One unnerving aspect of getting older is that life seems to speed up. Feeling that whoosh as time rushes past can be disheartening and may leave you wondering how to slow down time.
This post was originally published in 2014. It has been updated with new data and advice in 2019.
Think small and you will achieve big things. That’s the counterintuitive philosophy that nets Finnish game company Supercell revenues of millions of dollars a day.Giphy]
So really, how do you build a billion-dollar business by thinking small?
One key is the company’s pod team structure. Autonomous small teams, or “cells,” of four to six people position the company to be nimble and innovative. Similar modules — call them pods, squads, or startups within startups — are the basic components in many other nimble, growing companies, including Spotify and Automattic. The future, as Dave Gray argues in The Connected Company, is podular.
Still, small groups of people do not necessarily make a thriving business, as the fate of many a fledgling startup warns. What is it about the pod team structure that presents not just a viable alternative but the future of designing how we work together?
Jeff Bezos is prolific. In 21 letters to his investors over the years, he has delivered dozens of nuggets of wisdom ranging from prioritizing long-term outcomes over short-term results to embedding R&D in every single department.
He also has a unique take on company communication.
Bezos believes that no matter how large your company gets, individual teams shouldn’t be larger than what two pizzas can feed.
Think of it this way: at a large party, it’s hard to connect with people. You’re overwhelmed by the number of guests you could possibly meet and converse with. You end up with more — yet more shallow — interactions. If the host is trying to project a message to the crowd, he or she might have trouble shouting over the din. In contrast, at a small party, you might talk to the people sitting next to you for hours. You can develop more meaningful relationships and maybe come away with new ideas and inspiration.
Although Bezos first declared the “two-pizza” rule in Amazon’s early days, it continues to resonate in 2018. As the pace of venture capital accelerates, and more and more companies enter hypergrowth, figuring out how and when to design teams for effective communication becomes critical.
Not convinced? Here’s the hard evidence behind why the two-pizza team rule holds true.
We reached out to some productivity superstars to ask:
What is one routine or ritual that contributes to your happiness and success?
You may think that the best entrepreneurs that you know are machines. They get stuff done, never seem to get tired and just crank it out regardless of how they’re feeling and what else is going on in their lives.
It turns out that that’s a myth, and the most productive entrepreneurs are the ones who actively manage their health, well being, and productivity by relying on personal mental health routines.
Routines and rituals are inherently very personal. What works for you won’t necessarily work for somebody else — but the main takeaway here is to prioritize aspects of your life to create balance.
Here’s what they had to say.
We’re writing more than ever these days. Every day, you’re texting, emailing, and chatting. As many of us sit at our computers at work all day and our phones everywhere else in between, we’re writing.
Successful leaders believe writing is a crucial ingredient of great work. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, insists that writing replace other forms of communication to make the most of meetings. Instead of jumping straight into a conversation, or snoozing through bullet-pointed sentence fragments in a slideshow presentation, he requires his senior executives to write six-page narrative memos.
He explains in a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.” In this age of knowledge work, we’re hiring people to think and communicate those thoughts — which means people who can write have a leg up.
Like most things worth doing, writing can be a chore. But the more fluent and practiced you become at the writing process, the more you’ll be able to own your success.
There once was a man named Elliot. An intelligent, pleasant thirty-something guy, he had built a pretty good life for himself, with a family and a good job. But his life started to fall apart when he got a brain tumor the size of a small orange that compressed his frontal lobes — causing debilitating headaches and an inability to focus.
Even after a successful surgery to remove the tumor, Elliot’s life continued go downhill. His relationships unravelled, he couldn’t hold a job, and invested in a disreputable business scheme that lost him his savings. Something was still wrong with Elliot’s brain — damage to parts of his frontal lobe somehow resulted in an inability to feel emotion.
You’d think that this might have been beneficial at least for his work ventures, some ability to make calculating, rational, optimal decisions. But the opposite was true. After losing his emotions, he’d become hopelessly ineffective at business.
That can be a jolting lesson for many of us who consider emotion something to regard very lightly in the workplace. Emotions work, not as a barrier to getting things done, but to help us reason at a basic level and thrive.
One of the trickiest things about trying to be more productive is how much we deceive ourselves along the way. It’s like trying to eat healthier and then convincing yourself after one walk up the stairs that you totally deserve a donut.
Productivity lies can be sly, wolves in sheeps’ clothing, making you feel better in the moment, even as you’re actually falling behind and letting priorities slip.
It’s better to work smarter than work harder — and part of working smarter is to be more truthful about why you’re choosing to do, or not do, something and whether you’re actually spending your time wisely.
Outsmart your lazier, sneakier self. Here’s how to face the truth when you catch yourself claiming these three common productivity lies.
Given a choice between solving puzzles for free or for pay — which would you pick?
If you want to stay motivated and solve more puzzles, the surprising thing is that you should do them for free.
In the early 1970s, psychologist Edward Deci wanted to study how money affects motivation. In one experiment, he paid one group $1 (that’s about $6 today) for each puzzle solved within three sessions, while the control group received no payment. In the middle of each session was an eight-minute free period in which people could continue puzzling, read magazines, or otherwise spend the time how they wished.
It was the paid group who chose to spend less time working on puzzles in the free periods. The extrinsic monetary reward made them lose intrinsic motivation, where the reward is the activity itself.
Over forty years later, managers still rely on the old model of dangling external rewards like money and prestige to motivate their people — but in today’s era of knowledge work, this model is increasingly misguided. If you think your people are going to continue to put in their best efforts with monetary rewards, you’re sabotaging the most powerful sources of motivation.
The person who’s going to complete all the tasks on your list is not you. It’s some superhuman version of you, who gets all the things done without breaking a sweat. Perhaps the biggest problem and allure of the to-do list is how aspirational it is.
In the early days of iDoneThis, there used to be a to-do task feature. While we decided to focus on helping people harness the benefits of keeping and sharing a done list, we gained some fascinating insight into what really happens when it comes to your to-do list along the way.
Two of the most interesting discoveries we made were how 41% of to-do items were never finished, while a whopping 85% of dones were unplanned tasks that never started out as to-do’s.
There’s a huge gap between what we hope to get done and what we actually accomplish — and that might just be part of the human condition. The problem is when we let our to-do lists dishearten and demoralize us because we feel we’ve somehow failed. The way to conquer those negative feelings is to look backwards.
The power of self-reflection is simple but mighty. It’s how you recognize and celebrate progress, gain nourishing motivation, and detach from the workday. Successful people like David Heinemeier Hansson and Marc Andreessen use this tactic to keep their momentum going while managing the pressure of always having more work to do.
But like most activities that aren’t yet a daily habit, even taking out five to fifteen minutes a day just to think and write about your day feels like a drag. That’s because a deliberate practice of reflection, like regular exercise, isn’t always easy or fun. It requires energy, discipline, and some time. Philosopher and psychologist John Dewey explained in his 1910 book, How We Think, why the beneficial act of reflection can feel like, well, such a chore:
Reflective thinking is always more or less troublesome because it involves overcoming the inertia that inclines one to accept suggestions at their face value; it involves willingness to endure a condition of mental unrest and disturbance.
So self-reflection can be tough, but it produces more value than whatever you would’ve spent those minutes on anyway. When you’re constantly chasing that feeling of being productive by conquering more items on your to-do list or cranking out those extra emails, you’d be better off stopping your work to think a little.