Take a cold shower (cold for health and mental benefits)
- Get dressed
- Make Bulletproof coffee in place of breakfast
- Read for 20 minutes (using a timer)
- Complete the morning writing in my 5 Minute Journal
- Listen to 15 minute meditation audio
- Do 20 minutes of structured Portuguese vocabulary learning
- Review in my Action Journal that day’s top priority to complete and secondary priorities
That is my schedule every day (work day or non work day). In total that is about an hour and 10 minutes to get through my morning ritual, and if I have an early meeting (will cover this in a minute) then I know which items to remove.
I view it like the Abraham Lincoln quote, if he had to cut down a tree he would spend more time sharpening his ax before jumping in and start cutting the tree. Your morning ritual is you sharpening “your ax” for that day’s productivity before you start “chopping the tree” when you start to work.
Beyond a doubt when I follow that ritual (which is now almost every day that I am at home and not traveling) it is a DRAMATICALLY better day.
NOTE – When I first created my list, I had items on there that I “tested” only to not keep them. For example I had take a short walk before starting to work which is something Peter does to trigger his brain its now “at the office” even though he works from home. That didn’t do anything for me and was actually demotivating.
I also had items that I added in that either made for a more productive day (15 minutes of guided meditation) or that were important to me to accomplish daily and not leave to chance to doing it later in the day when my mental energy was drained (improving my portuguese).
Point being, start with something, test it out, and improve it over time by removing and adding items and changing the order and amount of time for items.
STEP 3 ACTION ITEM:
Create the first draft of your ideal morning ritual,one that is realistic that you will follow consistently each day and not give up because its too dramatic of a change.
Also have a list of other possible items you may want to “test out” as you move forward.
Then follow it for the next 2 weeks, ideally every day, and be conscious of what is working and not working for you so you can adjust it into a routine that is the right fit for you.
Step 4 – Your Ideal Work Day
The next step is to map out your ideal work day, much like you mapped out your ideal morning routine.
A MAJOR takeaway for me from the book The One Thing is blocking out the biggest amount of time possible in the morning for your top 1 or 2 priorities.
Also, understanding how you work best. Some people are great when given a task to put their head down and work virtually uninterrupted for long periods of time (up to 90 minutes) before requiring a short break.
Others work best in many short bursts of 20 minutes with short mini breaks in-between (this is called the Pomodoro Method and there are multiple free computer apps that track these for you.)
Also important is your work environment. For me I need a large open space with a lot of natural light.
And when working having the right kind of music playing.
- Some people love the “Focus@Will” program that has music designed to put you into a focused mental state.
- Sometimes I like that, other times I like to have a relaxed “Deep House” mix playing (one of my favorites is “Art Department live @ Robot Heart – Burning Man 2013” on SoundCloud also like Ken Ve Lo's "A New House Episode 44" on MixCloud).
- And other times I like a high energy Progressive House mix playing, which is basically the majority of my iTunes playlist right now
Here is what ideal work day looks like:
- Have my Action Journal open next to my computer with that day’s list of priorities
- Open up computer and prepare any items I need for that day’s top priority
- Based on when I have my first meeting for the day (more on this below) work uninterrupted either using 3 twenty minute Pomodoro’s followed by a 10 minute break to check out Facebook and get up and walk around. Or a “head down” work until out of time blast with occasional get up and walk around mini breaks.
- Then, before my first meeting of the day, I will stop and check my email for 20 minutes. Mainly to clean out my inbox and SaneBox (a great gmail plugin that helps keep your inbox clean) and reply to the high priority messages.
To be honest, this is where my schedule falls apart, when meetings start to happen in the day.
- Around 2 pm I will stop and make “lunch” which is a green smoothie mixed with a healthy organic raw meal replacement powder and some super food powders.
- I will end the work day going through email (and thus blowing up whatever remaining mental energy I have.)
- Then in my Action Journal write out the next day’s Top Priority and Secondary Priorities in order of importance.
After work I have a list of “Fun Activities” to reward myself (actually reward the inner child inside for putting up with a long day of work and mental exertion). This was one of the major takeaways from Peter’s webinar, it was Step 5 of the 5 steps to productivity.
STEP 4 ACTION ITEM:
Map out your Ideal Workday just like you mapped out your Ideal Morning Routine.
Step 5 – Your Calendar & Meetings
If you are not using a calendar (like Google Calendar) that syncs across all of your devices (computer, phone, tablet, etc) then you most likely have a very chaotic work life.
So the first step is start using a digital calendar that is synced to all of your devices. There are other people and blogs that go into great detail on how to effectively use one so I won’t go into the nitty gritty details here.
One of the MAJOR takeaways from the book The One Thing is the important of having a big chunk of time in the morning (he highly recommends 4 hours) to focus on that days One Thing.
And I agree, when I made that switch I started accomplishing more in half of a day then I used to in an entire week.
There are 2 things I’ve found that interfere with this .
- The first is distractions (ie email, facebook/social media, the phone, and other interruptions and distractions). That is why its important to first identify and create strategies to remove them.
- The second, for me, has been meetings.
I noticed one I have my first meeting, the rest of the day was most likely going to be unproductive as all of the bad habits took over.
The simple step is to fanatically protect as much of those first 4 hours of your day as possible from getting meetings scheduled. Or if they do need to be scheduled make it as late as possible.
