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In a famous roundtable with Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and hosted by Charlie Rose, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said of time: “It’s the only thing you can’t buy. I mean, I can buy anything I want basically but I can’t buy time.”
Yet three entrepreneurs I spoke to this month would beg to differ. All of them have made improving other people’s productivity their business and, in doing so, have given hours back to the time-poor.
Their startups were borne from the ashes of procrastination and low motivation, including performance development app Remente, which was founded by David Brudö while he was suffering from work-related stress.
Brudö told me: “As an entrepreneur in a small startup, I was busy working on a wide variety of tasks, like strategizing on sales and product development, raising funds, dealing with office administration and even watering the office plants.”
Although he worked long hours, he was never satisfied with what he had done, nor did he know what to prioritize, leaving him anxious and stressed.
“I was focusing on the tasks that were right before me, that caught my attention at that exact moment, and that was often the task that actually required the least attention,” he told me.
I was doing a lot of things that were unimportant, I felt I wasn’t making any real progress with what really mattered, and this led me to feel very unmotivated. I was less likely to act strategically and I was bypassing important tasks because I didn’t have the energy or willpower to deal with them at that moment.”
Brudö found himself defaulting to answering emails because it was easy. He said: “It provided me with a momentary feeling of accomplishment, but that vanished as soon as I realized I had been procrastinating rather than focusing on that important sales presentation.”
What holds us back the most is essentially our brain, as it is always looking for a shortcut to instant gratification, and this often goes against the processes that make us productive. Instead of doing a tedious task or following a plan, we procrastinate because there are things more appealing to the brain that provide a direct dopamine kick, such as checking emails or texts, tuning in on social media or talking to a colleague. Psychologically, we become very productive at being unproductive, trying to avoid the things we really should be doing, which is an interesting paradox.”
His story mirrors that of Scott MacMillan, whose pocket-sized leather-bound notepad, KenzaPad, has proved a hit with stationery fans, and those looking for analog methods to boost productivity.
Back in 2009, MacMillan was at a point in his life when he was trying very hard to become hyper-organized so he could balance a new job with a top-tier consulting firm with a new relationship.
But, despite using digital tools to aid productivity, he found himself spending very little time working on anything important.
“The problem, I think, was there was no practical limit to the number of things I could add to my to-do list, and I was overwhelmed and discouraged by everything that wasn’t getting done,” he said.
Feeling somewhat defeated, MacMillan fell back on his pen and paper to-do list which he believes is key to staying present and focused.
It more fully activates our mind and focuses our attention. In the same way that activating multiple senses improves our recollection of experiences, pen and paper engage us more deeply in committing to what we’re writing down. The constraints of the analog system force us to slow down, to let things sink in, and have a natural way of limiting us to those tasks that will fit on a page.
The persistence of pen and ink keeps our tasks in front of us, so that we don’t lose them to the digital abyss. I can’t count the number of times I’ve written down an important to-do, got distracted by something else and then glanced over at my list, only to be reminded of the task’s importance, prompting me to re-prioritize my activity right there and then.”
But, he warned, too much planning can cause us to become overwhelmed by the details. “Planning, in and of itself, achieves nothing. It’s not until we set aside the planning tools and get on with action that things get done.”
Fiona Adler, the founder of Actioned, a digital team productivity tool, warns against goals being “too big and undefined”, such as ‘grow my business’ or ‘reach a revenue target by June’. Instead, she suggests breaking down everything you think you need to achieve that goal into very specific, small actions.
Smart people generally have a lot of ideas, and we’re exposed to so many more than ever before. It’s these endless possibilities that often stop us from being more productive. The challenge is to be selective and focus on a ridiculously small number of things.”
Since building her own task manager tool, Adler has grown and sold two businesses, completed an MBA, freed up time to pursue her passion, mountaineering, and moved her family to a foreign country, so she knows a thing or two about efficiency.
She advises being kind to oneself, adding: “Even the people we tend to think of as most productive confess to struggling with procrastination and wasting time. If we think about it, this is because our most productive work is actually hard – it’s uncomfortable, unknown or in some way intrinsically difficult.”
January 24, 2019 at 10:36AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs