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Productivity Lessons from the Giants: Zuckerberg, Gates, Nadella, and Buffett

Productivity Lessons from the Giants: Zuckerberg, Gates, Nadella, and Buffett

Being productive is more than just sitting at a desk and working. We’re at an age where everyone is more reachable than ever, but this comes with a risk of losing focus and concentrating on the wrong things at the wrong time.

There is a difference between effectiveness, efficiency and productivity, with the focus for most working individuals and companies, on the latter.[1]

This is no coincidence, some of the world’s most influential people got to where they are by developing, maintaining, and improving productivity. High achievers like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Satya Nadella and Warren Buffett master the following skills to always stay productive to get what they want.

1. Make Every Communication Count

Communication can be a block to productivity. Devoting energy in the wrong place leads to time being wasted.

Co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates for example, is an advocate of communicating by email. And being a self-proclaimed master of emails is also one way business magnate Elon Musk stays productive; in his own words claiming the reason for this is, I’m very good at email.[2]

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Minimizing communication by phone or through meetings frees up time to concentrate on more imperative issues. So until email is eliminated altogether, messages can be deferred and thus allow you take control of your own schedule.[3]

2. Optimize at Every Opportunity

Musk also advocates constantly questioning your productivity.[4] Ask yourself how you could do something more efficiently or better use your time daily for as many scheduled events, meetings, and projects as possible.

This idea of optimizing your time and work also runs true for Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, who likes to keep things simple. He eliminates the mundane, or in his own words, “silly or frivolous” decisions in life, which allows him to concentrate on his work and to be as productive as possible. One apparent example of this simplicity is his go-to grey t-shirt and jeans work outfit which he wears every day. Find out more about how keeping things simple leads to better decisions: Make Better Decisions by Knowing How Decision Fatigue Works

And he’s not the only one – the late Steve Jobs famously wore almost solely black turtlenecks, Albert Einstein was known for wearing the same grey suit and having unkempt hair, and you’ll only see Obama in either grey or black suits. Check out Why Highly Successful People Wear The Same Thing Every Day

Finding the most simple and optimized way of completing tasks and projects means energy spent on something trivial, can be retargeted towards more important decision for your business.

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This is also applicable to getting the simple things done first. This way, smaller tasks and decisions aren’t a distraction from tackling the bigger ones. Here’s how to master your tasks in a productive way: How to Adjust the Task, Change Your Mood, and Boost Productivity

3. Bust Multi-tasking

Studies have shown that the brain doesn’t do things simultaneously, but rather switches between tasks. The implications for productivity means that rather than focusing on many things at a time, we are spending energy and brain-power on the action of switching from one task to another. If you still think that you can multi-task, read this: Why the Brain Can’t Do Two Things at the Same Time

Eliminating multi-tasking can therefore increase productivity. Being in the moment and concentrating on one specific task will allow you to complete it without agonizing about what’s going to happen later in the day, or in the next meeting.

One way of doing this is by delegating and collaborating with others. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella announced in 2014,[5] that the company will

“reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.”

With such a vast number of apps and services allowing for collaboration through video conferences, remote meetings, and even augmented and virtual reality, making use of these technologies (albeit almost exclusively those by Microsoft), helps the likes of Nadella stay productive.[6]

4. Stick to One Thing and Master It

Writing about Bill Gates, author Cal Newport recently argued that distractions minimize the impact of our work as well as our overall potential.[7] In a process, he refers to as deep working, the idea is that we can successfully maximize impact by spending a dedicated amount of time (even just an hour or two) working with urgency and eliminating all distractions.[8]

In fact, it is this ability to meticulously dedicate focus to one task at a time, that allowed Bill Gates to found a billion-dollar business in just a couple of months.

Another way of perfecting the art of focus comes from American business magnate Warren Buffett, who uses a 3-step productivity strategy (also known as the ‘two list’ strategy) to help his employees.

  • Step 1 – Make a list of twenty-five goals (these could be career goals, goals for a particular project, or even general goals for a specific week or month).
  • Step 2 – Review the list, highlighting the five most important goals, and then separating these on to a new, separate list. These are your ‘Top 5’.
  • Step 3 – Focus on achieving items from the ‘Top 5’ list first, disregarding the rest of the written goals until they are completed.

In this strategy, Buffett argues the focus should be on the ‘top 5’ list, treating the remaining twenty goals as a distraction.

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Focusing on a smaller number of important goals first allows for a more manageable and thereby achievable way of working. As a result, you can set your own schedule and take control of your time.

Learn how Buffett prioritizes his life goals here: Most People End up Being Average Because They Don’t Keep This List

It’s Easier Than Ever to Get Things Done Fast

We live in an age where we no longer need to initiate an action or conversation to get the information we need. AI is moving into our workplace, and various Apps and services are now integrating features that predict our next step and optimize, prioritize, and multitask for us, which ultimately leaves us more time and brain-space to be as productive as possible.

It’s essential for everyone of us to identify our own priority, stick to it and minimize all distractions to achieve what we want most.

Reference

More by this author

Eran Abramson

Marketing at Knowmail

Productivity Lessons from the Giants: Zuckerberg, Gates, Nadella, and Buffett The Power of Mind Map: Get More Things Done & Make Creativity Easy

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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