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Moving Past Procrastination Onto Being Productive with Mike Vardy
I’ve got Mike Vardy. Mike is a writer, a productivity strategist, and the Founder of the Productivityist. He served as the managing editor at Lifehack and contributed articles on productivity to various different platforms like SUCCESS magazine, The Next Web, Lifehacker, the Huffington Post and many more. Mike is also the author of several books including The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want. He’s the host of the popular podcast, The Productivityist Podcast, which has over three million downloads since it began running in August 2014. Without further ado, let’s let Mike tell you the rest. Mike, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Penny. I appreciate you having me on.
It’s my pleasure. I love talking to like-minded geeks talking about how to make things better, how to help people to be more efficient, effective, and ultimately happier and add more meaning in their life.
I’m a big believer that time management and productivity are about the marriage of intention and attention. Speed and all that stuff come later. I’m sure we’ll get into that as we go.
You said that you used to be a comedian. Does that mean that you’re not so funny and that you’re not a comedian anymore?
One would argue that I was never one in the first place. My wife would say that I shouldn’t have quit my day job. I started a new one. I left my job at Costco. I worked for Costco for over a decade. When I was working at Costco, I started to get into improv and sketch comedy. It’s something that I did back when I was in high school. I started to even branch out to stand-up, which is a whole other animal. I did that for a while, but living in Victoria, British Columbia, the comedy scene is not too ripe here. It’s a capital city, but it’s a capital city in Canada, so it’s not huge. Canadians generally are reserved. They’ll laugh and they’ll appreciate, but they’ll sit and appreciate. There are a lot of British elements to it. The response you would get is very varied. There will be instances where you thought a joke would land, and then later they come and be like, “That was great.” You’re like, “Why don’t you laugh and applaud at the time?”
The power of intention without attention is powerless. Click To Tweet Our comedy group got invited to the sketch conference. We went to Washington DC and did the DC Comedy Festival there. We used to do a sketch about the TV show 24 as the initial iteration of it. We called it Two Minutes and 40 Seconds. We did the entire first season of 24 in two minutes and 40 seconds with just the two of us. That frenetic pace with comedy, when you’re creating content, it’s a lot of hit and miss. If you ever watched Saturday Night Live, there are some sketches that are like, “That was so good.” Then there are others like, “Move on.” I did that for a while and ultimately, you have to pay the mortgage. I had my other job at Costco. I went down to part-time and I was working at the front door at that point. I was a Manager for a long time at Costco and moved my way down so I could focus on my creative work. I started to try to figure out how I can balance this comedy thing I wanted to do plus the Costco job that was paying the bills plus that I was married.
At this point, I’ve got a wife and we’re working on having a family. How do I balance all this stuff? I started to study productivity, particularly the work of Stephen Covey and David Allen and even Tony Robbins’ Time of Your Life. As someone who had a comedic background and a creative, I started to dig into that wholeheartedly, to the point where I was almost obsessive about it. It clicked one day when I was watching The Colbert Report. There’s so much productivity stuff out there to the point where it was being called productivity porn. There was just so much on how to be more productive. People are spending so much time learning how to be more productive that they weren’t actually being more productive. I thought, “What if I did to productivity what Colbert did to politics, like play this nutbar pundit. What if I did that?”
I started to do that. I created a website and a personality. It was just my name like Colbert did with his. It was Mike Vardy Eventual Productivity Experts. My thing was called eventualism. It was about doing things eventually and getting things done eventually. I’d say we’re procrastinators, but it’s crastinating. Crastinating is delaying, and I was a pro at crastinating. I’m a professional at delaying, which is always a good thing. I would try to spin it that way. I eventually wrote a blog about it and then I had a podcast. I was podcasting in the early days of podcasting when people didn’t know what it was. I would have Seth Godin on the show and I would do the thing that Colbert would do. He would interview someone and they would be the straight person and he would be the comedian. I interviewed David Allen who wrote Getting Things Done.
