Everyone has at least one productivity superhero in his or her life. You know the type of person I mean--that guy or gal who manages to run a successful business, work on a side project or two, keep in shape, be available to friends and family, and even cook an amazing three-course dinner now and again. And they do it all without appearing to drown in stress. Are these people aliens or perhaps mad scientists with access to a secret machine that bends time in their favor?
Nope, says a member of this lucky tribe. "In the last five years, I've managed to find the time to write, publish, and promote multiple books, including two award-winning bestsellers, develop a Web application, maintain a blog, and present at conferences. I did all that while still excelling at my day job and actively raising three young children," writes William Hertling in a slightly maddening (to us mere mortals) if extremely helpful guest post on VC Brad Feld's blog recently.
So how does he do it? No magic or futuristic technology is required. Instead, he outlines nine principles that helped him achieve this amazing output. Among them:
1. Your new mantra: 'The only person I have to cheat is myself'
Willpower is a notoriously wobbly support to lean on. Strengthen yours with this handy phrase, Hertling suggests, relating his own struggles to get in shape as an example:
"In my own experience with weight loss, I found that the trick to avoid exhausting my willpower was to decrease the amount of time spent thinking about it. When trying to lose 30 pounds in 2011, I found myself thinking at length about the cookies, cake, and ice cream I was passing up, trying to rationalize whether I could have a small piece, what the effect might be, and whether I even wanted to lose weight. After many days of agonizing over my desire for sweets, I realized that no one else cared whether I ate those sweets or if I was fat or thin or somewhere in between. No parent, teacher, friend, or spouse was going to tell me what to do, and quite frankly, I was exhausted debating it with myself."
How did he stop wasting energy trying to talk himself out of justifications and mental loopholes? "I developed a simple mantra: 'The only person I have to cheat is myself.' Instead of spending a great deal of mental energy over every sweet craving, I shortcut the process."
2. The permaculture principle
Gardening might not be the first place you'd think to look for productivity metaphors, but Hertling has unearthed a great one from the wisdom of farmers. "There's a permaculture principle known as stacking functions, the notion that everything you plant in a garden should serve at least three functions. For example, an apple tree might provide fruit to eat and shade for another plant, and beautify your landscape," he explains.
"This principle can also be employed toward work. As a blogger, I'm always looking for good content. If I need to research something for my job or write a forum response to a question, I leverage that content and turn it into a blog post. My blog posts, in turn, get repurposed into books," he continues. "Anything can be stacked. With three kids and full work and writing schedules, I don't get much time for social outings. So when my writing critique group meets, I bring a flask of bourbon."
3. Choose your friends carefully
It's not just illnesses that are catching. "It's been shown in dieting, exercise, and smoking and alcohol cessation, that the most important group that will either help or hinder you to make changes in your habits is your peer group," writes Hertling. And what's true of cutting back on the booze and smokes, is also true of upping your productivity.
"Friends who do things inspire and challenge you to do more. Keeping up with the Joneses has a whole new meaning. And, of course, they can help you," he says, while also noting that "the most important relationship you can cultivate is with your spouse or partner."
Curious about the other principles that drive Hertling's superproductivity? Check out the complete post.