An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Being Productive

An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Being Productive post image

What stands between us and many of the things we desire in life is the amount of work we can produce.

The loser in us fantasizes about a chance encounter with a luminary at a cocktail party. Perhaps we’ll get an invite to the next event? Maybe we’ll get ‘in’ with that crowd.

We all know people who build their lives around these fantasies– “lottery ticket thinking” as my buddy Tim Conley calls it.

Meeting people doesn’t mean anything if you haven’t done any work.

It makes sense then that entrepreneurs are obsessed with finding ways to improve their productivity. It’s everywhere. The life hackers and the time trackers. There’s endless articles about “how to build your business after your job, commute, family stuff, and other activities.” Less people seem to be pointing out the obvious– if the work is so important, why do you have a job, commute, family stuff, and other activities?

The best strategy for productivity is pretty boring– make producing valuable work your life’s top priority. All the modafinil in the world won’t add up to one intelligent decision, one key hire, one decision for a strategic focus.

I’m not supposed to be writing this blog post.

I should be editing the sales letter for the October Tropical MBA class. A few moments ago, while I was getting ready to do that task, I got distracted and headed over to the Dynamite Circle, as I often do. While poking around I started reading a fascinating thread about productivity.

Many members have been inspired by Sebastian’s 90 day productivity experiment.

I started to explore that idea. And that’s when this article got started. 

When the winds of passion are blowing, put your sails up.

An old version of myself would have fought the impulse to write this article. I don’t fight that kind of stuff anymore. If I want to build something, write something, make a movie, write a song– I do it right then and there.

If you are unhappy with what you are doing, stop doing it.

I recently had a friend tell me that for the past few months he’d been phoning phoning his work in. He wasn’t doing work he was interested in. The past few months. Now I not some productivity saint here, but I’m sure during that time this guy was rocking the Pomodoro technique, going for inbox zero, and all that producto-porn stuff.

There’s a slew of higher callings buried in all of us. A bigger challenge, a hidden lever, a more profound passion that we are missing right now. If you want to optimize anything, how about finding a way to uncover these broader visions?

Get good at creating culture. 

The culture of your business is a process that helps many employes self-direct. Highly productive entrepreneurs can’t spend the most productive hours of their days delegating tasks to team members. This basic almost cliched business advice is consistently overlooked by producto-gurus, as it should be. It would put them out of business. There is nothing so profound as another intelligent vinegar-pisser (or two) helping to build out your vision.

Get good at letting little bad things happen.

I was reminded of this great Tim Ferriss quote by my friend Tim Conley. He claims that every 100M+ entrepreneur he’s met is good at this. I thought of this as I was laying in bed last night re-considering a customer service email I recently sent.

I got to thinking that over the years I’ve probably had 1,000’s of customers that were miffed at me in one way or another, and that this state of affairs was inevitable. No amount of extra attention to the matter would change that inevitability. And so any attention spent on it was time wasted.

I reminded myself that this was a very different thing from not paying attention to the details. And then I went to sleep.

Before you go to bed, write down the three big, proactive things you’d like to get done the next day.

Articulate them as “next actions” and not projects. That means “write a sales letter for new SEO service” becomes “start a new post @ Tropical MBA and write 100 words about my new SEO service.” Are you going to procrastinate writing 100 words? Ok. Well, some people can’t be helped. :)

Consume a ton of amazing content, even if it’s immediate usefulness isn’t apparent.

I’m worried that in general consumption of content is disproportionally scapegoated as preventing people from taking action because of it’s apparent oppositional relationship with production. I’m tired of hearing this messages that disparage voracious consumption of entrepreneurial information. Most of the top producers I know are also the top consumers. So read one dear web surfer!  Here’s a good one.



Published on 07.12.12
  • In the words of Cameron Herod, instead of focusing on the important many things you have to do, focus on the critical few.

  • Recently was referred to the Pomodoro technique, going to check it out.

  • Steven Moody

    I can completely relate: should be spending more time on client work rather than ramping up staff, but getting the right people in the company is more interesting to me right now. This is what makes a startup great: there are so many things you can do to progress, surely one will catch your passion sails, and this passion can do more for you than any productivity gimmicks (though they can work well together too.)

  • Terry

    Before I sleep I check my phone, so I find it a good time to email myself 3-4 things to do in the morning. Tasks are all in the subject line and its usually at the top of your inbox too.

  • I like the letting little bad things happen, it comes with the territory of saying FU to the tyranny of the urgent/unimportant. You know what does wonders for my productivity… Piracatam. Here’s my review of it:

  • I struggle with this…

    Every Friday, I plan out my week, GTD-style. It works. I get stuff done. I rarely forget stuff or miss deadlines. But… I have trouble letting go of the plan for the more important stuff, in a similar way you suggested with writing the blog post. If I have something on my to-do list, I feel guilty if I go do something else that’s more interesting or exciting. But ironically, whenever I’ve given in to the urge, it almost always turns out good. Well worth it. My new experiment (which is only just beginning) is to see if I can work less while accomplishing more. Rather than filling a whole day up with tasks, aim to add only 3-4 hours of tasks. Get that done. Then move into inspiration. Or vice versa. I’m wondering if limiting working time to something short… if I’ll automatically filter out everything that isn’t worth doing… rather than looking for stuff to keep busy. Which is the whole point, right? 40 hours a week being arbitrary… and it’s not necessarily he who works the hardest who wins… plus, working the hardest might not be what’s gonna get us to our ideal lifestyle. Then in comes the difference between external and internal locus of control… I think there’s a blog post or book written by Ferriss on this… The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen. Let small bad things happen so you can accomplish the big things.

  • Dan

    Assuming you are running a business, it’s generally those moments of inspiration that are creating the real value behind what you are doing. The blog post idea, the new product design, the afternoon spent researching the competition on the web, the day taken off to read the new business book, the last minute lunch meeting with an investor, the afternoon spent listening to a new podcast, the long periods of uninterrupted time needed to chisel a new product out of the universe. These are the larks I’m looking to chase. That’s why I limit my task list as a general rule (removing tasks altogether would be optimal, but not realistic during start-up stage) and instead focusing on those 1-3 next actions that have the potential to start up the projects.

    Finally, it’s even better if those larks all have a common platform or way to get expressed. In your case, if all of your creative larks could somehow be funneled into your blog or product, that’s obviously superior to going off and creating something new every time.

  • Dan

    Heard a lot about this one, still haven’t gotten off of my ass to try it out. Thanks for the link.

  • Dan

    Yeah I gotta say I’m guilty of inbox to-dos as well. I’m fast in there due to GMAIL keyboard shortcuts, and I enjoy the simplicity of one space.

  • Dan

    Part of the trouble is this stuff is so unpredictable, so it’s tough to develop processes for it. The key thing is to give yourself a framework to chase value, creativity, and not feel so bad about it because you aren’t GTDing the hell out of it, or whatever.

  • Dan

    It works!

  • Dan

    I love that one!

  • I like the idea of these creative larks all having a common theme, if not the platform. If they’re all directed towards one common purpose (even if broad), then a lark still moves something forward, whether it’s the vision, the knowledge or the skillz.

    I’m gonna test this idea out of the next couple of weeks. Thanks man!

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