• Seth Godin • Leo Babauta • Ishita Gupta • Graham Allcott • Celestine Chua • Laura Stack • Michael Sliwinski •
#10 (September, October, November 2011)
Seth Godin On the new Revolution and Passion to take Action! More articles on: 4 Generating lots of output 4 Fighting procrastination & resistance 4 Building habits of constant improvement
From the Editor
Crazy Productive! By Michael Sliwinski, Editor
eth Godin’s new book is “We are all Weird” and it’s really fantastic. With this book/manifesto as well as my interview with him, Seth is showing us how we should start taking actions right away and not be afraid to perform at our best. We are not pieces of a factory anymore. We are unique and we can show it to the world through our work. I was humbled and excited to be able to interview Seth for this issue of your favorite productivity magazine and hope you’ll enjoy it, too! We launched the magazine almost 3 years ago and now you’re reading issue #10. We’re speeding up. This Christmas you’ll receive a gift of issue #11, isn’t that cool? Moreover, if everything goes well this issue will also be translated into French and Spanish. Things are looking up for our magazine and we’re hoping to help millions of people get things done all over the world.
Since this issue’s star is Seth Godin, we organized the articles around his messages with Leo Babauta on blogging, Ishita Gupta (who works with Seth) on helplessness, Graham Allcott on beating resistance, Celestine Chua on habits and Laura Stack on wording. Finally I wrote a tribute–article to Steve Jobs, ex CEO of Apple, who recently passed away. Also, we’re ending this issue with a short piece by Leo on minimalism in New York (Seth’s city). As always, enjoy, get inspired and take action! …and share this magazine with your friends and family. It’ll be very appreciated! Yours, Michael Sliwinski
Editor in Chief, Productive! Magazine Founder, Nozbe – Simply Get It Done!
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael Sliwinski’s Blog
Productive! Magazine web site | Nozbe – Simply Get Things Done!
Michael Sliwinski On a new Revolution and Passion to take Action! Interview with Seth Godin
Photo Credit: Brian Bloom Photography
Table of contents Productive!Magazine www.ProductiveMagazine.com Sponsor: www.Nozbe.com
Leo Babauta Become the God of Learning Your Trade
Ishita Gupta Break Through the Cycle of Fear and Helplessness Graham Allcott 10 ways to beat your internal resistance Celestine Chua The 8 Habits of Highly Productive People (Part 1)
19 21 24 25
Michael Sliwinski How Steve Jobs got his last year done
Your Online tool for Getting Things Done – available in your computer browser, mobile phone and on your iPhone. Chief Editor: Michael Sliwinski
Technical Editor: Piotr Wozniak
Technical Advisor: Maciej Budzich
Editorial Team: Lori Anderson
Laura Stack Your Wording is a Critical Productivity Tool Michael Sliwinski Productive! Show Videos Leo Babauta A minimalist in NYC
Tribute: Marc Orchant (1957–2007) The Productive!Magazine is dedicated to the memory of a productivity guru, great blogger and a very close friend, Marc Orchant who passed away on 9th December 2007. All articles are copyright © by their respective authors. Productive!Magazine is copyright © by Michael Sliwinski. Getting Things Done® and GTD® are the registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.
Interview with Seth Godin
On theâ€Żnew Revolution and Passion to take
How Seth Godin disrupts the publishing industry and motivates all of us to focus on our uniqueness and do the work weâ€™re destined to do. Now.
Photo Credit: Brian Bloom Photography
Michael Sliwinski: We are here from the Productive! Magazine, a magazine about productivity and you are this super–productive guy with one book a year, lots of daily blog posts... how do you get this done? Seth Godin: Well, I don’t go to meetings, I don’t watch television and I focus very much on things that have leverage and try very hard to avoid things that are stalling.
MS: You don’t engage with users on Twitter or other social networks… are they a waste of your time? SG: I’m not sure if that’s a waste, all I’m saying is that I can’t do it very well and also do the other things that I want to do. So I go focus on things I can do well and do them with leverage and passion and don’t let the resistance slow me down.
MS: You are starting many things. What kind of tricks do you use that help you follow through with these things? SG: I’m not sure it is a trick. I think that the approach that I have is that the resistance to lizard brain is a compass. If it tells me that something is uncomfortable, if it tells me that something is scary then that is exactly what I’m going to do. I look for it as a clue that I’m on the right track.
MS: So it actually suggests to you what to do next? SG: That’s right. You know you have this built–in thing that shows you what the world is afraid of. And if you do that you’re probably going to be OK.
MS: With the “Domino Project” that you’ve launched with Amazon, are you trying to shut down the whole publishing industry? SG: You know it is called the “Domino Project”, because we would like books to spread like dominoes. Like we have this new book coming out called “Any-
thing You Want” and as it spreads it is going to sell more because we’ve organized it to spread. And that is what we are trying to do, we are not trying to knock down publishing like dominoes, we’re trying to spread books like dominoes.
I don’t go to meetings, I don’t watch television and… try very hard to avoid things that are stalling. MS: What would you say to aspiring authors? Should they actually go and pitch the publishers or try self–publishing on Amazon? SG: I feel very strong that you should pick yourself. You shouldn’t be waiting for someone to pick you, to give you permission to go and make something happen. If that means working with a publisher, that’s fine, but I don’t feel that anybody should say “no, you can’t do that”.
MS: You are known as the ultimate marketer with your books like “Purple Cow” and “All Marketers Are Liars” – now you switched to personal marketing with “Linchpin” and “Poke the box”. Why the switch all of a sudden?
SG: Well, I’m not sure it’s all of a sudden. You know “the Dip” was definitely about the very same thing, and a book I wrote back in 1997 called “Get what you deserve”. The point is the marketing is not advertising. Advertising is a corporate activity that can be done by a committee, marketing is a personal activity that can be done by a human. What I found often when people are stuck on their marketing it’s because they are personally holding themselves back, it’s because somewhere along the way they have persuaded themselves that they didn’t deserve it, that they needed to wait for something, or that some other thing was holding them back. And so I needed to write about it in order for the whole thing to come together.
