In February 2012, my son Henry was born.
Shortly after, I found myself hooked up to machines in the ICU.
I had been losing weight and feeling ill for a few months. When I applied for life insurance and was denied, the blood test results were alarming: I had undiagnosed juvenile diabetes — and at 30 years old, my organs were shutting down.
The doctors said I was 24 hours away from slipping into a coma or possibly dying.
Lying in a hospital bed gives you time to think (there are few other alternative activities). In fact, I did nothing but think… about my life, my family, my business, and the kind of impact I wanted to make.
I realized that I needed to change my everyday lifestyle. I didn’t want to miss watching my son grow up. And I wanted to grow my business, too.
Over the course of a few months, I made six major “upgrades” to my life. These things not only made me healthier, they also made me more productive at work, so I can spend more time with my family.
All my changes paid off. In less than a year, I was making $117,000 a month, triple what I had been making at the start of 2012.
I tripled my revenue in less than 1 year
This post is about the upgrades I made, the reasons I made them, and the effect they had on my life.
These six tactics can also help you increase your productivity and, in turn, your revenue.
But before we get into upgrades, let me explain why these work.
Decision fatigue costs you money
All the changes I’m going to share with you help cut down on something called “decision fatigue.”
Every time you make a decision, whether it’s who to hire or what to eat for breakfast, you use the part of your brain that controls willpower. And, like a muscle, your willpower gets tired if you use it over and over again during the day.
A great example of this is a study of 1,100 Israeli parole board decisions over the course of a year.
As summed up by the New York Times, “Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70% of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10% of the time.”
The difference wasn’t the crimes (the cases were all fraud and assaults). It was the timing that the cases were heard.
In the morning, when the judges’ decision-making ability was fresh, they made more favorable decisions. But in the afternoon, they were more likely to deny parole since they had been making decisions all day.
When I read this, I thought about all the decisions I was making during the day. I decided to save my willpower and focus for the things that were really important to me and my business.
My goal was to eliminate as many unimportant or routine decisions as possible. I found six ways to do this.
Upgrade 1: Set up a “Battle Station”
When I started out, my “office” was a lawn chair in my living room and a $450 laptop. But I had dreams of a dedicated space designed for maximum productivity.
And as my business grew and I started adding team members, I knew I needed a more efficient workstation. One screen just wasn’t enough. Plus, I needed a more comfortable and productive setup.
So when the time came to upgrade, I did a lot of research and ended up with what I call my “Battle Station.”
With my setup, I get more work done in less time
With this setup, I have the most reliable tools and the most comfortable setting so I can work without getting distracted or tired.
I’d like to walk you through each of the elements and why they are so crucial to productivity.
1. 3-monitor set up
This allows me to see everything at once. I have my schedule on one monitor, team communications on another, and I can toggle between important docs on the third without having to constantly flip back and forth between tabs and windows.
2. A height-adjustable walking desk
We’ve heard that sitting all day long isn’t healthy. And sometimes I think best when I’m on my feet, so my sitting/standing treadmill desk gives me the best of both worlds.
Anytime I’m feeling sluggish or want to brainstorm ideas, I get up and start walking — while I also continue to work.
Although the original cost of my particular desk is pretty high, I found mine at an estate sale for $350. So if you don’t want to make a huge investment, try to find something secondhand. Stores like IKEA also have cheaper sit/stand desks.
One of the tools that literally changed my whole day is my headset. What I love about this one is the ability to walk around my 4-story brownstone, out the front door, and down the block, and still have perfect reception. I’m on the phone most hours, so this is ideal for me.
4. Anti-fatigue mat
Because I stand most of the day, a friend recommended that I invest in an anti-fatigue mat. This is a mat that reduces the strain on your heels and arches.
I was skeptical at first, but I gave it a shot, and it made a huge difference. Now I have less back and leg pain and more energy.
5. Wireless mouse
My wrist used to get fatigued, until I discovered this ergonomic mouse. It puts less pressure on my hand and wrist, so I can work longer without any pain.
6. Wireless solar keyboard
Mine never needs a battery change, and it’s super thin and light.
Getting my “Battle Station” together took a few weeks. And for the specific products that I chose, it cost me around $2,000. (It would have cost more, but I got such a great deal on the standing desk.)
The investment quickly paid for itself. I found myself accomplishing three times as much every day, which allowed me to take on more clients and make more money.
But that’s just the physical equipment setup. The more important piece of the productivity puzzle is what I do to keep my mind running at its peak all day long.
Upgrade #2: Don’t care about fashion
I’d rather use my brainpower on my work rather than worrying if I look good. So I wear the same thing every day.
Here’s what my closet looks like:
Having the same shirt in every color makes getting dressed a simple decision
I have the same $15 polo shirt in 10 different colors and the same dress shirt in 4 different colors.
This makes getting dressed in the morning more or less automatic — just pick the next shirt in line. And that means one less decision during my day. Call the fashion police on me; I’m too busy making money.
Upgrade #3: Automate your exercise
Until a few years ago, the longest I’d ever exercised consistently was 2-3 weeks. I’d read that working out can make you more productive at the office, but it’s hard to commit to it.
