The Productivity Series
Examine the equipment, the techniques, the habits that Matt, Chris, & Scott use to get more done and spend more time doing things that provide them value.
Being productive and efficient with time isn’t about rushing through life or shaving seconds off tasks. It’s about strategically deciding when to complete things quickly and efficiently and when to slow down and savor life. It’s about spending more time on things that provide you value. It’s as much about deciding what to do (and not to do) as it is about how you do them.
Whether you’re a parent or single, CEO or employee, lifter or coach you will find practical tips and useful insight into how to better use your time, money, and focus to improve your productivity and your quality of life.
Ep 1: Optimal vs Real Life
We have a model for the proper performance of the lifts and we understand programming principles and how to drive progress over time, but we have to acknowledge that for lots of people lots of the time, they can’t train optimally. And, honestly, at some point everyone–every single person–will be unable to train optimally. In these cases, we have to do the best we can.
Life comes up and presents obstacles to consistent training: vacation, work, family, holidays, and injuries. Furthermore, some people can’t perform the lifts as we tend to coach them. We have to deviate from the model intelligently.
If, for example, you can’t low bar squat, try thumbs around the bar. Try the high bar or front squat. You may have to specialize in the deadlift. And, over time, you may be able to low bar squat depending on your limitations.
Though we advocate the low bar squat and a specific way to perform the lifts based on biomechanics, we know that squatting is better than not squatting at all because you can’t low bar squat. If your gym closes, exercising is better than doing nothing.
As an example of an intelligent deviation from optimal programming, Matt tore his pec. He now limits bench press intensity to 315. He won’t ever hit a bench press intensity PR. Because of this, he prioritizes the press, he does higher volume at lower reps, and he–again–does the best he can.
Time is one of the biggest limitations for people. You have to block out time and commit to training during that time. It might not be 3 or 4 times a week: it might be 5 super short workouts during lunch. It might be 2 workouts. You might have to shorten rest periods. You might have to do your warm ups for your next lift during your rest periods. That’s okay: it’s better than not training.
A huge part of this is to stay in the habit and not get into a slump of not training. If you take long breaks from training, it gets harder to return. Maintaining a habit of exercise–even if it’s something in a crappy hotel gym–is better than doing nothing.
Finally, we have to acknowledge that there’s not a huge number of people who can string together 6 weeks of optimal training. Though some of these could prioritize training and get it done, life gets in the way and that’s okay. We maintain the habit, do the best we can, and continue to do hard things.
Ep 2: Productivity Tips
Scott & Matt share some of their productivity tips: what to do, what to not do, and what equipment or apps help them.
When it comes to equipment and apps, both of them find having one huge monitor, 2 monitors, or 3 monitors helps, as one monitor simply adds time to tasks on the computer.
Scott has also found value in having a scanner to digitize documents. He puts these on Evernote and finds this saves time, helps keep these organized, and saves space.
Both Scott and Matt value a quality backpack and headphones, which can help prevent noises distracting you when you work.
Much of productivity is organizing tasks and ensuring dedicated blocks to get both urgent and important tasks done. Preventing distractions–including notifications, family interruptions, and your phone going off is critical. Matt follows the Pomodoro technique, which recommends blocks of completely undistracted time to knock out tasks on your tasks list. The general recommendation is 25 minutes, as it’s long enough you can complete plenty of tasks but short enough that you can fit a few into your day and it doesn’t become too inconvenient for others around you.
Scott has some tips as well.
Ensure you don’t put projects on your task list. If you find that something stays on your task list, there’s a couple ways to deal with it. If it takes less than 3 minutes to do, just do it immediately, as it takes 3 minutes to put it off. If it’s really a project, break up the projects into tasks and put those tasks onto the list. Finally, if the tasks are important but not urgent, create a Sunday Maybe list where you can put important tasks that are not urgent so you can both organize them, put a place for them, but not feel guilty because they’ve stayed on your to do list for weeks or months.
One other note is to consider the trade off with time and money. There may be things that take up huge amounts of time and that you don’t enjoy. If you can afford to spend the money and feel the trade off is worth it, have someone else do it for you (trade the money for the additional time and fill that time with important things, which–important–may end up making you more money).
Ep 3: Breaking Bad Habits
As advocates of strength training, we encourage people to add strength training as a habit. Many of the most important things we need to do to live a more fulfilling, productive life, however, involve breaking bad habits.
Bad habits don’t have to be bad in a moral sense. They ultimately don’t provide us value and bring us closer to our goals. They might waste time or money. They might prevent us from building positive habits. They might make us less healthy or happy.
Stopping these habits can be difficult. The win of not doing these is often not enough. We can leverage the fact that as humans we dislike losing more than we like winning, so we need to devise punishments or negative consequences for doing the habit and have SOMEONE ELSE hold us accountable.
A note here is that the consequence should not be related to the habit. So, for instance, if you want to stop eating after 7pm, doing extra cardio or depriving yourself of food is counterproductive and can lead to other issues.
Making a bet or putting money on something is a potential option. If, for example, you don’t stop the habit in a specific amount of time (and you’ll likely need to quantify that) you give your friend a certain amount of money. Or, you could owe your spouse $5 anytime you do the habit.
Whatever habit we’ve decided to break, we’ve already decided that there are long term consequences that we don’t like. But when we continue these habits, the long term negativity is hard to think about. Adding a short term negative consequence means we create a short-term negative consequence to discourage us.
The other idea to this is that ultimately we have to get through the initial difficult time with discipline and the motivation will catch up. We won’t have the same urge to continue the habit and we’ll see the benefits of having abstained.