MS: That totally makes sense. The next thing: practical aspects of blogging. I also blog and many people blog... but then they just stop... how do you manage to post so regularly? SG: Well, I think the most important thing to understand about blogging is that if you are blogging for other people you are going to be disappointed. Even if no one would read it I would still blog. And the people I know who blog passionately, all of them say exactly the same thing. So that is the way you have to look at it, you can’t say: “I’m not getting enough comments I’m not going to blog. I’m not getting enough money, I’m not going to blog”. You have to say: “this is a great chance for me to clear my thoughts and put them into the world, what an opportunity”.
I go focus on things I can do well and do them with leverage and passion and don’t let the resistance slow me down.
MS: Totally. Now, back to your daily routines... do you have a typical day? SG: I don’t have one. I’m very much focused on not having a typical day.
MS: OK. But you still have to focus on having time to write, right? SG: Well, when I want to write, I write. When I need to write, I write. I think that modeling your day on someone else is a giant mistake.
MS: So, when you do want to write and somebody disturbs you or ask you for an interview. What do you do then? SG: I mean, if you talk to just about anyone doing a lot of output, they are very good at saying “no”. I feel badly about
Anyone who is doing a lot of output, is very good at saying “no”. all the places I can’t go to speak, I feel badly about all the interviews I can’t do and all those people I could reach out and coach or consult, but I can’t do that and do what I’m doing now. So, I don’t do any consulting and I rarely do all the other sorts of things although I’d like to. The discipline of saying “no” becomes really important.
MS: It’s good that sometimes you do speak at conferences because then we all can watch them on YouTube – the one I enjoyed most was about the “lizard brain”. I’ve shared it with my audience, friends, family... SG: Yes. I think that’s worth talking about. The argument I’m trying to make is that there is something going on and we need to be aware of it so that we can do something about it. And once it has a name, once people understand what’s at stake they are more likely to take actions and do something worthwhile.
Photo Credit: Brian Bloom Photography
MS: Definitely. So, if you are so busy and you have so many things to do, how do you balance your family life? How do you find time for the ones you love?
SG: You know it is funny. People never say “how do find time to have lunch or dinner?” or “how do you find time to sleep?”. We are not talking of life–lunch balance. So I’m not sure I’m interested in conversation about life–work balance. I think you have to have the discipline to have the life you want to have.
Photo Credit: John Abbott
Advertising is a corporate activity that can be done by a committee, marketing is a personal activity that can be done by a human.
I guess I would leave this interview by saying: “there is a fork in a road and you will have to decide if you take action or if you are going to stand by”. My idea for you would be to dig in deep and start taking actions. a
!!Seth Godin And if you are stealing from one part of your life in order to make the other part work, you are going to pay for it.
MS: Totally true. Going back to our magazine, people ask me why I do it. It’s easy, I love learning new things about productivity. Everything we do should be more about just passion and drive. What do you think?
SG: Yes. Isn’t that the nature of the revolution we are having right now? Isn’t it the nature of what we are saying to people, we are not looking for more people to work in our factories, that’s why we have unemployment, we are saying to people “this is your chance to do work that matters, the work that you believe in”. So why don’t you step up and do it?
S e t h i s a w r i t e r, a speaker and an agent of change. Also known as the best marketer of our times. Author of ten books that have been bestsellers around the world. Founder of Squidoo and recently The Domino Project with Amazon.
! Links: Seth’s Blog | Seth’s Books | The Domino Project | Seth’s “We Are All Weird”
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Become a God of Learning Your Trade A lot of you are like me – trying to do what you love, and figuring out the best way to do that.
o matter what you do, you can put ideas out on a blog. It’s not always easy to do what you love, because: ! You aren’t sure you’re good at it. ! You don’t know if it will work. ! You don’t know if people will like it. ! You don’t know how to get better. ! You doubt your ability to succeed. ! You might spend months working on something, only to have it fail. And these are tough problems. But I have a method for beating them. And it’s a simple trick: Do it in public, and get immediate feedback. It’s one of the most powerful things you can implement, I promise. Here’s why and how.
The Lessons of Street Performers Consider the street musician or juggler or magician: they do a show in public, in front of people who have other things to do and haven’t planned on watching a show, and have to convince that crowd not only to watch, but to pay them money after having already seen the show. That’s an amazing business model. If a street performer isn’t good, people won’t watch. But making a small change in the performance, like a better setup or better patter, can make huge changes in audience reaction and payment. And here’s the thing: they see the effects of those small changes immediately. There’s no wondering, “Will this
© pio3 / Shutterstock
By Leo Babauta
Instant feedback is the most valuable thing you can get.
How to Evolve Like a Street Performer Blogging is one of the best ways to do something in public. Consider: you write about an idea, and you get instant feedback from readers, in comments, emails, tweets, G+ posts, etc.
Be a street performer. There’s no better way to get amazing at something. When I started Zen Habits, I don’t think I was that great… I wrote a bunch of posts that didn’t thrill readers. I wrote a couple that did thrill some people, and so learned what works best as a writer – more than I’d learned as a writer in the entire previous decade of writing. Through this kind of public writing, instant feedback, and constant evolving, I got better over the course of months, not years. No matter what you do, you can put ideas out on a blog. You can also put software out to beta testers, as soon as possible, with the simplest possible version of the software. You can test recipes by making them for people, maybe selling them on the
© pio3 / Shutterstock
work? Will it be an improvement or make things worse?”. Because they know if it works, if it makes things better or worse, right away. Instant feedback is the most valuable thing you can get. It’s better even than a sale, because a sale might result in a satisfied customer or it might not, and a sale doesn’t tell you how to improve. Whatever you want to do, if you can do something publicly, even in front of a small group, and get instant feedback, that’s pure gold. There’s no better way to improve. There’s no better way to evolve a method or creative process or business model than through this simple technique of constant iteration and natural selection.
street in a cart. Artists can put artwork online instantly. Musicians and actors can put stuff on Youtube. A business can put itself online in as small an iteration as possible, without taking months of blind development. For some work, it will take a bit more creativity. But use this idea of working in public, getting instant feedback, and evolving through constant iterations to improve better and faster than ever before. I admit it can be scary. This is why you can start with a small group, less public but still using the same ideas, and grow the audience as you grow more confident. Be a street performer. There’s no better way to get amazing at something. a
!!Leo Babauta Leo Babauta lives in San Francisco and is married with six kids. He’s a writer and a runner and a vege© pio3 / Shutterstock
tarian and he loves writing blogs: “Zen Habits” and “Minimalism���. He’s a published author of a bestselling book “Power of Less”.
