Ari Meisel’s Counterintuitive Take On Productivity With Doing Less

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TBT 44 | Doing Less

TBT 44 | Doing Less

Counter-intuitive to a lot of people, sometimes doing less could give you more. Ari Meisel is a great believer of this as he talks about his own take on productivity and how we should think a little bit differently. As an author, developer, consultant, productivity expert, and CEO of his company Less Doing, he teaches how instead of working harder, we should work smarter. He shares the common mistakes people do when it comes to writing to-do lists and document processes, why simplicity is very important and more efficient, and how do we make people replaceable without actually replacing them.  Finally, he imparts the importance of the methodology—optimize, automate, outsource—and why it’s important.

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Ari Meisel’s Counterintuitive Take On Productivity With Doing Less

We’re going to talk about the thing that everybody wants to do, which is do less and at the same time achieve more. We want that, but why can’t we do it? We’re going to talk to Ari Meisel. He’s the Founder of Less Doing and he’s got the answers to everything or at least that core question of what we’re looking for. Ari, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, Penny.
We’ve interviewed a couple of times before and I always take away some new perspectives. I want people to hear your story because it’s powerful in understanding the perspective shift that you were forced to have that had you start to think a little bit differently. Why did you get on this mission for or in this passion around doing less?
Everybody wants to do less and at the same time achieve more. Share on X Some of the best businesses choose you and not the other way around. I was working in real estate development in upstate New York and working a very hard lifestyle. I was under a lot of stress. When I was 23, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which knocked me down. I don’t know if it’s possible to create that kind of an output. I had a lot less time and less energy to get things done and after a long process of self-tracking, self-experimentation, I was able to get off all my meds and start to overcome the illness. The real strides came when I started to experiment with and create a brand-new system and productivity, which I would call Less Doing, as in less doing, more living. The overarching idea there was to show people how to optimize, automate, and outsource everything in their lives and businesses in order to be more effective.

TBT 44 | Doing Less

Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier

I want people to think about this as an area of a huge perspective shift. What if for some unforeseen reason all of a sudden, instead of having eight hours a day or however many you take, let’s say that you only have four hours, you have half a day. I know you might’ve even had less than that, but I want people to imagine what would happen in your perspective shift in the way that you create priorities, in the way that you look at anything and everything that you do. That, in itself, is like an eye-opening wake-up.
It’s an important thing for people to think about and so the number for me was an hour.
How do you get anything done in an hour?
The question at that point becomes, “What aren’t you going to do?” which is nice. I love doing that experiment to people because you say to somebody that works 9:00 AM to 5:00 AM, “You have to leave the office by 4:00 PM.” That’s easy, “I’ll skip lunch,” or “I’ll shorten one call or whatever,” but then you say, “What would you if you only got an hour?” It’s a totally different way of thinking about it.
It’s that dramatic change that creates you to think differently. Incremental change doesn’t get us to think differently, it’s a dramatic change.
Another way of looking at it, too, is do you know Snap-on tools?
I haven’t heard of that.
You can’t buy them anywhere. There’s a Snap-on tool truck that goes to professional garages. It’s one of the best tools that you can buy. They’re gorgeous and they’re always wonderful sets. They are arguably some of the best tools there are for a car. If somebody wanted you to work on a spaceship, you couldn’t use those tools, those tools don’t work in this area. That’s the thing. You have to come up with a completely new set of tools and completely new methods when that’s the challenge. A lot of my productivity advice and a lot of things that I teach people are very counterintuitive and counterintuitive to what a lot of other productivity people teach.
I want to point out when you talked about tools, I want everybody to also think about the main tool that we have, which is our brain. It’s our mindset. It also requires a different mindset.
Technology will only amplify habits. Share on X I love to say that I’m tool agnostic. I love tech, I love lots of tools, and I recommend lots of tools, but I always try to temper them and tell people that technology will merely amplify habits. If you have good habits, it will make them better. If you have bad habits, it will make them worse way faster. I am always looking at that mindset shift that needs to take place first. A lot of it is that there’s so much psychology wrapped up in what makes people more or less productive.
Let’s talk about the point of being very productive and counterintuitive. What is that? What do you mean by that? Give us an example.
One thing is I’m very anti to-do list. A lot of times the question is, “What’s the best to-do list or how should I manage the to-do list?” My response is, “Get rid of it.”
Why is that?
99% of people do the to-do list wrong in terms of what psychology requires of us. The biggest issue with most of the to-do lists is that they’re very static. I don’t care if you’re using a nice notebook or you’re using some fancy app or something like that. Most people do it wrong and they don’t treat the to-do list like an assembly line, which we need to do. The to-do lists need to have movement to them in some sense so that at the very base level, you want to have some form of to do, doing, and done in that format.
There is something called Kanban, which is a Japanese project management scheme from Toyota. You can do this with tools like Trello, but you can do this with post-it notes on a wall, too. It’s so important to have that sense of movement. To do, doing, and done is a little loose scheme. If you’re a real estate broker to do, doing, and done might look like lead prospective property, visited once, offer made, negotiation, and then close.

