How Scaling Yourself Down Can Scale Up Your Productivity

Author: Danny Schreiber Source: Zapier

The following is a detailed write-up of a popular productivity talk delivered by Scott Hanselman. Visit his blog, hanselman.com, for more productivity tips.

“Don’t worry, just drop the ball.”

This counterintuitive advice is one of a dozen-plus productivity practices preached by Scott Hanselman, a program manager at Microsoft, author and avid blogger and speaker.

“Dropping the ball is sometimes the right answer,” Hanselman says. “Let a ball drop. Tell people, ‘I’m just not going to do that.'”

Hanselman’s not the person you’d to expect to hear encourage dropping the ball and discourage burning the midnight oil. On top of his day job, he balances a full load: he blogs, records a podcast, engages on Twitter and attends and speaks at conferences regularly. In the past six years, he’s co-authored more than a half-dozen books, and at home, he has a wife and two children. In short, he’s one productive individual.

How does he do it? Why does he do it? If you’re asking yourself those questions, you’re not alone.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, Scott, you’re doing all this stuff. Why do you do it? Are you not sleeping?” Hanselman says. “It’s because, I must dance. I can’t stop. Whenever I think about stopping, I think about this little boy and how excited he is about doing what he’s doing.”

“It turns out,” he continues, “the less that you do, the more of it that you can do. This is the standard law of scale.”

Scale Yourself

In a 40-minute talk Hanselman originally delivered in 2012, and has since presented several times—most recently at South by Southwest Interactive earlier this month—he shares his productivity practices. From his “one email rule” to follow to his reasoning for reading Robert Scoble’s blog, all his tips are immediately actionable.

The productivity practices he shares, he says, have been adopted from folks like David Allen (Getting Things Done), Dr. Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), J.D. Meier (Getting Results the Agile Way), Francesco Cirillo, (The Pomodoro Technique), and Kathy Sierra.

The following is a recap of his popular talk, featuring quotes from his October 2012 presentation at GOTO Conference and his original talk at Webstock earlier that year.

Look for Danger Signs

Staying focused hasn’t always been a challenge—there hasn’t always been hundreds of pages of new content to consume daily or a constant stream of new information interrupting you. Instead, Hanselman says, when he wanted to learn programming, he needed to know everything in just two books.

“Then the Internet happened and suddenly there’s Exabytes of information being created, and half of it is garbage and a third of my day is wasted by interruptions,” he says.

“I’m completely overwhelmed, and we tell ourselves that we’re going to be able to pull it off if ‘we just work late tonight.'” Stop. This is a danger sign.

“If you find yourself saying, ‘I need to work late to catch up,’ then that’s a problem, that’s a big problem,” he says, admitting he’s guilty of using this phrase himself. The remedy isn’t as easy as “hoping” you’ll catch up with your to-do list.

“Hope is not a plan,” Hanselman says. “Hope is nothing but waiting and letting life happen to you.”

So what do you do when you see danger signs? Hanselman has an antidote, but before he unveils it, he sets the record straight on what it means to be effective versus what is means to be efficient.

Understand Effectiveness Versus Efficiency

“Effectiveness is goal orientation. This is picking something to do. This is doing right things—picking a goal and doing that goal,” Hanselman says. “Efficiency is doing things in an economical way, process-oriented.

“So phrased differently: Effectiveness is doing the right things, but efficiency is doing things right. That means effectiveness is picking a direction and efficiency is running really fast in that direction,” he says.

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