! Links: Leo on Twitter | Leo’s Blog: Zen Habits | Leo’s Blog: Minimalist
Break Through the Cycle of Fear and Helplessness Most of the time, we’re productive people; we use our time and get our work done efficiently, even throw in some exercise to boot. But what about the days we procrastinate so much we wear ourselves out? Where panic sets in just thinking about our to–do list? I’ve never had that happen to me but for those of you who have, the Fear–Helplessness–Fear (or FHF) cycle is useful to understand.
By Ishita Gupta
ll cycles aren’t vicious, but FHF is. Fear feeds off of the helplessness that comes from not knowing where to begin. There’s nothing worse than coming back to a task still panicked and overwhelmed, but fear loves this. Its best weapon is that heavy feeling that makes you walk away again. Instead of reeling in the cycle, we have to access a different one – the Get Stuff Done (or GSD) cycle, which is active and forward moving. FHF’s only goal is to stop you from doing the good work inside you. GSD’s goal is to bring out that work by being ruthless and
breaking our pattern of fleeing when the going gets tough. Since helplessness is the worse feeling in the world, mix and match the below to become the productivity alchemist that you are. I use these tools to combat fear and the paralysis that follows with a mixture that works for me.
Make action steps Break down the information you’ve gathered and tasks in front of you into ACTION steps (I write “ACTION” in all caps in front of my steps.) For every piece of information or task, there should be one, two or more corresponding ACTION steps. The more ACTION steps, the better. Creating ACTION steps is so neces-
sary for me that if I don’t use them, I become overwhelmed by everything I have to do and shutdown, opting for ten hours in my bed. I also end up doing unnecessary research, whereas with ACTION
Break down the information you’ve gathered and tasks in front of you into ACTION steps
steps, my research is guided by exactly what I need to know, not everything. Don’t find yourself in that place I’ve often been as I’ve tried to surmount a huge task without ACTION steps: confused, wanting to quit, skipping steps, and hating life in the process.
I have conquered insane to–do lists because I was able to switch into this mental mode and was so surprised it worked for me.
Here’s an example: “Create ishitagupta.com” becomes: ! ACTION: Email web guy what it takes to move ishitagupta.com to another theme ! ACTION: Write what I want the navigation bar to look like for ishitagupta.com ! ACTION: 20–minute research on what other sites look like to see what’s out there.
ishing. I find that deadlines improve the quality of my work actually because I get clear and focused.
Chunk it down, create action steps, and see how you start to move.
Set a Deadline This is a tip so many productivity gurus talk about and that’s because it works. I give myself very short deadlines for tasks I’ve been putting off – the longer I procrastinate the task, the shorter my deadline is to finish it. Deadlines allow me to plow through my censor and focus on getting the task done, even if the quality suffers a little. And even if the quality suffers a little – so what? Either outsource the task, take it off your list, or give it a deadline with the goal of fin-
Personally, I work best from early in the morning till 3pm and after that I get restless.
phones, try not to get distracted (I often fail) and try to honor those hours.
Break the pattern Get the “GSD” mindset This is when you’re not focused on how many hours you’ve spent on a task or how much is still left to do. All you’re thinking about is, “I’m going to finish this no matter if someone comes and craps on my head”. There is no thought in your brain except finishing the task in front of you and finishing it as fast as possible. It doesn’t matter if there are a thousand laptops with Facebook open, you can’t be tempted because you are ruthless in your pursuit of getting the task done. I have conquered insane to–do lists because I was able to switch into this mental mode and was so surprised it worked for me. But it did and beautifully so.
Focus on your productivity The only way to learn about how you operate best is to focus on (surprise) how you operate. What works for you won’t work for someone else, so notice how you flourish. Notice when you work best, when you get tired, with whom you work well and with whom you do not work well, and what inspires you or brings you down. Use this as a driver to be your most productive. Personally, I work best from early in the morning till 3pm and after that I get restless. If I get a second wind or am in GSD mode, I’ll continue. Otherwise, I won’t. I carve out my working hours like a military officer and don’t answer
It’s that important that I’m making it the final step. Breaking out of the “I’m scared, I feel helpless, let’s eat ice–cream” pattern is so important because if each time you have the same knee–jerk response, you’re conditioning yourself to repeat the same patterns of behavior. Start small and each time you encounter this feeling, remind yourself that you’ll work through it and try out one of the tools above. We can change our grey matter and each time you react differently, confronting the uneasiness instead of running away, you win; you’re breaking the pattern each time you encounter it. You don’t need to remain stuck in FHF if you don’t want to. It just takes some awareness, a dose of ruthlessness, and some courage to break free. All of which you have in droves. a
!!Ishita Gupta Ishita Gupta navigates the divide between traditional and digital publishing. As Head of Hoopla and Media at The Domino Project (by Amazon), she launched 6 bestselling books. She founded and runs Fear.less magazine, lives in New York City, and her eyes disappear when she smiles.
! Links: Ishita on Twitter | Ishita’s site
© grivina / Shutterstock
10 ways to beat your internal resistance
Seth Godin’s excellent book “Linchpin” talks about our need to “ship”. “Shipping” – the art of completing and moving on rather than striving for perfection and procrastinating – can be hard.
