On Productivity: 30 minutes is all I have

Being an entrepreneur is hard. It’s amazing but hard. On any given morning, as soon as I wake up there are a hundred things I should be doing. Everything from writing e-mails to composing blog posts to posting on Instagram to dealing with employee issues to co-ordinating event production to scheduling calls to getting back to that guy who wants advice on how to start his food business. On top of this, I am, by nature, very easily distracted. One article on 3D printers can send me down a three-hour rabbit hole on industrial production and the Internet of Things. No one tells me what to do or what to focus on. No one wrote me a job description. No one sets me goals for the quarter. While this is incredibly liberating, it’s also incredibly overwhelming.

Without some kind of system in place, I feel like I’m facing an avalanche. I want and have to do so many things. As the day goes on, I can feel my anxiety mounting as everything surges towards me at once. A hundred things started; nothing finished. The day ends. I’m exhausted, and I feel like I haven’t achieved anything.

So, I came up with this simple solution. I doubt it’s unique. Even as I write this, I’m growing increasingly concerned that I actually heard it from Hugh Grant in About A Boy, but it works for me, so I’ll share it with you good people.

I break the day into 30-minute chunks. Each morning, I wake up, make a list of the things that will make the best use of my day, and start setting timers. Of course, some things don’t lend themselves to this technique — I’m not going to hang up on someone once they’ve used up their allotted time — but for most tasks, it really does help. E-mail: 30 minutes. This post: 30 minutes. Reading about industrial design, my latest obsession: 30 minutes. Reading a novel I love: 30 minutes.

This little hack helps me to make sure that everything that needs to be done, gets done. At the same time, it allows time in my schedule for pursuing things that I’m interested in at that very moment. Distractibility gets a bad rap; we’re all supposed to be laser- focused on what we do, but I don’t work that way. Things pop up. They may seem random at the time, but I have found that following them up usually pays off at some point in the future.

Foraging was a random interest into which I threw myself. I wanted to start collecting mushrooms in the woods — on its face, not the most efficient use of my time — but it has led me to this satisfying career and thriving business. My most recently discovered obsession is making things. I’m obsessed with the idea of being able to create something with my hands, so I’ve taken up soldering, joined TechShop, and subscribed to the Make Magazine Newsletter. Who knows what will become of this? Maybe it will fizzle out. In ten years’ time, maybe I’ll look back and realize it was the best thing I’ve ever done. A lack of focus can result in indecision and procrastination. But if we remain too focused, we might never expand our horizons.

I’m always searching for ways to help bring it all into focus. The above technique helps add a sense of structure to a job that’s amorphous, and always in flux. Hope you’ll find it helpful.

Looks like I’ve still got 8 minutes . . . maybe I’ll do some reading.

If you’re an entrepreneur, artist or creative and have any tips you’ve found to be useful, please let me know! I’m always looking for new ways to make it all work.

About me:

I am a chef and entrepreneur in the Bay Area. I own a few companies, forageSF and Forage Kitchen, and write about food, foraging, abalone diving, 3D printing, and the business of the food business, at isorabins.com

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