In the early days of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos held book groups for his executives.
This might not seem surprising, given that Amazon started out as an online bookstore. But Bezos had only three books that he wanted them to read. These were management classics that Bezos wanted to permeate the soul of his young company. These three books, you might say, are responsible for the meteoric success of Amazon.
Looking to accelerate my own company, I recently read all three books. While they were all terrific, the real standout was a book published in 1967 called The Effective Executive. It was written by the great management consultant Peter Drucker, distilling his observations about how the world’s top executives not only stayed productive, but effective.
Staying productive and focused is one of the great challenges of our time. With the endless stream of digital distractions – social media, chat requests, email, and so on – it’s a wonder we can get anything done at all. What Drucker wrote fifty years ago is more relevant today than ever.
I turned Drucker’s advice into “mind hacks,” or mental techniques, that I could use throughout my workday. Since I started practicing these mind hacks, my productivity – what Drucker would call effectiveness – has skyrocketed. I hope that by using these mind hacks, your own productivity will also shoot off the charts.
Mind Hack #1: The Mental Timesheet
How many times have you said to yourself, “I feel like I worked all day, but didn’t get anything done?”
One hundred years ago, your work would have involved pushing around physical items: either buying goods, selling products, or moving things in a factory. It was easy to see how much you got accomplished: just measure the stack of finished products that rolled off your assembly line.
But now our work is “knowledge work”: most of us spend our workday on a computer, pushing around information. Because information is less tangible than physical goods, it’s hard to judge the effectiveness of our work. You can see the number of emails you’ve answered, but did you really get anything done?
Drucker’s advice was to simply record your time. Again and again he emphasized, “Know thy time.” He recommended keeping a daily timesheet, for at least a month at a time, twice a year. These serve as “temperature readings” to determine where our time is really going.
This was an eye-opening exercise for me. I used the Toggl app to record my time, and found that not only was I spending a lot of time planning for the future (the good news), but I was spending a ridiculous amount of time on tasks that could be delegated (the bad news).
Once you spend a month recording your time, you get in the habit of thinking about where your time is going. Then you can prune and eliminate time-wasters from your schedule, such as:
- Tasks that do not need to be done at all. Ask yourself, “What would happen if this were not done?”
- Tasks that can be delegated to someone else. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?”
- Tasks that waste other people’s time. Ask yourself, “Am I making someone else less productive with this meeting or email?”
It quickly becomes a mind hack: whenever you switch tasks throughout the workday, just imagine that you’re still logging your time. I call it “The Mental Timesheet,” a constant high-level awareness of your work. That mental timesheet keeps you focused and productive, and it starts with keeping an actual timesheet.
Mind Hack #2: Building the Body
Imagine your business is a body, and you’re a worker within that body. You can help it grow in a few ways:
- Calories: By helping the business make money, or be more profitable, you are providing the body with fuel. This might be the case if you’re in sales, marketing, product development, etc.
- Vitamins and minerals: By building and affirming values within the company, you’re giving it all the nutrients it needs. This might apply if you work in human resources, on management teams, etc.
- Reproduction: By building and developing people for tomorrow, you’re like a cell passing on its genetic information. This applies to anyone in a mentorship, leadership, or coaching role.
In practice, we all play some combination of these roles. Thinking of them like building a body is an effective mind hack, because it keeps us focused on the activities that will help grow or nourish the body.
Does visiting Buzzfeed on company time build the body, or does it just waste empty calories? Do office politics help the body, or do they tear it down? Keep focused on building the body throughout your workday, and you’ll see your productivity soar.
Mind Hack #3: The Efficiency Game
The greatest challenge for many of us is not figuring out what to do, it’s figuring out what not to do.
I was talking with a management friend, one of the most effective executives I know, about how she manages her workday. “First,” she told me, “I limit every meeting to half an hour. If someone wants me at a meeting, they know it has to be finished in half an hour.”
“Next, if I get in that meeting and I find out there’s no clear purpose, I’ll call them on it,” she continued. “Within the first few minutes, if I don’t hear a clear reason they’re using this group’s time, I’ll just ask to leave the meeting.”
I compared that with the large number of long, pointless meetings I’ve endured, just because someone put it on my calendar, and I could see why she was so much more productive.
“Being effective,” Drucker tells us, “requires an iron will to say NO.” It requires constantly sloughing off the old programs of yesterday, the way a snake sheds its skin as it grows. “If I were doing this meeting/program/product for the first time,” we should constantly ask ourselves, “would I still do it?”
Inertia is a powerful foe. We have to be constantly vigilant for the work that wastes our time. I call this mind hack “The Efficiency Game.”
Each morning, when you arrive at work, look for those tasks that will provide the maximum results with the minimum effort. Look for the leverage points: that important client presentation or useful report. Do those first, before you get into any low-efficiency work (like email).
At the end of the day, reflect back on your overall efficiency. Did you spend the day in low-value meetings and communication, or did you actually move things forward? You can even keep a daily score of your overall efficiency, on a scale of 1-10, along with your timesheet, and note how one influences the other.
“You must constantly move away from being busy to achieving results,” Drucker advises. Even though he wrote those words before most of us were born, he could have written them for us today. Follow his advice by using these mind hacks, and watch your productivity shoot through the roof.
Sir John Hargrave is the author of Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days, now available worldwide.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.