By Graham Allcott
ost of us at one time or another struggle to “ship” things because we’re scared about the consequences and without even knowing it, we’re battling our Lizard brains – the part of the brain that looks after survival, fitting in and not taking risks. Seth quotes from one of my favourite books on this topic, Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”, which defines the creation of art as a war with our own “resistance”. I personally don’t think any of us can conquer our internal resistance completely. Instead, we can listen to it, confront it, and occasionally even tame it. But importantly, in our quest to be productive, we must never allow our lizard brain’s resistance to stop us from “shipping”. Here are 10 ways to beat the resistance, battle by battle:
1. Create a deadline in someone else’s world We all know deadlines are great for focusing the mind and replacing our number one fear (“looking foolish”) with a new number one fear (“letting someone down by missing the deadline”). Indeed, I’m on a deadline with Michael to finish this right now, and believe me it’s my favourite way of getting my fingers to make that tappity–tappity sound that magically produces writing! However, setting deadlines for ourselves doesn’t work. We don’t mind letting ourselves down because there’s no pain involved in that. So tell a colleague, a client or someone else that you don’t want to look bad in front of. Now it’s easier to ignore the resistance’s fear about producing bad work because you have a commitment to keep, and you’ll ship.
2. Just do the next action David Allen’s great question in “Getting Things Done” is “what’s the next action?”. It produces momentum because it overcomes the fear that a project will be large, complicated, difficult or boring. I run my own business and occasionally need to spend time on the finances (which I hate for all the above reasons). Telling myself I’m only spending five minutes on something allows me to start. Momentum builds and things get easier.
Setting deadlines for ourselves doesn’t work. We don’t mind letting ourselves down because there’s no pain involved in that. 3. Create space and enjoy the silence If your resistance’s voice is screaming loudly in your mind telling you not to do those difficult, daring or high–impact pieces of work, you’re going to find ways to block out all that noise with other noise. There are so many potential distractions available to us to take our minds away from the task and our ears away from the resistance’s voice. Creating the space to focus your mind on what those fears are, is scary because it means we have to go into battle with
the resistance. But that’s what we need to do. Get to your desk when it’s quiet, an hour before your team arrives. Turn off your email. Take a walk. Eliminate distractions so that you can confront the resistance and then work out how to beat it.
4. Get a coach or mentor Often the resistance starts to win because you’re not aware that it’s winning. Talking through a difficult project or issue with a coach or mentor allows you to externalise negative thought patterns. A good coach will help you to explore whether the consequences of “shipping” really would be as bad as the resistance would have you believe. You start to see that you’re in control. You connect positive ideas together. Magic happens.
5. Smile! If you’re about to make a phone call that you’re dreading or about to walk into a terrifying meeting, take a deep breath and smile. Use your body positively to send positive signals and reduce the fear. Walking tall really helps.
6. Change the paradigm from “what if it goes wrong?” to “what if it doesn’t?” Our fear often points us towards imagining our failures in such a way that we fail to realise that the consequences of our actions could be unbridled and wonderful success! On the other hand, if we imagine every task as potentially the thing that our ultimate success depends on, it becomes overwhelming! So pick yourself out of the negative thinking and imagine a world where your next action doesn’t make you a millionaire, but certainly doesn’t bankrupt you either! It’ll all be fine. Now go ship.
If you’re feeling stuck at your desk, grab your laptop and head to a coffee shop or sit somewhere with a nicer view. 7. Recognise and Review
8. Change the view
The only way to realise you’re resisting doing something is to have a pretty good handle on everything you’re not doing. Keeping good project and next actions lists will, I’m sure, be second nature to you if you’re reading Productive! Magazine, but make sure you are conducting a thorough weekly review of your projects and actions. In knowledge work, we don’t just do our work, we also define what that work is. We’re simultaneously both a boss and a worker. Make your weekly review the time you set aside for your boss–self and your worker–self to meet and talk: your very own personal supervision meeting. A good supervisor or boss is someone that coaches you through problems and inspires you to succeed. Your weekly review is your own opportunity to give yourself that gift.
Sometimes things are just stuck. Try looking at the same thing in a different way. If you’re staring at your inbox, try printing the page out and attack it with a pen and paper. If you’re stuck on a problem, why not open up a Word document or draw a mind–map. Similarly, if you’re feeling stuck at your desk, grab your laptop and head to a coffee shop or sit somewhere with a nicer view. A different perspective on the same issue is sometimes all you need to get unstuck.
Once a day, for an hour, work only on those things that you resist the most.
9. Develop playful, productive momentum It’s a phrase we find ourselves using a lot on our Think Productive workshops. If you think about defining the opposite of stress, it’s “playful productive momentum”. Indeed, in Linchpin, when Seth talks about our “inner artist” he talks passionately about the fact that we’re all born as curious artists and it’s only as we transition to become adults that our creativity and playfulness is knocked out of us by schools, careers and conveyor belts. So give yourself permission to play, think positively and ignore the consequences. If a child draws a bad picture, they rip it up and start again. Don’t consider that a failure, just consider it an experiment or some useful practice time.
a day, for an hour, work only on those things that you resist the most. Define these things as the ones that have sat on your lists incomplete for the longest time or have the largest potential pay–off. Like Aristotle once said, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit”. What we do consistently, often in small steps, is what will ultimately define us. What the “power hour” idea allows you to do, of course, is NOT confront the resistance for the other six hours of your working day. But you’ll find if you start the day with a “power hour” and experience how liberating it is to win a battle with the resistance way before lunchtime, you’ll start the day feeling like anything is possible. And guess what? When you feel like that, anything is possible. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think you can win the war against your resistance completely. I also don’t think lifehacks or shortcuts will help too much here either; it’s about using different tactics for each battle, being aware of where your resistance comes from and finding the ways to “ship” things anyway. Good luck! a
!!Graham Allcott Graham specializes in personal organizational systems, strategies to deal with the information overload and “action management”. A naturally “too strategic to be organized” person who has trained himself to be
10. Make an appointment for the war and put it in your diary
productive throughout the development of per-
I’ve been experimenting for a while with the idea of “power hours”: once
power of good habits.
sonal work–flow systems and developing the
! Links: Graham on Twitter | Graham’s Think Productive!