I ended up chatting with him and then after the fact, he said, “You know your stuff here.” I said, “To satirize, you have to know it. You can’t parody something that you don’t know.” His people then said, “We’d like you to write for the GTD Time.” I said, “Sure.” They said, “You need to be legitimate. Be entertaining and informative all at the same time, but don’t be this buffoon character.” I’m like, “Sure, I can do it.” That began the journey to doing what I’m doing now, which is becoming the very thing I was parodying. Initially, I was a productivity enthusiast because I was into it. Then I was a productivity specialist because I knew about all these different tools and I was able to help people use them. Now, I’ve got my own methodology that I teach and it’s called time crafting.
I’m more of a productivity strategist even to the point where I’m maybe a productivity philosopher to a certain degree. That’s where I’m at now. I run my site called Productivityist, I’ve written several books, I do workshops and talks. I have a podcast that’s no longer this comedy type I’ve done several over the years. Now, the Productivityist Podcast gets over three million downloads since we started in mid to late 2014. I finally was able to take my love of entertainment, because I do love speaking and I do love talking with you and things like that, and I was able to apply it in a way that I was able to earn a living and call my own shots, which is not something that you get to do very often.
Tell us more about time crafting now that you’ve given the history of how you moved into the different stages. What is time crafting about?
Time crafting is the culmination of studying a whole bunch of different productivity philosophies and methodologies over the years, and then figuring out what would work in my real life. I’m working with tons of clients over the years and figuring out what worked for them and combining it all. There’s a dash of Costco in there as well because I worked for Costco for ten years. You’ll learn how a successful business operates. Costco’s philosophy is not spoken. It’s an unspoken one, but they’re built on simplicity, flexibility and durability. If you ever go into a Costco, you know that you’re going to see pallets and steel and prices are printed on dot matrix printers. They don’t have a lot of stock but they have the right stock. You’re going there to buy three things and end up buying twenty because they’ve eliminated decision fatigue because they only carry a certain number of things. That informs time crafting. It’s the idea of simplifying your calendar and your to-do list in a way that allows you to craft your days, weeks, and month.
I’m a big believer in theming your time. For example, Wednesday is what I call my listening day. My overarching focus on Wednesday is to listen. Whether that’s listening to podcasts, whether that’s creating something for people to listen to, whether it’s sitting and having a coffee with a friend so that I can have some good listening time with them. That’s my personal theme for that day. I’ve taught others to pick something that’s maybe a little bit more focused for them because of their situation. What that does is instead of me going through my day and going, “What do I do next?” instead, I have a clear answer like, “What do I do next? What day is it? It is Wednesday. What’s my focus now? My focus is listening. Let me look at all the tasks that I’ve listed in my to-do list that are oriented or aligned with listening.” All of a sudden, instead of seeing 360 tasks that is my entire to-do list, I now see maybe 23.
It helps you to narrow down and focus. A lot of salespeople that I’ve interacted with, we work in that way. We might have certain days that are follow-up days. Thursdays are a great follow-up day. I never follow up on Friday because nobody wants to hear from you. That’s a great day to do your planning and so forth. It’s important that people make it easier for themselves with themes like that and topics of focus and structure. It’s the structure that we can add to our days and our planning that help makes it easier so we don’t have as many things to choose from.
The thing is frameworks foster freedom. If you put a framework in place, it gives you the ability to make some clear choices because you know what you’re working with. You brought a good example of the calling. You know that Friday is a terrible day to do follow-ups because half of the people are either done with their week and they don’t want to hear from you. They’re maybe not in the office or they’ve booked out early because of vacation time or it’s sometimes a holiday on Friday. When you’re theming your days and when I work with clients, it’s about working backward from your certainties. I know on Wednesday, nobody is home. My wife is an acupuncturist so she works all day on Wednesdays outside of the house. The kids aren’t home. There are very few school holidays on a Wednesday. It makes more sense to do these things on a Wednesday than on a Monday when the kids could be out of school and my wife’s home or on a weekend or anything like that. It’s about saying, “What do I know to be true or what do I believe to be true?” and then framing those themes around that.
