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We tackle tons of questions about productivity and workflow in an episode that is guaranteed to give you a ton of ideas for optimizing your life.

It’s easy to compare yourself to someone else with greater output, but we talk about why that’s a bad idea. Everyone has different circumstances and you’re not always going to have the same opportunities. If you look for excuses, you’ll always find them, so we look at what to do instead.

  • How many hours is enough?
  • Can you batch process too much?
  • Does exercise help?
  • When in your day should you exercise?
  • What music do you listen to for different tasks?
  • Can getting more sleep really make you tired?

I’ll go ahead and answer that last one: sometimes. But only if you wake in the middle of a sleep cycle—you want to avoid that! Let’s talk about it.

Show Notes
  • 05:17 Sean: Remember when we used to meet? We had a great discussion yesterday that ties into maximizing your productivity. We talked about not falling for the comparison trap.
  • 05:29 Ben: Yeah. By default, whenever we talk I ask myself, “How can this apply to people with kids?” People often look at an entrepreneur without children and think that situation is so much easier, when the reality is: the problems are the same, they just deal with a different amount of time.
  • 06:41 Sean: You had mentioned witnessing a lot of parents comparing themselves to people without kids who are also maximizing their efficiency and output. You wanted people to compare to others in similar situations, if they’re going to compare.
  • Don’t Fall for the Comparison Trap
  • 07:08 Ben: I would actually take it further and say stop comparing. Instead of comparing your output to what others are doing, compare yourself to yourself. Ask yourself if what you’re putting out is consistent with what you’ve put out in the past. We have no idea what a person’s reality is, so we have no basis to compare our output to theirs. The healthiest thing is to be ok with what you’re capable of doing within your certain circumstances.
  • 08:59 Sean: Can you also speak to the belief of what you’re capable of producing and how you can accomplish what you believe you can accomplish?
  • 09:10 Ben: When you think about your circumstances in a negative light, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The way you think starts to manifest in the way you produce because, on a subconscious level, it’s in your best interest to prove yourself right. The same goes for thinking positively about your circumstances.
  • If you’re looking for excuses, you’re going to find them every time.

  • 10:59 Sean: You can always find excuses and reasons why you can’t do something, but why not focus on what you can change? You should think, “If [blank] happens, how will I respond to that?” not, “If [blank] happens, that’ll be a failure.”
  • 11:49 Ben: The more you take action and initiative, instead of wrestling with the possibilities, the more in control you are. The ability to deal with things in the present moment is what propels you forward.
  • Time-Wasters & The Questions to Ask
  • 12:44 Sean: If someone wants to be more productive, the obvious question to ask is, “What are you doing that’s not productive?” I thought you had a great way of approaching time-wasters. I have a hard time relating to the time-wasters issue because I’ve developed the muscle of being productive. Even the things I do to recharge when I’m away from my normal work are still productive (Related: tv040 Consumer vs. Producer).
  • Being creative in the beginning is hard, but once you develop the creative muscle, the more you want to do it.

  • 14:58 Ben: The good thing about my time being so scarce is that it forces me to call things into question: is this really useful? Outside of truly destructive-by-nature things, I would say there are no good or bad activities—it all depends on how they’re used. Each activity has some value associated with it. The questions I ask myself are:
    1. What purpose does this activity serve?
    2. Is there another more valuable vehicle I can replace this activity with?
  • 17:23 In the category of things that help me to relax, maybe watching TV shows serves that purpose but running might also serve that purpose. Running is a more valuable activity.
  • 19:41 It’s the same with food. I could either shovel a bunch of food down and not enjoy it, or I could eat less higher-quality food and savor it. The purpose is the same but the latter is more valuable—it’s more nutritious, keeps my weight down, and it’s more enjoyable.
  • You need to think about what vehicle you’re using to get to a desired outcome and ask yourself, is this the best vehicle for accomplishing it?

