In productivity circles, Mike Vardy is someone who doesn’t need an introduction. He’s a popular speaker on technology and productivity and is the founder at the popular productivity blog Productivityist. He is also the author of The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want. He has spoken at TEDxVictoria, South by Southwest, and CreativeLive. He is married and lives a happy life in British Columbia, Canada. He has been editor of Next Web and popular productivity blog “LifeHack”.
7 Key Takeaways:
Following are the key takeaways from the interview:
- Secret of Success of Productivityist.
- Tips for making meetings productive.
- Productive Morning check.
- Expert View on Multitasking.
- How to start a productive day.
- Mike Vardy Inspirations.
- Reviews about TaskQue.
TaskQue: First of all, tell us what made you fall in love with productivity? What was the real source of motivation which urged you to enter this field?
Mike Vardy: I fell in love with productivity when I was trying to balance my work life (running two departments at Costco), my passion for comedy, and trying to strengthen and foster my relationship with my girlfriend at the time (who is now my amazing wife).
I was trying to juggle all of those things and knew that I needed more of a structure to make it work over the long term. So I dove into the work of Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins, David Allen, and others to bring that to fruition. Diving in that deep resulted in personal productivity becoming a passion of my own.
TaskQue: What is the vision of Productivityist? Who else is with you behind the success of productivityist? Would you please mention their names and contributions?
Mike Vardy: My vision for Productivityist is to put the ‘personal” back into personal productivity by offering simple, flexible, and durable solutions to time and task management. That will come in the form of written content (blog posts, newsletters, books, etc.), audio and video content, and more as the life of the company continues.
My wife is the administrative powerhouse behind Productivityist. She handles a lot of the influx of information and takes care of the day to day administrative needs for the company. Jim Woods is the content editor for the site, helping me with all written materials and guest post contributions (he also works with clients on Productivityist Coaching these days).
My assistant, Claire Basilona, manages quite a bit of the day to day – basically anything Anne and Jim don’t cover. John Poelstra edits the podcast. We use various subcontractors for things like graphic design, video work, and more.
TaskQue: How much do you believe in meetings? How they can be more productive?
Mike Vardy: I believe that meetings, when planned and monitored accordingly, can be productive. There are three things that you can do to make meetings more productive beyond planning.
- Keep them short. 30 minutes at the most is a good rule of thumb.
- Ideally, meetings shouldn’t happen on a Monday. Wednesday is a better day in my mind because it allows a team to get their week going and the midweek meeting can serve as a means to course correct if needed.
- Having a meeting facilitator is a wise move as well. My colleague John Poelstra highly advocates this and I’m with him on it. Having one in place keeps the meeting moving forward and leads to more productive meetings on the whole.
Putting all of these elements in place can make for better meetings. I’ve seen it work in organizations of various sizes so it’s something that you can do starting today and see results immediately.
TaskQue: In an interview, you said that “One of my biggest tips is to check email second thing in the morning rather than first”. Can you please explain why it shouldn’t be the first?
Mike Vardy: The problem most people face when checking email first thing in the morning is that they get sucked into their inbox and can’t find their way out. For the most part things that are there first thing in the morning are the whims and demands of others, not the tasks and plans you had set out for yourself to do that day.
So while I do believe getting into your inbox is valuable, I believe checking it “second thing” after you do your most important task that you had planned for the day is the best course of action and allows you to direct your day from the onset.
TaskQue: Are you a supporter of multitasking? May experts are in against of multitasking? What’s your opinion on it? Please explain.
Mike Vardy: I do not support multitasking as it steers attention away from your intentions. I think you can do things like ride and exercise bike while reading, but even if you’re doing something like washing dishes while listening to an audio-book, you’re not giving either 100% of your focus.
Even computers don’t multitask. They just switch between tasks quickly. That’s all we can do as well – which I also don’t recommend being your primary working style as you cannot get any “deep work” (as my friend Cal Newport says) done if you work in this fashion all of the time.
TaskQue: In an interview, you said that you write a journal at the start of a day and recap your day before going to bed in order to measure productivity. Is there any specific tool which you use during this practice?
Mike Vardy: I actually journal to wrap up my day now and skip the morning entry. I do believe in having a consistent morning AND evening routine in order to bookend your day with some measure of certainty. It helps frame the day and by putting the journaling at the end of the day it allows me to go to bed with less “stuff” jumbling around in my head. Simply put, I sleep better by writing in my Day One journaling app before bed.
Sometimes – in fact, oftentimes – I recite my journal entry in Day One on my iPhone so that I capture my thoughts and chronicle my day with less typing and less friction. It’s easy to do and it allows me to keep my journaling habit going without skipping a single day.
For me, journaling is as much about qualitative measurement as it as about quantitative measurement. I want to see how I spent my day just as much as how much I did. I don’t think we focus enough on quality over quantity when it comes to productivity. We should.
TaskQue: Being a productivity enthusiast, how do you start your working day? What do you prefer for planning of your tasks, paper or a digital app? And why?
Mike Vardy: I map out my day before I go to bed the night before as part of my evening routine. I highlight my 3 Absolutes for the next day (based on whatever that day’s theme is) and then I write in my journal before calling it a night. I believe the next day starts with what you do the night before, which is why an evening routine is just as important as a morning routine.
I start every day anywhere between 8 and 9 am with a glass of water, a cup of decaf coffee (pressed through my Aeropress), and a NutriBullet shake while I read for 25-30 minutes. Then I look at my task app to determine what of my 3 Absolutes I’ll tackle first. I do that task first before I do anything else on my list.
I use paper to capture thoughts and mind map, but I use digital for organization and filtration of tasks. So I guess you could say I’m a bit of a hybrid.
