5 Keys to Unlocking Your Inner Beast Mode
I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking through how to optimize my personal productivity to drive the greatest effectiveness. In doing so I've reflected upon how there have been specific times in my life where I'm completely in the state of flow, accomplishing far more than I've ever accomplished, and absolutely loving every minute of it. And at the same time there have been days where it just feels like I'm doing sloppy work and can't seem to get my ideas to click. And I've thought about what was so special about the former days and what could I do to have far more of them. I call this unlocking my inner beast mode and I've been experimenting with a variety of practices as I pursue my latest startup to drive maximum productivity. Here are five best practices that I've discovered so far that work well for me and hopefully may be helpful for you as well.
Manage your body to enhance your mind
While many people have talked endlessly about the importance of diet, exercise, and sleep to improving creative work and productivity, I honestly have never taken this advice very seriously until now. And I know so many of my peers here in the valley that have fallen trap to ignoring this as well. It's not a surprise as the endless work hard mentality of Silicon Valley leaves little room for such things when your so focused on "changing the world". But I finally stopped ignoring this advice and the benefits are real and so critical to unlocking my inner beast mode.
The negative effects of diet are easily recognizable across the Silicon Valley workforce as post lunch food coma. We all know that familiar slump that sets in that causes the early afternoon to sometimes feel like a wash. It shouldn't be so surprising then that the opposite can be such an enhancement to performance. For me the secret has been finding consistent small healthy meals and snacks that I eat throughout the day that never leave me feeling hungry nor super full. And developing such a routine also removes temptation and time spent even thinking about food. My typical day starts with coffee and greek yogurt with raspberries, a huge salad for lunch, clementines as my afternoon snack, and then a more traditional dinner. When I can stick to this, I feel great throughout the day and never have any periods of sluggishness.
When I started as an entrepreneur, I thought the skill to master was to learn to be effective with minimal sleep. I certainly now take the exact opposite approach. I've learned 8 hours is ideal for me. While I feel fine with 7 hours, I do find my idea generation, creativity, and synthesis of ideas is best with a full 8. So I consistently try to get to bed by midnight and wake at 8 am every day to ensure my full eight hours of sleep.
Exercise has become an equally important part of driving productivity. After I've had a great workout, I undoubtedly feel both physically and mentally awake and it's a huge performance driver. My favorite activity is swimming because I always feel incredible afterwards, but it's much harder to sustain a regular swimming regimen. I find though that any amount of physical activity is an accelerant. So I take daily walks in the afternoon to clear my mind and ensure continued performance when I get back to my desk. What's great about it is I often stumble upon great ideas for the problem at hand on these walks when away from my desk. I personally like using Runkeeper and the Withings app for tracking workouts, steps, and weight.
It's so easy not to invest any time in diet, exercise, and sleep when it feels like you have a million things to do to move your work forward, but I'm here to tell you it's a mistake and a crucial step to optimizing performance.
I've also ultimately learned that multi-tasking is a mistake and significantly decelerates performance and reduces quality of my work. I've thus embraced a variety of tactics that enable me to single-task effectively.
Minimizing distractions is tantamount to effective deep work. It's way too easy in this day and age to get distracted and you need to be very proactive to solve for this. I limit checking email to only morning, around lunch, and evening. I also have turned off all push notifications on my iPhone outside of messaging to ensure social media doesn't distract me either. While quickly checking up on email and social media might feel light-weight, context switching and interruptions are so expensive as it takes material time to switch back to the primary task at hand. As they say it's hard to fix what you don't measure, so I measure how I'm doing by using RescueTime, a great time tracking app that automatically tracks what apps and websites I use on my desktop. It generates a weekly report showing me how I spent time across both productive and unproductive apps and sites. I look at the report each week and think through how I can further reduce time spent throughout the day on communication, social media, entertainment categories and increase the time spent in productive work-related apps.
