(Spoiler alert: just do it.)
Some people are just good at getting stuff done. And sometimes we look at those people (from across the desk) and think how do they do it?!? So we decided to ask one of those people. We asked our co-founder Julien Smith about how he gets SO MUCH done in a day (the army of brilliant people he hired, aside). Because not only is he a CEO, in his previous life, he wrote a book about it.
Let’s talk about your workflow and how you learned to manage your day-to-day.
Julien: It’s different now that I’m the CEO of a company. It’s really different than when I was a writer. As a writer, basically, your objective is to put words on a page and often they’re going to be shit. [laughs] And you don’t know at the time * which words are going to be *shit and which words are going to be good. So, you just have to put a lot of them on the page.
That was my only job, right? I had a book deal and I was accountable to a certain number of words. So I took that number and I split it. I had to write 1,000 words a day. I would try writing those 1,000 words in the afternoon and of course I was lazy — not to say that all writers are lazy — but I would just do it later and later. I found that if I didn’t do it first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t do it. So, I started to become really maniacal about exactly what I needed to do and when.
Did you look to other people for inspiration?
When you’re a writer, you’re looking at habits of all these famous writers. I’d look at Ernest Hemingway who would always write at the same standing desk with the same typewriter. I had a picture of him, actually. At some point I copied all of Moby Dick by hand so that I could integrate that writing style into me—you know?
Thanks, it was a lot of work.
Work life = Post-Its and cables.
How do these early learnings help you with your day-to-day now?
Essentially, being a writer meant I had to develop a bunch of good habits. When I came into this job I realized, “Okay. There’s basically two things I need to do everyday and as long as I do these things, I’ll be productive.” Two of these things matter and the other five on the list… well it doesn’t really matter how ** I do them, or if I do them on the weekend. A lot of my job — when I first started the company — was about sorting. And when you’re sorting, ideas occur to you all the time. Sometimes I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. and think “Oh, yeah. I really should’ve done that two weeks ago.”
Unbundling. Or things you don’t want to do.
So, how do you handle the sorting?
What you need is an incredibly complex and really effective note-taking system. If you don’t have that system you’re going to lose the best ideas, because none of those ideas will occur to you when you’re actually sitting at the computer. What I have is software. Which means I can do this: [Talks to watch.] “Hey, Siri. Remind me to tell Sacha about the article tomorrow.” And that’s it. And now that I’ve done that, I don’t have to do anything about it until tomorrow.
What’s the one thing you should do to start on this road of being effective and productive?
Hmm, that’s tough… Well, the core of it is this: here’s this thing, you know exactly what you need to do and you know exactly how to do it, and you have all the information needed but you’re not doing it. Why? It’s about unbundling. You’re looking at a target, and you’re like, “This is the thing I need to do.” But what it is, is a series of nested activities. It’s not actually one thing at all. And the reason you’re probably not doing it is because somewhere along this line there’s something that you don’t want to do.
His other cup is a Keepcup.
What’s an example of that?
My coffeemaker broke at 8 p.m. the other night while we were cleaning it. Now, I need to call the manufacturer but the thing that’s blocking me from doing this is I have to find the receipt. And I really don’t want to find the receipt.
So much of it is about habit. Almost everything requires daily activity to move forward. Breather started as a project and a to-do list that said “work on secret project”. And in actuality, it didn’t matter what I did everyday as long as I moved it forward in some ** way. When I moved it forward, I would get a little dopamine rush, even if I did a sad thing that really wasn’t important. Essentially, you’re just chipping away at this massive problem. I’m still chipping away.
The idea is you take the daily activity, combine it with the everyday-I-do-the-most-important-thing, and you’re actually going to chip away at your biggest problem right now. And the rest of the day you’re like “Okay, I solved that problem.” And it feels good.
Getting productive has literally never been easier.