Also, have “Meeting Day(s)” where you throw all of that week’s required meetings into 1 or 2 days (but again with the first one starting as late as possible that day). Also on these meeting days, in-between the actual meetings is a good time to tackle the “stuff” that needs to get done that week but are not Top Priority “The One Thing” activities.
That then leaves 1, 2 or sometimes 3 days of the week that are either meeting free or meeting light and can have significant amount of productive work time for you.
The second step, one I’m still working on, is understanding the “Habit Cycle” that causes me to go into an unproductive death spiral once I have a meeting or tow in a day. Then, once I understand the trigger, the response and the reward, I can reprogram that habit into a new and positive one.
STEP 5 ACTION ITEM:
Start using a digital calendar app that is synced across all of your devices.
And rescheduling your days to block out as much time to start the day before meetings start. And also create “meeting days” to create “focus days” in your week.
Step 6 – The Big List
Alright, we have talked a lot about tasks and priorities and blocking out big chunks of time for your “One Thing” activities.
But what about everything else? You most likely have a to-do list a mile long.
That is where your Big List comes into play. This is covered in the book The One Thing so I won’t go into detail here.
The idea is to have a separate list, which is a running list of everything you need to do. This could be a digital document where you keep adding and removing items from.
The main points being to get all of these “to-dos” out of your head (where they are using up your mental energy and focus to keep track of them) and onto a list and then close down that list when not using it so you do not have the “mental energy drain” of a big long to-do list zapping your mental energy.
Instead each day you should just have your hand written short list of that days Top Priority and Secondary Priorities that you cross off as they are completed.
STEP 6 ACTION ITEM:
Create a document that will become your Catch All To-Do List moving forward.
Take some time to gather all of the digital notes, post-it notes and ideas in your brain and get them into this document. Then as new things come up add it to this document.
Also keep it closed and out of sight and mind during the day, only opening up and using it at the end of the day when planning out the next day and to add new items that came up that day.
Step 7 – Weekly Top 3, Accountability Partner and Daily Priorities
I already talked about Daily Priorities a lot so won’t cover that again.
However the Weekly Top 3 and Accountability Partner were two other big takeaways I got from Peter’s training.
At the start of each week (either Sunday night or part of my Monday Morning Ritual) I identify the Three Most Important Priorities I will accomplish that week.
I write them into my Action Journal so I see them every time I plan out each day that week. And I also have a Google Doc that is shared with my Accountability Partner.
The idea being, if the ONLY thing I got done that week were these 3 items, would it be a successful week. Now I have a filter on what’s most important for me to be focusing on each day.
Then, to increase my level of accountability (beyond just being accountable to myself, which is actually very little accountability) to accomplishing these Top 3, I have a partner.
Jeff and I meet every Monday at the same time to check in on the results from the past week and share the new Top 3 for the upcoming week and also do a weekly “debrief” on our businesses since we are in the same industry and going down the same path. And, since we are close friends, our weekly accountability and debrief also includes priorities in our personal life as well to ensure not only success in business but success in life as a whole.
Since I’m highly motivated to avoid failure, the last thing I am going to do is show up on Monday without all 3 items accomplished.
Another side benefit, since this is about accurately predicting what I WILL accomplish over the coming week, it forces me to think realistically based on my schedule and time I have available what I CAN accomplish.
It is not about “Shooting For The Moon” goal setting. Instead, just like the Quarterly and Yearly Goals in the Entrepreneurial Operating System, it is about accurate predictions on what is most important AND will get accomplished.
STEP 7 ACTION ITEM:
You can either sign up for Peter’s Accountability Coaching program (where you meet for 15 minutes once a week with your accountability coach) or find an accountability partner.
Step 8 – Test & Tweak To Mastery
OK, it “may” sound like a lot, but I finished steps 1 – 7 above in half a day.
Step 1 was actually something I had been thinking about for weeks leading up to the end of the year. And it triggered me to find the best, most highly recommended books on productivity for me to read.
And it was about half-way through The One Thing book when I was inspired to do Steps 2-6.
Then I finished reading that book and read The Power of Habits which reconfirmed I had a bunch of bad productivity habits and gave me the framework to change them.
That now leaves you with the final step which is to keep using the daily and weekly system for productivity, testing it out and making tweaks so it is YOUR ideal system.
It is through this ongoing process that you create the habit of Mastery over your Productivity.
STEP 8 ACTION ITEM:
Now its time to actually follow through and complete the action items for each of the steps and make a commitment to yourself to follow through BECAUSE it will accomplish the BIG WHY you first identified.
RECAPPING The STEPS:
- Pre-Step – Education
- Step 1 – Motivation (Start With Why)
- Step 2 – Identify & Eliminate Distractions
- Step 3 – Create Your Morning Ritual
- Step 4 – Create Your Ideal Work Day
- Step 5 – Your Calendar & Meetings
- Step 6 – Create The Big List
- Step 7 – Weekly Top 3, Accountability Partner and Daily Priorities
- Step 8 – Test & Tweak to Mastery
Want Help Implementing This?
This month I am doing a LIVE training webinar for our LIMA (Local Internet Marketing Association) members walk them through this process, answering your questions along the way, trouble shooting potential challenges and roadblocks and leaving you with a clear game plan to make this your BEST, MOST PRODUCTIVE YEAR EVER.
And we are recording and posting it in the LIMA back office with all of our other high-impact training sessions.
Take a 30 Day Test-Drive of LIMA (for just $1.50 for 30 days) and you can get both the live training and the recording.
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