Off-topic post today on my own productivity. Last night, I gave a fireside chat, and a question came up about how I balanced running my startup LaunchBit while having and raising a child. It wasn’t easy.
More generally speaking, having said child forced me to improve my productivity a TON. It’s far from optimal, but I track and analyze like crazy so that I can continue to get better. Here’s how I do it.
My schedule today
Laura Vanderkam, author of I know How She Does It, suggests thinking about your time in week-long blocks of 168 hours rather than 24 hour days. I love this approach because days are too varied to try to optimize.
This is how I typically spend 168 hours these days (this definitely looked different when I was running LaunchBit):
- Sleep: 50 hours (varies as an insomniac)
- Work: 45 hours
- With my kid: 20 hours
- Commuting: 15 hours
- Household chores / personal hygiene: 10 hours
- Personal branding / side projects: 7 hours
- Gym / pool: 3 hours
- Personal email / informal mentorship: 5 hours
- Socialization / goofing off / wasting time / reading: 13 hours
= 168 hours
A lot of people overestimate how much they actually work. It just feels like you’re working a lot because you’re checking one-off emails all the time. When I went to actually map out how much work I was doing, it’s not a lot at all. I spend 40 hours a week in the office and another 5 either at events, checking email, or preparing for the week. I may be thinking about work at other times while doing other things, but that doesn’t get counted here.
I strongly believe in short commutes of 20 min or less. Coincidentally, from work to my home is 15 minutes door-to-door, but my commute ends up being super long because my gym is way out of the way. This is something I’ll rectify in the coming months. I also included driving time to social activities on the weekend in my commute category.
I go to the gym religiously now even if only for 15 minutes (you can lift or row in 15 minutes). It helps me with my lifelong insomnia, makes me more productive during the day (and not tired), and makes me need less sleep to be productive. My biggest regret is is not exercising religiously throughout my 20s.
I get a lot of requests for meetings asking for advice on various things (startups, list building, ads, fundraising, etc) – I ask a lot of people for that too, so thank you to all of my mentors who have helped me grow professionally. Unfortunately, there are just not enough hours in a week to take all those meetings. I still do them because I believe in giving back and showing gratitude for all that I’ve taken from others. One hack that I’ve adopted from people like Noah Kagan is that if I’m out of mentorship slots for a given time period, I ask people to move the conversations to email (or wait for a couple of months to talk over the phone). I ask people if there are specific questions that I can answer over email. It turns out that 90% of the time, no one asks anything specific, so I’m not really sure why people wanted to meet? Although in-person is nice, I firmly believe that you can start building a relationship with people online. Some of the people I most respect in this industry are people I first had lots of online conversations with before ever meeting them in person. You don’t need to do coffee meetings all the time – there just isn’t time for that!
I compartmentalize a TON:
I generally don’t believe you can do anything meaningful while multitasking. Maybe some people can, but I can’t. I never check FB or Twitter except for texts and IMs while at work.
BUT, I will combine things that don’t need loads of thought. For example, the other day, one of my good friends was in town. I wanted to see her, and I also needed to go shopping. Boom: my friend and I went shopping.
30 min meetings:
I set meeting blocks for 30 minutes. You can always fill up an hour-long block, but I’ve found that if everyone is prepared, you can usually cram everything that would’ve taken an hour into 20-30 minutes.
Manager vs Maker schedule:
Paul Graham has a great article on maker vs manager schedules. The gist of that article is that it’s very difficult to task-switch. You can’t take a meeting and then immediately go into building stuff productively to then be interrupted for another meeting later.
For that reason, I cram all my meetings back-to-back. A typical Monday for me has 10-12 meetings back-to-back all day. It’s not easy, but it frees up time the rest of the week.
The rest of the week, Tues-Fri, I have 4 hour “no-meeting” blocks so that I can take action on decisions from meetings or other work (either strategic or operational) that need to be cranked out.
When I was running LaunchBit, I did something similar. Instead of taking meetings with entrepreneurs, those meetings were with potential clients. It was important for me to do all those meetings back-to-back while also having large blocks of time to tackle meaningful projects.
Tools I use
These are some of my favorite tools to help me keep my productivity high.
Inbox Pause (by 500 Portfolio company Baydin):
I’ve adopted Tony Hsieh’s Yesterbox system, which basically means that I don’t read emails that arrive today. Inbox Pause holds these emails and delivers them to me tomorrow. With Inbox Pause, I’m able to get off the hamster wheel of email. I only have to respond to yesterday’s emails, and I can bulk process them. I end up archiving about 50% of them in one-fell swoop instead of one at a time. Then I hammer out quick responses to about 40% of them. I can usually do this in an hour. The remaining 10% need a lot more work. They could be blog post edits, something to read, introductions, a doc of some sort to create, something to seriously think about, etc. This 10% could take 1-2 hours a day. I will peek once or twice a day at the folder that holds all the emails that came in today to see if anything is urgent. The majority of emails usually can wait a day, and that’s OK.
In the tech industry, we have this weird notion that every email is urgent and needs a response RIGHT NOW. When I was at Google, it was common to see lots of email conversations fly back and forth at midnight or 1am. Many of them were not urgent issues. I think what is really happening is that there is this underlying culture of, “You should email a ton all the time so that everyone sees that you are doing work.” It’s the modern facetime. We should measure success by results, not by time.
This helps me schedule meetings automagically. I used to have lots of back and forth emails about scheduling. Now, I just use Calendly and let other people schedule a time that works for them and that fits my open slots on my calendar.
Canned Responses in Gmail:
For emails that I tend to send over and over, (e.g. why a company is too early to raise money now) I have created a templated response via Gmail’s Canned Responses feature. Super useful and a free add-on.
Reducing phone usage & being present
Being present is hard for a lot of entrepreneurs, especially with your phone always buzzing. I’ve found over the years that checking my phone frequently is actually completely inefficient unless there’s an emergency. Answering emails in one fell swoop (see above) is a way better use of time than answering emails on a one-off basis on my phone. Taking action on your phone is probably the least productive thing you can do even though it seems like your phone should make things more productive.
Even if I’m on the go, I like to use my phone to tether to my computer and hammer out work or process email in bulk.
I think it’s too much work to create weekly logs as recommended in the I Know How She Does It book, but I try to keep a sense of how many hours I’m spending in different areas so I know what to change. For example, I’m already working on changing my commute situation, which should probably cut my commute time in half, freeing up a few hours.
Like everything else, you can’t really get better without measuring first. So, while there’s a lot that I could improve in my schedule, mapping out my time is a really helpful first step for me.
What do you do stay productive and balance your life?