  • 23:50 Ben: I don’t want watching Netflix to be confused with things you shouldn’t be doing. We’re talking about being purposeful with your rest because it serves the goal of helping you to focus during work time.
  • 25:38 Eventually, you can start to switch out those vehicles with even more purposeful ones. It’s a process and struggle to choose the better vehicles, but eventually you’ll get to the point where what’s providing purposeful rest for you is also adding a lot of value to your life.
  • Eliminate Interruptions – Take Focused Breaks Instead
  • 29:21 Sean: You have to eliminate interruptions. The difference between interruptions and breaks is that breaks are purposeful and intentional, while interruptions are things that happen to you. Interruptions are detrimental to productivity because they pull you out of focus mode and it takes a lot of time to get focused again. Interruptions are the killers of focus. (Related: e119 How to Get an Extra Day a Week). It’s easy to say, “Someone interrupted me. It was an outside force beyond my control.”
  • You need to take responsibility for the circumstances you put yourself in and the access people have to you.

    You should be proactive in establishing space—either physical space or an allotted block of time.

  • 30:16 You need to communicate with your family about this established space. It’s not just about interruptions, it’s about the potential for interruptions. If part of your brain is entertaining the thought that you could be interrupted at any moment, that’s wasted focus.
  • 30:50 Ben: Something that helps me is to have that focused time allotted on the calendar when I sit down to work. It creates a default work station for a specific activity. At the beginning of my work session, I make myself set that work space up for a task so there aren’t any distractions open. It’s so much easier to stay focused when distractions aren’t easily available, like when my social media windows and the Community chat are closed.
  • Organization & Batch Processing
  • 32:30 Sean: Do you try to put like things together and do them all at once? Is it something you’ve thought about and should do more, or are there places in your life where you could do it better?
  • 32:53 Ben: I’m familiar with the concept but I haven’t put like activities together.
  • 33:02 Sean: The idea is to switch your processes less often. If you’re in writing mode and you’re on a roll, cue up the things you need to write and go with that momentum. Turn off email notifications and schedule times for checking email throughout the day, so as not to interrupt your flow or kill your productivity. Knocking out tasks in one sitting gets so much more work done vs. letting tasks interrupt you.
  • 33:51 Ben: I usually don’t have like tasks back-to-back without a purposeful rest break in between. It’s really energizing to have a break and dive right back into it. If I don’t have that break, I want to switch to another task because it helps me not get weary of it.
  • 35:28 Sean: I like the idea of that break because you can burn out. You can’t batch process indefinitely. It can be helpful to a degree but it can be intense. Back when I was producing Learn Lettering, I didn’t have Cory for video editing yet so I would try to film all the raw footage at once and then edit it all at once.
  • 36:05 It was difficult to try to go back to the beginning of this raw footage and figure out how to edit is all together because I didn’t remember it anymore. It had been too long. I thought I was being efficient by batch processing, but it would have been better if I completed one whole course at a time. I should have recorded 5 or 8 lesson at a time because it’s fresh and I know the context. It’s just enough batch processing to be efficient, but it has the reward at the end of each course where I get that sense of accomplishment.
  • 37:19 Ben: You have to determine for yourself where that balance is. Where are you being inefficient because you’re not grouping enough together, and where are you being inefficient because you’re doing too much of one thing?
  • How Many Hours Is Enough?
  • 41:05 Sean: Matt P. asks, “How many hours working in a day is enough?” The subjective word there is “enough.” Maybe you can get your work done in 2 hours, does that mean you still need to put in another 6?
  • 41:56 Ben: Everyone has a different level of efficiency with their time, so there’s no right answer to that. First, you have to think about your goals. Second, ask yourself if that’s a realistic goal for your circumstances. Then, you need to evaluate if you should adjust your efficiency or if you need to change things in your life to make that goal possible.
  • 43:57 Sean: I don’t want you to be discouraged by the fact that we’re not giving an objective number here. There’s isn’t an objective number. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad if you work more than 40 hours a week and don’t let them make you feel bad if you only work 20 or 30 hours. You know the balance.
  • Don’t get caught up in the number of hours, get caught up in your realistic goal.