Equally important is minimizing distractions in the form of meetings. If your heavily scheduled and only have an hour here and there to get work done, those few hours are almost impossible to make highly productive. I try my best to schedule my day in morning/afternoon chunks, ensuring that I have 3+ hour interrupted chunks of time to focus on a set of tasks. This might result in me scheduling all my meetings in the morning and then having the afternoon completely free, or scheduling a mid-day meeting to allow me to have both a long morning work session and then another long afternoon session. Or I sometimes have a full meeting day followed by several days completely meeting free. At the end of the week I look at my Google Calendar and reflect on how productive it's been and if there are any adjustments I want to make going forward on how I'm allocating my time.
Optimize mood & motivation
Creative work is such that being in the optimal state of mind is so important for bringing out my inner beast mode. There are multiple aspects that go into achieving this, largely focused on improving my mood and motivation.
One of the mistakes I think folks make when prioritizing tasks is simply prioritizing based on importance and urgency. While that does get you to a list of work that optimizes for the priority of the business, it doesn't appropriately take into account accelerants inherent to mood and motivation. For example, I've found task variety is important to keep me motivated and engaged. If I'm doing the same thing for too long, I get unengaged and it's certainly not my best work. So I incorporate task variety into the way I schedule the tasks I'm going to do to ensure that I'm never stuck in a lull just doing the same kind of work.
In addition, while I set overall priorities for the week of tasks that need to get done, I allow myself to each day decide what task I'm going to focus on based on what I feel like doing. I find that when I add this level of flexibility into my workload, I get way better quality output, even if the tasks are done out of the natural priority order. At the same time I embrace my fits of inspiration when they come to me for certain task types. Blogging is definitely this way for me. While I have a long list of blog posts I've been meaning to write, the best blog posts are ones that come to me with a fit of inspiration and that I immediately decide to just author right there and then. Those post are written the fastest and often the most well received. While it causes me to derail my initial plans for the day, it's worth it for the improvement in quality of output.
I also think through how I can optimize my mood and mental state while performing each task. Music is such an important part of my work. When I'm coding or designing, I'm always listening to music. Oftentimes a single song on repeat played 20-30 times on YouTube. This really gets me in the zone and is a big boost to my productivity. However, it's definitely task type dependent. For example, I can't write and listen to music. Instead I need complete silence during these tasks.
Finding your muse is so important for creative work, so take the time to be thoughtful about what that might be for you.
Conduct personal daily standups
Daily standups have become a common practice amongst product teams as a quick way to get the team together, discuss progress and upcoming tasks, and resolve any bottlenecks in the process. I find it an equally important process that I adopt personally each morning at the start of my day.
Each day I update my list in Asana with the set of tasks I plan on accomplishing today, both based on the overall week's priorities as well as what I feel like tackling today. I re-order it based on the order I'm going to execute against them and come up with ballpark estimates of how long each task will take. I also review my calendar for today's meetings, time I need to prep them, and also mentally determine when I'm going to do each task on my list. After this is done, then I embark on actually tackling each task.
Most importantly though, I start each day with a post mortem on yesterday. I look at how many of the tasks that I set out to complete were actually completed. I compare my time estimate for the task to how long it actually took me. Doing this is important to reflect on how productive I was and if there were any issues that were preventing me from being productive and learning from them. Similarly it helps me tune my own intuition on estimating how long a task is going to take which helps prioritize for the next day. I find committing to this process every morning helps me to avoid distractions and avoid finding myself asking where the day went.
Recommit to your mission
Last, but certainly not least, I find it incredibly important to ensure that I'm regularly recommitting to my mission. It's so important to really believe in why you are doing the work you're doing and understanding why that work is so important to you personally. Only when you are doing work that will ultimately leave you fulfilled will you be able to bring your A-game to it.
If you don't understand the personal why behind your work, I highly encourage you to spend time finding it. And if you can't, frankly it may be worth exploring other opportunities where that personal why is clearer.
I've ultimately found my career mission to be to unlock human potential through software. It's what motivates me every morning to do the work that I do, to dream about the changes I can bring to the world, and to have fun doing it along the way. I remind myself of this mission often and how the tasks I'm doing each day get me one step closer to trying to achieve it.
I hope this gives you some food for thought on how I've been able to unlock my own inner beast mode and how you might be able to do so as well.
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Jun 19, 2017