Welcome to my talk, originally delivered at DCBKK 2022. Here's the live recording:
Here are the slides along with some bonuses:
And here's the transcript:
How to actually get sh*t done: personal productivity for entrepreneurs
You’re probably going to leave Bangkok with your head buzzing full of ideas. This talk is going to make sure you can actually fit in the stuff that’s gonna make you rich and happy. Who wants to be rich and happy?
So you might be wondering, who’s this chick? So here's just a bit about me. I’m Jodie Cook and I get a lot of sh*t done.
- I started an agency fresh out of college, built it up and sold it last year for 7-figures.
- I write a lot about entrepreneurs and the entrepreneur mindset.
- I have a column in Forbes that quite a few of you have been featured in.
- I’ve written 20 books including Ten Year Career - the new one and also the best one.
- I compete in powerlifting including for Great Britain and England.
- I started living the full nomad life since exiting.
The question I get asked the most, other than “How can I get featured in Forbes” and “How much can you deadlift”, is… ”How do you get so much sh*t done?” And at first I was like:
What do you mean? It’s easy. I just do it.
And then I realized the people who were asking wanted specifics. They wanted the methods and the secrets.
So I really thought about it and I realised there were three things that I do, that not everyone else does, that pretty much explain how. So that’s what I want to share with you, because they might work for you too.
So today is in three parts:
- Audit your schedule
- The only three things
- Your perfect repeatable day.
With these tools I believe you can get a lot of sh*t done and be world class at what you do, definitely in one but maybe in two or three areas of your life and work. What we’re trying to avoid is just being mediocre at a whole load of different things. Because no one wants that. During this session I ask that you give yourself permission to indulge in your life and prioritise you. We don’t do this enough.
So let’s get started with audit your schedule.
Audit your schedule
Does any of this sound familiar?
- You have too much work to do so you look to hire more people or use more software.
- You want to make more money so you start working with new suppliers on new marketing channels, or you add more products.
- You feel overwhelmed so you start booking massages and yoga retreats.
- You feel sad so you go shopping and buy more stuff.
What do you notice about all these situations?
We’re trying to solve them by adding something. In fact, there’s actually a bias that we all fall for, called addition bias. So this means, in response to a problem, our tendency is to add. We add resources, rules, habits, responsibilities.
Sometimes these things can be the solution, but addition shouldn’t be the default response. Just adding something doesn’t make all the problems go away. New marketing channels need monitoring, a new fitness routine comes with travel time. New team members need training.
I once worked with someone who had 7 VAs. Every time one got full he just hired a new one. Every single one needed bringing up to speed. He didn’t ever stop to ask the obvious question, “why the hell do I need 7 VAs?” So we need to stop adding. But what’s the alternative? We need to subtract.
So here’s a simple exercise.
- Take a blank piece of paper and draw two lines so you have four boxes.
- Label these boxes: stop, start, less and more.
- Then perform an audit of your schedule.
- For this exercise, let’s completely ignore start and more.
- Think about a regular week through a super critical lens.
- What can you stop doing and what can you do less of?
Three of the biggest and most obvious things that people waste their lives doing are reading the news, watching Netflix and scrolling social media. But there will be others that are specific to you. What are you doing by default that you don’t even realise is zapping your time and energy?
Think about commitments, obligations and responsibilities; things you said yes to a long time ago that you’re still doing, things you have outgrown, things that you feel like you “should” do. Maybe specific friends, WhatsApp groups, traditions, journeys, bookings. Stop them or do them less.
Then there’s things you don’t really want to do, that other people could do. Here’s where it gets nuanced because we don’t want to do them but we still want the outcome.
- I don’t want to clean my house but I want a clean house.
- I don’t want to cook good food but I want to eat good food.
- I don’t want to book my trips but I want my trips booked.
A wise man once said:
“We are the new rich, let’s act like it.”
But I want to take this a bit further. I want to say:
- If you don’t have a content assistant, you are the content assistant.
- If you don’t have a chef, you are the chef.
- If you don’t have a cleaner, you are the cleaner.
If you saw these on Dynamite Jobs – content assistant, chef, cleaner, 2 hours a week, this hourly rate, you would not apply for them. But how many of us are doing those exact same jobs?
We are spending our precious time doing things far below our potential and it’s bullshit!
