Being productive doesn’t mean being a machine…

I don’t like the word “productivity”- Not that I don’t like being productive, I do. But I’d love to challenge the notion that productivity is some innate virtue.

As computers get faster and the economy more and more global, we are being asked to produce more and more to compete with machines, and workers in developing economies. And the value of that production is being stripped down by this rebalancing.

“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” ~Henry David Thoreau

We’re not machines, or ants, we’re humans. We can’t endlessly produce… If you choose to be a creator/producer that’s great, but what if you just want to stare at the world and observe all day? I believe that also has value…

As artists and creatives we can’t just be doing-doing-doing all the time – there are only so many hours in the day and we need time to observe, participate and learn from the world around us.

And just because you are being productive doesn’t inherently mean you are creating any value (read “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, an excellent article from the NYTimes published a few years back about our need to feel busy.)

So how do you get everything done when starting a business and there’s so much to do?

I believe in the less is more approach, you know, the old cliche “work smart not hard”?

Here are my 4 keys to being highly productive:

  1. Have a solid morning routine/ritual to manage your energy
  2. Prioritize and shorten your to do list
  3. Systemize recurring tasks
  4. Delegate “busy work”

The morning routine

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition” W.H. Auden

So you may have heard about this whole morning routine thing – popularized by self improvement folks like Tim Ferriss and others.

I’ve had a morning routine for several years now and have found it immensely beneficial. Like most things, I’m not dogmatic about it, but you’re free to make it as strict or as loose as you like.

The theory goes that if you start your morning off investing in yourself in some way, you set the tone and intention for the rest of the day and ride that flow.

It works.

There are websites devoted to morning routines and tons of info out there of what people do. You can meditate, take cold showers, do yoga, read, write, exercise… the options are limitless.

My morning routine is simple.

  1. Coffee!
  2. Turn on a podcast or audio book for at least 30 to 45 minutes.
  3. Stretch for 15 minutes (while listening to audio)
  4. Drink a full glass of water
  5. Go over my to do list

That’s it. Coffee because I love it and I’m an addict. A podcast or audiobook because it gets my mind going and I love learning new things and getting inspired by knowledge. Stretch because otherwise my back hurts. Water for hydration of course.

I used to meditate too, but I’ve never been able to stay consistent with my meditation.

Regardless of what you do, start your morning with some “you”` time. A walk, a podcast, music – when you’ve done something for yourself for an hour in the morning, you already feel nurtured and accomplished. The rest of your day is cherry!

Prioritize and shorten your to-do list

“If you have more than three priorities you have no priorities!”

Learning how to prioritize is one of the most important things to help with productivity.

We have so many distractions today, and so many people fill their lists with a million and one things.

I remember reading somewhere if you want to be more productive, put fewer things on your to do list.

So I did.

And sure enough more of my to-do list gets done every day. Amazing right?

Don’t just cut things for the sake of cutting them. Cut out un-important things that won’t bring you closer to your goals or don’t fall in line with your values.

I keep my list in a composition book that I keep with me throughout the day. I use an old school pen and I usually have only 5 or so things on it. If I don’t finish my list, I copy unfinished tasks to the next day. Every once in a while a task gets pushed days, even weeks. That’s ok. It will get done when it gets done. I don’t get anal about it and I don’t beat myself up if I don’t do something. Accept that certain things won’t get done. That’s life. Just use the list as a reminder not a slave master.

Systemize recurring tasks

This applies to business and life tasks. Anything you do often enough can and should have a system in place so that it takes less time and is more efficient.

One of the best examples I can give you is my Nice Studios emailing system.

As part of our marketing efforts, Nice Studios reaches out to producers and creative directors at advertising agencies to introduce the company and set up presentations of our work.

The process of finding people and reaching out to them is very time consuming and needs to be ongoing. So we’ve set up a system. The system feeds names into our CRM (Client Relationship Manager) which automatically sends our prospects our introduction email. Responses are then handled in person.

Our process allows us to reach out to hundreds of people a month and turn a task that would otherwise would take 4 to 6 hours a day into something that takes about 15 minutes a day.


Part of being productive is not doing everything yourself. Often, in the long run, it’s less expensive to hire people for mundane tasks than doing it yourself.

Usually the owner of the business is worth more to the business than minimum wage, so you’re actually making money hiring someone at that rate.

At Nice Studios we couldn’t do what we do without a team. But even smaller business need to learn how to delegate effectively.

For example, you might want to delegate your taxes, or your bookkeeping (though I prefer to do bookkeeping manually myself). Or you can delegate shipping or packing.

Once you break your business down into its systems, start to assess what tasks take the most time and take the least amount of skill, then delegate those and build those costs into the price of your product.

Nice studios has a virtual assistant researching leads for us. Combing LinkedIn for Creative Directors and producers at agencies is very time consuming so we hire it out. It saves our marketing team valuable time and energy on a task that a junior would be better suited for.

We also outsource our social media. We approve all posts and interactions, but we don’t have to spend all day scheduling and posting on all our channels.


The last thing I’ll say about productivity is this – I believe that in life people do the things they believe are most important to them at any given time. If you do the work to align your life and business with your values and continue to do work that’s meaningful to you, I promise you’ll be very productive.