Tools To Love Your Work Each Day
Previously, I’ve covered the Vedantic philosophical viewpoint (the oldest philosophy we know of) on this blog as well as in my podcast. I even started a podcast last year (Yoga For Your Intellect) dedicated to a conversational approach to this system of thought.
I have also written about the five pillars for productivity in terms of years instead of hours or days in my post titled “Mental Wealth” that is, by far, my most read post on this blog.
I have also covered a working style (asynchronous) that allows me to work from home, raising our three hilarious daughters (ages 5, 2, and 8 months) with my wife in Los Angeles, surf in the mornings, podcast, create & help scale companies (Magic Mind + SideDish + another launching later this year), invest & advise (investor and advisor to 100+ startups over the last decade, evaluating about 1,500+ startups each year), as well as have fun with side projects like music (working_man) or writing a book (“Beyond Coffee”) — all while hitting “inbox zero” and “to-do list zero” nearly every day.
Outside of the foundations and the working style, I have found myself recommending the actual tools and specific working structure I use each day with more and more colleagues, friends, and portfolio founders — and if I find myself repeating the same things, then I naturally feel a need to write out a single post on it so I can share that link instead. So here is that post below.
Everything above, in my viewpoint, can be generically applied to most startups and creators if you’re committed to efficiency and creating joyously.
However, this post below might not have that much generic value, given that each creator’s work requires different tools and financial bandwidth will differ — but I still find myself repeating these tools to people anyhow, so I will jot them down in case they are helpful for you right now.
This list below is broken into “people, products, and practices” buckets, and it has taken 16 years of building startups to figure this stuff out —often doing things so wrongly that I ended up in the E.R. with a heart condition addicted to 6-7 cups of coffee per day and genuinely had 12-months of nearly PTSD-like symptoms of opening up my email inbox (to see what large task would unexpectedly land on my plate) that took me a long time to get over.
Now I get excited to open my email inbox again and only work about 30 hours per week combined on all companies and hobbies, with the rest of the time spent either in dad-mode or in reflection.
There isn’t a single area in life where I’m not collaborating with incredibly strong team-mates. Ultimately, the liberation felt doing the work I do is a direct result of a harmonious collaboration with complimentary team-members that are wired differently than me.
It’s highly recommended to not “go it alone” on anything you take seriously, in spite of the stories you hear about fictional, isolated creators making things on their own. When you peel back the layers of any of those fictionalized accounts, there is always a strong collaboration with many other talented individuals.
Even in writing something like a book, there are phenomenal collaborators like editors and publishers that have combined efforts with the writer to put your favorite book in your hands. This list might not be very interesting or helpful, but I can’t write an essay about loving what I do each day without prioritizing the fact that it is the understanding and division of labor that makes this love possible.
Family — My wife is the COO of our family, and naturally wired for it. She works from home for 10-15 hours per week as an artist and is the primary childcare parent for our family. We also have help from a housekeeper and nanny during the week. I directly parent as well throughout the week which amounts to about 15-20 hours per workweek (and throughout the weekend for another 20+ hours).
For Magic Mind — The first hire I made was a part-time, then full-time operations leader. As noted with my family role, I am not an operations person, so I try to compliment my exploratory nature with someone wired to help pave the roads as I take “a machete to the jungle” in a given direction. My co-founder, and day-to-day CEO, William Hicks, is this complimentary individual and the backbone of scaling the business globally.
Investing — My legal counsel, Josh Horowitz, is the backbone of operations here.
Podcasting — Two producers that I use are Nick Davis and Jake Rohret. They help with all the editing, operations, and publication of each episode.
Personal Assistance — I use a virtual assistant from Upwork (so easy to find someone great for 5-10 hours per week of help). If you value your time at $50 an hour, you can find someone that can help you with administrative tasks for $25 an hour, and it is simple arithmetic that it will be revenue generating help, not an expense.
Music — Even for hobbies, I look for a collaborator that can help divide the labor. For working_man music, I found the incredible collaborator and sound engineer, Pablo Estacio, on UpWork.
Again, this above is likely not that interesting to read, but my twenties were consumed by the mythical idea of the isolated creator doing it all. Then I got up-and-close to some of the greatest creators of all time in Silicon Valley and realized just how well they knew where their skills were and where collaborators were better suited.
For example, it takes an entire team to create classical woodblock art (one of my favorite art forms in the world). It was a decade before I learned it took 4 people to create this world-famous woodblock print, and one of my favorite pieces of art, The Great Wave off Kanagawa “by” Hokusai. Four masters at their own craft — a publisher to commission the art, the artist to create the initial drawing, woodblock-cutter to create the print, and printer to color and produce the prints. History, however, distills the creation down to the person commissioned to make the initial drawing, Hokusai. Lol.