People are spending so much time learning how to be more productive that they aren’t actually being more productive. Click To Tweet The other thing that I try to help people with, in this case, is themes are just one element. There’s also what I called mode-based work. It’s like, “It’s Wednesday and it’s listening day, but I’m a night owl.” When I wake up Wednesday morning, I know it’s listening day but I’m not ready to do this thing that I’m doing with you. Instead I’m like, “What mode am I am right now? I’m in low energy mode. Let me look at all the tasks that are listening, but that also are low energy.” Now I’ve gone from 36 down to four. It’s about narrowing your focus. When you work by modality instead of by project, it allows you to get in that state of flow where it’s like, “Let me do all the low energy tasks now. Let me do all the phone calls now. Let me do all the listening oriented stuff now so that later when I want to work by project, I can do that because I’ve gotten through that stuff.” It’s about operating as a human being would normally operate. That’s how our brains work as opposed to a machine or a robot where it’s like, “Go do this.” They’re able to switch a lot faster than the human mind can because we love to be in that state of flow.
It makes a lot of sense as opposed to fighting the current. If you’re in a low energy mode, then accept it and work on things that are low energy.
When you start to do that, then you’re going to be ready. Let’s say you’re a night owl. By the time you are ready to do those high energy tasks, you’ve not spent your energy on bigger tasks when you weren’t at your best. You’re crafting your time in a way that makes sense for you. Productivity is very subjective and it’s very personal. I don’t care whether you’re in a business environment or a personal environment like home, it’s personal. You can find a way to allow yourself to personalize your productivity in your workspace. If you work for a large corporation or a small corporation, you can find a way more often than not to do that in a way that’s almost invisible. That happens a lot. You could almost do it and you’re like, “I can’t believe Mike got all of his phone calls done. How did you do that?” I structured this part of the day to be phone calls.
I also do what I call horizontal themes. If you can’t theme a day or you need extra focus, then you could say, “I need to make phone calls every day. Between 9:00 and 10:00, I’m going to make phone calls.” I’m going to make this my communication time. If I run out of phone calls, then I don’t have a question about what I will do next. What I will do next is jump into the email and have email tell me what to do or I’ll go into Facebook and get pulled in different directions. Instead, I’ll say, “From 9:00 to 10:00 is communication. Phone falls into communication, email falls into communication. It’s 10:00. I’ve now done this. What do I do now? It is Wednesday. It’s listening day. Let’s get back into listening stuff.” It’s about creating these easier paths to follow.
It’s a way to look at things. Your method is like theming low energy. I always talk about knowing which energy you’re in at which part of the day and plan the tasks. Yours is also notice where you are and not just plan because that can change from day-to-day. You might have planned a high energy activity or a different type of theme. I like getting people to think about the way that they function in their day and work around that in understanding.
Those are qualitative. Energy is more of a qualitative thing. It ebbs and flows. I’ve had other clients that want to see numerical or quantitative results. I’ll say, “How long will it take you to these tasks?” They’ll use time-based. Instead of grouping their tasks by energy, they’ll say, “How many tasks do I have that will take me five minutes or less? How many tasks do I have that will take me fifteen minutes? How many of these will take me 30 minutes?” Let’s say their calendar is meeting, they meet a lot of people. Instead of that half hour block between meetings where they’ll go check email, which is what the default is for a lot of people, they’ll say, “I’ve got 30 minutes between these two meetings. Let me take a look at my list and see how many five minute tasks I have on my plate. There are 23 of them. Can I get six of these done before I go to my next meeting?” It’s a focus filter. My mantra is like, “Define your day, filter your focus.” By doing that, you’ll make every moment matter.
Let’s talk a little bit about getting the balance between urgency and importance. You could have those five-minute things. Maybe you’ve got 23 five-minute tasks, but the fact is that they’re not that important. What I find in talking to people is that they get stuck doing all those five-minute tasks and all the things that are urgent. They don’t get the time for those things that are important and that are strategic for them, that’s going to move them forward on important goals. Maybe it’s not important now so it gets pushed off. How do you address those types of issue in your model?
Theming helps with that. For example, I know that I need to produce podcasts every single week. By having a listening day, that places an entire day’s focus or overarching focus on that. It’s the same thing with my Tuesdays which are my looking days, which are video-oriented. Theming helps with that. I call this the Goldilocks factor. When you pick a theme, you don’t want it to be too hard. It means that it’s too narrow so that you run out of things to do. You don’t want it to be too soft. You don’t want to call it home mode necessarily or desk mode or office mode because those could be too wide and you’ve got too many things. You want that just right. For example, if you’ve got important things to do, you could have a mode called important mode that you block off during that time of day when you’re at your best. You can make that a consistent horizontal theme that says, “Between 9:00 and 11:00, I like to be in an important mode.” You tag those tasks accordingly like, “These are all my important things.” The calendar is the guidelines for the day, but the to-do list is the details of the day. If you say that this is an important mode, then the calendar triggers you, I call this like your CT scan calendar and to-do lists scan. You look at your calendar and you go, “It’s important mode time. Let me look at all the tasks I’ve tagged as important. Here they all are. Let’s dig into those.”
