Productivity Advice from Marc Andreessen

Thursday, December 12, 2019

On days when I am stumped for blogging topics, I dig into the many bookmarks I save when browsing the web at odd times, like when I'm waiting in line at the supermarket. When I do this, I usually I find something really useful or interesting that I managed to completely forget about.

Today's recovered gem is a post outlining tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen's thoughts on productivity, which are peppered with links throughout. Some of these are quite similar to what I already do, and others aren't. And many of you have probably heard of at least some of the things he discusses (e.g., David Allen's GTD system). But all of them are valuable in that they will make you think -- about whether you are satisfied with a given aspect of your work practices. And if you're not, he will probably give you an idea to consider or try.

As a sample, I'll throw out the first part of what I found to be his most unusual piece of advice:

Obviously, not having a schedule would be an auto-fail in some industries... (Image by JESHOOTS.COM, via Unsplash, license.)
Let's start with a bang: don't keep a schedule.

He's crazy, you say!

I'm totally serious. If you pull it off -- and in many structured jobs, you simply can't -- this simple tip alone can make a huge difference in productivity.

By not keeping a schedule, I mean: refuse to commit to meetings, appointments, or activities at any set time in any future day.

As a result, you can always work on whatever is most important or most interesting, at any time.

Want to spend all day writing a research report? Do it!

Want to spend all day coding? Do it!

Want to spend all day at the cafe down the street reading a book on personal productivity? Do it!

When someone emails or calls to say, "Let's meet on Tuesday at 3", the appropriate response is: "I'm not keeping a schedule [this year], so I can't commit to that, but give me a call on Tuesday at 2:45 and if I'm available, I'll meet with you."

Or, if it's important, say, "You know what, let's meet right now."

Clearly this only works if you can get away with it. If you have a structured job, a structured job environment, or you're a CEO, it will be hard to pull off.

But if you can do it, it's really liberating, and will lead to far higher productivity than almost any other tactic you can try.

This idea comes from a wonderful book called A Perfect Mess, which explains how not keeping a schedule has been key to Arnold Schwarzenegger's success as a movie star, politician, and businessman over the last 20 years. [format edits, emphasis in original]
Again, Andreessen admits that not keeping a schedule -- altogether, anyway -- is impossible for most people. But many can at least partially realize this level of freedom. (And he has just reassured me that my new method of tracking deep work is on the right track.) That said, I won't be using his method of dealing with proposals for meetings, because I try my best to avoid phone calls during the day.

There are many kinds of work circumstances, personal preferences, and professional needs. I doubt anyone is going to adopt all of Andreessen's methods, but I think just about anyone can profit by thinking about them, especially if something about one's work routine isn't quite right.

-- CAV

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