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My Struggle With Productivity

February 17, 2015 — 2 Comments

I struggle with productivity. I joke that I have the attention span of a walnut, but it’s kind of true. A lot of entrepreneurs I know experience the same thing, but this isn’t some cool exclusive club that we want to be a member of. I’ve spent the last 20 years thinking that I will always struggle to focus on one task for longer than an hour. This very recently changed because I listened when I asked the right person for the right advice.

A friend and mentor of mine, Dan Martell recently posted a video tip for people like me that basically goes like this: get up early, hit the gym, and then try to break at least one big rock before lunch. This will give you a tangible sense of accomplishment. If you accomplish nothing else for the rest of the day at least you will know that by noon that day, you got a lot done.

This sort of worked. There was one problem I experience with this strategy: as soon as I hit the gym, my brain is already fully activated and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Also, I really enjoy going the gym – it felt like a reward before I deserved one! I haven’t accomplished anything today and yet here I am at the gym. I’m also making notes and scheduling meetings between sets because of the brain thing I mentioned. Then, when I get home, I end up somewhat distracted while I get ready for the rest of the day. The result: I end up rushed trying to break the big rock before noon and my workout wasn’t really what it could have been.

One slight pivot on this schedule and a tweet from Dan changed everything:

Now, I get up and start working by 6:00 am and I DO NOT look at my inbox until 11:00 am. In my life I have never accomplished so much in a day. I’ll admit, it took a lot not to look at my inbox. Or Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Boom Beach. But, I did it.

Repetition produces habits and this is already feeling like a great habit. The satisfaction I get from knowing that by 11:00 am I have accomplished more than what I would normally struggled to accomplish in an entire day is an incredible feeling.

So, here is what my day looks like now: I work as mentioned from 6:00 am until 11:00 am. The next two hours are for me – I hit the gym and have a great lunch and answer some emails. After 1:00 I normally have a few meetings in the afternoon (either face to face or video), and then spend the rest of the day following up on all the stuff that lands in my inbox.

If you struggle with productivity like I do, I strongly suggest you give this schedule a try. I know it’s not for everyone. I’m working from home in the morning and not every employer is comfortable with employees working remotely (even though they should be). Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you. Would love to hear any tips or tweaks to the schedule.

Dan, thank you very much. So far you are winning the best advice for 2015 contest that I just invented right now.

“How can you take such an ass-kicking and not learn a lesson?” I said to my dog, yesterday.

He was staring at a skunk through the glass sliding door at my home in Toronto – eager for me to open the door and let him at this unsuspecting animal that was just slowly walking through my backyard. A month ago he killed one, but in the process he got sprayed which temporarily blinded him for 30 minutes, and caused him to foam at the mouth along with his eventual collapse in the backyard. I thought he was dead. Two hours later, after scrubbing him with dish detergent and baking soda, he was doing much better. The house reeked. The dog reeked. I reeked. We were exhausted. One of the worst experiences of my life.

So, why was he now standing at the back door shaking, begging me to open the door and let him charge this creature who will surely spray him with the cripplingly toxic spray that he was hit with last time? He will most likely win the battle as last man standing, but doesn’t he understand that he is in for another eight hours of pain and discomfort? Doesn’t he know that this time he could lose an eye or suffer the pain of lacerations and gashes? Probably not.

In the pursuit of achieving a desired result most living creatures will keep performing the same thing over and over again no matter how painful, expecting different results, because they have no idea where the pain comes from or they are just ignoring these facts hoping persistence will pay off. For humans, it’s the definition of insanity. For a dog who wants to kill a skunk, it’s just instinct combined with an incomplete education. My dog has no idea that this creature has a toxic spray it will deliver directly into his face if he comes anywhere near it. He would probably have to kill a dozen skunks before he started connecting the dots properly. That’s a lot of pain and suffering but I can see my dog is prepared for this and is well suited for the task, but he most likely will never kill one without getting sprayed. The odds are stacked against him.

If it’s not obvious, I’m about to draw a parallel between startups and getting sprayed in the face by a skunk – the equivalent of failure.

I, like my dog, have stared at many opportunities, shaking with excitement. Ready to run out the door and attack, only to take it right in the goddamned face. While I have had many successes in my career, I have also failed big a few times. However, I’m getting better at this. As a 43 year old entrepreneur now, I can see the spray coming a lot sooner. I know when to back off and change my approach. I’m smarter. I listen to people who are smarter than me. This helps a lot but guarantees nothing.

My current startup is struggling. Bad decision made in the early stages cost us money, necessary traction, and our product was not good shit. Great decisions made later on have come as funds are running low. The product is now incredible, traction is picking up, and sales channels are paying off. My team is amazing. However, the continuation of these facts is critical to our survival.

I can see the spray coming. I can even smell it, yet it is not here. I will not back down. I’m changing my approach and will go straight for the neck, just like I hope my dog will the next time the opportunity presents itself to him.

And I’m still shaking with excitement.