TBT 44 | Doing Less

Doing Less: Treat things like an assembly line. It’s important to have that sense of movement of to do, doing, and done.

There is still this arc of to do, doing, and done, which is something that is on deck, something that we’re doing now, and something that we did. It gives that sense of velocity and movement. Not only can we psychologically be motivated by that movement, we’re moving towards that goal. We also get a sense of how long things take and shouldn’t take in this 50,000-feet overview. A lot of people do to-do lists in static and a lot of people do their to-do list flipped on their side, which they organize things in a wrong way and they organize things categorically rather than by phase.
The best way to organize the way that we’re doing things is as a project and the phases of which it is to get them done. We should be managing our tasks and activities based on projects.
Treat things like an assembly line. In that way you know where things break, you can fix them in that way, you know where things are getting held up. That leads to the second one for me, which is a lot of people love the all-in-one software.
Is there an all-in-one software?
When they have that even in the marketing, that’s a big no for me. It’s a deal breaker when something is an all-at-one software. I did this thing on social media where I put two pictures, one was of this gray box with an on-off switch on and the other one was a Rube Goldberg machine. I said, “Which process would you prefer in your business?” A lot of people said the black box and I said, “Never in a million years would I want the black box. I would go for the Rube Goldberg machine ten times out of ten. I might have to duct tape together several different automation processes and tools, but if something doesn’t work, I know where and why. If I want to change something, I can do that. I don’t have to hire the Infusionsoft specialists to come in and open the black box and fix it.”
That’s another one. It’s like people are always for that one piece of software. It’s going to fix everything and it doesn’t work like that. It’s a wrong way to go at it. CRMs are great examples of that. Probably one of the most common questions that I get once a week is, “What’s your favorite CRM?” I usually answer like, “What do you need a CRM for?” Literally, I can build a CRM in Trello that’s better than 80% of the CRM out there and you can do it for about fifteen minutes.
Incremental change doesn’t get us to think differently. It’s the dramatic change that does. Share on X That’s because it’s following the phased approach that you’re talking about. Is that right?
Yes, you can automate it where you need to. I can tie in machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to suss out better prospects versus not and follow-ups and you keep it simple. People tend to pay for 80% of the features that they don’t use.
Simplicity is so important because the more complex it gets, the more we tend to procrastinate or end up in perfectionism. It helps us to keep moving, to create that traction and to communicate it to others. If you have a complex process, how are you going to delegate that to somebody else? It’s going to be a lot more difficult. That’s why people hold onto things to, “It’s too complex.”
There’s another one that people do wrong and it is how they document processes. It’s a reverse for me, it’s our trademark POS process. It’s process optimization system because it’s a reverse thing. What a lot of people do is they will Screencast a process, send it to a VA somewhere, and say, “Do the process.” That’s a problem because most people are not efficiently relaying the processes in their head. They’ll leave out parts that they inherently know without even realizing it. The better way to do it is to take the Screencast, give it to the VA or whoever, anyone who’s never seen it, and say, “Watch the video and now you write the process. Further to that, don’t give it back to me. Give it to a third person who has never seen it before and have them run through the process.”
Ten times out of ten, that’s going to fail and it’s great because they’re going to get to step three and say, “I don’t understand how you got from here to four,” and then you fix it. What you end up with is a process that works at a tertiary level that is unbreakable. You could literally pull somebody off the street and have them go through that process without there being an error and then training costs go down, too. It’s a much better approach to it.
