Dave Schwartz, at a young age, was able to create something from two things he enjoyed the most, horse racing and computers, but he had to work 70 hours a week for it. In this episode, Dave joins Penny Zenker as he talks about discovering productivity by killing perfection. Learn Dave’s definition of a win and the ratio you should create for yourself to determine what is a win. Dave dives into some of the rules he follows to produce productive work and how he created the structure and system that allowed him to move from 70 to a 20-hour workweek.
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Discovering Productivity: An Unorthodox Perspective With Dave Schwartz
I am excited to bring you different ways of thinking, different perspectives on how to take back time because it’s not just what you do with your time. It’s how you show up for your time and it’s about thinking and acting more strategically. In doing so, it gets outside of our box. This episode, I’m excited to have Dave Schwartz with us. He is going to give us an unorthodox perspective, and I say unorthodox because, from a young age, he combined the two things that he loved, which was computers and horse racing. Imagine that. He created a 30-year business that’s been an internet business before the internet even began. We’ve got a lot of knowledge and insight. He has a super passion for productivity. Dave, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Penny. I’m thrilled to be here.
You said something about being unbelievably organized. Tell me what you said and what you mean by that.
When I started in business 30 years ago, I produced a piece of software. It was overnight and successful, relatively speaking to where I had been before. About fifteen years in, I realized I was spending 70 hours a week maintaining the software and servicing customers. One time, I had an office with a staff. I have a virtual staff now, but my point was 70 hours a week of work is not what one calls having a good family life.
You bit off a little more than you could chew is what you’re saying?
You can do it for a while, but it’s not what you want for a lifestyle. I remarried and at about six months in, my wife says, “You’re working in all hours of the night. Don’t you think you want to join the family?”
That’s a wake-up call. You don’t want to be divorced a second time so you better.
The funny thing was, I was so much better because I always lived this life that work was the whole center of the universe.
Being a programmer means never having to say you're finished. Click To Tweet There are a lot of entrepreneurs that can relate to that because our sense of urgency is like a curse and a gift at the same time. It keeps us working all the time because of the impact that we want to create, because of the freedom that we’re searching for so many different reasons. I can relate to you because I was in technology as well before this life. I didn’t like to leave things undone. That was the worst thing for me as a product developer at the time, because I couldn’t put it down until it was done. A lot of people can relate to that. We’re interested in hearing how and what you do now to get away from that challenge.
First of all, there’s a saying among programmers that being a programmer means never having to say you’re finished. It goes on and on. I woke up with this wonderful woman who said, “This is not how we raise a family.” There wasn’t strife, but she was right so I started to work more on a schedule. At first, I was completely out of my element. Most programmer types, we crave structure in our life. Organization’s not only in our code, but in what happens in our day. For me, the first thing I did was I still work 70 hours a week, but they were more humane hours. I discovered productivity then.
Didn’t you already discover that a little bit?
Did you dip your toe in?
As a programmer, processes are part of the system. The thing is, I took that part of productivity for granted because I’d been doing it for so long, even in the early years.
A lot of people who are reading don’t have that. They’re not in programming that’s why I’m pointing that out. Is that an important part of productivity? For people who are reading, start there, especially for people who are working from home who aren’t used to working at home. Adding structure to your day, starting and ending at certain times or having certain work hours is a big part of productivity. You might have taken that for granted as a first step, but for people who are not used to that or even creative thinkers, the structure is supportive and it doesn’t limit but will open up opportunity.
It’s interesting that you bring this up because, forgive me, but I didn’t know who you were, then I ran across your book and your TEDx Talk. I listened to some of your podcasts and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Where has this woman been?” You bring up a good point because as a programmer, or whatever it is that we do, everybody has things that they do that they take for granted. For example, when my wife and I first got married, we had a business struggle going on. Somebody had replaced our computers and they weren’t working. I was screaming into the phone. After we were done, he’s going to come over and fix them and I slammed the phone down. Because of my wife Beth’s experience with her ex-husband, she thought, “The monitors are going to fly through the windows.” I said, “Let’s go to dinner,” very calmly and she was shocked. The point is there’s one thing that a programmer learns, nothing ever works the first time.
It doesn’t work according to the instructions that you read that tell you this is the way it’s supposed to work.
My hero, for those of you old enough to remember, is Wile E. Coyote, the guy who’s always chasing the Roadrunner. He shouldn’t be the patron saint of programmers because nothing ever works, but he never stops trying. I started to deconstruct productivity. Until this moment, I never realized the structure was given to me. That’s the impact when you’re exposed to people to know what they’re talking about. Suddenly you say, “I got that.” The most important thing is if you’re working 70 hours a week, you don’t have a business. You have a job. A big week for me would be 25 hours. If you’re a productivity person, I’m assuming people have read your book. The one that gets quoted to me a lot is Getting Things Done. It’s a great book. It puts things in perspective and you feel good, like you’re relieved, but it doesn’t solve the problem of getting things done. It just lets you feel better.
It creates an organization, a process.
A structure, exactly. That’s the way I see it. I think several things are really important and the most important of all of them is you got to kill perfection.
That’s why in my book, I talk about the productivity curve and I talked about outside of the zone is perfectionism and procrastination.
I was pathological about it. First of all, I’m a visual person. I have to have a printed version of what the day looks like.
Isn’t that a little bit of perfection?
Everybody has things that they do that they take for granted. Click To Tweet If you need to have an exact layout of what your day looks like, that sets you up for, “If it doesn’t look like that.”
You’re right and that’s why I don’t plan. I don’t do appointments, but I have things that need to get done. It’s on my whiteboard right in front of me. Here’s the key thing. I forced myself to deal with an intentional misspelling of the day, of the week on the page that I printed.
You print Monday incorrectly so that you give yourself permission not to be perfect?
It tortured me. I thought I was OCD.
I purposely misspell things in my emails so that I can accept my imperfection and everyone else can accept my imperfection.
Killing perfection. First of all, I’m sure if you’re old enough, you know who Dan Kennedy is. I know Dan Kennedy’s stuff so well I can channel him when I need to in a whiteboard session. He said, “At some point, you have to be happy with 83% of perfect. If somebody else is doing it for you, you need to be happy with 70% which gradually improves up to about 80% as they learn what you want and what you demand.” I glommed on to something really interesting. Imagine that you’re somebody who says, “I’m going to the gym this week. I’m going to go six days a week to the gym.” At the end of the week, you found that you went for five days.
Do you know how many people would say this week was a failure? They go Monday, Tuesday, miss Wednesday, and they say, “That’s it. I’ve blown it. I’ll start next Monday.” The first thing I took is if you went five days out of six, you need to call this a win. In fact, you need to applaud yourself and then I thought, “A lot of people would only go to the gym five days anyway,” and I lowered it to 4 out of 5. The point is to ask yourself, “Here’s this task, this commitment that I’ve made that I’m going to do,” and if I only did 4 out of 5, 6 out of 10, 2 out of 3, whatever the ratio is that you think is high enough, you set that as the definition of a win. We’re so hard on ourselves, aren’t we?
You’re saying that we can have the win and then we can have over and above the win?
We have an area of celebration. The win is like the minimum because I always talk about kill perfection. Progress is perfection. That means that if we did better than we did last week, if we learn something that we can improve, if we can stop for a moment to celebrate progress, then we’re going to create traction. We’re going to continually add to it versus become a series of quitting.
If you care about what you’re creating, the perfectionist in us naturally keeps bubbling to the top. A win is okay. You strive for more than win and I suggest, “No you don’t.” I’ve got a set of rules that build my productivity to the level that it is and I’m going to give you a number. I produce at a level of 3.5x than what I used to produce at. I have this system and it is not for sale yet, but it’s the new business I’m going to go into. I have a daughter who is a braillist by trade. She does contract braille for colleges, universities, high schools, etc. I taught her the system. We met twice a week for 8 or 10 weeks and at the end of six months, honestly, I will say I forgot about it.
She was out there doing her thing. She says, “Dad, I’d like to share with you what I’ve done.” I said, “Okay.” She said, “When I started, I was making $22 an hour. Now, I make $72 an hour.” I have not changed my pricing. I have the same customers. I’m simply producing faster. That’s real productivity. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish. First rule, a week is Monday through Friday. Never schedule work on the weekends. When I say this, people say, “You have to work.” I didn’t say you couldn’t work on the weekend I said, “Never schedule it.”
Don’t set any expectations that you’re going to do that and it gives you more flexibility.
If you don’t get work done during the week, forget it. Add it when you make next week’s plan, which is done on Friday. For me, it’s Friday at noon because I’m done Friday at noon. It becomes part of next week’s plan. Part-time people, people who are doing a business who got a day job, they’re going to have a different situation, but the key point is you must have two consecutive days that are unscheduled. This is very important. About this business of, “If it didn’t get done this week, it becomes part of next week,” there are two ways of looking at this. “I have to work this weekend to catch up,” versus, “If I choose to work this weekend. I’ll be ahead of next week.” It’s a mindset. I know you’re interchanging frameworks. I use the word reframe.
