Even before setting foot in Iceland this April, I felt as if I had already met the 16 or so members of the Thrive group that Michael Gasiorek, an entrepreneur and adventurer, set up. Gasiorek works for Startup Grind, a global entrepreneurship community, and organized the trip so that a group of entrepreneurs, artists, technologists, and community builders could all share their life-hacking skills with one another.
These young entrepreneurs, many of whom live as digital nomads, rely on apps pretty much every second of their day: WhatsApp to group chat with one another, Venmo to pay each other back, Airbnb for a place to stay. But their productivity doesn’t just rest on the services they use; they also employ a variety of strategies for developing their brand and outsourcing their work.
Study Your Habits
Beaming in via Skype, James Clear (an entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer who writes frequently about lifehacking-style topics) provided the group with some advice about habits. His main takeaway: You should see goals and successes as a process, rather than a definitive finish line.
You never really feel finished, regardless of the level of success you have, Clear said. Environment also impacts behavior in significant ways; while we think we’re unique, most people exhibit the same response to their environment. For example, people automatically relax at the beach, whereas they stress out in traffic.
Establish Your Own Way of Being Productive
Having grown up in the Bronx, American Express software engineer Juvoni Beckford had to create his own environment in his head to escape his surroundings.
“Living in poverty as a child,” he said, “with limited resources across the board, time was one of the few that I could utilize in a number of creative ways. My work ethic and discipline have been cultivated very early on, my main focus was how do I operate more intelligently.”
At the conference, Beckford described an engineering approach to accomplishing his goals—a system based on daily, monthly, and yearly inputs. Problem areas are categorized into prioritization, time delegation, goal segmentation, and execution. Through iteration and experimentation, Beckford makes more data-driven decisions to capture patterns that create value to maintain the system and also to figure out which patterns to do without.
On a yearly basis, Beckford said that he asks himself some key questions. These introspective exercises allow him to prioritize for the year, along the following points:
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Why do I want to do it?
- How will I go about it?
He treats himself as a startup, even giving himself an annual review in which he asks:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go well this year?
- What am I working toward?
The results at the end of the year are dependent on how well he was able to solve the problems of prioritization, time delegation, goal segmentation, and execution. The year is divided into goals per quarter to minimize the amount of goals on his mind at any one time.
He uses monthly projections to manage his sub-goals, which he meets by finding high-leverage activities, or the kinds of activities that give you the most value for a small amount of time invested. The difficult part is determining which priorities you should focus on, as well as the ones you should not, Beckford said.
Beckford also uses weekly forecasts and planning to project how much free time he has to invest in the coming days. But it’s daily habits that are most important, as they help you execute on goals. For those, he uses an analog system called a bullet journal to organize his daily and weekly tasks and monthly priorities. For daily habit management, he uses Habit Bull, which sorts his habits by category and maintains a record of habit completion as well as other statistics. He uses Wonderlist to set automated reminders for repetitive tasks.
The time management technique he uses is called Pomodoro, which breaks down work into 25-minute intervals, with 5-minute breaks between the periods of focus. “Rather than focusing entirely on large goals,” he said. “I put my energy into developing a lifestyle, processes and systems around the subcomponents of things I want to accomplish. Which, eventually build back up into the person I want to become. With theses processes in place I then focus on execution and consistency through daily habits.”
Outsourcing Your Work Using Virtual Assistants
Gasiorek offered up some advice about how to outsource your life and tasks in order to make things more efficient:
For Low-Level Tasks, Gasiorek recommends Fancy Hands, which deploys assistants to handle annoying daily tasks. He also recommends Zapier and IFTTT for database-type work, and Import.io for email scraping.
For Mid- to High-Level Tasks, Gasiorek relies on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which offers up virtual staff for pennies a second; HourlyNerd, which offers virtual access to consultants and MBAs; and Mr. Outsource, another virtual-assistant firm based out of the Philippines.
Collaborate on Facebook Messenger, Evernote and More
“People are here to make authentic connections and become friends, to teach everyone and to learn from them, and—even if it is in 20 years—to be able to reach out to one another to collaborate,” Gasiorek said.
The group shared photos, notes from the sessions, and audio files. The cloud has made it easier to keep a record of lessons learned. Using the cloud as a shared platform is, obviously, something you can do with your own friends or team; but in my experience, the cloud is underutilized as a tool for keeping in touch after conferences have concluded.
On the plane ride home, I read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It echoed a lot of what I learned at the Thrive conference. But the book also emphasized another important point: Perhaps the cue, routine, reward system it suggests works in theory, but it’s hard to establish a new habit unless you’ve worked out in your mind how you will keep it as a priority and actually execute on it on a daily basis.
Gasiorek outlined a more practical approach to hacking productivity, which relies on a combination of services to help you get back your time. Contrast that with Beckford, who was more focused on optimizing his time—as an engineer would. But everyone at the conference agreed on one thing: Hacking one’s time is very possible when it comes to achieving goals.
Image: Boonsri Dickinson