Some of the best businesses choose you, not the other way around. Share on X I believe in that wholeheartedly because I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs and business people who needed to optimize the way that they were doing things and delegate certain pieces. They didn’t want to hand over the process. They didn’t even know what the process was. I had somebody follow them, document the process, and ask them questions as they were going through. They didn’t have to do it, so they felt, “I don’t mind doing it as long as I don’t have to do it. Someone else will.” Then it needs to make sense to somebody who doesn’t do it on a day-to-day basis and see if it works by having them do it. That’s a brilliant, smart, practical, and pragmatic approach.
The thing that you said about asking somebody a question along the way, too, is a good one as well when you have something that’s very qualitative. Every business, whether it’s a founder, it’s usually the founder but not always, they’re somebody who knows how to pick a winner. I had this guy whom I was talking with. He was a lawyer. He said that the biggest challenge in their businesses is that his father, who’s the senior partner, is a huge bottleneck because all of the six junior partners have to have the senior partner review everything that they sent out. I said, “Have you ever documented the process for that?” He was like, “We have a whole process for how we do that.” I was like, “No, have you documented the process for his review?” He was like, “No, it’s all how he does it.” Watch him do it and ask him why he makes a change here or change there and then you have a process.
Some of the best processes are the processes in people’s heads. They’re experts in their space and all that experience is in there and they don’t know how to get it out. It is through those questions that people can ask that make them then think about it like, “What I’m doing is I’m looking at X, Y, and Z.” I know you’ve dedicated so many years to this topic and you’ve got some great books out there. You have a new book coming out. Can you tell us about it?
It’s called The Replaceable Founder. It’s my ninth book and the focus here is on business growth. When Less Doing started, it was around personal productivity and their nine fundamental system, which is what the first two books were based on. I parlayed that into nine fundamentals for growing a business, broken down into three main areas of communication, project management, and processes. I’ve taught it as our course and we’ve seen incredible results with the businesses that have gone through it. A lot of it is about removing bottlenecks. I’m always trying to help people be as replaceable as possible without replacing them.
Simplicity is so important because the more complex it gets, the more we tend to procrastinate. Share on X If you use that as a goal, you end up removing yourself as a liability from your company and everybody else. I had a team of seven people in my company and now I have three. Those four people replaced themselves and the other three replaced themselves and then took on bigger things. We’re always trying to make people irreplaceable as possible. One of the metrics that we look at with our business as well as our clients is something called Days to Departure. That’s how many days you notice you’d have to give before you could go on vacation. For me, it’s zero, which is great and it should never be more than three or four. The Replaceable Founder helps you to get out of your own way and let the natural growth that should be happening happen.
Where will the audience go to either reserve a copy or to get it when it’s available?
The best place is Less.Do/Penny. We have this blueprint that they can download but they can email us and people can find out first when it’s available. It should be available on Amazon.
You think differently. That is the way that people need to look at things. That’s a unique approach, the Days to Departure and the value that that brings is we all know when we go on vacation we get a lot more productive. You’re getting that vacation mindset, all of a sudden, to say no to a lot of things that aren’t important and so forth. The goal to replace yourself is so important. Very often I see as well that the business owners or people in key roles get caught up in the minutiae and things that they shouldn’t be caught up in. They’re the creative thinkers and they should be the ones that are troubleshooting, innovating, being free, and flexible.
