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Better, Not More: How to Achieve Productivity Through Better Organization of What You Do 1-3 Hours per Day

David Sherry
6 min read
Better, Not More: How to Achieve Productivity Through Better Organization of What You Do 1-3 Hours per Day

The traffic jam

The state of affairs for most entrepreneurs and founders is like that of being in traffic.

You're moving ahead short distances, frequently, but it feels like you're jammed up with back-to-back tasks and no end to freedom in sight.

Despite all of the effort, Superhuman, Virtual Assistants, and time blocking...I've continued to hear founders I work with ask me roughly the same question:

"How can I get more organized?"  

To do that, I have a simple answer that I've seen be most effective for me and for others I work with. Better is entirely possible. We want to get you onto the highway so you can go far, fast, and enjoy the drive.

This problem of feeling the need to become more organized is most acute when something new is required of you:

  • You just received a new round of funding
  • Your funding is running out
  • You see the next quarter as crucial for your business
  • You're simply sick of being overwhelmed/lost

So typically when founders ask about this it's because they're feeling new pressures and realizing their current setup is broken.

Offense vs. Defense

When I hear people ask about this question of organization, what I really hear these founders asking is...

"How can I spend more time doing productive stuff?"

They want to know what systems they can implement to achieve better performance and organization while staying on "offense" instead of being constantly on "defense."

Being on "offense" means you are owning your time, you're proactive, you're showing up to meetings with your own set agenda, or proactively taking actions that create more of what you want to see in your business.

Being on "defense" means you're constantly on your heels responding to what others request of you. What you want and need to get done gets done last, not first.

The other purpose behind truly getting organized

Ultimately what we want is to ship more work that moves our mission forward.

And we want the experience of being productive.

Feeling productive feels good. Feeling reactive and overwhelmed feels frazzling.

When we feel organized/productive we...

  • Achieve flow states regularly
  • We are having more Fun
  • We're shipping work and seeing a response from the world.
  • Making important decisions rather than dragging them out.

On top of this, we don't want to keep having to change our systems of organization.

This is a telltale sign that things are not structured properly for you and is a massive waste of resources.

If we find what works for us, stick with it, and feel on top of our work, we can unlock significant potential.

To start doing better work, and subsequently feeling more organized, we need to break some myths.

Better, not more, is the path to “getting organized.”

More is not better. Better is better.

There are two ways growth can happen: More, and Better.

Let's use the example of the telephone.

After the breakthrough of the invention of the telephone, the world wanted more telephones.

As we networked them together, and more people had more phones, the world improved.

Growth meant more telephones.

However, there is another vector for growth, one which the world is moving towards.

Once the telephone was invented, that allowed room for a better version, the cell phone, to be invented.

Better means having the telephone in your pocket.

Better means having location-based applications on that cellphone.

Better means having software that upgrades on that cellphone.

While you might think that humans always want "more" often what we really want is better.

The entire high-end market for goods and services serves this purpose.

People don't just want to buy more quantity dark chocolate.

They want to buy nicer/finer bars of dark chocolate.

This is a different vector for growth. And it breaks the model we have in our consumerist economy.

With that said, how does this apply to how we organize and spend our time?  

All hours are not equal.

We're taught to think that an hour of time is the same as any other hour of time.

Every hour = 60 minutes, right?

Well, not in the realm of productivity.

If you congratulate yourself because you worked "8 hours" instead of "6 hours" you're assuming that each hour of work is equally productive.

In knowledge work it's the quality of that hour matters, not the time amount.

A 15-minute flash of insight might yield more results than 3 hours poking at a computer.

Hour 2 in your day may have accomplished significantly more than hour 4 of your work day.

Yet, we tend to account for them all as equals.

We are also biological beings, and so the hour of 6:00 AM ≠ 6:00 PM

Due to your body's unique biological rhythms, your creativity, sharpness, and focus change throughout the day.

So, it's also the case that you may have more productive hours at 6:00 AM, than at 6:00 PM, or maybe at 12:00 AM rather than 12:00 PM.

If your energy isn't the same across every hour of the day, then certain hours may yield more results for you.

How can we bring all of the above together into a simple heuristic for getting "organized" getting on "offense" and getting more done/enjoying your work more?

Enter, The 1-3 Hour Time Slot.

When clients ask me about how to get better organized, here's what I tell them:

Define and put in your calendar a 1-3 hour (ideally daily) time slot that you can use without interruption.

This time is for being on "offense."

This time is for preparing for upcoming meetings, getting ahead (instead of reacting).

This is "Deep work" time, and you protect it on your calendar.

Now, here is the key insight...

Use Better as Leverage Over More

Now that you have a time slot for uninterrupted work...

Now that you have space to think or be proactive...

The only leverage you have comes from "what" you choose to put into that time slot. Your results directly correlate to what you define and choose to do during this proactive time.

This insight shifts you from thinking about "hours" and time to thinking about leverage.

  • If you choose to put clearing your inbox in this bucket, you will get "clearing your inbox" results.
  • If you choose to put calls with random people who may or may not be aligned with your work, you will get random networking results.
  • If you choose to have 3 calls with customers, doing sales and research while taking notes for your product, you will yield results that stem from that activity.
  • If you choose to write in that slot, you are prioritizing being a writer. If you choose to watch youtube during that slot, you are prioritizing learning. If you choose to set a Q2 vision for your business, you are prioritizing being a business owner.

All of your time spent "getting organized" is really about prioritization, and defining better work to be done, by yourself or for your organization.

"Getting organized" is really about getting proactive instead of reactive.

It's a worthwhile pursuit to take time to define better and better materials to go into that time slot.

Each day, I take time and care to define what goes into that slot, because that slot is precious time to be on "offense" before the whole world asks for your attention.

If possible, you can also...

  • Match this time slot to your unique biological rhythm, when are you most productive?
  • Match this time slot to a certain space you like to work.
  • Remove distractions to focus only on the goals that matter most to you.
  • Build a ritual the night before, or the morning before, to define what will go into that slot.

By focusing on your most important tasks during your 1-3 hour time slot, you will be able to make significant progress on your goals and feel a sense of accomplishment.

This will also free up the rest of your day for less important tasks, such as email, meetings, and administrative work.

The first step to "getting organized" starts with owning your time again.

And the reason we're wanting to get organized is to move our mission forward, and feel a sense of accomplishment again.

I hope this helps you shift gears from offense to defense, and that you start using that time to build a sense of confidence and "organization" again.

As always, let me know if I can help,

xx David

P.S. What are some other ways I like to "define" what work is high leverage?

Aka how do I know what work to put into my 1-3 hour time slot?

  1. Imagine you're building your "Sistine Chapel." during that time.
  2. Ask: "What are you most anxious about?" (h/t Tim Ferris)
  3. Eat the "frog" first as they say. (Do what's hard first).
  4. Make a list of 1-5 items, hardest to easiest. Do them in-order.
  5. "What is the most impactful thing you can do today that creates the most true progress?"
  6. "What is least comfortable but feels most important, what has vulnerability and risk to it?

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