When I was 21, I used to work incredibly long hours as I thought that would fuel my career success. Boy, was I wrong. Sure, I was productive over the short term. But then something funny happened.
I started to get really tired all the time. I couldn’t focus anymore during the late nights. I began to make mistakes. I wasn’t as polished in my presentations. I realized most people didn’t even care that I was putting in the extra hours. Then I burned out.
Over my 11 year career, I’ve learned to focus on working smarter. I’ve taken detailed notes from some of the top individual contributors and executives from companies like MTV, VMware, Cisco, Box and Optimizely. In those 11 years, I went from being a labor foreman to now being a VP at a fast-growing startup. I’ve also started a motivational website called CEO Lifestyle that has over 9,000 subscribers in just a few months.
So what did I learn?
Here’s the secret:
Optimize your work life so that you maximize your results.
I’ve put together a list of the top 10 ways to optimize your productivity.
Here are the top 10:
1. Pull a Mark Zuckerberg
Did you know that he wears a grey t-shirt all the time? Here’s his explanation: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. I’m in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.” (This quote is from this article: Why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same clothes to work everyday) Here’s my point: simplify your life. Reduce the amount of trivial decisions you have to make every day so that you can focus your energy on the really important ones. Pull a Mark Zuckerberg. Oh, did I mention that Steve Jobs does this too? Just saying.
2. Use the 20 feet rule
Let’s say you’re working on a project at work. Have you ever stopped to check your phone randomly to look at Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat? If you’re doing this multiple times within an hour, it might be hurting your productivity. If your cell phone isn’t absolutely critical to your job, put it somewhere that is 20 feet away from your desk. This forces you to do quite a bit of walking to check your phone and helps you to focus on the work at hand.
3. Use the “Top 3” rule
To make your day ultra-focused and productive, ask yourself, “What are the 3 key things I really need to accomplish today?” Before you do anything else, make sure you crush those 3 objectives first. Prioritize ruthlessly.
4. Learn to batch tasks
For tasks that are not urgent, batch them. For example, how many times do you check your email every day? A lot of people will click refresh on their inbox and then respond to emails as they come in. If your job doesn’t require an immediate response on those emails, batch and check them every 3 hours throughout the day. This way, you won’t be constantly reacting to every email that comes in and you can prioritize your activities for the day.
5. Don’t let email run your life. #OperationInboxZero
Leverage the team – We get it. You want to be the hero. You want to be the one to deliver on that big project. You want to get the applause. After all, who doesn’t love the recognition? You absolutely want to work hard. You absolutely want to do a great job. What you don’t want is to burn out. Make sure you leverage the team to get the job done. If someone else is more talented and skilled than you in a certain area, collaborate with them to drive better results. For example, when I was working on our iPhone app, I tried to design it myself in Photoshop. Did I mention I suck at Photoshop? It turned out terribly. So what did I do next? I tapped my friend on the shoulder for help (he’s a rockstar designer) and within one day we had an amazing design that was ten times better than the original. By the time we went live with the app, we had a design that was amazing. Want proof? The app hit the top 100 in the Lifestyle category. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work.
6. Virtual assistants are your best friends
Not literally. Well, unless you’re really good at building friendships over Skype. Then it might be possible. Anyway, virtual assistants can help to take on a lot of the administrative tasks that you may be overwhelmed with. Whether it’s data research, writing or language translation, there’s a ton of skills they bring to the table to help you scale your work.
7. Get rid of paper
If you don’t have to have a paper copy, create a digital one and store it in the cloud. There are a ton of cloud providers that offer a large amount of free storage like Box. For example, for my business receipts, instead of keeping the physical copies in a cabinet, I’ve created a folder in Box for all of the digital copies. I can then search for a specific receipt if I need to. It makes life so much easier. Here’s another great example: when I want to show someone marketing material, I’ll have it available on my mobile phone through the Box app. This way, I can look at it with them and I can also share it with them afterwards by sending a link right away. That’s productivity!
8. Work on what you’re passionate about
Life’s short. Do you really want to work on stuff you don’t enjoy? When you work with passion, your energy will be better, your focus will be more intense and you’ll have a sense of purpose in what you do. It’s a game changer. Don’t underestimate the power of happiness in work. Right now, I’m literally typing this article with a huge smile on my face and bobbing my head to music on Spotify. I’m so passionate about writing that I can often write multiple articles in a few hours. And it feels great too. It doesn’t even feel like work! It feels like a mission. A calling. A journey. Do what you love.
9. Constantly test
Your ideas are just that: ideas. Don’t spend too much time trying to come up with the perfect idea. At the end of the day, the only way to know if it’ll work is to test it. The data will tell you if it’s a good idea or not. Want to know how many apps it took for me to make 4 top 100 apps? 14 tries. When I first started out, I thought all of them could be big hits. That’s why it’s critical to test.
10. Have a “user” centric approach
Whenever people run into a tough challenge, you’ll often hear a couple of different suggestions on how the problem can be solved. One of the best ways to solve hard problems is to ask yourself, “What’s best for the user?” Having a user-centric approach as your guiding force will often drive you to the best answers. Put yourselves in their shoes. How do you make their lives better? How do you bring a sense of delight into their lives? How do you bring a huge smile to their face?
Bonus tip: Surround yourself with inspiring, sharp and positive people. Want to know why? It’s simple. Awesomeness is contagious.
This post was written by Nelson Wang and first appeared on Quora.
Nelson Wang is the founder of CEO Lifestyle where he helps entrepreneurs build a profitable, sustainable business. He founded 3 companies, traveled to over 100 cities, 19 countries, written an Amazon resumes bestseller, built 4 top 100 apps in Lifestyle, Business and Entertainment and his writing has been featured on Forbes, Inc., Business Insider, Fortune, Time, The Huffington Post, PopSugar, Thought Catalog, LifeHack and Quartz.