Products (listed by frequency of use):
Dictation via Siri — For both emails or texts that I am composing. Good Lord (!), I love Siri and the ability to dictate on my phone while lounging on the couch or our bed. Yes, there are mistakes, but fixing them is a breeze compared to writing the whole thing out. And the approach allows me to over-communicate with a few more sentences or paragraphs than I would typical type out in an email (over-communication is perhaps the most crucial technique of building startups in the earliest stages of new team-members working together). I use this more than just about anything listed below to make “inbox zero” possible.
Superhuman for email — worth the $30 each month to schedule, remind, auto-reply to emails to get to “inbox zero” every day.
iMessage — I use this with team-members or founders, including a lot of “voice notes” (voice recorded messages instead of text), which is the optimal intersection of efficiency and human-ness with the inflection of voice, in my opinion.
Reminders App — For dictating things like “Siri, create a reminder that says…” to my phone or Apple Watch while I’m out and about, and keeping track of everything, this to-do list is as simple as it is powerful. And I know it won’t get shut down like my previous love, wunderlist #RIP.
Loom — This is for communication that would usually be in a meeting to prioritize asynchronous communication. Read my post on asynchronous working for my rave-fest on asynchronous working and loom as my favorite productivity application of the last 5 years. Wish I was an investor!
Google Docs & Sheets — Word processing and spreadsheeting when collaborating. Everyone has it, gets it, and can edit on any device (unlike the newest/hippest app that comes out each year for this same functionality).
Apple Notes — Simple, free writing app.
My iPad Pro — This is my main device, and it is *blazingly* fast compared to my MacBook Pro (because of the unique intersection of the processor speed & the lightweight, iOS-version applications). I also love the fact that there is, by default, only one application open at a time. I put the device on “do not disturb” and can stay in one application, like Notes, for 2-3 hours until a document is fully written.
Magic Mind — This little shot is the anchor to my morning routine, and after 10 years of developing it, we ended up creating a product around it (magicmind.com). If athletes have gatorade, this is ‘creatorade’ in a bottle. And how well this little shot works is why I ended up productizing it for other creators around me. It pairs with my half-caff coffee in the morning, and gives me energy for all of my projects that lasts all day.
Apple Watch — I used to be wildly late to meetings all the time. Now, in the morning, I use Siri to set alarms for *all* events for the day (which takes about 30 seconds to set them all). The silent vibrating alarm will alert me of my next thing, allowing me to dive deep into work knowing that I don’t have to keep checking the time. Complete game-changer for me for punctuality, reliability, and staying deep into work knowing I don’t have to check the clock often.
Philips Hue Smart Lights — I was always a night owl (and have the genetic markers for it), but installing smart lights that fade on in the morning and then fade down at 6pm to send the signals that “we’re getting ready for bed” have helped immensely in getting into a rhythm of waking up (enthusiastically) at 4:45am and the desire to get in bed around 8:30pm (having kids has also helped with this structure). From my prior perceptions of myself, I can barely believe I just wrote that. My 23andMe genetics testing also says that I am a night owl. But nearly all of personal development and growth is overcoming our lesser nature. However you approach your day, aim to wake up at the same time every morning to set your biologically clocks to start to wake you up and help you fall to sleep naturally and “on cue” each day (freedom comes on the other side of small initiatives of discipline). One of the biggest mistakes I made in my 20’s was waking up and trying to go to sleep at erratic times, constantly changing those times each day — and the smart lights installed throughout the house (maybe 15 of them?) do this for me now.
iPod Touch — Next to my bed, I do not charge my primary phone or any primary devices. I have a sparse iPod touch for looking things up on the web, iMessage, and entertainment like podcasts or YouTube Premium (no ads, and side note, I love going deep on educational topics on YouTube, their recommendation engine/library of content is the best in the world), but no socials, no email, and nothing to do with work. This helps “sterilize” where I sleep from any of my work streams or junk food information before bed like social media consumption. I leave my phone downstairs and my iPad in my office.
Micrograms of Melatonin (not milligrams) — When traveling to a new time zone, or trying to reset my sleep time (say from 11pm to 10pm), it is hard for me to overstate how effective 300mcg (micrograms) of melatonin can be. It is a tiny amount, less than a 10th of what you would find on the shelf in the pharmacy, but you can easily get it on Amazon. You take it 3 hours before you want to go to bed, and it kickstarts your natural production of melatonin (versus the typical dosages in the 3-5 milligram range which unfortunately replaces your natural production and thereby makes you dependent on it in subsequent nights). With this approach, you use it 2-3 nights, and then your body is now, naturally, on that new schedule. Game-changing.
Mental Wealth — A productive stretch during the day starts way before the day begins with a commitment to healthy habits. Read about my approach to mental wealth here.
Asynchronous work — I’m clearly a fan of asynchronous working. So that is my default mode of communication to a) optimize the time of what would be a meeting b) increase long blocks of time for deep work c) increase flexibility in a day to move things around (to seize an ephemeral opportunity when they open up) and d) actually *improve* the quality of the communication.
I knew I would get the first bullets with asynchronous work, but had no idea about the last two.
The people that I have realized hate this mode of work are middle managers of companies that aren’t creating anything themselves.
I am also a fan of remote work. But it isn’t as game-changing as asynchronous work. It’s a pain to insist on Loom instead of a meeting since it’s not a social norm yet, but 1) it will be, and 2) however much you value your hourly time, it’s worth it to save that amount for your work, recreation, or family time. And the person on the other end will actually love it too, they just don’t know it yet.
Afternoons for necessary meetings — When it comes to necessary meetings (I still average about 3-4 a week that I can’t get out of for some reason or another, despite my best efforts), I schedule them for after 12pm, typically in bunches, so that my mornings are free to go from inbox zero to knocking out a mix of both small and large tasks in my to-do list.
“No Meetings Wednesdays” (and Mondays and Fridays) — My hardest-set practice is “no meetings” on Wednesdays or Fridays. I learned this at Airbnb, and it is PHENOMENAL (it makes Tuesday feel like a teenager’s Friday… I am giddy about the things I’ll get to knock out on the productivity side of things -or- if I’m caught up, on the social or healthy balance side of things.
Outside of the largest blocks of creative work, Wednesdays or Fridays are great for the random indulgence into an unplanned exercise session, social interaction, hang with my little ones, walk with my wife, solo walk or drive up the coast, or a RFT (“random facetime”) chat that I will have with a friend — where I start randomly FaceTiming friends to see whoever is free and can answer. I swear it’s like popping your head into your friend’s dorm room back in college when they pick up and you connect, even if for only 2-3 minutes. None of these are planned, so it’s driven by spontaneity.
We are our commitments. So I know I will only be as productive as my commitment to this structure. But once I see something work well, it’s like trying to convince someone to go back to horse and carriage after they have been driving a brand new Tesla.
Here are some other specifics of a routine that I have found works well for me:
In bed by 8:30 or 9. Asleep by 9:30. And again, I used to be a night owl!
Awake at 4:45am. Because of this wake up time, and the occasional late dinner with friends, there are afternoons around 3pm where I will take time to rest for 30-45 minutes (working from home makes this easy, and nearly every culture outside of industrial ones in the last 200 years have had this rhythm).
16oz of water with a Liquid IV or LMNT hydration packet an hour before caffeine (as dehydration is highest in the morning and is the leading cause of aches and pains as we age).
Speaking of aches and pains, they will kill productivity. Staying fit is as much of an input of long-term productivity and service as nearly anything listed in here (and is a critical part of the mental wealth equation).
Spiritual study and meditation for 60 minutes first thing in the morning. I won’t spend much time here on the foundation of these “tools”, but I will say that the foundation, like a platform for a rocket, is independent from the rocket — yet the efficacy of the rocket to hit its goal is every bit as dependent on the foundation as the rocket design itself. Similarly, my personal view is that a properly developed philosophy, spirituality, worldview, or metaphysics (‘beyond’ physics) determines the efficacy of these other tools. A simple example is the compounding effect of dishonesty will not help you love your work each day (eg, a worldview that says dishonesty is ok). The optimal worldview, like optimal sight, is a clarity to see a) what to do in a given scenario, b) when to do it, and c) how to do it. The last two parts come from experience, but the first part (‘what to do’) comes from an extremely open aperture of vision that takes in *as long* of a time horizon and *as communal* of an approach to your work each day as your worldview will allow. And if that worldview thinks in terms of days, months, or years — or in terms of yourself and only those closest to you — it may be worth exploring upgrading that worldview; for the optimization of the entire system.
There are as many methods as there are people when it comes to upgrading a worldview, but if you are interested in my metaphysics, Vedanta, you can start with my teacher’s book on “the problem” most of us face in life here.
Followed by his magnum opus on a what you could call the solution to that problem, here. These books may not speak to you.
Our 5 year old and 2 year old daughters wake up at 6:30am, but they have an alarm clock that turns green at 7am that means they can leave her room then, so I play with the kids/give my wife free-time for her own quiet time in the morning until about 8am. What good is your clarity if the team around you doesn’t have any.
Every week for the last 10 years, after the advice from a mentor, my wife and I do non-movable date nights together on Tuesday nights, no matter what — *most especially* during stints of 100 hour work-weeks. Why Tuesday? Tuesday is typically a free night in the social calendar and by Wednesday — with Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday night together — that night of the week for date night makes us feel like we’re spending enough time for just us. When I worked at an office, running my last company, I would stay and work really late on Monday nights to get ahead for the week, and this structure allowed for this easily since we would hang out so much on the other sides of that night.