6 min read

How I stay productive

How I stay productive

Entrepreneurship is about making decisions quickly with incomplete information.

From that definition we can infer that:

  1. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster, far from the concept of something stable. An entrepreneur’s job is therefore to fight entropy: things brake all the time, it’s just the way it is and will always be – it’s always day one – we might be one iteration away from making it work.
  2. We need to be fast. Make fast decisions. And, we need to build momentum. We need to progress through fast, deliberate action.  The faster we progress, the more we progress. The more we progress, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we refine the processes that makes us progress.

How do we do that?

Generally speaking, we need to save energy and spend it on the things that move the needle while mantaining peace of mind. After all, our whole life is really energy over time. Where we put our energy determines what we get.

So, productivity for me is about how well do I spend my time and energy, and how I can get more energy and time.

Time perception

Time is a finite resource. Technically, we can’t get more of it. We can, though, manipulate our perception of time by compressing and expanding it.

Our life is made of days, and our days are made of events.

Events are major highlights which obfuscate everything else that we do in a given day.

These are not only major social events, like a wedding could be. An event could be us going for a run, it could be us discovering something for the first time, it could be anything that moves us far more than what we usually do.

They are also present in nature: for example, a rock falling into the water is an event.

For us to have an event, we need to have something that is constant; a routine; a plain layer that we can shock.

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I use this all of the time when I improvise: I may be playing softly and then, all of the sudden, I hit a note very loudly. That’s an event. Now, that note becomes the whole piece.

I might also do the opposite, by the way: play loudly all of the time, and then play softly. As long as we have a contrast, we have an event. The larger the contrast, the more we will remember the event. 

We can use events on purpose, to compress and expand (our perception of) time at our own advantage.

How?

If I was to expand time, I would try to have no events that day. That means, probably doing the same thing over and over again, without interruptions. For example, coding from when we get up to when we go to sleep.  A day structured like this will feel very long, and we will feel like we have accomplished more than usual, in less time.

If I was to compress time, I would try to have multiple events that day. For example, coding from 8am to 10am, then go for a walk, then eat, then code from 3pm to 5pm then go running, then chill. A day structured like this will feel shorter, and we will feel like we have accomplished less than usual, in more time.

I’m not saying one day is structured better than the other – but we can purposely choose how to structure our days based on how we feel.

Do I need more time? Perfect, I might just do one thing over and over again.

Do I need less time? Do I just want this day to end? Perfect, I might do different things, switch a lot between them.

Deliberate learning

I truly believe making and executing (i.e. progressing) should have priority on learning.

This has to do with a concept called self-reference: from the moment we are born we start taking in inputs from the world around us. It’s a beautiful thing.

The “problem” is: we never stop.

Today, we have a lot of inputs in our lives: podcasts, books, videos, courses, television, etc.

In fact, in my opinion there are too many inputs. If we want to learn, we can do so using our preferred medium, whenever we want. We can listen to a podcast while driving, while at the gym or even whilst showering. The market is selling us on convenience, but is it really?

In our search, it’s easy to just keep going. The internet has tons of info on any subject and, theoretically, we could never stop digesting information on what we want to learn.

But, because learning is so convenient nowadays, are we really learning? Is it deliberate?

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are studying or learning when in fact we are entertaining ourselves.

Learning is the new entertainment.

I think a very good way to unfool ourselves is to learn only when we are trying to solve a real, specific problem. That way, we can learn with a specific goal in mind. Why we are taking an online course or reading a book should be very clear in our mind.

Of course, it’s absolutely fine to read just for pleasure, or even listen to a podcast just to calm down, but we should be aware of why we are doing it.

Deliberate progress

I truly believe our work should be done in solitude.

We talked already about the many inputs we have nowadays. I think what kind of inputs we digest, or even in what format we digest them is not nearly as important as how we digest them.

I think introspection is key. Introspection and alone time can absolutely help us to maximize our learning time and improve our learning efficiency so that we can retain more information. I think this is very important so that I can filter reality through the lenses of what I just learned and in a way, make my own reality.

For this reason, I embrace what I call “the way of the monk“. This involves isolating myself from all inputs in order to find clarity.

By the way, isolating myself includes isolating from people, because people are very strong inputs. This is why I tend to work with few people as possible.

Permission to forget

I constantly try to balance inputs and outputs to choose what to bring with me in my journey from what I just learned, and what not.

Let me stress this: what we decide not to bring with us is as, if not more, important as the things we decide to retain.

We collect inputs, things, resource, ideas that we might need in the future, or that we might want to check out or apply later.

We usually store those in [insert fancy tool], or we write them down on a notebook to review later.

Why do we do that?

I’d argue that one compelling reason is that we are afraid of forgetting something that might be important going forward.

Why can’t we trust our mind? Our mind is a powerful device. After all, it has been a recording device for decades. Before hard disks, we relied heavily on our minds.

So, I want to try not to store these kinds of inputs at all. I want to give me permission to forget.

I reckon my objective at some point will be to pause external sources and only self-infer. I look forward to that day.

This is another framework that I’ve taken from music. In the past, I’ve asked myself: at what point do I stop listening to music and just play music pulling from my own inner? That’s not entirely possible, but at least it would be a fun experiment.

Momentum

Generally speaking, choosing what to do is relatively simple: we have been doing some actions. Are they working and getting us towards where we want to be? Do more of them. Are they not? Replace them.

The problem is how to prioritize those actions. Which projects or tasks do we work first on? Which projects or tasks do we work more on? Which do we give more attention to? These are all questions worth asking – but not for me.

I believe we should just do. All of the tasks. Any of the tasks.
Especially at the beginning of our journey as entrepreneurs. Doing is the most powerful way to build momentum.

When we spend a lot of time planning, we actually become less productive. We think a lot and we go through all the fun in our head, so when it comes to actually deploy the idea, we have lost the “momentum”: we had all the fun in our brain already.

As my job as an entrepreneur is to progress quickly, I strive not to keep a schedule. I try to delegate my schedule to machines and people, so that I can have the conditions to work on whatever I want, at any point in time.


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