Intention plus attention equals productivity. Click To Tweet By doing that upfront, you’re trusting the person that set that up in the first place as opposed to you in the moment who might be dealing with too many emotions when it comes to your to-do list. That happens, too. We’re either too logical, which doesn’t work either like, “Today is Wednesday. I must do all listening tasks.” For example, my daughter is sick. I may not be doing a lot of audio recording because she could be coughing in the next room. It would not be logical for me to dive deeply into that in order to go into the room and say, “Stop coughing.” It’s not something that I can logistically do. Sometimes we get too emotional where it’s like, “The day is getting away from me.” You are a willing alien scattering all over the place. When you have these things, it gives you a reasonable approach like, “It’s my important mode time. Let me take a look at all the tasks I’ve tagged as important, which I’ve done leading up to this moment. Now that I’m in this moment, I’m not going to be swayed too much by the emotional impact of the day necessarily or try to get overly logical. I’m going to be fairly reasonable.” That’s one a way that I would do it.
When I work with people on this, not only do I say work backward from your certainties, but I also say, “What are the core elements of not just your work, but your home life as well? You want those to envelop both. When I’m done here, my day is still listening. My overarching theme for the day is still listening. I will be doing things like sitting down with my son and listen to how his day went. I will listen to an audiobook. You try to make them so that when you go home, your mindset doesn’t have to change too drastically. It’s not that you’re going to necessarily go in and dig deep in your to-do list either. You want to have that like, “What day is it? It’s Wednesday. Let’s listen to this audible book that I haven’t listened to or let’s listen to my wife or my partner to what she has going on or whatever. It creates simple and durable boundaries and waypoints for you to look at. If you’ve got this urgent stuff, you could set aside time for that like, “First thing in the morning, I want to deal with that or before the end of the day.”
I’ve had people on Friday. I’ve had some clients that call that their triage day. They label all of these urgent tasks with the tag triage or whatever that means to them and then they drill through those. For some of them, they get them done by 2:00 PM and they’re like, “I’m done for the day and that’s it.” They can shift focus back to maybe a horizontal theme they have there or they can just call it a day. It’s more like these anchors that you can look to so that you give your brain a break and your brain is not struggling to try to remember or analyze. Instead, they can focus on executing and using its real power for that deep work and that critical thinking that only you can do.
Bringing it back to what you said around Costco, which is those frameworks and using a system like this. A lot of systems provide that structure and that framework that gives you that simplicity, the flexibility and the durability. There you are back to Costco.
The other thing that is a missing and undervalued piece is the celebration component of the day. You can capture all the tasks, you can connect with them, and then you can curate them. The one thing we don’t do is the journal or chronicle of how the day went. All we have is a record of what was in our to-do list, which is a bunch of checkboxes largely or the calendar which says, “I went to the doctor,” but you don’t say how you felt when you went to the doctor. There’s a reason that there’s a tool out there called The Five Minute Journal. It takes five minutes. It can take even less. James Clear was on my podcast and he said that he was struggling with journaling and all he does is a one-sentence journal. The question for you if you want to start this is what was today’s theme? It was listening. Did I do a lot of listening? Yes or no. It doesn’t have to be an essay. It doesn’t have to be like, “Here’s a report of what I did.” It just has to be something that you can look back to later or feel that you’re closing out your day. That way, there’s this form of celebration and acknowledgment that the day has come to an end, here’s what happened, then you can move forward with tomorrow.
The benefits of that towards your productivity and the impact it can have is often not understood in this day and age. You got guys like Ben Franklin and you hear people that journal now. Their success levels largely tout it because they’re like, “I’m able to sit down and figure out what went wrong, what went right, and then move forward.” If you’re not journaling in some way, shape or form already, take anywhere from two to five minutes to do it at the end of the day or even at the start of the day. In that way, you can have some context and some understanding of the shape of your day. In that way, you can make sure that you’re crafting your future days in a way that works for you.
