May 09, 2021 10 min read
I am a freak about productivity, and each day I'm constantly looking for ways to increase my personal effectiveness. Without a doubt the single biggest time-waster and energy-killer I see in the world of business is our compulsive habit of checking e-mail and social media all day long.
These poor habits may not seem like much, but I am a firm believer that they are FATAL to productivity—and they also represent the single biggest opportunity to radically increase your personal effectiveness each day, to a degree that would simply astonish you.
As Founder of Next-Level Artwork, my responsibility is to spend my time on the most important things that will help to grow the business faster. No matter what industry you're in, if somebody put a gun to your head and told you to be as productive as humanly possible today, I promise you that you would not spend your day checking e-mail and social media 50x per day.
While I'm not a religious person, I am a very devout believer in the holy, daily ritual of power brainstorming sessions where you ask ridiculous questions that force you to be ruthless about your productivity and time management.
Questions such as the following:
"If I could only work 20 minutes per day on my business, what would I spend my time doing?"
"If there was a gun to my head and I had to turn a $10,000 profit in the next 7 days, what would I spend my time doing?"
"If I could only do 3 things in my business all day long for the next year—and nothing else—what would those 3 things be?"
More than almost any other brainstorming exercises, these are among the most valuable to me, because they so clearly illuminate the complete bullshit time-wasters that I often fill my day with.
Chief among these time-wasters is what I call "running the notification circuit." You all know what I mean: You pull up your e-mail, your favorite social media sites, maybe your Google or Facebook ads account, and you just run the circuit and go to town checking all the latest updates.
Brian Tracy often says that most people fail in life because they do what is fun and easy, rather than what is hard and difficult. Running the notification circuit—AKA the dopamine loop—is a textbook example of this. And I PROMISE you, that if there was a gun to your head and you had to be the most insanely-productive version of yourself that you could possibly be, this is NOT what you would spend your time doing.
There's another downside to running the notification circuit that might be even worse than the time wastage -- which by itself is huge. It also just completely saps your energy and kills your productivity.
I'm sure you all know what I mean: After a heavy day of constantly checking e-mail and notifications, spending a bunch of time on social media, you just feel drained, don't you? You just feel this sort of emptiness inside of you? Like, there's no motivation? No energy or interest in jumping into big, work-intensive projects?
That's how it is for me, and it's because these activities require so little effort, yet provide us with these little dopamine rewards in the form of notifications. If we can get a brain reward from such trivial activities that require no work on our part, why waste our time on more important projects? I can just pull up e-mail, or Facebook, and presto, I get rewarded right then and there! That's what goes on inside of our brain, and like I said at the outset, it is fatal for productivity.
I am a firm believer that all of us should set VERY strict guidelines with social media, e-mail and other such notifications. Pick a very clear time to check these things, and stick to this no matter the circumstances.
Ask yourself: If you could only work 20 minutes per day, how often would you check these things? My guess is, once per day, max -- maybe even once every couple days depending on your industry. And the thing is, what you'll realize from that thought exercise is: Really that's all that you NEED to check these things *to get the same amount of results from time invested.*
If I can get the same results, while spending only 5% as much time doing something, why on Earth would I waste 95% more time for no increase in results? The answer is because it's fun and easy to waste that time. That's why we do it.
If a customer or client sends you an e-mail about a problem, 98% of the time, they're not going to be outraged if they don't hear back from you until the next day. So once a day check-ins, for the vast majority of us, are more than enough. It's just better from a time management perspective to batch all of this and do it in one big session anyway.
Here is the thing, though: Once you set up a disciplined system like this that you plan to stick to, IMMEDIATELY you will notice that the excuses start to creep in. You will start to come up with rationalizations, justifications, for why it's okay for YOU to check these things more often: "Oh, well we've got these really important projects we're working on... We can move the ball forward faster on this if I check more frequently... etc."
Trust me when I say, the excuses will creep in, and I believe this is basically just a low-grade withdrawal symptom. Your brain is addicted to those notifications, to those dopamine hits from running the notification circuit, so it'll start whispering all kinds of excuses into your ear for why you should break your discipline and check-in more. Some of them might even sound semi-rational. But I promise you, for the vast majority of us, it's bullshit.
There might be some rare exceptions where you work in an industry where, checking in several times per day is *absolutely necessary* to get your work done. Maybe that's the case for you, but for 90% of us, it's total bullshit, and once per day is plenty for us.
Even if you do genuinely believe that for your industry, you just have to check in more often, fine, check in more often -- but the important thing is to be intentional about it and set up clear rules and guidelines that you stick to no matter what. What we need to avoid is becoming a slave to the dopamine loop, and don't just fall back into the pattern of compulsively checking these notifications without thought, without intention, like a brainless zombie who has no control over his actions. What we need to avoid is doing the easy non-work of checking notifications, *at the expense of* doing more important work that will actually help to move the ball forward and get better results in our business.
Some specific examples of how I try to allocate my check-ins might be useful here. As Founder of Next-Level Artwork, I have a lot of stuff to do each day, and there's a seemingly endless list of things I *could* spend my time doing.
What I've found is best, through trial & error, is to do one singular big session of outreach + communications at the end of the day. I've experimented with doing several check-ins throughout the day, but I've just found that once you crack the door open, the temptation will be there do check in again and again and again.