TaskQue: You have been speaker at various events including TEDX. Please share some incredible memories of speaking at various events. Moreover, what are your plans of attending such events in upcoming months?
Mike Vardy: One of my favorite moments speaking was when I delivered a talk at an event in Atlanta. I was discussing one of the primary tools of my methodology (TimeCrafting) called The DAily MAP and I mentioned that I was going to have to go into “Errand Mode” because I forgot to bring dental floss with me. During the Q&A period a lady came up to one of the microphones to ask a question but instead told me that she wanted to save me a trip and brought up her dental floss for me, much to the delight of the packed room. To this day, I still use that brand of floss!
I am limiting the amount events I’m attending over the next couple of years so I can focus on bringing TimeCrafting to more people. That means more time in development and less time networking (for now). So I think I’ll attend 3-4 events per year at the most between now and the end of 2018. I usually hit up about 6 or so, so cutting this nearly by half should help me create more for both my current and future audience.
TaskQue: Everyone has their own ideal in their lives. Who has been your inspiration in industry from day 1?
Mike Vardy: There are a lot of people who I’ve been inspired by, from David Allen to Merlin Mann to singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton. Over the years, those that inspire me have evolved. People like Derek Sivers, Joshua Becker, Jeff goins, Chris Guillebeau, Jon Acuff, and many more have had an impact in my life as an entrepreneur. I’m only scratching the surface of the list of those that motivate and inspire me.
I think that as you grow, your ideals change and grow. You need to look around because inspiration can be found everywhere – even in the least likely of places. Be open to that and it will help you and your business (and, frankly, your life) prosper.
TaskQue: Many people claim that digital apps sometimes distract them in being productive. How do you keep yourself focused in the presence of so many disrupting apps? How do you prioritize them?
Mike Vardy: I define my days through “theming” in a way that allows me to funnel my focus and stave off distractions, diversions, and overwhelm. Each day gets an overarching focus so that instead of asking “What do I do next?” – which can be a very big questions – I ask myself “What day is it?” and that answer helps me make measured progress on an area of my work and life as a result.
Here’s an example. As I’m answering this, today is Monday. Monday is my Coaching Day, where I focus my time and attention on helping my Productivityist Coaching clients, developing new worksheets and materials for my clients and those who are working becoming Productivityist Coaching Practitioners, and so on. So when I’m done answering these questions today so they are ready to go as soon as possible, I’ll jump right back into Productivityist Coaching tasks.
I’ve aligned my digital apps to trigger me with my Daily Themes. That way they are designed to work for me rather than against me by showing me only what I want to see on a given day (based on that day’s theme).
TaskQue: Workstation organization plays an important role in productivity as well. How does your work station lookalike? How do you organize your workplace to stay focused?
Mike Vardy: I have what I call “productivity zones” in my office. One zone is for writing and other computer work (like podcasting), another is for planning and mapping out ideas, and a third is for reading and relaxing/meditating. Each of these zones has intention behind them, so I know where I need to be to work on particular types of tasks.
I also have a Varidesk that I use in my “Writing/Computer Zone” that I raise and lower in conjunction with my MacBook Pro’s battery life cycle. When it is charging, I’m seated. When it’s fully charged I raise the desk to standing height and work while upright. I find this cadence works well for me.
Outside my office (just outside), I have a FitDesk that I use every morning (except Saturdays and Mondays) while working on my first bit of writing. I usually do a 30 minute round on the FitDesk and then go into the office to keep the writing going.
TaskQue: What are your hobbies and interests? How do you spend your weekends? How much do you believe in work life balance?
Mike Vardy: Besides spending time with my wife and kids, I have a few interesting hobbies. Believe it or not, I’m really into watching pro wrestling. It’s something that kind of relaxes me and takes me out of the productivity space. I often watch WWE with my daughter and some friends – and I’ve even been to two WrestleMania events!
I’m also an avid fan of the comic book characters Green Lantern (Hal Jordan, in particular), Vision, and Moon Knight. I collect artefacts featuring those characters; a bookshelf in my office is filled with Green Lantern memorabilia. I’m also a big fan of The Cincinnati Bengals football team, the San Antonio Spurs basketball team, the New Jersey Devils hockey team, and the Houston Astros. (I don’t play much sports, but I do watch these teams when they are in action.)
My weekends are spent with my family (Saturdays) and mapping out my future days and weeks (Sundays). Since I finish work early most weekdays because my kids get out of school around 3pm, I am able to grab some time for work on Sundays.
I prefer the term “work/life harmony” to “work/life balance” because I think it’s more about how you can make everything work together as opposed to balancing them. When you work from home (as I do) there’s a challenge in that, but by theming my time and being deliberate with (marrying my intentions with the right attention), I think I’m doing a pretty good job in this area.
TaskQue: TaskQue is a digital task management tool which helps teams to collaborate effectively. What are your reviews about TaskQue?
Mike Vardy: I’ve played around a bit in TaskQue and of all the features I find compelling (the Que feature, data analysis for tasks, etc.) I really like the ability to choose a workflow type. It really allows you to choose what workflow style will work best for a project type and lets you work in one app to make that happen. If you’re doing a content workflow project, then perhaps Kanban or Scrum is what you’ll want to use – but for a product launch there is a workflow that is more suitable. Having workflow options to this degree is something that is rare in a task management app.
For those who tend to overload themselves with tasks, the workload limit is a nice touch. You can set your limit to have a certain amount of tasks on your plate per project, which can help with focus and stave off overwhelm.
While the task management tool space is a crowded one, I think that TaskQue offers some unique components that will help it gain traction and perhaps even thrive in the space.