Like all people, Iâd like to think I am a productive person. If I am, however, itâs because Iâve been ruthlessly efficient at one thing: stealing secrets and methods from people a lot smarter than me.
In my career, Iâve had the fortune of coming in contact with bestselling authors, successful entrepreneurs, investors, executives and creative people. Some I didnât meet, but I found their thoughts in book form. Whether they knew it or not, I cased all of them and took from them what I thought were their best ideas on productivity.
Below are the secrets I learned from them. Thanks guys! You helped me get more done and be more creative.
From this popular YouTube filmmaker and artist, I picked up the trick of keeping a small Moleskine journal that I write in everyday: thoughts, reminders, notes, lessons. I prefer one that can fit in my back pocket, this way I always have paper on me.
The last few months have been incredibly difficult and this journal helped me cope. More importantly, I learned how to keep track of these journals (and everything else I own) in case I lose them: In big letters writer âIf Found Please Return [INSERT NAME & NUMBER].â
From Tim I learned the art of the to-do list. A simple, straight forward one. One notecard,Â five to sixÂ big items and thatâs it.
Everyday, I cross these off and tear up the card. Thatâs it. Thatâs the system.
Robert Greene, renowned author of the 48 Laws of Power, showed me how he creates books. His notecard system has changed my life. Every book I read, I fold the pages of and then go back through and transfer the information on to notecards which I then organize by theme in card boxes.
At this point I have hundreds of thousands of these cards, which I always turn to if I need an anecdote, a fact, inspiration, a strategy, a story or an example.
The first time I called Dov, I got his voicemail. It said: âI donât use voicemail, email me.â This is a way better system.
Iâve taken it a step further, I donât even have a voicemail set up. If itâs important, theyâll call back. If I have time, Iâll return the missed call. Either way, having âsix unchecked voice messagesâ is something Iâve havenât worried about in yearsâ¦ because they donât exist.Â
Ramit has built a 40 plus employee, multi-million dollar education business right before our eyes (he and I grew up in the same small town actually). One trick I learned from Ramit â after ignoring the advice several times â is that if youâre going to hire an assistant, make sure they are older or more responsible than you.
Too many people make the mistake of hiring someone young and cheap, which is ridiculous. Itâs impossible for them to understand the value of time and organization and they will end up making you less productive, not more. If youâre going to have an assistant, do it right.Â
In his book, Old School, Tobias Wolfâs semi-autobiographical character takes the time to type out quotes and passages from great books. I do this almost every weekend. Itâs a) made me a faster typer b) a much better writer c) a wiser person.
From Robert I also learned that swimming is a great productivity tool. Why? Because it requires total isolation: no music, no phone, no possible interruptions. Just quiet, strenuous exercise. Iâve had some of my most productive brainstorming sessions in the pool.
David Allen & Merlin Mann
Inbox Zero. Never touch paper twice. Let these phrases sink in and use them.
Another from Ramit: You donât have to answer every email you get. The delete key is a quick way to get to inbox zero.
Thereâs a great quote from Napoleon about how he would delay opening letters so that by the time he did, the unimportant issues would have resolved themselves. I try to do the same thing with email and issues from staff.Â
Instapaper changed my life. I donât play games on my phone, I read smart articles I queued up for myself earlier in the day. I donât get distracted with articles while I am working at my desk because I can easily put them in the queue.
Learning to say no â âNo, thank youâ more specifically â will energize you and excite you. Use it as much as you can.
From Montaigne I also learned the importance of keeping a commonplace book. If something catches your eye, write it down, record it somewhere. Use it later. Simple as that.
He has a great line about âbeing introduced to the broomâ at an early age. In other words, know even the most lowly tasks intimately. Doesnât mean you have to do them still, but know them.
Aaron Ray was my mentor in Hollywood. Heâs a hugely successful movie producer and manager, but I noticed one thing: He was never in the office. And he always had some ridiculous excuse why he wasnât.
Eventually, I realized why: He was avoiding the office BS that sucks up most peopleâs time. By staying away, he got way more done. He could see big picture.
And as an extra bonus, everyone was always talking about him: âWhereâs Aaron?â âHas anyone seen Aaron?âÂ
You wouldnât guess it but Tucker has the biggest library youâve ever seen. Why? He buys every book he wants. I donât waste time thinking about what books I want, or where to get them cheapest. I buy them, I read them, I recommend them, I benefit from them. End of story (See my library here.)
Iâm never without something to read, and Iâm always driven to read more because the shelves are looking down on me as a reminder of what I have left to do.
Speaking of books, from Nassim Taleb I learned about the âanti-library.â Donât just collect books you have read, collect the books you havenât read. Itâs a testament to what you donât know, and an on-hand resource whenever you need it.Â
From my fianceÃ©, I got a nice little trick. Delete Facebook from your phone. Just do it. Trust me. (Note: pretty sure sheâs relapsed, but I havenât.)
Bryan âBirdmanâ Williams
The guy founded Cash Money records and is worth about $500M. I was shocked the first time I was supposed to meet himâ¦ at the studioâ¦ at 1 AMâ¦ on a Sunday. His day was just starting. He works at night, sleeps during the day.
Like I said, at first it was weird, but then I realized: He picked the hours that were most productive for him; screw what most people think is ânormal.âÂ
I think Tucker was the guy I stole listening to the same song over and over from. It lets you space out and get into the zone (or flow state). My iTunes playlist is embarrassing, but I donât care. Listening to the same song hundreds of time is how I get so much done.Â
The entrepreneur behind United Fruit (and one of my favorite books) used to say: âDonât trust the report.â
We waste a lot of time trusting numbers and opinions weâve never verified. Going backwards and doing something over ends up costing us far more than we saved by skipping over the work in the first place.Â
Another one from Tim: you donât have to be the first one to sign up for things. Wait a bit on the new apps and social networks. Wait for things to sort themselves out, let other people do all the trial and error, then when you come, just be the best.
I forget who gave me the idea, but never buy in-flight Wifi. Go off the grid for the whole flight. Catch up on stuff. Think. Read.
On Loveline Adam used to complain about how the producers wanted him to get their 15 minutes before the show started. His refusal was simple: every week that added up to an extra show â for free.
Important people can get a lot done in âjust 15 minutesâ so they donât give it away easily. And they donât mind looking bad in order to protect.Â
My editor always says: âOk, well, try writing it then.â In other words, she means âGet started.â She usually says this right after you explain some big sweeping idea you have for a book or a chapter or an article.
Planning it out is great, but productive people get moving.
âA man is worked on by what he works on.â Steer clear of quagmires, toxic work environments, busy work and unsolvable problems.
Entrepreneurs and writers are nuts. To save yourself many wasted hours of time and insanity, find yourself a spouse who is better adjusted and balanced than you. James and his wife Claudia are an inspiring example of this important pairing.
As a talent manager, Aaron showed me why you never waste your time, or your own money, doing your own negotiating. This has served me well.
I pass incoming inquiries to a speaking agent, book projects to a book agent, interview requests to an assistant, movie/TV stuff to Aaron, etc etc. Yes, this means I pay them a fee, but guess what? All valuable services have a cost. Only a fool represents himself or herself.
What have you stolen from people smarter than you? Share in the comments!