So stop, start, less, more and forget about start and more. Just figure out what you can subtract. Remove everything until you’re doing the stuff that truly only you can do.
Even when you have audited your schedule, the one thing that will still get in the way of having more blank space is not having strong boundaries. Other people will try to fill your schedule with their priorities. You have to not let them do this. You need to get comfy saying:
“I’m not doing that”
There are two reasons for this:
- There is massive opportunity cost to doing things you don’t want to do, and,
- You can often be just as kind to someone without doing the thing they want you to do.
For example: You can send a driver instead of picking someone up. If someone wants a call with you, get them to voice note you first to see if you can actually help them. You can offer a different way of supporting someone than a half hour of them picking your brains. Send them a how-to article you wrote, link them to an FAQs page.
Top tip: you can help someone be more resourceful by just responding slower. Over time they stop asking you things they could Google.
So we have audited our schedule and subtracted. We’ve figured out what we’re doing out of habit, obligation or by default and removed it from our lives. We are enforcing our boundaries. So now, what do we do?
The three pillars of your daily schedule
There are only three things that belong in your life.
First is your profession. This is your work. It’s how you make money or how you make impact, or both – whatever you are optimising for. But to really get sh*t done you have to do what only you can do. This is you as the CEO or you as the artist. It’s not the stuff that anyone could do or the stuff that doesn’t actually make the boat go faster. So pointless meetings, admin, setting up, scheduling, and doing tasks that are beneath your ability do not form part of your profession and shouldn’t be done by you at all.
Next is your obsession. This is the main thing you do outside your profession. This is something you are obsessed with, that you’re trying to get as good as possible at. Maybe your obsession is a serious hobby or sport, maybe it’s gaming, or your kids, maybe it’s reading books. What do you love doing, that you find flow when you’re doing? That is your obsession. Your profession and your obsession should not be the same thing and I’ll explain why.
And then finally, there’s decompression. This is basically relaxing. Sometimes we can feel like we’re relaxing because we’re not working or training but decompression should be intentional. Intentionally switching off. Intentionally recharging. Decompression is not running errands. It’s not shopping or organising or tidying up, it’s not just busying ourselves with things that don’t matter.
To actually get sh*t done, we need to define our profession, obsession and decompression.
For most people, this is a venn diagram and there are areas of crossover. But what I’m saying is the crossover areas are to be avoided at all costs, because in these areas no one wins.
- Instead of giving your all to the work project you’re messaging on WhatsApp and thinking about that afternoon’s gym session.
- In between sets of deadlift you’re scrolling tinder and watching reels.
- You’re relaxing reading a book with your emails open just in case
Flitting between profession, obsession and decompression is not the goal, neither is doing anything that doesn’t fit into one of those three compartments. Everyone loses when you multitask. We need to stop doing it.
Multi-tasking is for losers and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
The main reason is because of this amazing feature of your brain that you might not even know you have.
Your default mode network is how your mind processes information. It processes all the information you take in consciously and subconsciously. And it does this when you’re not actively thinking about something. Your default mode network is the reason you get great ideas in the shower or the answer to a huge problem right before you go to sleep. It’s responsible for those a-ha moments you get hours or even days after having a conversation or hearing a new concept. Your subconscious mind is far more powerful than your conscious mind.
For me, switching off to my profession completely when I’m doing my obsession (which is training for powerlifting), means when I arrive at my laptop I have more of the answers, they seem to just arrive.
But if something is always in your conscious mind it never gets chance to be in your subconscious mind. So your thinking is limited. Defining and separating profession, obsession and decompression means this default mode network is doing more for us.
If there’s just one thing you take away from this entire talk, make it this:
Your subconscious mind is more powerful than you know. Let it do its thing. It can give you superpowers.
So far we have created space by subtracting, we have defined the only three things that should be in our lives. We are guarding the space between them, which means no blurred lines and no multitasking, so our default mode network can kick in and be whirring away when we don’t even realize.
This is part three, where we get practical about how we spend our days getting sh*t done.
Perfect repeatable day
Imagine you have to live most of your days with the exact same structure, but it can include anything you want. The main thing is that this perfect repeatable day becomes your default. It takes decision-making away and ensures you’re doing the stuff that actually matters.
Think about this perfect repeatable day in terms of your profession, your obsession and decompression, because these are your immovable pillars and they should form the basis of your day.