Plus it involves many decisions: making the time, picking out workout clothes, driving to the gym, doing each exercise…
I chose to take most of the exercise decisions out of my hands and hire a personal trainer. This also gave me accountability.
My trainer helps me stick to my workouts
My trainer comes 3 times a week and forces me to work out — no excuses. Because of him, I’ve gone from being a guy who hit the gym once in a while to someone who rarely misses a session.
Not only does the exercise help me start my day off right, but, since I have a trainer, all I have to do is show up and follow directions. No decisions necessary.
That makes me more productive at work, plus I have more energy and look better.
Upgrade #4: Make healthy eating easy
Just like I didn’t care much about going to the gym, for most of my life I wasn’t one of those “health nuts” who obsessed about what he ate.
Until it landed me in the emergency room.
Afterward, not only did I overhaul my diet, I also decided to start eating the same thing every day.
I start every morning with a green juice
It may sound boring to have a grilled chicken salad every lunch or to rotate through the same five dinners. However, taking healthy eating more seriously has helped me stay focused on my business.
You don’t have to go to the extremes that I did, but test out eating the same breakfast every morning. If that helps you start working sooner, isn’t it better to put the time into your work?
Upgrade #5: Disconnect and recharge
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to let the business take over your life, but you’ll be more productive if you can disconnect completely once in a while.
In fact, research shows that working more than 50 hours only makes you less productive. Countries like Sweden are increasingly switching to a 6-hour work day. The thought is that even though you work fewer hours, you end up accomplishing more work.
Take a look at your daily schedule and see how many of your “work” hours you’re actually working at peak productivity. It may be smarter to cut back.
Whether or not you do, definitely take time to disconnect regularly, which gives your mind a chance to recharge.
For me, I set aside “me time” on Fridays for massages. This way I can unwind from the stress of the work week and transition into weekend relaxation mode.
Maybe for you it’s a walk in the park, an art class, hanging out at a brewery with friends, or meditation.
The key is to find what works for you and DO it, regularly. Build it into your schedule so it’s part of your day. Let me show you how to do that.
Upgrade #6: Accomplish 3 years of work in 1 year
When you run a small business, you spend most of the day switching back and forth between strategy mode where you’re making important decisions and go mode where you just need to get stuff done.
This constant multitasking wears you down. It’s decision fatigue. So I decided to dedicate a block of time to being in strategy mode so that I could spend the rest of the time in go mode, checking tasks off my to-do list.
The goal is to plan as much of your busy tasks as possible in advance, in such minute detail that you don’t have to think while you’re doing the work.
I call this the “McDonald’s System” because, no matter what you might think of their food, they are very good at building a process, then turning it over to their workers to produce a consistent product.
This is how you can accomplish 3 years’ worth of work in one year — without burning out or losing sleep.
Here’s how my “McDonald’s” system for planning works. (You can download a “McDonald’s” system template here.)
1. Spend one day a week intensely planning out your next 5-10 days
In the beginning, this may take the majority of your day. But that’s okay, because the more detail you put into planning at first, the less time you’ll waste during the week.
You’ll get faster at this as you keep doing it. In time, you’ll plan the next 10 days on a Sunday afternoon or evening.
2. Include no more than 5 major projects or goals
For example, a project might be: “Fix downsell video” or “Install upsells”.
3. Break those goals into sub-projects
So “Fix downsell video” might include “Write script” and “Finish recording video”.
4. Go into “McDonald’s level” detail on those sub-projects
You want to make it so simple that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing. So “Finish recording video” might include the following steps: convert to PPT, record audio, edit in Camtasia, upload to S3.
5. Assign each task a time frame
Take into account how hard the project is, and decide if it will take a full day, half-day, or quarter day. You want to determine how much you can realistically accomplish in a day. I recommend being conservative in your estimates.
6. Print it out
And put it on your desk. This is your roadmap. Now you don’t have to think about your plan for the next week or two.
Here’s a part of my week’s to-do list:
With this detailed plan, I don’t have to think about what my next step is
With this system, you’ll eliminate decision fatigue, increase your energy, and get loads more done.
Plus, when you go into the weekend with everything done, you feel good and you’re motivated going into the next week.
Making changes is a process
I didn’t make these upgrades overnight. That would have been impossible. Instead, I made changes over the course of a few months so that I would stick to my new lifestyle.
I knew these changes would not only help me continue to grow my business, but they’d also help me take care of my health so I can continue to be there for my family.
And they paid off: I tripled my business in the course of a year.
It took a death scare to shock me into changing the way I work. Don’t let that happen to you.
Start with one change, today, to reduce decision fatigue and streamline your business. Once that feels routine, make another change.
In time, you’ll see the results in your business, and you’ll also feel calmer and more energized.
Make the commitment now. In the comments, tell me:
- What’s YOUR #1 productivity hack that’s made the biggest difference for you?
- When it comes to being more productive, what’s your single biggest challenge right now?
I’ll get back to you and help you out.