Productivity is not a measure of how much you get done, but of how much of what you get done adds value to your long-term goals. Boosting productivity, therefore, is a matter of making better decisions about which of the tasks you have at hand are critical and which are only wasting your precious time. It only takes two seconds of your time to evaluate whether something you’re working on adds value to you long-term goals or not. This is something that productivity, time management and decision-making expert Maxim Dsouza elaborates in his book, “The Magic of 2 Seconds.” Listen as he shares his personal take on productivity and time management with his kindred soul, Penny Zenker. Also, learn how something called “partial time blocking” helps Maxim take control of his time more flexibly.
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The Magic Of 2 Seconds: Boosting Productivity By Making Better Decisions With Maxim Dsouza
On this show, I seek out people who are in the productivity profession, coaches, speakers, entrepreneurs and sometimes an enthusiast. People who are interested in entrepreneurial, have been an entrepreneur, have made their own mistakes, have come back through those mistakes and learned. I’m excited to have Maxim Dsouza with us because he is a productivity enthusiast. We’re going to dig in and understand why productivity is important because you’re reading as a guest because you want to be more productive. You want to work smarter. The only way we can do that is to learn from others and build those best practices. It doesn’t matter where you go or who you talk to. You’re going to find the ability to learn from someone else’s experience. You have to be open to that. Once you open up your thinking cap and welcome Maxim with us.
Thanks for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Tell us a little bit about your journey and why productivity is something that you’re fascinated about?
To begin with, I started my career in IT and I’m still in IT. I worked for a couple of years as a programmer and I ran a tech startup for many years. We went into developing web applications and we also had a couple of products of armor. For example, one of the products that we had back in India was a product like Yelp, which you have in the US but not limited to restaurants and services at all. We wanted to be a portal where you could have data of any brand at one place. That was one of the products that we developed. It was a rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs. We had a few successes but primarily overall, the business was a failure. We didn’t manage to achieve the level of success that we intended to.
I don’t like when people use the word failure. I want to reframe that for readers because I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve had businesses that didn’t work out. I had a franchise for a kids’ play park and it didn’t work out but I guarantee you, you learned a ton. There’s no failure, only feedback. That it’s for the next venture that you might take and what you might be able to do with that because of the lessons that you learned. I want to come back to those lessons. You had your first go at it. You had some successes but it didn’t work out the way that you wanted it to. Let’s talk about it here. What did you learn from that experience?
I feel that since my entrepreneurship experience as we changed as a person itself. In terms of running businesses, there was a lot to learn, which I won’t get into the details of because I think that’s something that you learned when you’re running a business. Because of the challenges in terms of hiring, running operations, there are finances, people management, there are many things to do. After all this, you have to get the business running. That’s a big part of your job. That’s one. All of those areas have learned a lot. One of the things that I’ve learned over that experience which helps me is how to deal with people. It is not just at work.
It is even in terms of your personal lives. How do you make sure the other person understands your view? How do you talk to people so that you are completely listening and being attentive to what the other person’s interests are? This journey especially because it was bold and tough, it has taught me a lot of patience. I was a person who was restless. I wouldn’t say I was shocked and quiet but I was quick to react. Over time, by going through the journey that I’ve been through, I’m calm and patient even before reacting to something. I understand that I shouldn’t be spontaneous. The more time I take to react, the better my reaction will be. That is, I feel the biggest lesson that I’ve learned all my entrepreneurship journey and part of IT, leadership, people management and operations that is something that has been a big contribution as well.
It’s interesting because, as entrepreneurs, we’ve got this sense of urgency, which is like a gift and a curse at the same time. Taking that energy that seems like, “I’ve got to get this done and everything’s highest priority,” how do you think developing that patience and taking a moment to step back into evaluating something before you take action. How has that made you more productive?
Before you begin a task, take two seconds to ask whether it is going to help with your long term goals. If not, find a better time to do it. Click To Tweet What it helps on is in decision-making primarily. I was touched by that experience or the amount of learning from that experience is what I’ve written a book about. It’s called The Magic of 2 Seconds. Do I write primarily about productivity and time management? One of the core areas that I write on my blog is also about decision-making. This is not about making big decisions that are changing your career or you’re finding the best of hostility to invent. I talk about little decisions, which is what to do on a daily basis. For example, if you take two seconds to evaluate the tasks that you’re working on, is it adding value to your long-term goals or not? Too often what we get caught up like you said entrepreneurs are anybody who was keen about his career success. You want to get things done like one or the other.