For people in jobs, their day looks like this. They have no real choice in the matter. But we’re entrepreneurs. We can do whatever we want.
Most people prioritise their schedule, but we’re going to schedule our priorities.
Think of this as playing Tetris with your pillars.
So put your first pillar in. For me, my obsession happens at these times every day. It makes the most sense at these times. It lets me do deep work in the mornings. It means I don’t have to share the gym with the before or after-work crowd. It makes sense with when I want to eat.
A friend is optimising for chilling out, meditating, journaling, soul searching, so he’s putting the decompression pillar in first and it’s going here, in between deep work in the morning and CEO work in the afternoon. Block your time with these chunks.
Today’s best guess at your perfect repeatable day might not be exactly right, but the idea is that you test it out and iterate.
If you don’t create your default day you’ll do whatever happens to grab your attention, or come through your inbox, or worse, you’ll do whatever happens to be in your calendar, which someone else might have put in.
Without a perfect repeatable day:
- Unimportant stuff takes over
- Things get squeezed in
- You’re hijacked by other people, and
- There is no space left to do what matters.
It’s up to you to protect those chunks. Having a default structure also avoids you losing time making decisions. Decision fatigue is real, but knowing what you’re going to do and when takes that out of the equation.
You probably don’t want to run your default day 365 days a year. You want adventure days and days off. But getting sh*t done takes months and years. So what you need is a sustainable cadence.
For people in jobs their cadence is 5/2. For 5 days they run their perfect repeatable day structure and then have 2 days off. This is known as a weekend. But that weekday/weekend pattern is just a social construct. It might not match your energy levels or how you want to live your life. As entrepreneurs we can choose whatever cadence we want.
If you still want a seven-day cycle, yours might be 4/3. 4 days of running your perfect repeatable day plus three off days, a.k.a not getting shit done days. Or maybe it’s one week on, one week off. You could do one day on, one day off. It doesn’t matter. The point is that your default day runs for a certain number of days and then your adventure days happen. There will be a perfect formula in there for you.
Sometimes, when I talk to people about this they say, urgh it’s so structured. I’m creative, I’m spontaneous. I need to flow freely. But there are plenty of starving artists out there. The goal is to be an artist who actually makes money. As another wise man once said:
Discipline equals freedom
Carving out the time for creativity, putting your default mode network to work, is how to get your art done and make a killing too.
When I started my agency and built a team, I would make myself available to them at all times. Whenever they had a question, I would be there. But over time I realised that being too available was worse than being unavailable. When I was too available, no one had the chance to figure stuff out for themselves. They didn’t become resourceful because they just didn’t need to.
It’s not just your team, it’s your clients too. How many of us are too available for our clients, so they can click their fingers and get hold of us straight away? This whole thing falls apart if people can just grab five minutes with you or if you answer your phone whenever it rings.
My solution was making office hours when the team and clients could contact me. Outside the office hours they knew I wouldn’t respond.
But to create boundaries you have to fight your ego. You have to fight your worried mind and fight the what ifs. Because the upside is so worth it.
It means you get:
- A resourceful team
- That finds a way forward
- Uninterrupted time of your own
- More headspace and,
- Generally more out of your day because you don’t flit around all over the place.
So a big thing people say to me here is… but what if there’s an emergency? In reality there are very few emergencies – and by emergency I mean it’s urgent and important and it needs you specifically.
Once while I was overseas and unavailable, we had all our computers stolen. Another time the building caught fire. Both times, other people sorted out what they needed to. I simply got an update.
No one is too important for airplane mode.
And having it on matters for your profession, your obsession and your decompression.
In summary, actually get sh*t done by auditing your schedule and subtracting. Define your three big pillars:
and put them back into your perfect repeatable day, within a structure that becomes your default.
Then, decide how many days in a row you will run this structure for. Then, you have to fiercely guard your time and boundaries because no one else on the planet cares about the structure of your day. They’ll just ask you whatever they want whenever they want and that’s the opposite of what you want.
At first, it’s an experiment. Try a few weeks at a time, see how you feel. See what you love, see when you get distracted, make edits and go again.
If you can make this default a habit, it removes the need for willpower.
When that happens, you will be wired perfectly to get sh*t done. I promise you, it will be easier to get sh*t done than to not get sh*t done.