  • 45:10 Ben: Don’t disqualify yourself, regardless of what your circumstances are. Figure out how many hours you’re spending a week doing things like spending time with your family, sleeping (or should be sleeping), etc. and evaluate how many hours you have left to work with.
  • Workout: Before or After Work?
  • 47:39 Sean: Someone asked the question, “Should you work out before or after work?” My thought is to do it before because it energizes you. Samuel in the chat room said, “I prefer before because it jump starts the day. It’s difficult to work out after a long day of work.” Matt P. says, “I try to run 30 minutes before I start my day. When I can, I feel like I need less time to jump-start the day.” Do you echo those thoughts?
  • 48:18 Ben: I do, because studies have shown—and I’ve experienced this myself—working out later in the day makes it more difficult to wind down and sleep. When you work out, blood flow increases to your brain. The more blood flow you have to your brain, the easier it is for your thoughts to connect. That’s why it’s best for me to work out before work. Now, should you work out before or after you write?
  • 50:12 Sean: Good question! Honestly, I would still say it all starts with writing.
  • 50:20 Ben: Can I throw a little twist into this? I have a treadmill and I made a desk that sits on top where I place my laptop, so I will actually write while I exercise! I walk at 2 miles an hour while I write and that’s the first thing I do.
  • 50:48 Sean: Ben, you win the trophy.
  • 50:51 Ben: Yeah, I do. I win.
  • Music Types for Different Tasks
  • 51:16 We had another question from Matt P., “What do you listen to while you design, draw, or write?” Here’s my personal answers to all of those:
    • Designing (featured images, websites): Music: Panda Coast and similar.
    • Drawing or lettering: Podcasts.
    • Writing: Absolute silence.
  • 55:21 Ben: Once I get into the zone with writing, it doesn’t matter what’s going on or what external noises there are—I tune them out. I actually do my best writing when it’s raining outside. I also like to put on Coffitivity—a track of coffee shop sounds—or a rain soundtrack when I’m writing.
  • 59:40 There’s not a right answer. Silence might work for some and not others, or it might work one day for you but not the next.
  • Focus On One Healthy Choice At a Time
  • 01:01:12 Somebody in the chatroom earlier was asking if getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating healthy play a role in optimizing your lifestyle for better productivity?
  • 01:02:25 Those things absolutely help with productivity, even though it might feel counterintuitive. You tend to think the more time you spend focusing on being healthy, the less time you have for work, but you would be amazed at the kind of clarity and focus you get about work when you are well taken care of.
  • 01:02:55 It can be overwhelming to focus on all of those at once though, so if you’re going to make improvements on one area of your life for better health and focus, get enough sleep.
  • 01:03:27 Sean: To your point, you definitely should focus on one thing at a time. With everything we talked about—eliminating distractions, batch processing, getting enough sleep, working out, eating right—there’s just so much! You can’t do it all.
  • Pick one thing to make a small improvement in your life.

    Every small choice you make to better your health in any aspect will help you in all the other areas.

  • 01:05:19 Ben: With any improvement you make but especially with sleep, you can build up a debt.
  • 01:05:38 Sean: Not just debt in the sense that you owe, but debt with interest. You can’t make up for that time by sleeping more. At some point you’ve actually harmed your body.
  • 01:06:44 The Sleep Cycle App has definitely changed things for me when it comes to sleep. The average sleep cycle is 90 minutes. You go into different stages of sleep during the night. You sleep in rhythms where you’re coming in and out of REM and you want to try to wake up just as you’re coming out of a deep sleep. If you go to bed at 12:00am, you’re going to want to wake up at 6:00am or 7:30am because that’s where the 90-minute cycles land. The app isn’t just going off of the time—it’s monitoring your sleep through the accelerometer. You place it on the corner of your bed and it can tell what level of sleep you’re in. It then wakes you within a 30-minute window of your alarm at the most optimal time.
  • 1:08:36 You’d think if you got more sleep, you’d be better off, but 6:00am is 6 hours since you went to bed at midnight. If you wake up at 6:30am or 6:45am you’re actually going to feel worse during the day because you’ll have woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle.
  • When it comes to making adjustments in your life to be healthier, you’ve got to think of it as a long-term investment in your future success.

  • 01:09:24 Ben: When you’re sleeping enough regularly, you’re going to be a more successful person because you’ll have more clarity and more focus when you’re working. Don’t give up after a few days of making those adjustments, it’ll take time to see the benefits.