Framework just means a structure. Framework is structured to work within. That’s all that is. I also believe about reframing. It’s what you focus on. In my TEDx, one of the main things that I talked about is reframing.
Reframing is important. Ask yourself this, which would you rather look at the coming weekend with? Would you rather say, “I’ve got so much work to do this weekend,” or, “If I choose to work this weekend, then I’m going to be ahead of next week?” One is extra credit and the other one feels like a penalty.
Nothing ever works the first time. Click To Tweet I’m in total agreement that you should have that time to decide. I also believe that you need to take a break and that working through the weekend is also going to put you even further behind because you’re chasing it as opposed to thinking and acting smarter. You’re busy. You’re all over the place. I agree that that’ll give you also some distance to plan and see what needs to be done and not waste your time on a bunch of stuff that probably doesn’t need to be done.
The other thing that comes from this, for example, once you train yourself of this, I don’t work every weekend, but usually by Sunday afternoon, I’m so hungry to get a jumpstart. My target is twenty hours a week. That’s about what I want to work. Never do I schedule more than four hours of work. I’m talking productive work. The absolute maximum would be six hours in a day and I do it in terms of time blocks. People may say, “You’re lollygagging about there.” On Monday, I started my 33rd book. It went to the printer on Friday. That’s the kind of stuff that when you reframe this, you start to discover what’s been underneath all along if you give yourself a chance and you hone the system.
Another thing that ties into this as the Seinfeld calendar. The story is that Seinfeld was struggling like writers do. He was struggling with writing so he committed to getting up every single day and writing. I believe it was for an hour, but I don’t know. He just said write every day. He’d mark on his calendar with the next. After 864 days, or whatever it is, that calendar has become the most important thing in his life. That’s not what I want. I want to live a life that is not based on something on the wall determining whether or not something is important. I want my children, my family, my life to be important as opposed to X marks on a calendar. One of the important things is to learn how to stop being perfect, like the Monday thing. Also, if you’ve gone to the gym six days in a row for consecutive weeks, don’t allow yourself to go six days. All you’re doing is you’re encouraging perfection. Eventually, it gets back to that pride you take in. “I’ve done 47 days in a row at the gym.” You’re still buying back into perfection. It hurts you.
I would beg to differ in some of those things. I think that it depends on your mindset around it. Are you beating yourself up if you don’t go? If it supports you, puts you in the right mindset and you want to go every day because it is a positive routine that gives you positive results, then I would say you’re not a slave to it. You’re doing it because it makes sense for you. What I hear you saying is don’t be a slave to a habit that’s not supporting you.
A better way to say it is my personality type. I contend that there’s a lot of people with a similar personality type. We tend to glom on to perfection and suddenly it becomes the thing that’s important to us.
We beat ourselves up if we don’t meet that, then that in itself is part of the struggle with perfectionism.
Overwhelm was always a big problem for me. In fact, I gave it a name. I call it parked car syndrome. What that means is I have so much to do that I’m paralyzed.
How do you deal with that?
Overwhelm is caused by not how much we have to do. We think it is, but the truth is, it’s because we have developed our own personal culture of 0 to 60. We get the car out on the road and we are pedal to the metal and we’re going 60 miles an hour, then something happens and we suddenly park the car. Now we’re going zero again. There’re two things that we need to come out of that. The first one is we need a process for getting our car back on the road quickly. Because if we are prone to overwhelm, it’s part of who we are. We need to forgive ourselves for that accept it.
I have a lifetime behind me of 10, 20 and 30-day programs. Many of them went great. What happens after I’ve been producing for 30 days? I’m cranking along and I keep going, then it’s 45 days, 58 days, and then I crash and mentally I say, “I failed again.” We wind up building our own culture of failure. For me, this was huge. The two things we need one is a process. First of all, we have to accept the fact that this is who we are. It’s not going to go away. We don’t want them to happen as often and that’s about throttling the car, the metaphor being of the car’s speed is our productivity. The first thing we need is we want to spread that out and the second thing is that when we do park the car, we want to get it back on the road as quickly as possible. Those are two different processes. There’s the throttling process and there is the process of restarting.
We’re giving people the high-level because then they’re going to join your Facebook group, which you’re going to be teaching some of these concepts.
This is a great time to be teaching and giving for free. One more thing, which is critical is, work blocks are events. When you were in school, maybe you played sports or maybe you were a thespian. The point is, there’s practice, games, rehearsals and opening night. A work block is a game or an opening night. Think of how you felt before a game or before a performance. You had butterflies. It was important to you. It mattered. That’s the state you need to be in when you sit down to work.
You said you’re visual. Do you use some picture or visual that gets you in that state?