By Celestine Chua
© Milan Zokic / Shutterstock
The 8 Habits of Highly Productive People (Part 1) What makes a productive person? Is it the ability to robotically churn out work, hour after hour? Is it the amount of discipline one has? Is it the speed at which one works? From the Editor: This is a great article by Celestine and because it’s a long and fantastic piece of advice we decided to split it into two parts – the first part is here and the second one will be published in the next (#11) issue of the Productive! Magazine.
efore we can discuss what makes a productive person, we should first define what productivity is. The common notion of productivity is the ability to churn out a lot of work in a short span of time. True, but not complete. In my opinion true productivity is the ability to create a lot of high impact work in a short span of time. This is the kind of productivity we should concern ourselves with, not other kinds of productivity which are more empty/busy work that create no impact in the long term. For example, let’s say Peter types very fast and can reply to 1000 emails a day. That doesn’t make him/her productive, because there’s little output (product) to speak of (unless the emails contribute to tangible, high impact outcomes). However, if John completes just one task in a day that has more impact than the 1000 emails put together, then he’s more productive than Peter is. I think productivity is really how you manage yourself, and the habits you practice. By selectively practicing certain habits over others, you can get a lot more output for your time. Here, I’ll share with you my top 8 habits in productivity. Practice them and compare how your productivity changes afterward :D.
Habit 1: Ruthlessly cut away the unimportant (and focus on the important) The first thing is to slice and dice everything that’s unimportant. Whenever I go to my work desk, I write down a list of things to do for the day. I then evaluate which are the most important things out of the list, first circling them, then ranking the items. After which I’ll challenge these items to see if they’re the best use
of my time. What impact does doing these make? Can I be doing more high value tasks? Doing so helps me ensure I’m working on the absolute most important things for the day. Then, for the non–important ones, I either push them to a later date or find a way to take them off the list. (Learning how to say no to others is very important here.) It’s my favorite daily self–management tool. For everything you’re doing now, ask yourself, how important is this? Does this bring you dramatically closer to your dreams? Does this create any real impact in your life in the long–term? Is it the absolute best way to spend your time or can you be doing more high value tasks? If not, perhaps it’s time to ditch it. No point doing something unimportant! Say you’re handling a project that makes no difference to your business after it’s completed. It wouldn’t matter whether you take 1 hour, 3 hours, 1 week. or never – to do it! It would still make no difference! Going by the questions I raised above, my most important tasks are the ones that bring me closest to my dreams when I do them. For example, working on my blog allows me to reach out to more people out there, which lets me achieve my end vision of enabling others to achieve their highest potential and live their best life. While other tasks help me progress in my goals too, they’re not as effective as working on my blog. It doesn’t end with correctly identifying the high value tasks. Often times, we’ll be imbued with a stream of random, miscellaneous requests throughout the day. I used to give immediate attention to these things. Say random request #1 comes in and I’ll do it immediately since it takes just 5–10 minutes, max. This is the same for random request #2, #3... all the way to #20. After a while, I realized these things take a lot of my time and I don’t even get any
meaningful result out of them. Not only that, I never finish my high value tasks. I may think I’m being very productive when I finish the random things, but truth is it’s just fake productivity.
The first thing is to slice and dice everything that’s unimportant. So nowadays, I use a separate “will– do” list for these urgent tasks. I dump all the incoming tasks here and work on my 20% tasks. At the end of the day, I allocate a time slot to clear these tasks. I batch the similar urgent tasks, then clear them at one go. Turns out I’m always able to get them cleared in an hour or less, compared to the few hours I’d have taken if I attended to them in the day.
Habit 2: Allocate breaks strategically I don’t think being productive requires you to work non–stop like a robot. On the contrary, it’s when you try to do that that you become less productive. While the number of hours spent on work increases and the amount of work accomplished seems marginally higher, the work done per unit of time is lower than your average. Not only that, the work done per extra unit of time actually decreases. If you think the above sounds confusing, not to worry! Here’s a simple example to illustrate my point. Say you want to write a book. You can usually type 1,000 words in an hour working on your book. This goes well for the first 2 hours,
and you clock 1,000 words per hour. However, at the third hour, you feel tired, and you type 500 words in the 3rd hour instead. That’s 500 words less than your usual output! This is known as the Law of Diminishing Returns in economics. Rest is important. No matter how much you want to work, there are areas of your life that it can’t fulfill: Such as love, family, and health. That’s why our life wheel is made up of different segments, versus just one big segment. Each segment is distinct and unreplaceable by others. By “rest”, I’m referring to any segment of your life that’s outside of Business/Career/Studies. Taking time off charges your batteries so you can sprint forward when you return to it. Earlier this year, I did an experiment. I went for a period where I continuously worked without stopping (save for necessary breaks like sleeping, eating, etc). I also went for a separate period where I would work, then space in break times in between work, such as catching up on emails, exercising, walking around the house, reading books, going for a walk, catching up with friends, a short nap, and so on. What I found was this: Output decreases over time when there are no breaks (despite reaching the point of diminishing returns). What this means is when I work non– stop without any breaks, my productivity keeps slipping until it’s near zero. However, when I take breaks, they help me start on a high note when I get back. Even though there are “down–times” away during the breaks, the high output more than makes up for that. Hence, by strategically placing my break times, I’m able to maximize my output. Rest, hence, does not prevent me from getting more done – it enables me to get more done. More time spent on work does not necessarily lead to more work done, but applying the above strategy AND combining it with in-
My most important tasks are the ones that bring me closest to my dreams when I do them. creased time spent on work will maximize your output. If you’re self–employed or on a flexible work schedule, you can put this into practice easily. Even if you’re in a 9–5 job, you can still do it all the time. Whenever you feel unproductive, throw in a quick break. Walk away from the desk, get a drink from the pantry, go for a toilet break, talk to a colleague about work. You’ll be more perked up when you return.