If you do get a lot done but finally that contribute to nothing, but maybe to something which we don’t care about. It might be some reports that they generate on a daily basis. They’re doing it because of a force of habit but we don’t take the time to think if this report is bringing any actionable value or not? If you take that two seconds to ask yourself before you begin a task, “Is this going to help my long-term goals?” If yes, do it. If not, “Can I find a better time to do it?” We cannot skip every task that is coming our way because sometimes we do have to get things done. Finding the right time to do the right task is something that patience and taking that little two seconds of mindfulness will help you.
Maybe two seconds is a little bit short but a minute to ask yourself, “Is this the highest and best use of my time? Is this going to add to my long-term goals?” Whatever quality question focuses you on what’s the 20%, the most important thing that’s going to get you 80% of the results? I talk a lot about how people show up for their time. Even if you have to do or that is the most important thing that you’re going to work on, how can you do it most effectively?
If in that 60 seconds, you get clear on what you’re going to accomplish in that block of time and be a little bit more directed, it’s going to give you greater attention at the moment, have you more focused and clear about what it is that you’re going to achieve. The way that you’re going to show up for that block of time is going to be way more effective and powerful by taking that initial 60 seconds. You talked about your blog. You’re a big blogger. What’s your favorite thing to write about, your biggest tip that you love to share?
I normally write tips around productivity and time management. One of my favorite tips is not to look for productivity tips as generic advice because that’s what normally people do. Let’s say somebody is suffering about not being able to get things done, they like to go and look up, “What are the ten productivity tips that I can implement and get started now?” Productivity is what I feel getting things done, which you care about faster and more efficiently. To do that, you have to be aware of what your problems are. For example, I might have a different problem, like I said, my brilliant problem was I used to get a lot of things down. I had no problem with motivation. I was not somebody who was lazy.
I used to keep doing things. That would contribute to that thing. What I now do is try to make sure I’m more aware of what I’m doing. My problem was completely different. Somebody has a problem, it might be different. They might have a lot of time but they might not have the idea of mapping to the real ones. To somebody, it might be a distraction. I fall asleep and somebody is screaming behind my back. That is my problem. If you have to find what works for you, you have to identify a problem and find a solution for it, then finding the ten best productivity tips to follow. Not everything works for everybody. Everybody’s unique. Everybody has their own style of working. Everybody has their own obstacles to overcome.
That’s not the only thing I write about but that is something that I try to advocate. Most of the articles that I write do that investigate and stuff. I tried to put in questions for people to ask themselves, “Is this a problem?” If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that you are not productive. It is something that is not your problem and something that doesn’t suit your style. Try to find something which works for you and try to overcome the problem that you have and get things done. It’s mandatory.
What’s the challenge that you’re working through in your area of productivity?
I still have a problem with going about a task for too long. Let’s say I’m caught up on a task or I’m interested in doing it. Let’s say I’m writing my blog posts. I have other things to do, which is important as well but I’m in the flow that I’m supposed to have finished this by an hour and it has some of the alarm and I’m still going about it because I want to get it done. This is something that I’m trying to work on and something that has helped me is time blocking. This is a concept that I’m sure anybody who is into time management would refer to. I modified every technique that I read about and tried to implement it for myself. For example, time blocking seems overwhelming for a lot of people. That is because the moment you read through it, the guide normally says that, “Don’t go schedule your entire calendar by blocks of 30 minutes around that.”
It becomes difficult for most people to implement that. What I implement is something which is the partial time blocking. I don’t block my whole day by slots. I have specific blocks that I block through the day, which is only a few early. For example, when I start my day, I spend one hour on writing and an extra one hour learning something. This is about blogging or writing. That’s two hours done. Those are my time blocks. Beyond that, I don’t have a block for the next three hours. That is when I check email, get some work done, get some things done and then I have blocks again. That enforces me to fix the problem of going about a task too long.
It doesn’t get overwhelming as well because I’m not fixed on my entire schedule. It gets too much. You feel like, “Let me push one, start one other.” It doesn’t seem to align when it’s done to the day. That’s what has helped me. If people are overwhelmed with time blocking, I would recommend people to start with a couple of blocks a day, get started, make sure you follow them and then build another block when you get comfortable. Don’t try to schedule your entire day in one block when you have never done it before. It is too much for your mind but do some in your body and hands. That’s something that worked for me.
We’re such overachievers. It’s like, “We’re going to try this time-blocking thing. I’m going to go all in. I’m going to block everything.” It doesn’t work. It’s good to bite off little pieces, get it to work for you and then build on it. I agree with that. I always tell people also with time blocking is block the most important thing, 1 or 2 categories. I block by category, not by task. For some people, do you block the task that you need to do or an overarching category that you can work within?