A couple books they recommend are The Power of Habit, Thinking in Bets, & Atomic Habits
Ep 4: Overthrowing the Tyranny of the Urgent
We all have things we think are important, we want to get done, but we continue to put off. This occurs because of the difference between urgent tasks and important tasks and the 4 different types of actions that occur (as an action can be urgent & important, neither urgent nor important, urgent but not important, or not urgent but important).
We tend to put off the important but not urgent things. If they’re never urgent, there’s never pressure to complete them. Ultimately, we need to put pressure on ourselves to complete them.
This doesn’t mean we ignore the urgent: the urgent has to get done. With the urgent, we have to find ways to be efficient or have others do these things (e.g. have the groceries delivered, have someone else mow the lawn). The important and urgent things have to get done. Items that are neither urgent nor important really need to be examined: how much value do you get, for example, scrolling through social media or binge watching Netflix. We need to eliminate or at least limit these activities.
All this requires, of course, identifying what’s important. This comes down to what provides us value. You decide what’s important.
This relates directly to strength training and dieting. Strength training is not urgent, though it’s important. We can increase the urgency by having accountability and protecting the space. Over time, we impart urgency on strength training, “It’s getting close to training time, I’ll have to do this later.”
The same goes for food. If eating is always urgent, then you’ll find yourself eating the most convenient items, which will usually be unhealthy. Preparation prevents food from being urgent, because you’re prepared and have food ready.
Lastly, completing the urgent is still important. If you have urgent things floating in your head when you’re attempting to get your important work done, you’ll be unable to focus and accomplish the important work you want to complete.
Ep 5: Get More Done with the Pomodoro Technique
Matt & Chris share a technique they use all the time, called the Pomodoro Technique. This technique is perfect for both knocking out urgent tasks or carving out time to dedicate to deeper, important work.
The original approach is to dedicated 25 minutes to totally uninterrupted work followed by a 5 minute break. You can string together multiple blocks as you get better at this. Also, if you string together multiple blocks, you often need a longer break every so often.
25 minutes isn’t set in stone. You may need to do longer or even shorter blocks. The principle, however, is totally uninterrupted time. If you get distracted, you QUICKLY jot down a super short note to clear your head but ensure that the task that popped up in your head (e.g. I need to take out the trash) gets accounted for. With one hand, simply jot down “trash,” and then continue your work.
Preparation can help here. There might be certain times of the day or locations where this isn’t feasible because distractions will be inevitable. You also might need to do things to help prevent distractions: you may have to wear noise-cancelling headphones. You’ll need to have your phone elsewhere and not have notifications turned on. You might need to notify your loved ones that you need 25 minutes uninterrupted time and explain the purpose.
Ultimately, this is about getting the urgent things done so you can get the important things done, which include spending time with your family. You can, of course, apply this for important tasks, such as creative work.
Try the Pomodoro technique to increase your efficiency with both urgent and important tasks.
Ep 6: Focus! The Missing Key to Success
Let’s talk about focus. This is something people don’t do well these days. Focus has atrophied due to smartphones, social media, the internet, TV, etc. Focus, however, is critical to productivity, success, happiness, and getting done deep work.
Something that can help both improve focus but show you how hard it is to focus and how easily you get distracted is meditation. The practice of bringing your focus back to your breath or a mantra helps build the muscle of focus and helps you see your thoughts.
Also, you can’t multitask. You may move from one task to another relatively smoothly or quickly, but you can’t actually do two things at once.
Knowing what distracts you and blocking those things out helps. For many, distractions may be broken down into visual or auditory. Know which one distracts you and plan accordingly (noise-cancelling headphones, for example, if you’re distracted easily by noises).
More focus means more productivity, and if you value time with family and other activities, you can be more efficient with work and urgent tasks and then spend more time doing those things that are important and give you value.
Ep 7: Early to Bed, Early to Rise…Why You Should Wake Up Early
Chris & Matt Reynolds like to wake up early and GET AFTER IT. If you don’t, that’s okay, but you might try before you write this off and it’s super important to have a consistent sleep schedule regardless of when you go to bed and wake up.
You can’t make up for lack of sleep on the weekend, and your body will learn and adjust to a regular sleep schedule and be better off for it, as opposed to inconsistency.
If you want to try this, give it a try for 3 weeks. If after 3 weeks you hate waking up early and going to bed early, that’s okay: you’re probably an evening person. You might then want to work on being more consistent with your sleep and how you still make time for leisure and family.
One benefit that early sleep and wake provides is that many people have social activities in the evening. If you’re an evening worker, you’ll have to compete with these and find ways to work around these. It also can give a natural break to work and family life, and you can complete your work for the day (barring a true emergency) and then give your full attention to your family when they arrive.
Ep 8: Time – The Most Valuable Resource
Time is your most valuable resource, and you don’t know how much of it you have on this earth. Because of this, protecting time, being efficient, and knowing when to trade money for time is important. Its importance heightens if you find yourself in a situation where you make enough money that you can make more money on your work than completing a menial task, such as mowing the lawn or cleaning the house. You might actually make more money paying someone else to do this.
This isn’t the case for everyone, and there are times in people’s lives where they simply have to lower expenses and be thrifty.
If you find yourself in a situation where the more you work the more money you make, then you need to think about finding time blocks where you don’t work and being efficient with your work.
If you find yourself with a fixed amount of time at work (eg a 40 or 60 hour work week) then you need to figure out how to leverage the time you have outside of work for both enjoyment and to complete the other tasks in your life.
Regardless of your situation, it helps to consider the money-time tradeoff and how some investments of money can lead to more money in the future (and, of course, how some investments of time can lead to money in the future). Thinking this way can help clarify what you should do yourself or hire out and help block off time for leisure and family and enjoyment.