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Marc Andreessen on Personal Productivity


An Asian Efficiency reader recently sent us a link to an article that Marc Andreessen wrote about personal productivity waaaaay back in 2009.

Who’s Marc Andreessen? Check out his wikipedia page. He seems to know his stuff :)

Here are some takeaways and commentary on different points raised in his guide.

Don’t keep a schedule.

The idea of not keeping a schedule goes back to GTD and its derivatives. Another way to think about this is simply keeping your time flexible – which is great if you do project-based work. It’s not-so-great if your work is structure with meetings and appointments all day (e.g., consultants or coaches).

We would also recommend placing more emphasis on “most important” over “most interesting” – the problem is if you have too many most interesting days, you don’t actually end up getting much done at all.

The concept of instant meetings being held 15 minutes later is an interesting one, and one that I can see working quite well in places like San Francisco or Palo Alto, but may be a bit too much for places like Hong Kong where everyone has to plan for transit times.

Keep three and only three lists: a Todo List, a Watch List, and a Later List.

This is actually not a bad simple task management system. It’s not as granular as say a proper OmniFocus setup, but the basics are there – things to be work on now (Todo List), an @Waiting context (Watch List) and an @Future context (Later List).

Each night before you go to bed, prepare a 3×5 index card with a short list of 3 to 5 things that you will do the next day.

OK, so 3×5 index cards must be an American thing because I’ve never seen them commonly sold anywhere else in the world except the US. In reality, you can use whatever you want – a Moleskine, some scrap paper, or a note in Evernote on your phone. We’ve talked about preparing your tasks the night before and sticking to 6 things a day. It’s great to see other people recommend this too, because it just works.

Use the back of the 3×5 card as your Anti-Todo List.

Simply put: keep a record of things you do throughout the day. You can use a journal entry for this, and that’s what we would recommend. Not quite sure what the thing about destroying that record at the end of the day is all about – that record can be quite handy. Thanh talked about accomplishment lists in December’s newsletter.

Structured procrastination.

The basic idea here is to do tasks of lesser importance while you procrastinate on higher importance tasks. A more layered approach would be to combine a frog eating habit (knocking out your most important tasks first) with this for even more productive output.

There’s a strange psychological payoff from getting done those 2-10 minute tasks that everyone has – I personally call it “clearing excess tasks”, and it frees up mental space for more important things.

Strategic incompetence.

Great tactic!

Email twice a day, notifications off

This is the foundation of effective email management and we couldn’t agree more. We have never heard of email as an addiction at a neurochemical level, but it makes sense. The actual main advantage of not checking your email all the time is that you’re not multitasking which trying to get things done.

Silent cockpit concept

What Marc A. refers to as not answering the phone and hiding behind an iPod, we call the silent cockpit – it’s about setting up an environment where people can’t interrupt you from doing work. You can extend this further to closing your office door and turning off phone notifications and instant messaging.

Start the day with a real, sit-down breakfast.

If you had asked me about breakfast a year ago I would have agreed wholeheartedly, and I know that Thanh likes green smoothies in the morning. That being said, I’ve been experimenting with a shorter eating window throughout the day and all I’ve seen so far is a productivity increase in the mornings when I would usually be eating and subsequently digesting a whole breakfast.

Only agree to new commitments when both your head and your heart say yes.

Our friend Jim calls this “catching the emotion”. It’s basically a method for running everything through a rationality filter before deciding. It’s also tempered with trusting your gut – if you feel that something is right, it probably is.

Do something you love.

Or, learn to love it as you do it.

While I find GTD to be highly inspiring, in practice I think it’s awfully complex. At least if your job is based on project work (as opposed to having a highly structured role like CEO or head of sales).

For me, an organization system that requires significant time to deal with in and of itself is not optimal. Much better, for me at least, is to focus on stripping away nonessentials and freeing up as much time as possible to deal with whatever is most important.

This is absolutely key. Your organization system (and any other systems you have) should be easy to use, minimalistic and as self-structured as possible – provided you have spent the proper amount of time establishing them. And don’t forget to use personal technology (like apps) to help you maintain them. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ll know that this was the topic of January 2013’s newsletter.

Check out the original article here.

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