Habit 3: Remove productivity pit–stops (i.e. distractions) Productivity pit–stops are things that limit your productivity. They can be the music you listen to when you work, your slow computer, unwanted phone calls, alerts from your inbox on incoming mail, the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etcetera. These things trap you and prevent you from getting things done. What should you do then? Well, remove these pit–stops! Or go to a place where they are no longer an issue. For example, a big productivity pit–stop for me is the Internet. When I write my articles while online, I have the tendency to click to other sites. I’d check my email, after which I become distracted by the new emails. The emails would lead to follow–up work and replies, which takes time. By the time I’m done, a good 15–20 minutes has passed. Then within minutes of working, the same cycle repeats. So instead, when I’m writing, I unplug the LAN cable from my laptop and move my laptop to my bed (which is what I’m doing now as I’m writing this article). It’s a lot faster!
Go about your daily routine and observe when your output slows down. What’s distracting you? How can you remove it? Experiment and try working in different places. Adjust your environment. Make tweaks here and there. The more productivity pit–stops you find and remove, the more productive you’ll be.
Habit 4: Tap into your inspiration I can’t stress how important this is to maximizing your output. No matter what field you’re in, your inspiration is the key to your output. For example, an inspired programmer creates programs that change people’s lives for the better. An inspired structural engineer designs effective building structures. An inspired marketer creates breakthrough marketing plans that touches people’s hearts. An inspired writer writes continuously. A highly inspired musician writes one song after another. I fully grasped the impact of inspiration when I started my business and was in charge of my full schedule. I realized during the times when I’m inspired, work is simply effortless. Take writing as an example. The words will flow and I don’t even need to process them. They get transferred as thoughts in my mind straight to the keyboard. On the other hand, when I’m uninspired, nothing comes out. It’s like when opening a tap and there’s no water, save for 1–2 drops. What do you do then? Do you just idle, waiting for inspiration to strike before you do any work? That’s allocating your control to your external world, which really isn’t what this article is about. I often hear people say they’re not planning to write because they’re not inspired.
I think it’s not about waiting for inspiration to strike but about learning to channel into your inspiration. How do you do that? It’s simple. Think about what inspires you in life. Is it helping others grow? Connecting with people? Being recognized for your work? Working with those in poverty? Helping the unfortunate? Being #1 in your field? How can you achieve these things? Find out your motivators, then use them to drive you. My biggest inspiration is to see others achieving their highest potential and living their best lives. If there is ever anything blocking them, I’ll feel all ready to rip it away. I use this as the main driver for everything I create. When I’m writing a blog entry, I’ll start by thinking about an area people are facing blockages, then I channel into that energy. 30DLBL was created because I noticed while many people pursue self– help, not many know how to translate what they read into practice. I got inspired to create a personal development program which would encapsulate my best strategies on how to live our best life. This program would consist of a series of tasks, at a manageable pace of one task a day, which would both trigger immediate action and create tangible results. a Habits 5, 6, 7 and 8 will be coming in Productive! Magazine issue #11 :–)
! Links: Celestine on Twitter | Personal Excellence
Founder of Personal Excellence – one of the world’s top communities for people passiona te about achieving excellence in life. This is her passion and her life. Born in Singapore, she’s now traveling the world and meeting up with readers.
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How Steve Jobs got his last year done Steve Jobs, a person I never got to know personally but who’s been my mentor, inspiration, and product guru, died earlier this month at the age of 56. So early, so young… By Michael Sliwinski
r. Jobs was known for planning everything carefully. Aware of the fact that the cancer was winning, he even seemed to have planned his death, timing it perfectly. I think it takes great courage to plan a departure like Steve.
Steve’s Last Year at Apple He struggled with cancer since 2003, but had won every battle... until now.
With each win came the introduction of yet another ground–breaking innovation. This time he knew it was over and he planned his last year at Apple in an amazing way:
Step 1. Medical Leave In January he took a medical leave to let Tim Cook run the company and Steve
became a mentor to the whole company while letting them run about their business. He showed to everyone (and proved to himself) that Apple could be run without him.
Step 2. The iPad 2 He took the stage to show off the second iPad while nailing to the ground all the would–be competitors. He did it personally to make a statement that “people don’t really want tablets – they want iPads”.
Step 3. The most–valuable company Though Steve didn’t “plan” it, Apple became recognized as the most valuable company in the world thanks to all he’s done in the past years. Perfect to commemorate his last year alive.
Step 4. WWDC and the iCloud that “just works” Despite being really sick, he took the stage to show off his latest invention – the iCloud. If you look at the keynote
He even seemed to have planned his death, timing it perfectly...
carefully, when first says hi, he looks really sick. However, when he comes back on stage for the second time, he’s a different person. He’s so excited about the iCloud that he almost jumps off the stage. You can see he’s a product guy and he’s totally in love with this new thing that will change the way we work… yet again. He repeats several times how the iCloud “just works” – as this is what Steve was all about. About technology that “just works”.
Step 5. The Apple Mothership in Cupertino Just after the Apple event, with the same eagerness and spirit, Steve Jobs appeared in front of the Cupertino City Council to show them the project he’s been working on lately – The new Apple Headquarters in Cupertino that will be nothing like any other office building in the world. You could see he was excited and needed to present this one personally. Like many great artist and masters, Steve knew he wouldn’t be able to see it built. He knew he was not destined to work there, but wanted to pass on his dream to a younger generation of Apple employees and enthusiasts. It reminds me of Antonio Gaudi designing the “Sagrada Familia” – a work of art greater than himself – Gaudi knew it’d take 130 years to build it. He didn’t care. He went on with it knowing he would never see the completion of the project. Ever. Steve was a grand artist the same way.
Step 6. Resignation as the CEO At his deathbed he finally decided to resign from the role of CEO while he was still alive. He wanted to make sure the shock at Apple wouldn’t be too overwhelming. He wanted to see and witness the official transition. Some say he was at Apple on the day he resigned to
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart”. — Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech make sure personally that everything went according to the plan. I’m sure it’s true. It’s Steve, and we’re talking about a dying man here. The additional benefit of resigning was being able to witness how people reacted to it. He received so many letters of praise, articles in press and so much attention and he still could enjoy it while spending his last days on earth. I’m sure he enjoyed it, and hope it sweetened the imminent d–day at least a little.