The term balance implies that even the slightest imperfection puts you off balance. Click To Tweet Celebrating wins was a huge breakthrough for me because I love action. Instead of appreciating what I did do, I was so focused on what I didn’t do and what still had to be done. It leaves you flat at the end of the day or at the end of the week. It was a huge boost for me emotionally at the end of every day to tally some of the wins because some of the wins aren’t even on the to-do list, things that happened that you want to take stock of and to recognize. You said to take a step back and review what worked and what didn’t work. You can’t adapt if you’re not clear on what’s working and what’s not working. I can attest to that as well. That was a big thing for me that I started a breakthrough for my productivity. I don’t know what you think about this, but productivity in some aspects is a feeling.
That’s why I say it’s intention plus attention. What is your intention? How are you going to pay attention to it? If you put those two things together, that’s productivity. Speed, efficiency and effectiveness, you could be doing the wrong things fast. You could be doing the wrong things effectively. Like the book, The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer, intention is very powerful, but without attention, it’s powerless. Attention without intention is aimless. A lot of people will pay attention to their email inbox, which may not house any of their intentions. Because it’s the thing that grabs their attention, they’ll spend a lot of time there and now they’re wondering like, “What do I do? How did the day go by?” By the same token, if you say, “I want to write this book or I want to produce this podcast or I want to close this sale,” but you don’t have a way of constantly being able to nurture that and pay attention to it, then it’s powerless. There’s this quote by Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
This is not just about the way of operating at work. This should be about a way of operating altogether. I’m not a huge believer in work-life balance. It’s more like work-life harmony at this point. We’ve become connected to a lot of these things. The term balance implies that even the slightest imperfection puts you off balance. Harmony is like you’re looking at a table that you’ve set and it’s the right amount of stuff. If you start adding too many things to it, you can still rearrange it to make it look harmonious so it never gets out of balance. That is something that you need to take into account. I don’t like work-life integration either because that indicates that they’re one and the same, and I don’t believe that either. There’s got to be some harmony between them. Journaling and the chronicling and the celebrating allow not just maybe understand it but also embrace it a little bit more so that way you don’t feel like, “The workday suck.” It’s like, “I came home from school and I got a hug from my kid. This is the reason why I go to the office every day.” It changes your perspective.
It helps you to create that harmony. You said that you might also be moving from strategist to philosopher. I feel that way, too. When I described focus, I do it the same way. I say there are three parts. Two of the parts are intention and attention. I loved chatting with you and we could chat all day. People are also on their way to whatever they’re doing. I want them to take away a couple of nuggets and not overwhelm them with too many things at once. Let’s tell people where they can capture more information about you and find out about your time crafting. You said you had something on your website that people could download and get a little bit more detail.
I appreciate the fact that there’s a lot that you can take in when we started to talk about this stuff. You can go to this URL and bookmark it, Productivityist.com/TakeBackTime. All the stuff you need is going to be there. You can go there at your leisure and visit time and time again and go back and read to this episode again if you’re like, “I missed that,” or “I need to drive this point home.” We’re trying to change your mindset. It does take some doing.
Maybe they just want to come back and read because we’re so cool.
How often does a standup comedian get to do an encore? Not very often. That’s the other reason why I do what I do.
Thank you so much for being here. You’ve brought a great way of thinking and also a clear practical process for people to be able to follow and implement right away. Thank you so much, Mike.
Thank you so much for having me, Penny. I appreciate it.
Thank you all for being here because without you, we wouldn’t have a show. Thanks for being here and taking away these nuggets. We’ll see you in the next episode.
- The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want
- The Productivityist Podcast
- Time of Your Life
- Getting Things Done
- The Power of Intention
About Mike Vardy
He has delivered talks on the topic of task and time management at events like New Media Expo, Social Media Camp, TEDx Victoria, South By Southwest, and the World Domination Summit. He has taught productivity practices on popular online education platforms CreativeLIve and Skillshare, where his courses are among the most popular in the business category.
Mike lives in Victoria, BC, Canada with his incredible wife, daughter, and son.