and the launch of Just Focus — an extension for blocking distracting websites
Time is a paradoxically valuable resource. The “time we have left” can be described as both finite in nature but also infinite in scope. We have no way to empathize with the magnitude of life. Yet, we all know that our days are limited. So how do we really make the most of this life we have?
I have experimented with dozens of different strategies for maximizing productivity and minimizing waste. Some have worked effectively, while others have been complete flops.
I think, more than anything, productivity is about finding what works for you given your particular goals and context.
Lately, I have been really interested in understanding how to become better at focusing on the moment — being fully present in the task at hand. This has been an obviously simple, but immensely impactful priority for me. It turns out that a) multi-tasking is near impossible and b) executing on one thing a time is actually far more productive.
One of the hardest things about “focusing on one thing at a time” is that the internet is an infinite playground with dozens of games and things to browse. Sometimes, though…I just want to focus!
So a few friends and I built a chrome extension that has been super helpful for me…and it is called Just Focus.
It lets you block distracting websites so you can just focus on your work.
Listening to my curiosities, I have also invested some time in learning more about how high-output people structure their days. While nothing is prescriptive or guaranteed to work, it has been very valuable to pick up some random tips and perspectives.
Here are some of my favorite lessons from Marc Andreessen, Elon Musk, and Sam Altman:
Marc Andreessen shares many of his thoughts on productivity in his “guide to personal productivity.”
Here is my favorite excerpt, around the topic of “structured procrastination.”
This one is lifted straight from the genius mind of John Perry, a philosophy professor at Stanford.
Read his original description, by all means. You even get to see a photo of him practicing jumping rope with seaweed on a beach while work awaits. Outstanding. Reading John’s essay was one of the single most profound moments of my entire life.
The gist of Structured Procrastination is that you should never fight the tendency to procrastinate — instead, you should use it to your advantage in order to get other things done.
Generally in the course of a day, there is something you have to do that you are not doing because you are procrastinating.
While you’re procrastinating, just do lots of other stuff instead.
As John says, “The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.”
Elon Musk shared many of his thoughts on “how to be productive” in an email to employees at Tesla.
“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”
“Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”
“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
“Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the ‘chain of command’. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.”
Sam Altman has a great essay on a structured he has created to be more productive.
I make sure to leave enough time in my schedule to think about what to work on. The best ways for me to do this are reading books, hanging out with interesting people, and spending time in nature.
By the way, here is an important lesson about delegation: remember that everyone else is also most productive when they’re doing what they like, and do what you’d want other people to do for you — try to figure out who likes (and is good at) doing what, and delegate that way.
I don’t bother with categorization or trying to size tasks or anything like that (the most I do is put a star next to really important items).
I try to prioritize in a way that generates momentum. The more I get done, the better I feel, and then the more I get done. I like to start and end each day with something I can really make progress on.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of productivity porn — chasing productivity for its own sake isn’t helpful. Many people spend too much time thinking about how to perfectly optimize their system, and not nearly enough asking if they’re working on the right problems. It doesn’t matter what system you use or if you squeeze out every second if you’re working on the wrong thing.
The right goal is to allocate your year optimally, not your day.
Thanks for reading!