Every morning, people in the high-tech world have a tendency to be aware of what’s called the morning stand up. For those people who don’t know, in the morning stand up, the leader of the company, organization, team or whatever stands up. I got a couple of consulting gigs where the entire company would be present in an auditorium. It was important that everybody was standing. One by one, the boss would simply go to each of the department heads. It was like, “What is the status of what you’re doing? Is it a green light, a yellow light or a red light? Give me a sentence or two to tell me where you stand.” Within 15 to 20 minutes, you’ve gone through the whole day the status of the whole company.
On my whiteboard, it says Monday stand up. Monday is misspelled and it says Penny podcast with two blocks next to it. That’s an hour. Building content for 1,000 True Fans, that’s six blocks. That’s my day. It’s not usually that simple. Usually, it’s a little more specific, but that stare me in the face. Those are events. When I sit down to work or when I’m talking to you here, my phone’s not ringing. If it did ring, I wouldn’t answer. In fact, it’s draped with a cloth so that I can’t see who’s calling. I don’t look over there and say, “I wonder who that is?” because it breaks my focus. Pomodoro is a wonderful thing, but everything needs to be tweaked.
It’s a technique. It’s where time blocking, at least to my knowledge, started. Pomodoro Technique is 25-minute segments to stay focused and then to take a break in the midst to be tracking distraction. Anybody can take a look at that. You can make it 25 minutes, 45 minutes. The key to what you’re saying is to plan out your time and to block and schedule what you’re going to be doing with that time. What’s the schedule? Stephen Covey said, “Schedule your priorities.” This helps you. It’s a method to schedule your priorities. Is there anything else that you want to share with or do you want to summarize those rules for the group?
One of the important things is to learn how to stop being perfect. Click To Tweet The key point is, you need some time off. Schedule time off. Monday through Friday thing. If you’re doing this part-time and you want to start this business and you’re trying to get it going, you figure you got twelve hours. Twelve good hours, I can put it in a week. That’s great. Never schedule more than half. What we’re doing is creating an environment that will lead you to feel successful.
Also, provide enough flexibility to move what needs to be moved. People need to set realistic expectations of what they can accomplish in a particular period of time. To highlight what you said about overwhelm, I always say this as well. Overloaded and overwhelmed are two different things. You need to deal with them separately, just like you talked about the parked car. If you’ve got too much stuff in your car that’s weighing your car down, while you’re going, you’re going to need to throw a few things out the window or stop, drop them off and get back on the road. Using your analogy, they’re two different things. That’s what I hear you saying in this is that flexibility, giving yourself that that space. If you only book half of your time, you’re not going to be overloaded because you’re giving yourself that flexibility. That’s the biggest thing that people do is they over commit. That’s an important tip to use that as a rule of thumb.
Make sure it’s sustainable.
Thank you so much, Dave, for being here and sharing your rules and your insight. Join Dave in his Facebook group where he’s going to be sharing some of these principles and more for free to support you in your business.
Thank you for having me. This was very exciting for me.
Thank you all for being here. I know that there’s a nugget or two that you’ve taken away that’s going to make a difference for you and that’s all that matters. You don’t need to take away ten from each show every week. If you take one nugget and you put it into practice week after week, that’s huge. Whatever you took from this episode is what you needed. Thanks for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About David Schwartz
I was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and grew up in Hollywood, just a few miles from Gulfstream Park and even closer to Calder. The South Florida of the 1960s was full of gambling in spite of the many blue laws still in effect back then. My father once owned a gambling house in Niagara Falls and was a very savvy gambler. His belief was that all males will eventually be introduced to gambling in one form or another and that it was better to win than to lose. Therefore, he set out to arm me with as much gambling knowledge as possible. I like to say that I was raised with a pair of dice in one hand and a deck of cards in the other.
I was a precocious child. It is probably safe to say that I was the only child in my 3rd grade class that could explain why there was only one way to win a hard eight and ten ways to lose or that the house advantage on roulette was 5.26%. Although teaching a young child how to gamble is not something I agree with, it certainly armed me with a different perspective on life.
When I was nine, a friend of my father’s came to visit. He asked, “Can the kid deal? I said, Sure! and proceeded to illustrate by dealing cards around the table much as any nine-year old would do.
“He’s got the cards in the wrong hand!” says the friend. No, this is the way I do it, I replied.
My father told me to put the deck into the other hand and never deal right-handed again. Seven years later, when I was working my way through high school dealing blackjack at an illegal casino in Miami, I would come to understand that it is a big advantage for a blackjack dealer to be left-handed because it was easier to see the top card (before it is dealt).
Mine was not a normal childhood.
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