I've found that pushing my e-mail check-ins and communications sessions as far back towards the end of the day as I can is best, because like I said, these things will just fry your brain. There's also something about delaying the gratification, disciplining yourself to wait, and then getting all of those dopamine rewards and notifications in one big session, that's just better for you, and makes you feel better about yourself.
Let's take social media as an example. I batch-produce all of my business social media posts in one big session, and that way I just get it all done in one sitting, and everything is scheduled and ready to go for the day. This takes 30-60 minutes per day, and bang, I'm done for the day. (Compare that against just chaotically popping in every couple of hours and manually posting stuff, interrupting yourself and breaking your focus from whatever more important tasks you were doing at the time. Yikes! Total chaos.)
I also combine this daily batch-producing session with checking all of my social media notifications and engaging with our followers as necessary. This I actually do in the morning, because I like to just get it done and put it behind me for the day.
Not only is this better for personal productivity, time efficiency, and increasing your focus throughout the day, but I've also found that doing this just once per day makes you feel like way less of a loser. Here's what I mean by that: When you check your notifications & stats 30x a day, you'll find that very often, in the 20 minutes since you last checked, very little progress has been made—and it can make you feel like a loser who's going nowhere. But if you check in just once per day, you'll find that: "Hey, things are starting to happen here! I got 15 more followers since yesterday, and 100+ likes!"
It makes you feel like more of a winner to check these things less often, because the real progress your making becomes apparent when you batch your checking to one daily session. It might sound trivial, but trust me, this is huge for motivation to keep going and pushing harder in these areas. That, combined with the satisfaction of knowing you're a disciplined person who has set clear rules and is sticking to them, it just makes you feel WAY better about yourself.
Like I've said, the excuses will creep in and tell you that all you need to do is just send this one e-mail real quick, check this one thing real fast, and then you'll get back to work. But once you start doing that, you'll start doing it again, and again, and again. Accept one excuse, and you'll accept another. I've found that even if you just crack the door open to mediocrity, it will barge its way in and consume you. It's either 100%, or 0%. There are no in-betweens. Anyone who argues otherwise is probably scrolling Facebook as we speak.
So how do we handle the inevitable excuse that "I need to send out X or Y real fast?" I've found that collecting all of your communications in one master document, preparing them for sending, and then just batching this for one big session, works best. Let me explain.
One big part of my daily workload is finding outstanding artists to reach out to about potentially licensing their artwork for use in our posters and canvas art. One way I could do this is, each time I find a solid artist while browsing their portfolio, I could find their contact info right then and there, then reach out to them. But then I'd have to pull up my e-mail. And I'd open it up and see that there are 7 unread e-mails that are waiting for me. And it would be very hard to resist the temptation to check these things, especially when seeing that some of the e-mails are about things that I'm excited about moving the ball forward on. So how do we do the productive work that requires communications and outreach, while still staying disciplined regarding our daily check-ins?
It's actually quite simple: Just prepare some sort of WordPad, or Microsoft Word, or Google Docs document, where you just prepare all of your communications for the day, and just batch them. The way I do this is incredibly simple. It'll just be a plain-old WordPad document that say something like:
SEND THIS TO → email@example.com
Hello! My name is Anton Dybal and I'm the Founder of Next-Level Artwork. I came across some of your artwork and was wondering if you'd be interested in licensing it for use in our posters and canvas art? The way this works is..."
and then beneath that, I'll do the next one:
SEND THIS TO → firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey Linda! I saw your JournoRequest on HARO asking about best tips for freelancers. Here is my response to your query...."
And so on.
And then bam, when it's time to do your outreach and communications for the day, you can just open up your e-mail, and just one-by-one, copy and paste all of your prepared communications for the day, and just bang them all out in one monster session of maximum effectiveness where it takes just 5 minutes to send them all out for the day. 99% of the time, any impulse we have that we need to do this more often than once per day, it's just a lie.
For example, one thing I'll sometimes hear myself telling myself is: "I need to check in multiple times per day so I can move the ball forward faster on licensing artwork." Sounds reasonable enough, right?
It's actually total bullshit. Here's why: I actually get much more done in this area by batching this to one daily session, because I can spend the rest of the time actually doing the research, and finding the artists, to get in contact with. I would be much better off having 100 communication channels working at once, where I check in one singular time per day, than having 20 communication channels working where I check in 20x per day. It's a numbers game where only so many percent of people will respond, say yes, and move the ball forward -- so I'm much better off just taking massive action than I am sitting around, drumming my fingers, and waiting for 10 or 15 people to get back to me.
You're much better off having your pipeline so completely filled and overflowing, that when you do check in for the day, wow, it's just a flood of solid prospects. And the best way to get to that stage? Spend the rest of your day doing the prospecting, doing the research, finding people to reach out to -- not sitting in this stagnant pool of just 5 or 10 people that you're hoping and praying will work out for you. This applies to sales, client prospecting, really any industry where you reach out to people and hope for some percent of them to say "Yes, I'll agree to work with you."
You're much better off spending time doing the activities that fill your pipeline up—not sitting there staring at your pipeline with a magnifying glass all day.
So my advice? Reject the excuses, set clear guidelines, check in just once per day as late in the day as you can, and watch your productivity, output and motivation soar as you get way better results with way less time invested.
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