10x Productivity — Eight hacks that will maximize your productivity and success
I have been an entrepreneur and investor for over seven years, and over that time I have learned several methods that supercharged my productivity. Starting back when I was 23 years old, I had already scaled a team from 20 to over 400 people when building South Asia’s largest e-commerce company. In the last three years, I’ve focused on investing, now having a portfolio of over 20 companies. As you can imagine, with that type of busy lifestyle, I have developed some routines and algorithms meant to maximize total output. This helps me to achieve lasting success, and with a healthy work-life balance too! Here are 8 top productivity hacks that are sure to boost your productivity:
1) Use a Task Management Software
Task management software enables you to track your to-do lists and action items in a structured and visible manner. The program itself is intuitive, and you can assign due dates, high-priority alerts, and various logics with tags. For those who want a simple interface, there are solutions like a note on your iPhone. For those with a lot of tasks that need complex organization, opt for Kanban-based software like Trello or Asana. Typically, I recommend something with less focus on business enterprise when using the software for my own personal tasks.
My favorite tool of choice is an app called Todoist. Todoist allows you to create multiple projects in a very easy-to-use app on both your mobile and desktop. For example, I organize my projects under topics such as Private, Business, Health/Fitness, etc. You can also use Todoist as a knowledge management tool good for saving news articles or start-up ideas under a project heading, or as a CRM where you can store the names and contact info of people you want to meet or stay in touch with.
As your list of urgent to-do items increases in number, using task management software is a necessity.
Beyond taking advantage of the high-level overview of your tasks, you will benefit from how much space a program can free up for your mind, instead of keeping track of everything by memory.
2. Follow the 2 minute rule
Whenever I locate or discover a new task that needs doing, I use a simple algorithm to decide the best course of action:
If it can be done in 2 minutes or less — do it immediately. If it requires more time — create a note to complete the task in the future.
Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule in certain situations, but more often than not, accomplishing the small tasks right away improved productivity and gave me a clear mind. When possible, finish the details while your brain is focused. The algorithm was inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done, a book I read during my college days.
3) Use a non-linear algorithm for timing follow-ups
You might often find yourself in a situation where you need something from someone, whether that is a tidbit of information, feedback, or direct help. In most cases, this can result in inaction; since you do not want to appear too pushy you might delay the task to the other’s convenience. Plus, it is not in your best interest to spend your valuable time chasing someone for something when the outcome is uncertain (they might not even have the information you need). To deal with these concerns, I found the following algorithm very useful:
Double the time between each follow-up
If the first follow-up occurs after one week, then I double the time for the second up to two weeks. The third would be set at one month, and the last around 2–3 months. This algorithm follows the Apple iPhone PIN Code mechanism, where whenever you enter an unlock code incorrectly, the wait time till you can make another attempt doubles. The process maintains due diligence for the requested information while ensuring you don’t spend too much time on a dead-end source.
You can use this technique in all sorts of business scenarios as well. After an initial proposal pitch, follow up after a couple of days to inquire about the job. With each delayed response, double the time between each follow-up. The schedule will help ensure that you never appear desperate for the job, as too much pestering would be detrimental.
4) Postpone tasks up to three times, then prioritize or delete
I often found that I would postpone tasks multiple times before finally getting down to it. That habit of procrastination would cause me to lose opportunities. I managed to break this pattern by introducing another simple decision rule:
If you postpone a task three times, you should seriously question if you really want or need to do it.
If the answer is yes, then make it the highest priority of your day. If it is really that important, stay those two extra hours in the office. If you are not willing to do this, then with all likelihood the task wasn’t that important, all things considered. It might be better to forget about it indefinitely and focus on other things.
5) Either consciously be “always on,” or have dedicated email hours — don’t get stuck in the middle
Many productivity books recommend that you set aside dedicated hours for answering emails or doing phone calls. In many circumstances, this can be a good strategy, but depending on your level of managerial responsibility in an organization, it can also be a huge detriment.
A good rule of thumb:
The more managerial responsibility you have in an organization, the faster you should be at answering your emails.
If you have a lot of dependencies (i.e. people waiting for your input) then you need to be available for inquiries. For all other situations, dedicated email hours can cause delays, result in lost productivity, waste your time, and carry an overall high opportunity cost. For example, if you are a software engineer, your time is better spent focusing on shipping codes — leave the emails for dedicated times throughout the day. I believe the idea of dedicated hours for communication works best for 80–90% of people with white-collar jobs, but founders and investors should lean towards an always-on approach. I try to answer 50% of emails and WhatsApp messages within 5 minutes to maximize the productivity of my team and the companies I work with.
6) Fly at least once a week
In line with being “always-on”, I’d recommend you set aside some dedicated hours for highly focused and productive work. I used to find the time for this type of work during commercial flights before there was widespread Wi-Fi on planes. When I fly, I consciously avoid a Wi-Fi pass so I can carve out productive time (guess how this very blog was written). Of course, flying once a week should not be taken literally and can be quite impractical, but set aside some “in air” time while on the ground.
Block some time on your calendar, switch off the Internet and put flight mode on your mobile phone to have 2–3 hours of very productive work.
7) Make meetings/calls as productive as possible
Have you ever thought after a 30-minute meeting that the entire debrief could have been summarized in two emails? These types of meetings are a waste of time and energy. How you run your meetings is a crucial way to boost personal and company output.
To screen whether or not a meeting is need always ask upfront:
What is the best format for communication? Can this be communicated in an email or a phone call instead of a meeting?
If you conclude that a phone call or meeting is necessary, preparation is key. Try to let participants know in advance what the goal of the briefing is, and share supporting documents in advance so participants can prepare. Prepare yourself by setting a clear structure for the conversation (and share it with the attendees if helpful) so that you don’t get lost in an unstructured conversation. During the meeting, ask yourself if the call is on track to achieve its primary goal.
To this end, I very much like the policy Elon Musk has introduced at Tesla: If you think you cannot contribute to a meeting anymore, you must leave the meeting to go back to productive work.
8) Use 5–10% of your income on automation and outsourcing
The final hack towards optimizing productivity:
Invest 5–10% of your income into automation and outsourcing (even if you are still in a salaried job)
Consider yourself as a business that you want to optimize. You then can automate yourself by investing in software or hiring people that help you with your tasks.
On the software side, you can invest in automated workflow software that will save you time on manual tasks. On the outsourcing side, you can start with a virtual assistant who can support you with scheduling, research tasks, and other administrative duties. I have an assistant that does my restaurant bookings, replies to my messages on LinkedIn, and other basic tasks. It easily saves me 1–2 hours a day. A colleague of mine takes it even further: he has hired several part-timers to find real estate deals for him in various local markets. There are also lots of other services that can be outsourced via websites like Upwork.
To conclude, maximizing productivity is critical for achieving more and creating lasting output. I hope you take advantage of these eight productivity hacks and become more successful in your ventures!