Entrepreneurs

3 secrets to becoming insanely productive, even if you're not a morning person

According to productivity experts, I do everything wrong.

I wake up at 7:30 a.m. and immediately roll over to check Instagram.

I don't meditate, do yoga, or drink exotic jasmine tea.

And it takes me about two hours from waking up to sit down to work.

Yet in 2016, my business grew to record numbers. We hit our revenue goals, created free guides to help people make money online, and even launched our first 500-person event in New York City.

I don't know about you, but reading most of the usual productivity advice makes me roll my eyes. Look, if waking up early and writing a gratitude journal works for you, great! Do what works.

Ramit Sethi is a best-selling author and the CEO of GrowthLab.com.
Courtesy of Ramit Sethi
Ramit Sethi is a best-selling author and the CEO of GrowthLab.com.

But I suspect that most of the "experts" preaching productivity and meditation don't actually follow their own advice.

If you don't jump out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and start working by 4:45 a.m., there's nothing wrong with you.

Here are three tips that have worked for me, a guy who does everything wrong.

1. The 30-Minute Recharge

There was a year-long period in my business when I was completely overwhelmed. I was trying to answer every email and make myself available to everyone on my team, at anytime.

I thought this was just the cost of running a company ("I'm the CEO! The business would die without me!"). Eventually I realized this was just lazy thinking. It was easier for me to answer emails than learn to delegate parts of the business.

To solve this, I started carving time out for what I call Big- Picture Thinking. This started out as an extra hour in the morning and expanded from there. Today, I dedicate an entire day every week to Big-Picture Thinking.

Big-Picture Thinking immediately changed how I ran the company in two ways:

  1. Carving out an entire day for thinking meant no emails, no pings and no firefighting. I had no choice but to hand over the reins and start trusting my team more.
  2. It gave me the chance to digest and synthesize everything I was learning. In fact, one of our subscription products that generated over $2 million a year came directly from this time.

"Good for you, Ramit, but I don't run my own company! I can't just take a whole day out for thinking!"

So? Start with 30 minutes. Everyone can find an extra 30 minutes. But it won't happen unless you first carve the time out for yourself.

Imagine you take those 30 minutes to:

  • Plan out the rest of your week: What do you need to make sure it runs smoothly? If you need a document for your Thursday dentist appointment, now is the time to print and fill it out.
  • Respond to any emails about the rest of your week. If you're setting up a meeting or inviting a friend to go rock-climbing on Saturday, now is a great time to finalize those plans.
  • Cancel any meetings that aren't important enough to earn their way onto your calendar. Be ruthless about protecting your time.
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Eva-Katalin | Getty Images

2. Remember everything, fast

I used to be able to remember all my friends' phone numbers. Now I can hardly remember five! And that's fine — phones do a better job than I ever could.

The same is true for all information. Maybe I want to remember this great shoulder workout I found on an obscure trainer's website, but I don't waste energy trying to memorize it now, either.

We're all cognitive misers, which means we need help getting information out of our heads and into mental buckets… that we can instantly recall when needed.

For example, if someone sends me an amazing recommendation for Indian food in London, I'm going to spend 3 seconds to put it in my "London" bucket. And the next time I plan a trip to London, I have an entire list of places to check out.

Here's how I do it:

  • For interesting articles, I save them to Pocket. Whenever I'm waiting for the subway or early to a meeting, I can catch up on these articles.
  • If I really love something, I'll save it to my bookmarks. I started off with broad categories like "business" and "interesting," but ended up creating hundreds of different categories. If I want to be inspired, I can read my Inspirationalbookmarks. If I want to find an experiment from my psychology days, I can look up my psychology bookmarks.
  • I also set up similar tags in Gmail. If I'm emailing with someone and they live in Portland, I'll file their name under "Travel/Portland." Every time I travel to a city, I'll look up whoever I know there and invite them out to coffee.

3. Make a decision … and move on

One of my students once asked, "Which book should I read first? Book A or Book B?"

My answer: Whichever is on top! Pick one and start!

It took me a long time to really "get" this. Below the surface is the problem of perfectionism: We want to make "perfect" decisions, when in reality the choice doesn't matter.

In fact, simply making the choice to read consistently is more important than the books you actually read!

This happens all the time in everyday life. We:

  • Read 100 Amazon reviews to buy something mundane, like a spatula
  • Compare grocery receipts so we can save 50 cents on paper towels
  • Spend weeks analyzing weight-loss programs instead of just picking one to start

Once you crack this code, you'll feel liberated from 90 percent of life's minutiae. Then you can focus on the 10 percent of decisions that will have a significant impact.

For me, instead of picking the "perfect" coffee shop or restaurant for business meetings, I have a list of three that I love — and pick one of those for all my meetings. Steve Jobs and President Obama famously wore the same outfit every day.

Look at the decisions you make on a daily basis: the TV you watch, food you eat, where you shop ... and automate anything that doesn't matter.

Ultimately, execution on one idea is worth more than 100 great ideas we never take action on. If you're interested in learning how to follow through on everything this year, read more here.

Ramit Sethi is a New York Times bestselling author and CEO of GrowthLab.com, where entrepreneurs go to launch and grow their online businesses. He spends his first five minutes of every morning checking Instagram.

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