Over the years, I’ve discovered that the key to achieving your goals is to be productive, and to optimize your processes relentlessly. Success rests on two core concepts: productivity and efficiency.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you accidentally find yourself isolated in the wild.
You need a shelter, a fire, food and drinking water. Accomplishing those tasks is being productive, but your efficiency in carrying them out is just as crucial to your survival. You need to get them done using the least amount of energy, time and resources as possible.
You could panic and start cutting trees to build your refuge, but finding a water stream and setting up camp underneath the closest big rock is the probably most efficient option.
Instead of losing your composure, hammering left and right and giving in to fear; you’re better off spending time planning and mapping out the shrewd moves that provide the best return on investment. They will increase your chances of survival.
Business works much the same way.
My name is JP Brousseau, and I’m the CEO of phoneloops.com. We design and sell mobile phone straps that allow you to have a better grip on your phone.
Why is productivity important?
Productivity makes or breaks a business. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs get sidetracked by unproductive and inefficient activities in-and-around their businesses that ultimately made their entire projects collapse.
Productivity is synonymous with output for sure, but it also means spending time on the maintenance and improvement of vital and accessory components. The payoff may not be immediate, but it shows over the medium to long-term.
You will ultimately save time, money and preserve mental well-being by aiming to be productive. Most importantly, you will acquire in-depth knowledge about yourself as an entrepreneur, the business you’ve created and all of its components.
Being productive at letting go
This may sound counterintuitive, but I think I’m very productive at recharging my tank. When I get unproductive, I don’t fight it. In my experience, there can’t be productivity without serious downtime.
Physical activity is probably the quickest way to get reactivate after a long computer session. It can be anything. You just have to get the blood flowing. Lately, what does it for me is getting my splitting axe and go on a wood chopping spree for a few minutes.
I also spend a lot of (scheduled) time watching videos and reading articles to get my mind off things or to find out about new tech and trends. I love to learn new things, and sometimes they happen to benefit phoneloops.com or other side-projects.
A bodybuilder is not born a bodybuilder
You have to discipline yourself. Your mind is a muscle. It can be trained through practice.
The key to a good mental workout is to shut down all distractions: phone, TV, extra browsing tabs and concentrate on one thing only. That will generate a tremendous amount of momentum. Sometimes, I like to listen to electronic music mixes to keep a steady pace.
That momentum used timely and efficiently will work miracles on your productivity.
I’m somewhat baffled when people say they get an insane amount of work done in 60 or even 70-hour weeks. It doesn’t seem possible or feasible in my experience.
My team and I have discussed this thoroughly and honestly. We’ve found out none of us are productive beyond 24-30 hours a week. We generally have a sweet spot of 4-6 real intense, productive work hours per day, and that’s about it. We try to make every minute count.
As a committed partner and father of three, that’s the maximum I’m able to give to my business anyway without compromising my family life and as well as my well being.
What I learned at a newspaper factory
A couple of years ago, working as a mechanical engineer, I was dispatched on a consulting job in a newspaper factory — a precarious industry where only the top suppliers survive.
What seemed like the mandate from hell turned out to be one of the most instructive and lesson-rich experiences of my life. I learned so much about optimizing workflows and coaching based on world-class productivity principles.
Here a few takeaways from it:
Compared to a task executed on the fly, a prepared task will use on average 3x less time and resources to be accomplished.
An excellent way to illustrate this is to compare the preparation of a planned versus an unplanned dinner. It’s easier, quicker and cheaper to cook when you have sorted out everything ahead, not having to run last minute errands. There is a standard in the maintenance industry that states you shouldn’t allow more than 5% of scheduled time on unplanned and unprepared tasks. I aim for 10%.
You have to know the current state of your workflows.
Audit and map your actual processes, so everybody understands the actual situation. There are some great resources online to help you build mappings. Make sure to involve everyone in this exercise, so you don’t forget any crucial details.
Information should flow via the shortest route in your workflow.
Redesign your processes in the leanest and automated way possible. Sometimes the best communication is no communication at all. You don't need to SMS your CFO that you've sent new instructions on Slack to inform the accountant that you've sent an invoice via fax and email to the payables. Just put it in the right inbox so people can address it.
Set up essential KPIs to monitor the performance of your new process.
By keeping an eye on the health of your operations, you’ll be able to foresee upcoming issues and tweak workflows.
You don’t always have to hold the perfect product, design, system, process, workflow to be productive. A lot of it is the result of experimentation. Design your own working methods. Only you know what’s best for you and your business.
Some more tips
When faced with a task to carry out, I first try to determine how much time it should take you to accomplish. Not how much time it would take you, but how much time it should take you. For example, I could work on emails all day long, but I established it should only take me 1 hour per day. I see it as a fun challenge, a daily game.
Set a time limit to the work you do. If you feel stuck, stop. Get out. Go for a walk, a run. Just move! You will be able to finish later with a clearer mindset.
When a long and heavy email comes in about a stressful project, try to focus on 1 or 2 critical topics to address. Breaking the problem down to its fundamental parts and tackle them one after the other, not all at once, will simplify your life and save you time. Just keep the ball rolling instead of overwhelming yourself with staring the entire workload.
Lately, phoneloops.com’s CFO and I have held weekly briefings about ongoing projects. Each of us has only 30 seconds to address each topic. It forces us to be concise and pinpoint the core issues of each project. We’ve turned 30-60 minutes calls into 5-10 minutes rundown-style talk, and it’s paying off.
Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast
I love the saying "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast." You can go back to my previous survival analogy to understand this one. I don’t believe in shortcuts, so I plan ahead and progress at a steady pace. Starting now is faster than any bypasses.
My tips for others trying to be more productive
Try something. Anything. You’ll find something that fits you eventually.
Even if you know it’s not the perfect solution, learn from your experience and optimize from there to the next level.
Don’t be to fancy at first: work around emails, set productive session blocks, organize through spreadsheets of to-dos and deadlines, go back to basics with pens and paper, etc. You have to build your own system.
I’ve been optimizing and changing systems quite a bit over time. In the past five years, there’s been an exponential growth of solutions and apps that genuinely do make a difference - helping in prioritizing tasks, managing teams and syncing client orders. We have created our custom solutions by combining services and apps through Zapier. As for project management, Monday.com seems to stand the test of time for us.
If something clicks through non-scalable experimentations, I begin to design and set up lean workflows and automation systems that can drastically improve the efficiency of key operations.
Some would say that my engineering background has hardwired me in the neverending quest for optimization, but in fact, it has provided me with better tools to accomplish my goals. I feel lucky to have worked with world-class experts and been exposed to a lot of different industries, teams, and projects.
I wish I could tell you the ultimate formula on how to be productive, but I think you have to found the one that works for you. I don’t claim to be a master of productivity. I’m just trying my best... most of the time!
My name is JP Brousseau, and I’m the CEO of phoneloops.com.
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