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5 Techniques to Actually Skyrocket your Productivity

Spoiler: getting up at 5 isn’t one of them.

 

Life is busy. Shiny objects are all around and distractions wait at every corner.

Fellow entrepreneurs know that working for yourself can make it even harder. Lack of structure, deadlines, and routines put you into the only position of authority. If you don’t force yourself to change from your pajamas into proper clothes nobody will.

The result: we over-schedule, over-stimulate — underperform. We get to the end of a day realizing we have spent most of our time on low-impact activities.

Don’t Give Yourself an Option

This article is written for you to challenge some of the common productivity hacks. I have found that many of them are nothing but hot air. They may work in theory but fail in practice. Here are the only five productivity techniques that have helped me improve the quality of work I do.

Here we go:

Don’t Set Artificial Deadlines — Make Them REAL

I’ve tried to get up at 5.30 am for a year — failing 90% of times. I felt discouraged.

Then I moved to San Francisco. All my meetings with European clients got shifted to early morning hours. Nothing is more effective in getting me out of bed than a real meeting at 7 in the morning.

If you struggle with “artificial deadlines” as much as I do — try to make them real.

I keep reading blogs that tell you to mark your work-outs in your calendar and then sticking to them. DON’T. Schedule a work-out with your personal trainer three times a week or commit to a session with a friend. The same principle works in business. Book that investor meeting for next week — I guarantee, you’ll have your business plan updated by then.

Prioritize Your To-Do List (the RIGHT WAY)

“Don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities.” — Stephen Covey

Though Steven Covey is right, I have found myself struggling with know what my priorities are and should be.

Between putting out fires and getting new leads, which one do you choose? I never knew how to prioritize until my business partner showed me Dan Martell’s Focus Filters. Here is his technique:

Use a scoring system for prioritizing your to-do list

1. Activity makes money (3 Points)

2. Makes customers happy (2 Points)

3. Helps you scale/ is a repeatable system (1 Point)

Assign points to every activity on your list and for each use the weighted score. Those that get most points should be top of your todo list.

Simple, right? Simple and effective.

Get out There from Time to Time

I know the struggle: your calendar is full to the brim. You sit down at your desk and swear yourself to “knock everything out”. Next thing you know, four hours have gone by and you find yourself lost in the Internet. Don’t waste your own time: you can’t sit down and get “everything done” without ever taking a break.

Carve out time to go on walks, meet friends, meditate, call a loved one, or go out there and see something new every once in a while. I have found that traveling helps me increase my productivity and creativity in the long run.

Manager and Maker Days

Meetings are the worst. You sat down to write an article or work on a website overhaul. You’re in the zone and deep in thoughts when your co-worker taps on your shoulder from behind asking for a meeting. You cringe… follow suit…. have the meeting…. go back to your desk… and can’t get back into the flow…. you end up browsing through your emails…. killing time… until the day is over.

The problem: you tried to divide your time between two vastly different tasks. Making and managing.

Venture capitalist Paul Graham talked about this a few years ago:

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. (…)

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

When I first read these lines it blew my mind: how did I not discover this earlier? What happens to me and follow entrepreneurs is that we’re both makers and managers.

How do we carve out time to be both managers and makers?

We divide our week into makers and managers days. Instead of telling clients to call you “whenever” block off whole days when you’re not available.

Jumping on Calls Instead of Texting

I learned this one from my friend Catalina. She is one of the youngest women in the US to hold a general contractor’s license and builds energy-efficient houses in Kansas City with her company Greenovate Construction. She has one habit that I totally admire: she never texts. She doesn’t even have Facebook messenger installed on her phone and you barely see her typing.

She makes phone calls for anything she needs. Canceling a phone contract: call T-Mobile. Telling a contractor that the key to the house is under the flower pot: call the worker. Asking her husband what he wants to eat at night: call him. Telling her mom she loves her: call her.

Phone calls create accountability, a much deeper human connection and are far more effective in sorting things out than just emailing or texting back and forth.

Stop Thinking Productivity Tools Will Save You

The principle is primary. The tool is secondary.

A tool is only useful if it helps save time instead of creating more work for you.

I have tried them all: Asana, Trello, Todoist… There’s also this tool that synchronizes all your todo-list with yet another planner. Yippie, now I can stream my to-do’s into another tool, which integrates with my calendar, which sends a notification to my phone and watch. Awesome. Now I will never again forget my deadlines. WRONG.

After two weeks of using any of these tools I lose the discipline to update them. All these productivity tools send notifications to my phone, which is buzzing all the time. Notifications pile up. I swipe them all away.

How I fixed it? I got a notebook. One of these dumb physical notebooks that you write in with a pen. It works like a charm.

(No hate on productivity tools though — they are awesome. They just don’t save you unless you’re disciplined enough to stick to them.)

Conclusion

Finally, please remind yourself that you are in charge of your own life. Have fun and enjoy the ride. If you struggle with productivity maybe make some changes? Do what you love and are good at — outsource the rest. You owe it to yourself, the talent you were born into, and the ones that love you to bring out the best in yourself.