They’re not able to be creative, free, and flexible when they’re in the minutiae then they see the same perspective as everyone else in the company. I know that they do this in the military. They teach that. I did a presentation workshop and they wanted me to integrate extreme ownership. In the military, they talk about how they do that, so that the leaders aren’t caught up in the minutiae and that they can see the project plan, the mission from a different perspective. In that way, they can identify where those bottlenecks are for instance and identify those things. That’s a super important point for all entrepreneurs and all businesspeople to set up the processes and organize themselves in such a way that they can replace themselves.
If you’re not replaceable, then you’re a liability. It’s that simple.
It’s one of those things that feels good and you feel like it’s making progress or that it’s making you more productive, but it’s not. How do we deal with those things where our brain tricks us and makes us think and feel good about it but at the same time, it’s creating more mistakes and counterproductive? It’s multitasking but it shows up in other areas in our life too. Where it feels good, so we do it and we think it’s the right thing, but it’s not bringing us closer to our goal. It’s like saying yes and getting into the minutiae and taking over somebody’s problem versus coaching them to solve it themselves.
It’s a constant struggle and it really is. I fall prey to it every now and then as well. No one’s perfect. The thing is to recognize that like having a 20/20 eyesight vision. A lot of people just do it and then move on from it and they wonder what happened. It is a classic overwhelm. We, as human beings, can handle a lot of crap being thrown at us, but we get on autopilot mode at some point. It’s like you hit your threshold then you’re like, “I’ll be dumping water on fire.” I’m not thinking about it, I’m going through the emotions and I’ll get it done eventually, but it’s never going to stop. I’ll never go to take that time to get out of the rut and figure it out. It’s making that habit, which is important. As far as multitasking, it doesn’t exist. Parallel tasking is something that I do believe in. Parallel tasking is where you flick the domino on several different things and let them go into motion not dependent on you and then you can go back to what you’re doing. It doesn’t take away your focus from what you’re doing and you can set things in motion.
That’s my favorite thing. I love to delegate something and then to know that progress is happening and I’m not doing it. It makes me feel so good. There are some sources that I use to make that happen. When I get a delivery, I’m super excited and proud of myself for putting it in motion. What are some of your favorite tools and resources? They’re going to get your new book and they’re going to get on your list. Give us a preview of some of the things that you would say if they didn’t have all of that information available to them. What are the two or three tools that you think could boost somebody?
The two top tools that I always recommend when I work with businesses, it comes up almost all the time. I talked to somebody from a political campaign, I’ve worked with the army, Trello and Intercom are the two game changers for me. Intercom turns company communications into a team sport.
Does that make it fun? Is that what that means?
It definitely makes it fun. There is no question. Trello, in my opinion, is the best project management tool there is. It’s so flexible. You can use it as a CRM, you can use it for the actual organization, for team project management, or personal task management. It’s pretty essential.
I am doing a new series with product reviews so that people can hear from people not from the company that’s producing the product but from people who are using the product and how they’re using it and what they’re getting out of that. How do you personally use Trello for instance? You say you use it for CRM. Give us some insight as to how that is set up and how you make that work?
I have three main Trello boards that I use. One is called Talk Tuesday. I do this thing every two weeks called Talk Tuesday, which is the newest productivity tips, articles, studies, and apps that I’ve found. All of that is automatically populated for me by a machine learning algorithm that I created from a service called MonkeyLearn, which is an amazing thing. MonkeyLearn basically will look at blog posts from 200 different websites as well as product hunt and a few other things and based on how I’ve taught it that I pick things that I think are interesting. It populates that Trello board with cards for each item. I can go in and I can move it to the good list or I can archive it. If I archive it, it goes back to the MonkeyLearn algorithm and teaches it further that this was a bad one. If I move it to the next list, it says that it’s a good one and it reinforces it that way.