My routine has been set such that my blocks do, you can call them categories. It has been a block, which I do one task at a time but it still falls under the category. If I have to categorize that, I spend one hour on writing. It doesn’t mean that I write only about blogging. I probably will write a part of my book as well, when I’m doing the learning, I learn different components. Sometimes I do have categories then specific tasks. When there are adult tasks, I leave a big block out that I can fit whatever I want but none of the times would scratch.
I liked that flexibility. That’s what people think that’s not part of time blocking. They think, “It’s rigid. It’s structured.” They think there’s no flexibility and it’s all in the way that we implement it like anything. I agree. We have to give ourselves flexibility. As a matter of fact, I think that for people who are booked event to event or block to block, it’s part of what creates stress for them is that there’s no flexibility. You feel like there’s not any wiggle room.
I know if I start the day, my day is jam-packed and there’s no free space. It immediately creates a little bit of that stress in me like, “When I even going to have time to go to the bathroom?” That flexibility and leaving yourself blocks of free time to fill in the gap the way that you want is important. People like tools and short cuts. I want to ask you those two things and I’m going to separate them. What’s your biggest shortcut that you use to make things easier for you or to get things done faster?
The shortcut is planning the days. It’s not a shortcut. It’s a simple tip to implement. For example, every day before I begin my day, I try to write down the few important things that I have to get it done by that day. I still write it down on paper or a notebook and I keep it right on my desk. It’s a constant reminder of what is important for that day. Even if there’s some adult responsibility in between, I have it right in front of me that I have to come back to the start and get it done. That’s something that has helped me and I should follow it. It’s been years and that’s one of the simplest tips that has been most effective for me.
Value your time. Always weigh the time you spend on something versus the return that it’s giving to you. Click To Tweet What are some tools that you love to use that if you had to clear off your desktop, you got a new phone or a new computer? What are the first apps that you would put on?
I’m not much of a tool guy. I keep it down to the basics. I use the bare minimum tools. I have a to-do list that I use with the same time between my phone and whatever device I use, it’s all there. I also use my calendar. I’m doing this type for meetings. I have multiple calendars within my calendar. That is one of my biggest tools for managing time. For example, I have a task which is spending. Let’s say I will follow up with somebody. If I do finish the task by this day, I have a milestone or a deadline. I put it as an all-day event on my calendar. Every time I go back and look at my calendar for meetings or stuff, it’s already mapped in my head as to what is coming.
I don’t have to make a conscious of what to look for, “What is it that is due for this week?” I’m always looking at my calendar and it’s not saying that, “You have to finish this preparation for this block time by this date.” I keep it simple and I use a lot of pen and paper, though technology has advanced, I’m into IT but I’m a big believer in using pen and paper to note things down, to make mind maps. I even have a board here. I do a lot of drawing and I still keep a checklist on the board, which is written down. I’m still a pen and paper guy, a motivational guy and I’m a big enthusiast of tools as such.
It’s an important point because I know a lot of people who’ve spent a lot of time implementing tools and then getting the next tool because that tool is not quite good enough. It’s like, “This tool to the next tool.” It can be a huge investment of time. To be productive, we need few tools and sometimes too many tools can have the opposite effect of taking up unnecessary time, trying to manage all these tools and sync them and all those types of things. I like certain tools. Tools are important but I also believe that we should keep them down to a minimum. Is there anything else that you wanted to share with the group?
One final thing that I would share is putting a value on time and that’s something that I try to do on a daily basis. Normally, what we do is we look at our day as, “I have my day ahead. I’m going to go about it as it comes.” I feel that every person should put a value on each out of this time. The parameter can be done by the person that said. You can put a monetary value on it, or a number of apps that you get to spend with your family or the number of hours that you get to achieve your goal, which might be something different. Maybe somebody wants to travel around the world. For me, I’m much of a numbers guy and have a lot of financial goals as well.
I put a value on my time in terms of a number. In terms of, “How much is your ask time worth?” If I have to take up a task, which takes one hour of my time, ideally make one simple calculation, “Is it going to give be much more of returns?” It’s not always about numbers or money but when you have a comparison factor, it becomes easy for you to make a decision saying that, “I shouldn’t be spending more than an hour on this.” It applies to different decisions as well.
Let’s say I’m going to the supermarket and there’s a sale going on. There’s no point trying to save $0.50 in trying to pick the best oatmeal and spend fifteen minutes on it because you end up saving $0.50 but you’ve lost money because you could have done something better at the same time. Find that factor of what you want to put your value on. It doesn’t have to be money and always make that decision in terms of weighing the time that you spend on the return that it is giving you. If it’s worth it, do it. It makes your life and decision making a whole lot simpler.
