By Chris Myers, Forbes Contributor
It’s safe to say that I’m a busy guy.
Between running a company with multiple businesses under its umbrella, serving as a partner in a venture investment fund, writing for Forbes, publishing books, doing TV appearances, and raising a young family, my daily schedule is typically packed.
One of the most common questions I’m asked by readers of this blog or entrepreneurs I work with is “How do you manage to get so much done?”
It’s a fair question, and one that I’m always more than happy to answer.
The first thing I always tell people is that there’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Anyone can be busy, but it takes strategy and planning to be productive.
Over the years I’ve developed three strategies that have enabled me to get more done than I ever thought possible. They’ve worked for me, and I’m confident that they’ll work for any entrepreneur seeking to achieve extreme levels of productivity.
1) Don’t be a goldfish
Now, I’m not sure if it’s biologically accurate, but there’s an old saying that goldfish grow to the size of the tank it lives in. The larger the tank, the larger the goldfish.
The same principle applies to our lives. The more room we allow ourselves for any given task, the longer that task takes. I’ve seen it happen in my company more times than I care to recount. If you give a project to a person who isn’t particularly busy, they tend to stretch it out as much as possible.
The key to not becoming a goldfish is to impose strict deadlines and requirements on yourself for every task you undertake. You have to treat everything as though you’re under the proverbial gun. This makes it significantly easier to clear things off your to-do list with ruthless efficiency.
2) Embrace essentialism
Now, if you want to avoid becoming a goldfish, you must embrace some form of essentialism. The concept of essentialism can be traced back to the works of Aristotle and Plato and holds that a given entity has a few core traits that define its very existence. There can be many additional traits, but there are always a few that define the core of the entity in question.
Essentialism can and should be applied to every task you encounter. For me, nothing is worse than needing to write an article or develop a presentation, only to find yourself staring at a blank screen, paralyzed by the depth of the topic at hand.
When I feel overwhelmed by a task, my natural response is to procrastinate. Procrastination, in turn, leads to stress, anxiety, and feelings of being completely overwhelmed.
I've learned that the solution to this is to analyze the task, identify its essence, and develop a plan to address it accordingly. When you apply an essentialist framework to tasks, you’ll quickly find that the anxiety surrounding its perceived complexity melts away.
This practice takes discipline, to be sure, and it often requires a degree of explanation when a task is ultimately completed. The reason for this is simple: people often ask for what they think they want, rather than what they actually want.
It sounds like a matter of semantics, and it is to a certain extent. However, if we take requests or tasks at face value, we often end up spending the bulk of our time working on aspects that don’t really matter. Applying an essentialist framework, however, helps you get to the heart of the issue and ultimately deliver a better and more efficient solution.
3) Remember that what stands in the way, becomes the way
Now, you'll still run into challenges that can halt your productivity in its tracks. We all encounter such obstacles in our lives, but they don't have limit you. In fact, such obstacles can actually make you more productive.
I’ve made no secret of my love of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism in the past. In fact, I keep a copy of Epictetus’ classic treatise The Enchiridion on my desk in my office as a constant reminder. It influences my outlook on productivity in essential ways.
For those of you who may not be familiar, Stoicism reminds us that life and everything in it is impermanent. Focusing on our circumstances or pinning our happiness on the attainment of possessions is a surefire recipe for disappointment.
The beauty of Stoicism is that it reminds us that we alone are in control of our emotions and reactions, and possess the ability to turn the obstacles we face into opportunities.
As I work through my intense workload, I find myself returning time after time to a quote from Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, and Stoic philosopher.
"Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."
We would all be well served to remember that what stands in our way, becomes the way. When it comes to productivity, we must run headlong into our challenges and tackle our most dreaded tasks. We have to embrace them, relish the process, and attack them with a ferocity that robs them of their power over us.
You’re capable of more than you realize
The secret to extreme productivity is to cultivate the proper mindset. The first step is to avoid becoming a goldfish and apply constraints to the projects you take on.
The second is to embrace essentialism, identifying and pursuing the core elements and underlying purpose of the task at hand.
The third, and perhaps most important, step is to adopt the Stoic philosophy that “what stands in the way, becomes the way.”
These three strategies have worked wonders for me, and I’m confident that they’ll be helpful for anyone who has the desire to achieve a state of extreme productivity.
About the Author
Chris Myers is the Cofounder and CEO of BodeTree and a Partner at BT Ventures. His latest book, The Enlightened Franchisee, is now available on Amazon.