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I’m a voracious player and consumer of music.

I started playing drums at the age of 5 after hearing my dad play Led Zepplin’s “When the Levee Breaks” on cassette in his pickup. I had dozens of Steno notebooks that I would fill with drum transcriptions, lyrics, and guitar chords as I sat by the record/cassette/CD player combo (this was before you could Google this stuff). I enjoyed Waylon Jennings, Led Zeppelin, The Beastie Boys, and everything in between.

Regardless of genre, I’ve always had hip-hop in the rotation. I grew up in a time where hip-hop really broke through to the mainstream – Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, Tupac, Biggie, and Dre. I’ve noticed a stark shift in lyrical focus around money & “hustle” over the last 25 years. Early lyrics often focused on the fruits of the Hustle – “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”, “Money Ain’t a Thang”, “It’s All About the Benjamins.” I’ve noticed a shift in the last couple years to a focus on the hustle itself. The process, hard work, and dedication it took to bear the fruit – Rhianna & Drake’s “Work”, Macklemore’s “10,000 Hours”, Lil Wayne’s “No Quitter, Go Getter.”

As entrepreneurs, we celebrate the Hustle. Long days and no sleep are worn as badges of honor. “Rise and Grind” is an everyday occurrence. If you think back to the early days of starting your company, you’ll recall how much you could do on so little sleep. The fear, excitement, and adrenaline were like drugs and entrepreneurship was your dealer.

This week marks the 1-year mark that I’ve taken on more duties than ever. Two weekly podcasts, running several businesses, mentoring, creating the MOMENTUM Platform, travel, and finally taking the time to re-focus on my own training. In addition to that, I forced myself into a time cap: A 40-hour workweek (this is the least amount of hours I’ve worked in quite some time). Of course there were weeks I went over my time cap but, by and large, I stuck to the rules.

The result? I learned to get really productive. Instead of adding hours to my work, I was forced to add work to my hours. I learned key lessons on delegation and scalability of my businesses. I learned to give myself deadlines and block out important times. I became really good at making and prioritizing key decisions that only I could make. Here are the 5 things I learned from this experience:

What if you could only do 1 thing?

I only allow myself 1 thing to do every day. It’s the one thing that, if I don’t get anything else done, moves things forward. Every Sunday I make a list of my 5 things of primary importance – 1 for each day. This taught me the importance of prioritizing and delegating. By only allowing yourself 1 important task a day, I have to filter my “to-do” list into the tasks that no one else can do. Do I actually do more than 1 thing a day? OF COURSE. But, the exercise creates order and priority around my day.

EXAMPLE: Every week I have 2 podcasts that need recorded, edited, show notes written, hosted, and posted. By abiding by the “1 Task” rule, I’ve forced myself to “batch” this activity – meaning, I do similar tasks back-to-back in chunks vs. replicating the same process twice per week, every week.

Understand your brain.

I get it. It’s cool to brag about working 19 hour days and living off caffeine. And, honestly, it’s a rite of passage for the new entrepreneur. But here’s the reality: sleep deprivation and “multi-tasking” greatly reduces your cognitive abilities. No amount of hustle or grind can change your brain chemistry. Our hope is that your entrepreneurial journey has you moving from “check-list”-style tasks to high-level “CEO” tasks. CEO thinking requires less hours, but undoubtedly requires “clear” hours; strategic, surgical, long-term thinking.

EXAMPLE: My clearest thinking is at about 7:45am, right after a shower. This is about 2 hours after I wake up. I have 3 mornings like this a week – Monday through Wednesday. By Thursday, my cognitive load is too great to think strategically so those activities are pushed to the next week.

The 25-minute Rule

You probably can’t apply adequate bandwidth to a given task for more than 25 minutes. Honestly, 25 minutes may be a stretch at first; it was for me. I started using the Pomodoro Technique a year ago. Basically, you single-task something for 25 minutes at a time, uninterrupted. Then you get up, stretch, grab some water or food for 5 minutes before going back to another 25 minute block. You can multi-task low level items like listening to a podcast and cleaning the floors. But, high-level stuff should be relegated to the 25-minute rule.

EXAMPLE: This post will take me 55 minutes to write – 2x25min with a 5 minute break in between. All other browsers, apps, and notifications are shut off.

Time Blocking

This is huge. By understanding where I’m most productive (you’ll get the hang of it after a couple weeks), I block off times that fit to the appropriate tasks. 7:45am-9:15am on Monday and Wednesday are my highest-functioning times. I spend those hours scheming up marketing campaigns, expansion plans, and doing market research. I’m pretty spent by the afternoon, so I save those times for more menial tasks – answering emails, writing procedures, accounting, payroll, etc. I also block off my training time. By giving your brain parameters to work within, you’ll have built-in cognitive responses to different tasks. My brain knows that it’s time to shut off in 23 minutes when it’s time to train.

EXAMPLE: I set aside 90 minutes a day for correspondence (email, phone, and text primarily) – 30 minutes first thing in the morning, noon, and evening. By doing so, you’ll begin to see patterns in communication. For example, I’m currently waiting on a contract amendment from a merchant provider. I emailed first thing this morning for this amendment knowing they’ll get to it by end-of-day (give deadlines) and I’ll be able to address the contract as my “Most Important Task” first thing in the morning.

Choose Your Channels Wisely

As you begin to explore increased productivity, it becomes increasingly more important to choose your communication channels appropriately. The more “CEO” you become, the more important your communications become. A message from you will need to carry weight, which means you’ll need to exercise some discretion in how you deliver it. I almost exclusively delegate communication to one of two channels – my inbox and Slack (for internal communications). In both instances, I can time-stamp, search, organize, and set reminders for myself. Text messages, Facebook, Instagram, and other communication media are pushed to my inbox. With the volume of requests and messages coming in, it is absolutely impossible to maintain any organization. In addition to that, you should want your message to carry weight. Getting endlessly lost in the feedback loop of Facebook, where advice and chatter is abundant and often times without any real value, dilutes your message. This is not to mention the productivity killer that is social media. Pull your tribe into channels that carry weight and allow you to scale your message.

EXAMPLE: I’ve delegated staff to communicate where others regularly communicate: social media, text message, and direct messages. Out of necessity, I’ve made it known that I’m only available via email. The result is that an email now carries weight and importance. I can organize and batch this communication to provide the clearest, most personal message to the greatest number of people.

This is just a starting point. In a year, I’ll probably completely change this list. Take from it what you want, throw away what you don’t. My hope here is that you’re able to add work to your hours so you can get back to living the life you want to live with the people you love.
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