Monetization

6 productivity hacks that tripled my income

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.


GL_revenue
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.


GL_chart

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.”


GL desk
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.

3. Headset
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:


GL closet
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.


GL trainer
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.


GL diet
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:


GL_chart-basic-statistics
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:

  1. What’s YOUR #1 productivity hack that’s made the biggest difference for you?
  2. 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.

There Are 34 Comments

Join The Conversation

Hey Ryan – this is EXACTLY what I was looking for today when I decided to take a day off to redo my schedule.

To answer your question:

1. My #1 productivity hack that has made the biggest difference vs the beginning has definitely been spending time outlining a post with bullet points before writing it. In the beginning I was basically writing from a blank page, then trying to format it afterwards to have some type of flow. Outlining it ahead of hand, splitting up sections and sorting out the flow before I write has made for faster writing and better posts.

2. My biggest challenge has definitely been trying to balance the manager type work I have to do with my business (scheduling, emails, outreach, promotion, backend work) and maker work (writing posts, recording videos, creating products). The “McDonalds” organizing 5-10 days out is exactly what I was looking for. I just spent the last few hours creating a schedule for the next 5 days. I know that it’ll take some time to get used to and test out, but I already feel much more confident going into this week than I have in the past few weeks.

Thanks for the post!

Hi Peter!

1. Totally reminds me of the quote: If I had 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 4 sharpening my ax.

2. I can totally relate – and that’s awesome that you’re giving the template a shot!

Ryan :-)

We were separated at birth Ryan.

What you’ve laid out for people is not just proverbial ‘idea gold’ but if practiced, reaps real gold.

I would add something, but there’s no need. You said it.

Thanks Todd! Gosh coming from you that means a lot. But what can I say, I learn from the best (if you’re reading this comment – STUDY Todd – he is the MAN when it comes to getting a year’s worth done in just 90 days.)

I love this post, Ryan!

My #1 productivity hack is collaborating with great copywriters. This includes getting their help with course creation, sales webinars, emails, and FB posts. I can’t imagine doing this all on my own!

In terms of my biggest challenge when it comes to productivity, it would be my time. There is only one of me. I’m working on getting more comfortable outsourcing things to my customer service team, which I would normally take care of. While I like connecting and responding to my customers’ questions, in certain cases it’s just not the smartest use of my time, especially if they are logistical questions that anyone could answer.

Thanks Selena! I totally agree. Knowing what and when and how fast to start delegating and outsourcing is something I battle with all the time. It sometimes feels like I’m never quite “ready” to delegate something – or that it’s gonna take so much MORE time to train up the person that it forces me back into old habits. So great that you’re multiplying yourself working with great copywriters.

Yassin Shaar

As someone who works closely with Ryan on a day to day basis, I have experienced first hand the results of implementing productivity hack #6, it dramatically changed how I execute on projects internally and the results my team achieves! (We’re the #1 biggest profit center in the company, that should give you a clue 😉

Amazing article. I’ve actually already passed it along to a handful of people that I really believe can benefit from it.

1. My biggest productivity hack is “time blocking”. I try to plan out the hours in my day so that I don’t allow other distractions during those hours. When I’m in my “Content Creation Hour”, my phone is set to sleep mode so I can’t be reached (you can actually automate this on your phone if you have a set daily time you do specific tasks – tell your phone to sleep between X hour and Y hour). I block in an hour each day to handle calls and respond to emails so I don’t get hung up in them throughout the day.

2. My biggest challenge at the moment is delegation. I try to personally take on too much and have a hard time trusting and passing tasks on to other people. I’m constantly telling myself “this will be quick, I’ll just do it myself” and then stacking a ton of little tasks on myself…

Again great article. Thanks for sharing!

Matt – thanks so much for the kind words and for sharing :-)

1. That is so smart. And the iPhone tip is really smart as well (I leave my phone off during the day – and have it set only to accept calls from my wife or a few emergency numbers, like my son’s school). Everything else goes to voicemail.

2. re Delegation, I can totally relate. See my reply to Selena’s comment above. It always feels like a Catch 22. When I find myself doing something I KNOW I should be delegating a 3rd time… that’s my 3 strike rule, and it means it’s time to delegate for me.

One thing that’s helpful, is when I find myself doing the task I want to delegate – I just turn on my screenrecorder (if it’s a computer task) and narrate what I’m doing while recording the screen, so I have the video explanation created to delegate out that task. Taking that baby step helps me overcome that “inertia”.