TBT 44 | Doing Less

Doing Less: The optimize, automate, outsource methodology is really important. There’s an order to that that matters.

You’ve automated that process. You almost don’t even write your blog, you just teach it. You invest in the teaching of the learning system. It’s not that you don’t write it, you review it and then it goes up.
It’s something I do, like a webinar every two weeks. That’s where that material comes from. We have a team board that’s all of the tasks that we’re working on as a team. I can assign to different people. See where I’m the bottleneck, where I’m responsible for things or they are. I have a board that’s just for members of my mastermind coaching program I would call the Listing Leaders. It’s like a picture of each person in their profile. If they have been with the program for two months, they are labeled as one thing. If it’s four months, the labels automatically change. I can look at any given time and see who will my newbies are and who my old ones are.
What tools would you use to have them change labels and things like that?
Zapier is the glue that ties together all these other tools.
Do you work with an outsourced organization or do you work with somebody in your organization that creates zaps and every time you have a new automation that makes that work for you?
I’ve trained a couple people on my team that are good with that, but there’s also a service called Automation Agency that’s based out of Australia that is great. They are $249 a month for unlimited automation tasks. They’re pretty cool. They can do Zapier, they can do Infusionsoft, they can do any of those things but we do everything in-house now.
I was getting that because there are a lot of people who are on the call who go, “This stuff is great,” but the default in their mind goes, “I don’t have the time,” or “I don’t have the skills to learn this new tool and then create this integration.” I want to look for ways that they can challenge that thing in their head to say, “You can. There are services or there are people that you could go to that already have this expertise.” It’s an entrepreneur’s curse where we think we have to do everything and I say we because I’ve gotten caught up in that. I love to give things away when I can and that’s because I learned the hard way that I take too many things on and I still do from time to time.
I have to look at where can I find somebody that can do this for me, that can do this specialized thing. You’ve got this Automation Agency. Getting on Ari’s list is going to get you access. What they do is they open up his head and they use MonkeyLearning tool to put a node to your head into his head. That’s what it is if you’re in his mastermind is they node it directly from his head to your head.
I like to joke that I want to get to a point where my team just rolls me out when they need me and then puts me away.
If you’re not replaceable, then you’re a liability. Share on X Are there any last words of wisdom, advice or anything that you want to share with this audience before we before we sign out?
I would say that the optimize, automate, outsource methodology is important. There’s an order to that that matters. The reason that outsourcing is last is that it’s supposed to be. A lot of people make a mistake by outsourcing first, so they’ll be like, “I don’t want to do this. I’m going to hire someone to do it.” You take something that you don’t understand or you’re frustrated with it and give it to somebody who has less information, context, and training than you do and you expect this magical result. It’s the reason why most people have a bad experience with outsourcing. You have to start with optimization, looking at what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, intrinsically figuring out the inefficiencies and whatever process. Then automate what you can, which nowadays is almost everything. That’s when you look at giving it to some sort of outsource specialist or generalist. Keep that order in mind when you’re looking at your business challenges.
I was thinking about this when I forget what I was doing and I was thinking about, “Sometimes to solve a problem, I throw money at it.” That would be like outsourcing, “Throw money at it and I am bound to solve it.” We all know that doesn’t work. That’s why you making that point is critical. It’s optimizing at first, understanding where the bottlenecks are and then automating what you can and then at the last source, outsourcing it. The first step is never to throw money at it, it’s to understand it. Thank you so much, Ari. You are awesome. I appreciate you.
Thank you, Penny. It’s always a pleasure.
Thank you all for joining our show. I know that you got a lot of value out of the show. I want you to make sure that you get over to Ari’s site. It is Less.Do/Penny. Go there, sign up, get on his list, and look forward to his book, which is The Replaceable Founder. I’ll see you all in the next show.

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About Ari Meisel

TBT 44 | Doing LessAri is a best-selling author, productivity expert, CEO, real estate developer, green building consultant, and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business. Several years ago, Ari encountered and ultimately overcame severe personal roadblocks and that journey transformed his life. His discoveries about personal and professional productivity have improved the lives of thousands of individuals and businesses. His proprietary process, the Less Doing System, is the foundation of his company Less Doing which offers individuals and enterprises road-tested methods to optimize, automate, and outsource everything. The goal is to learn how to work smarter, instead of harder.

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