I hope some of the techniques I’ve shared will help you shine.

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The Industries of the Future — Book Review

What if somebody told you what is about to come? Would you invest? Would you study? Would you found a business in that area?

If somebody would have told you in the early 1990s what impact the Internet will have on your life you would probably have become an early adopter. If Nokia had known smartphones are gonna take over — wouldn’t they probably have gotten into it?

Alec Ross makes an interesting point right in the beginning: He wishes that when he was younger, there would have been a book that would have told him about the impact the Internet will have on his life. He wishes his parents would have had a book that told them about Globalization and how it will change their lives — how it will change Viriginia’s economy.

This is why he wrote “The Industries of the Future”. It is the book that he wished he would have had. The book that helps the current generation understand what is about to come and get prepared.

What are the implications for me? I might make different decisions about my education, the place I choose to live, the investments I make, the businesses I found…. — LIFE DECISIONS. If only I knew what is coming I would become a millionaire.

When I first read the title of this book I got excited and Alec Ross didn’t disappoint me. He gives insight into his year-long experience as an advisor to Hilary Clinton on Innovation topics. I heard the audiobook on our daily commutes from Staten Island to Manhattan with NomadApp and Alec Ross turned them into the most educative time of my day. Here’s a summary of what stood out to me.

Already the chapter headlines give a feeling of what he considers to be the Industries of the Future:

  1. Robotics
  2. The Future of the Human Machine (Advanced Life Sciences and Genomics)
  3. The Codification of Money, Markets and Trust
  4. The Weaponization of Code (and the importance of Cybersecurity)
  5. Big Data

He ends with an outlook on the geography of future markets and gives actionable advice.

Introduction

We lag behind! Education lags behind! People are still teaching how globalization will change the world and how the Internet is gonna affect our lives. The fact is: IT HAS ALREADY REVOLUTIONIZED OUR LIVES. Globalization was the revolution of the 1970s-80s. It has affected local economies. The chemical industry has moved from states within the US to countries such as Mexico or China. Coal mines were closed in the US and relocated to low-labor countries. The Internet was the revolution of the 1990s and early 2000s. I am a millennial. I grew up in a globalized, digital world. This is my reality. Tell me what is going to happen in the future.

Since then the speed of innovation has increased. Never in history have people experienced so much technological progress in so little time.

What does this tell me? We need to scale up. Tomorrow’s leaders will be fast learners. I love to learn. And it’s my generation that should set the curriculum. We should be selective about what we learn and who we learn from. Do I rather wanna learn from a middle aged Marketing Professor that studied at university back in the 1970s? Or do I rather learn from industry leaders that provide me with their content in real time, often for free on online webinars, udemy or focus classes? I tend to think that the value of our current Bachelor and Master degrees will decrease as the rate by which knowledge gets outdated increases. What we need are leaders that know how to stay on top of current innovations and trends; that are fast learners and can adapt to change rapidly. It makes sense to me to invest into personal competencies, find underlying principles rather than learn methodologies by heart — because the way of doing things will get outdated in no time. We need allrounders — people that know how to learn and navigate future industries.

Chapter 1: Robotics

Robotics is changing everything. Already today, robots are taking over a number activities in housekeeping, care, and routine tasks. They are getting smarter and will form an integral part of our lives in the future. Especially Japan is leading in this field. Due to its demographic structure robots do already play a role in caretaking.

Alec Ross jokes that robotics might be the first technology that is brought to us as consumers by our grandparents.Soon our robot house assistants will do daily chores like doing the dishes or waking us up.

Along with these developments comes an ethical question: what if humans start bonding with robots? Robots are becoming more and more human-like. Do we want to start bonding with robots like we are bonding with pets?Alec Ross mentions that it Asian societies might be more okay with this thought than Westerners.

Who will be the winners? On the one hand developed nations that lead in robotics (Japan, Germany, China…). On the other hand, interestingly, Ross argues developing countries may win, too. For them, there are fewer barriers to overcome in adopting new technology. Developing countries may have a last-mover advantage. As an example: many African countries never even built landlines for phones. They went straight to mobile and high-speed internet.

There are signs that with robotics it might be similar. There’s huge demand for education robots which are already in use. This may allow e.g. Nigerian students to access top, free, online education from the world’s leading universities while European students still learn from outdated textbooks, old professors in a society that is afraid that robots will take over. Frugal innovation is the term that Ross uses to describe innovation that thrives in situations of scarcity.

Another interesting aspect is that robots will get smarter at an increasing pace as they are connected to the cloud and learn from each other.Wow.. I think. What if we humans could do the same and tap into a pool of collective knowledge. Amazing.

Without a question, robots are getting smarter.

The Consumer Robots market will be $390 bio. market.

Alec Ross claims we are close to huge advances in Robotics. We are now where we were with the Internet 20 years ago. By 2020 Robotics will have changed our lives.

Will robots take over?

Humans and robots are distinct. There are many areas that robots suck at: emotional interpretation, strategic decision making, thinking… However, yes, many routine jobs may be replaced through robots. We’d better get used to it.