LOVED this post! I wish my closet could look like yours, but I get bored easily with wearing the same outfit every day :) But I can see how taking this out of the decision making-process (one less decision to make) frees up more room in your head for more important things.

Thanks Andreea! I know I’m sacrificing “cool” – but for me it’s so nice to be able to walk into the closet and know as long as I grab a shirt and pair of shorts… it will work. No thought required :-) I’m considering the next step: All one color. #bravery!

Kind of like what Rich Schefren does – however I must admit, I don’t know what his motivation really is for wearing black t-shirts :) Mr. Facebook is also famous for his grey-hoodies closet, I totally dig it!
I must say, my outfit is getting there: it mostly consist of various t-shirts and few hoodies, but the thought of simplifying my work outfit even further really excites me now! Killer post Ryan!
P.S. By the way I prefer a hoodie when I’m working because I like to block the light coming from above and other visual distractions so I focus better – plus it feels super cozy with my headphones.

Extra Pomodoro time blocking tip: I use my Pebble digital watch for that, very easy to set up vibration timers and you can’t miss them :)

Dude, the battle station is what I need. Who am I kidding?? I need the whole THANG!

Worse than decision fatigue, I have Find Sh*t fatigue…. All the amazing notes, logs, goals, but I can never find any of it.

Got a #7 in there for cataloging all the crap you print/write in pen?

:-)

Haha! Every entrepreneur needs their own Battle Station :-) As far as notes – you might consider one of those notebooks + pens that captures your notes digitallly and automatically stores them. Not something I do (I mostly use Evernote) but perhaps an option to explore!

Brian barGiel

Love the battle station! When I purchased my motorized sit/stand desk my productivity doubled. Plus when I’m standing during a meeting online I’m already in a more powerful pose.

My #1 challenge is the rabbit hole. When Inget into some kinds of tasks I end up with blinders on and I don’t look up until I’m into my next time block. Time for a pomodoro timer!

Thanks Brian! And totally with you – the added benefit of a defacto power pose is a great plus :-). AS for the Rabbit Hole thing – Yeah, the Pomodoro timer might do the trick. I can totally relate though. Especially at night where I might go deep into a subject and realize, crap! I need to get to bed :-)

Fantastic article. I get the work of many done but can always use reminders! I spend my breakfasts on the patio in strategy time and that sets the tone for my day but I like the idea of dedicating a big part of a day to it.

Bridget Smith

Hello,

This was article was recommended by Matt Wolfe from Multiply Authority and it was a great read. It made me realize I could get more done and still feel great if I made less unimportant decisions and if I scheduled in advance my to do list. How can I get a template like the one you used?

This was a really good article. Thank you very much.

My number one productivity hack is that I listen to everything at 2 1/2 or three times the speed.

I’m able to listen to more content throughout the week and then synthesize it it into actionable steps.

However, sometimes I get caught in the rut of just consuming constantly and never implementing.

Great post Ryan,
I love the McDonalds approach. The key is breaking up these tasks into bite sized chunks so you can cross them off your list and be in action towards your goals.

What I think makes the biggest difference is the why. Not everyone has the fortune/misfortune of having a near death experience or another event that forces you to change and establish your priorities. So many people go through life not knowing what they want, so they never get that burning desire to achieve it.
Once you’ve got that, the rest becomes obvious.

I’m a big proponent of a morning practice. Water, exercise, and writing are all part of my morning practice. These all help me to focus on the people and priorities most important in my life.

Removing obstacles that do not align with your goals is difficult to do.
Your advice for making one change today can make all the difference and allow your life to go in an entirely new direction.

Great work Ryan!

I’m focused on a consistent breakfast and planned workouts right now. Next week I’m adding in the closet trick. I don’t think I can do as streamlined as you, but my goal is to put my laundry away in outfits so that I have a weeks worth of coordinated pieces that don’t require a morning decision. Thanks for the great advice!

Melissa Hottinga

Hey Ryan!

I love this article! Your story is pretty similar to mine as in I ended up in the hospital too but then with a double lung infection and blood scepsis after I had caught the flu in January of this year and never really recovered from it. I too had plenty of time to think and evaluatie my life and how I was living it.

I knew I had it coming to me as I definitely wasn’t taking care of my body or state of mind but always ignored it and pushed through.

Thankfully I fully recovered and have made some major changes in my life since then and am already reaping the fruits.

With regards to your questions:

1. I now cook in advance for several days in a row. Not just dinner but also breakfast and lunch. Now there’s no excuse for me not to wat healthy food, it’s waiting for me in the fridge. As you say, to some people this might sound boring but it works for me + now I don’t have to think about what to cook or when to cook, waste time going back and forth in the supermarkt, etc. It literally saves me tons of time + money and I feel much better!

2. I know I need more systems in my work. Right now I have different Google docs in which I work, a couple of different calendars, etc. Nothing is really in one place. It annoys me but at the same time there’s so much resistance doing something about it. I already feel overwhelmed just thinking about it if that makes sense.

Would love to hear your take on it! Either way, thanks for this article and your time :)

Best, Melissa

Kasia jacquot

What a strong and engaging article Ryan. Thank you for sharing your story.

1. My greatest productivity hack by far has been to attach deep purpose to the goals I’m trying to achieve. I don’t just say “I want to do yoga 3 times a week” I will think about it deeply and ask myself why, what will it mean to me when I get really good, what will it mean for me physically and mentally, how will it affect my daily life, what example will I be setting for my children. I go into depth with all my goals. That way, when I get up at 4:45am and I sometimes feel super tired and lazy I remind myself of the purpose and the enormous benefits that I’ve already identified. That gets me to yoga class immediately.

2. Biggest challenge: not enough detail in the planning but now I have your technique which I’m implementing immediately as of today! THANK YOU!!!

Hi Ryan

Can you tell us what program/how/what template you used to create your weekly plan? That would be really helpful.
Thanks for the great write-up.

This is really great advice and resource. BOOKMARKED! :)

I duplicated the worksheet for projects and filled out immediately with my own… with some additions to the right for tracking proposals and what stage they’re at, action required and added a box below with an very top line invoicing – money paid, moneys needing to chased, totals… Annual total to date and annual $ goal! Do you use any other separate worksheets for these? Would you like to share them with us too?

My best hack would be having blocking software which stops me accessing certain sites for set periods of time… I am a king of procrastination so this helps.

Biggest challenge for me is to stay focused on tasks… as you say I seem to jump between things a lot – finding potential work, writing up proposals, core work, client communication… I have a very distracted mind at the best of times so really need to have a better methods for focus and stick to them. Any additional advice for this or how to better remove procrastination form the equation would be great.

Hi! Great article!! How did you connect 3 monitors to your Mac?

Thanks!!!

Hi Ryan,

I wear the same sets of clothes to work each week and have eliminated weekday food decisions by hiring a cleaner who also cooks, but your article reminded me that my battle station, currently comprising my laptop on the dining table (with a decent mouse mind you) and an exercise ball, could really do with an upgrade… I’m also interested in the technical details of how the 3 monitors thing works.

Cheers,
Benson

Thank you so much for such an honest + info-filled post, Ryan!

1) What’s YOUR #1 productivity hack that’s made the biggest difference for you?

My hack comes from Neil Pasricha’s “The Happiness Equation” book, and that’s to limit choice + access, especially choice (which you mentioned in great detail). The less choices I have to make — whether it’s what I’m working on for the day, what I’m eating, my workout schedule, my workout plan … etc. Less choice EXPONENTIALLY frees up your brain to make more intelligent choices where it matters.

2) When it comes to being more productive, what’s your single biggest challenge right now?

Batching. I’m the kind of person that CAN change directions, but I actually really enjoy working on the same thing for a few hours at a time. At the moment, most of my tasks are less than 30 minutes long, so I’m changing directions more often than I like … so it’s time for some more delegation :)

Goncalo Cristovao Semedo Carrilho Esteves

Great notes on productivity. Thank you. The whole idea of on line business is making me wonder about the reality of what are we delivering and where will physical goods go.
Ideas and methods have been my life although things moved on, or not.
One note that I may add is to have a distinct reasoning to choose where to go, there is something quite real in experimenting a path that comes in your mind. That reasoning is to be held not always but every 2 months, it is hard but it does give some nice feedback.
I found also helpful to sleep more, much more than the European 6.5 hours. And be fun/happy when making all of this work.
Many thanks, I’ll be trying out the cycle you’ve mentioned.

My greatest productivity hack by far has been to attach deep purpose to the goals I’m trying to achieve. I don’t just say “I want to do yoga 3 times a week” I will think about it deeply and ask myself why, what will it mean to me when I get really good, what will it mean for me physically and mentally, how will it affect my daily life, what example will I be setting for my children. I go into depth with all my goals. That way, when I get up at 4:45am and I sometimes feel super tired and lazy I remind myself of the purpose and the enormous benefits that I’ve already identified. That gets me to yoga class immediately.

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