Productivity is a popular topic among entrepreneurs and I hope I am not beating a dead horse here. Since I am self-employed, I always ask myself how I can increase my productivity. I can’t expand my working time indefinitely, so I have to use my existing working time more efficient.
“Productivity describes various measures of the efficiency of production. A productivity measure is expressed as the ratio of output to inputs used in a production process, i.e. output per unit of input.” For example, the number of hours per blog article. I need 10 hours on average for a long-form blog article (minimum 1200 words). I have a four-step process for writing a blog article:
1. Research and draft an index (1 hour)
2. Write the article (7 hours)
3. Edit the article with Grammarly (1 hour)
4. Add pictures and formatting (1 hour)
I get consistent results with this process and I can quantify my productivity. If I need ten hours or less I have achieved my productivity goal. The definition of productivity already holds the answer why productivity is more important for entrepreneurs than employees. An employee gets paid for his input, while the entrepreneur solely gets paid for his output.
Productivity as an employee
A few jobs like sales, where the output is easily quantifiable, are partly or entirely paid on the basis of output and therefore not part of this argument. These jobs are the exception and they have an entrepreneurial element to them. The majority of jobs, however, is paid solely for input a.k.a. “working time”, which means time spent in the office. The working time is a rough proxy for productivity. This system is favored by the fact that it’s hard to define, let alone measure the output of most office jobs today.
As an employee, you are incentivized to regress to the mean. When you produce a high output, you are expected to live up to this standard in the future and you get new projects to work on. You also set a higher benchmark for fellow employees resulting in increased peer pressure. On the other hand, if you produce a low output, you increase the workload for your colleagues and you risk getting fired.
The Nash equilibrium is the sweet spot in the middle, where you work just enough to keep the chance of getting promoted in the future without stressing yourself too much. This is especially true for environments (most large corporations) where internal politics are more important than pure output.
Productivity as an entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs are on the other end of the spectrum. They don’t get paid for their working time, but their output. Nobody cares if I wrote this article in 10 hours or 100 hours, you only care about the article. This is why productivity is so important for entrepreneurs. If you are unproductive as an entrepreneur you are doomed to fail. As an entrepreneur, you are essentially betting on your productivity.
Personally, I know I can work for five hours on peak performance per day. During this hours I work on high-level shit like writing and strategic planning, which requires a lot of mental energy. I am a morning worker, so I reserve the time block between 8 am and 1 pm for this line of work. I protect this time block religiously and it’s a good feeling to eat lunch with the satisfaction of a finished work day. In the afternoon I work another hour on low-level shit like social media marketing and emails.
If you do the maths, you could think I work 30 hours instead of the conventional 40 hours per week. This calculation doesn’t account for my work over the weekend. I don’t take days off, which adds another 12 hours to my working time and therefore I work slightly more than the average Joe. I don’t want to waste my peak performance hours and it helps to build momentum. Not working on the weekends feels arbitrary to me and I prefer to work in the morning and chill in the afternoon.
One of the first things I do, when I move to a new city is finding a good workplace. I like to work in coworking spaces or libraries during my peak performance hours. The Working atmosphere there motivates me. In the afternoon I also work in cafés and on rare occasions from home. I don’t like to work from home because the social element is missing and I prefer a mental separation between work and free time.
People like to talk a lot about “productivity hacks” and I think the whole discussion is a bit misguided. You can take advantage of little tricks, but the best one I know is working hard consistently. It’s maybe a bit boring, but true nonetheless. If you use your peak performance hours and work in a good environment, you are halfway there.
The challenge most employees face is that that they have little influence on both crucial factors. They have to work during office hours and even if their peak performance hours fall into the office hours, they are still exposed to a constant stream of interruptions in the form of emails, calls, meetings, questions and “important” assignments. They also have little influence on their working environment, despite putting wack souvenirs on their desk.
This is a massive advantage for entrepreneurs because they can optimize their work for both factors. The only requirement is a sufficient level of self-motivation to show up every day. Therefore, the first habit every entrepreneur should cultivate is to work during your peak performance hours and protect this time block at all costs. In a way, I treat my work like a job, with the minor difference that I can choose my projects, working time and workplace and that I can keep the upside for myself.
Consistent working hours are just the first part of the equation. The second part is prioritization. It’s crucial that you work on important tasks, which contribute to your bottom line and move your business forward. They are generally linked to the core areas of your business. You want to work on your business and not in your business. This is why I work on high-level shit in the morning and low-level shit in the afternoon. I recommend using an old-school to-do list for prioritization. There are tons of options out there, but I like Wunderlist the most. Microsoft acquired Wunderlist in 2015 and I hope it’s not getting discontinued soon. To-do lists hold you accountable and force you to prioritize. I usually have one or two important items per day, which determine if my workday was productive or not.
I can recommend some classics if you want to go down the rabbit hole of productivity. Productive work a.k.a. getting shit done is an essential skill for every entrepreneur and a 5 % increase in productivity translates to thousands of Dollars in extra yearly income. I have a book about habits and productivity mapped out in my head, but I haven’t found the muse to write it down yet. As long I haven’t disrupted the book market with my productivity book, you have to settle for one of the following books:
1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
2. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
3. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
4. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
You don’t need “smart drugs” or similar bullshit. Just find a good workplace and go there consistently during your peak performance time and work your ass off. Be smart and prioritize your tasks. If you follow this two simple rules, you are already in the top decile of entrepreneurs. Now you know everything you need to know about productivity.
The rest is up to you,
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business