One more thing: Steve’s Biography
Step 7. Apple iPhone event
Steve was a real perfectionist
The first event after his medical leave that he didn’t attend. It was Tim Cook’s show with other executives participating and helping out. Steve could relax, knowing his spirit and soul lives on at Apple, trusting these guys could pull off a great show and assure everyone that Apple will do just fine. Again, I’m sure he enjoyed watching it happen. His disciples were doing a great job. Now the Jedi master himself could finally move on.
He proved again that even his death can be planned perfectly and he knew how to execute this plan. I can’t even imagine how much courage it takes to come to terms with imminent death and plan your last year alive. Yet he’s done it and proved again there’s no one like him. Steve, God bless, may your soul rest in peace. I know it will. a
Even after his death, Steve didn’t disappoint. He was known for adding “one more thing” before closing a speech at Apple events, and it was a moment everyone would be waiting for. This time was no different. His first official and authorized biography hit the shelves this October – one month after his death. I’m definitely getting a copy. I’ve read all of Steve’s other biographies and can’t wait to read this one and pay tribute to Steve.
!!Michael Sliwinski Michael Sliwinski is
Final Step: Death
your chief editor of the
Only two days after the event Steve passed away. His job was done. Apple was in good hands. His soul and spirit will live on. The death seems to be perfectly timed with everything that happened this past year. He will be missed. While I believe in the Afterlife, I don’t know what Steve believed, but I’m sure he achieved his Nirvana.
Productive! Magazine and a host of the magazine’s Productive! Show. Every day he’s trying to help people get more done with his web application Nozbe – now also available as a native Android, iPhone and iPad app, as well as a desktop PC and Mac app (beta).
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Productive! Magazine
Nozbe – Simply Get It Done! | Michael Sliwinski’s Blog
Your Wording is a Critical Productivity Tool One of the factors that sets human beings apart from the rest of Creation – that has, in fact, helped make us the dominant species on this planet – is our ability to communicate in great detail, with a minimum of confusion and unproductive “noise”. That said, it’s amazing how easy it is to fail to communicate properly.
© Hadi Djunaedi / Shutterstock
the wrong way, or simply use too many words. Beating around the bush, couching your message in obscure terms, or burying it in a mass of unnecessary verbiage may cause mental static in the people you’re trying to communicate with, resulting in confusion and irritation. At best, this will slow them down; at worst, they may ignore you altogether. Either outcome will damage productivity, both yours and theirs. Therefore, whether you’re communicating with employees or superiors, you have to make every effort to get your point across with a minimum of noise. It’s crucial to choose your words with great care, so that you can say precisely what you mean as directly as you can without being curt or offensive. Let’s look at several ways to accomplish that.
Get Straight to the Point
By Laura Stack
he annals of history are replete with episodes of poor communication (or a complete lack thereof) that led to widespread misery and pain. On a lesser scale, individu-
als and businesses have to deal with miscommunication issues every single day; and in the workplace, such issues can have a severe impact not just on individual productivity, but on the overall bottom line. Even when the lines of communication are wide open, you can fail to communicate if you use the wrong words in
Have you ever tried to discuss something with someone who rambled, refused to be pinned down, or liked to dance around the subject? If you have, then you know how annoying it can be – and how non–productive. Maybe the speaker was afraid you’d be angry or upset if he came right out and said what he had to say; maybe he simply wanted attention; or maybe he just liked to listen to himself speak.
Some people hedge and qualify out of habit, often because they simply don’t want to commit themselves to a specific point or course of action.
© Hadi Djunaedi / Shutterstock
The reason why doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter if the person was amusing or instructive to listen to, as some ramblers are. What matters is that they wasted your time, and theirs, by not getting straight to the point. You don’t want to do this to other people, so your communications, especially your written ones, should be brief and concise. Some people avoid terseness because they don’t want to seem rude; and admittedly, verbal interaction is often necessary, or at least useful, in the workplace as a form of social lubrication. There’s no doubt that politeness pays, and that you should do your best to stay in your co–workers’ good graces by being genuinely nice. Nonetheless,
in most workplace situations there’s no excuse not to get right to the point. You can smile when you do it; this should take the edge off for those who are easily offended. If being straightforward is a problem for you, practice what you want to say in advance. Take a results–oriented stance, envisioning exactly what you’re trying to achieve. Then edit your message toward that end (mentally in the case of verbal communication, literally in the case of written words) to make it plain and specific. Tweak your message as necessary to avoid sounding brusque, then deliver it assertively, as simply as possible.
Avoid Unnecessary Qualifiers and Hedging Some people just can’t seem to deliver any message, especially a request, firmly and directly. They hem in everything they say with so many qualifiers – “what if’s”, “maybe’s” and “could be’s” – that ultimately, what they’re trying to say gets lost, causing the recipients to waste time on interpretation and clarification. In other cases, the bad communicator hedges the message with terms that make it seem less important than it might actually be. Instead of simply telling the IT Department that they need a certain backup file right away, for example, they might say something like, “Um, if you have a chance, could you pull this file for me? No hurry”. This gives the recipient the opportunity to ignore the request or push it down the priority scale if they want, no matter that it’s urgent to the sender... because that hasn’t been made clear. Some people hedge and qualify out of habit, often because they simply don’t want to commit themselves to a specific point or course of action. Some qualification is unavoidable, especially when the information you’re imparting is based upon the actions of people you have no control over, or the situation is simply uncertain. But again, you can avoid the worst of the problem by delivering your communications assertively and as simply as possible, without unnecessary frills. Avoiding uncertainty or hesitation. Use the active tense rather than passive: say things like, “I need this file...” rather than “This file is needed...”, because it sounds more direct and imperative.
In most workplace situations there’s no excuse not to get right to the point
Make Your Requests and Requirements Plain The bottom line with workplace communication is that it must be as simple and unambiguous as humanly possible... and there’s the problem. It’s easy to advise someone to say only what needs to be said, but it’s not always obvious how much that needs to be. It’s possible to be too terse in an attempt to be clear and direct. If you tell someone, “I need information on the Jones account”, that’s direct, all right; but you’re being too vague, because you haven’t asked for enough. Which Jones account do you mean? Furthermore, what information do you need? Everything in the whole file, or just this year’s financials? And when do you need it – within the next hour or sometime in the next week? It’s also important to use the right words to get the point across. If what you’re trying to say doesn’t seem quite on the mark, then spend some time refining it, because that’s likely to pay off in dividends of greater comprehension. As Mark Twain once pointed out, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning–bug”. In general, your language should be simple and easy to understand. Don’t address someone like they’re a third– grader, but on the other hand, don’t use fancy words just because you can – and avoid overusing jargon when it’s unnecessary. Before you refer to something by an acronym or an abbreviation, be sure that it’s a shared term.
Acknowledgement in All Directions In the military, someone who receives a verbal order is often required to repeat it back immediately to acknowledge that they received it. This is especially true in the Navy. It’s standard operating procedure for a simple reason: if a message
Request an acknowledgement from anyone you send a message to; and if they don’t respond, be proactive about acquiring that acknowledgement. is poorly relayed and the wrong action taken, the results can be disastrous. Your personal miscommunications may not have devastating results, but they can certainly damage productivity. Therefore, acknowledgement of those communications is absolutely essential. When you receive a message from someone, whether they’re above or below you in the chain of command, acknowledge it as quickly as possible. (For superiors, I would recommend that you do so immediately). Similarly, request an acknowledgement from anyone you send a message to; and if they don’t respond, be proactive about acquiring that acknowledgement. No need to be impolite, just assertive and persistent. Send them a nudge by email or pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I sent you a message about such–and–such yesterday. Did you get it?”. It’s possible they didn’t. Maybe it passed under their radar somehow, or the technology you sent it by just happened to fail you in this instance. This happens occasionally, as all of us can attest. You can’t let anyone use the claim that they didn’t get a message as an excuse for not getting something done. Get an acknowledgement – not just so you can cover yourself later, but so you can
make sure that they understand what you need and require, and so that you know that they comprehend the urgency of your request.
The Final Word When you communicate directly with anyone in the workplace, your phrasing and delivery must be as clear as possible in order to maximize productivity. Be assertive, plain, and straightforward. Never hem and haw. Don’t use a ten– dollar word when a nickel word will do and avoid jargon when you can. Finally, immediately acknowledge any communications you receive, and strongly encourage acknowledgement from those you communicate with; require such acknowledgement if possible. Make it clear that others can ask questions in order to clarify your wants and needs, and be willing to ask such questions yourself. While there will always be some potential for confusion in human interaction (we are only human, after all), solid, clear communication at all levels will ensure that such confusion is minimized. If you follow these simple rules, not only will people not have to waste time (and therefore productivity) trying to figure out what you’re trying to say, they’re less likely to mistake what you’re trying to say. Mistakes waste time, and time really is money – so it’s crucial to avoid as many miscommunications as possible. a
!!Laura Stack Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker (now president of the National Speakers Association). She’s the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc.
! Links: Laura on Twitter | Laura’s Web Site: The Productivity Pro
Productive! Show Videos
Seth Godin, Fitness and Calling from the Car As always, here are the three new (and very short) Productive! Show videos to help, inspire, and motivate you to get even more done.
By Michael Sliwinski
Seth Godin on being a Linchpin For this month’s issue of the magazine I interviewed Seth Godin. You have read this interview at the beginning of this issue but I also encourage you to watch excerpts from my video conversation with him – his messages sound a lot better when told by Seth himself.
Fitness for the busy people We are all busy but our fitness is critical to our health, performance and yes, productivity! That’s why I’m trying to demonstrate to you my fitness routine in this short video. The best part is, you can do it in a hotel room when traveling, too!
Calling people when stuck in traffic jams Important – when you do call someone on the phone while driving, make sure to dial the number when standing still and use a headset and mic when talking. It can be dangerous... but also very productive when there is really lots of traffic.
! Links: Hope you enjoyed these short productivity videos. Click here to browse all episode archive.
A minimalist in NYC
All you need to do is reject consumerism, and learn to be content with little. Just value doing and I’ve only been in New York City for about four days, being over buying. but I can easily see how it would be tough to even consider minimalism here. By Leo Babauta
veryone is incredibly busy and rushed, fashion and shopping take center stage like almost nowhere else, traffic and noise reach beautiful crescendos.
Can you be a minimalist in NYC? You can be a minimalist anywhere. All you need to do is reject consumerism, and learn to be content with little. New York City seems to force people to have small apartments anyway, but many seem to try to cram years of shopping into the apartment. Instead, allow
the constraint of space become a positive thing: have only the essentials, and empty these small spaces of clutter. Learn to make the most of a small space. Shopping here is an art. But there are other arts to be pursued: the public library here is one of the most amazing tributes to learning I’ve ever seen, for example. The art of reading can be practically free. The art of listening, of being still, of being present with a friend, of walking aimlessly… these are all free. Fashion seems at the forefront of the minds of many, but that’s all in the mind. I’ve walked around in second–hand jeans and simple T–shirts all day, and no one seems to care. Reject the conformist values, and force people to judge you on
your talent, your voice, and your contributions, instead of your clothes. You can be a minimalist anywhere, because it is a mindset. We are influenced by our environment, but we also create our environment, and we always have a choice. You can slow down, be content with little, and value doing and being over buying. a
!!Leo Babauta Leo Babauta lives in San Francisco and is married with six kids. He’s a writer and a runner and a vegetarian and he loves writing blogs: “Zen Habits” and “Minimalism”. He’s a published author of a bestselling book “Power of Less”.
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! Links: Leo on Twitter | Leo’s Blog: Zen Habits | Leo’s Blog: Minimalist
Get the newest book by Seth Godin: “We Are All Weird”