I’m a firm believer in valuing your time. Part of my seven steps of mastering time and time blocking is valuing your time. I believe you, that is also a shortcut if we were to think about it. If you aren’t thinking about what the value of your time is then you’re not also looking at the opportunity cost. You said this much, I’m using different words. “If I do this, what am I sacrificing? What am I not doing? What does it cost to do that?” You mentioned the oatmeal. I have an uncle, when I was younger, he would drive 40 minutes to get this sale, to save a couple of cents on a soda. He would buy cases of it.
Every time we went to his house, it had no fizz. You have to think about that he was driving all that distance to save a few cents. Once he had it, he had so much of it. It wasn’t the quality anymore. We have to think about the choices that we’re making and whether they’re smart choices and out of the value of our time. If you’re reading, what’s the value of your time? What number would you put on the value of your time? If you’re an entrepreneur, what are you willing to delegate? Because you know that someone else can do it. Maybe they can’t do it as 100% as good as you do but if they can do 80% and it’s good enough, wouldn’t that be worth depending on the value of the task for you to hand it over? How do you feel, Maxim, about delegation? What do you delegate? What are the things that you delegate?
I try to delegate most of the stuff which stops me from doing some of the creative work or where I can add my input. What I do is I have a person who handles some of my blogging but when I have done it for a long time in terms of doing it by set. For example, creating Pinterest pins. That’s something which is important to blogging but it is a big investment of time. You have to create a pin, make it good-looking for content for your blog or that. It’s about the dignity of labor or not doing that thing. I feel this is not a good investment of my time. It’s more like when I free up that time, I get more time to do things like forming content for my blog or writing content where I book.
That’s where I believe I can add more value. That’s what I try to focus on. I delegate things like this and most of the admin work, most of the research work. For example, you have to do keyword research. It is easier for somebody to go look into a tool like SEMrush and find out which keywords are volume and give me a set of keywords. I can think about, “I can add good content on this top.” That’s where I focus my time on. I do a lot of editing myself. Even if I can give it to somebody else to edit my content, even on Grammarly or a simple tool like Hemingway. I feel it adds value to me because it improves my writing. Every time Grammarly or any tools of that matter to, “This was a mistake.”
It becomes a correction in your head to tell that, “I have to do it right next time.” I know a bit of time. It cut sharps the effort of the other person as well if you’re collectively thinking as a team and it also makes you go and improve your skills. I am a big believer of delegation. I believe if somebody is interested to do a job, they should take it out and get all the credit for it as well rather than somebody else doing it and taking on the line.
When you’re working together as a team, great leaders want to give the limelight to other people. What I was thinking about as you were talking about, as you were talking about you delegate, somebody else can do the research for the keywords and different things. Some things lead themselves that you can describe them the steps that, “First you do this and then you do that.” When there’s an easy process and a set of steps that someone can do, those are repeatable and those are easy to give to someone else and repeat them for you and say, “Here’s what you should have at the end of the day. Here are the deliverables,” and you set some milestones in there for you to check-in and see if there are any questions, how they’re doing and you’ve freed up your time. Those things lead themselves to be easy to delegate as if there’s a simple process that they can follow. Tell us where can we find your blog, other information about you and if there’s anything else you want to share.
You can find me on my blog, which is called ProductiveClub.com. I cover three areas, productivity, time management and decision-making. Now, I’m doing an experiment of sorts where I’m having time management consultations with people. I provide it for free. I go on a three-week session with them, which is spread across but I have one meeting every week for 30 minutes. I talked to them and try to understand the problems. I open a Google spreadsheet for them and I write down what the challenge was and I give them some pointers to try. It’s not that this problem is going to be solved by trying those.
It’s the one like, “Implement and tell me.” It becomes like a feedback loop that people gain from the tips that I give and I gain from them because I get to understand what are the different problems that each person is facing? What has worked and not work? That tends to me write better content as well. Instead of writing five tips to follow. It tells me that, “This person had faced something like this. If you have this problem, why don’t you try this? Maybe it’ll help you overcome those problems.” That’s what I have. It was nice talking to you. It was an interesting conversation as well.
Thank you for being here. We talked about a couple of different important things. I’m hoping that at least one of them was valuable to you to think about how you’re doing it. Step back was the first thing that we talked about and take 60 seconds to plan your day, to plan your block. Step back and see which one of these could be relevant for you. Could it be time blocking and something that you could do in the area of time blocking to improve your time management? Could it be in the area of valuing your time and being able to see more about what you’re doing and decide on using that as a decision making criteria on deciding what’s the best use of your time? Maybe it’s in the area of the delegation that we talked about here at the end. Maybe there are some things that you could delegate that you’ve been holding onto that would make a big difference to free up that time for more creativity, for looking for new clients or even to spend on yourself and have some quality time with yourself or with your family. Thank you for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode.