The Extreme Productivity Philosophy that Created Facebook and PayPal

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Back in 2005, long before they began approaching $10 billion in annual revenue, everyone thought that Facebook was a cool app, but no one thought that it would ever make any money.  Observers laughed at the idea that Facebook could be a real business.

With that backdrop of doubters and detractors, Noah Kagan, employee #30 at Facebook, pitched Mark Zuckerberg with what he thought was a genius idea: prove the Facebook skeptics wrong and show them that the fledgling startup could make real money.

As Kagan recounts the story, Mark listened to the pitch and then wrote out one word on a whiteboard: “GROWTH.” Then he “proclaimed he would not entertain ANY idea unless it helped Facebook grow by total number of ‘users.’”

To Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley luminaries like PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel, the secret to productivity is this: focus is singular. You don’t get three or four or five. You only get one.

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This Company Made Millions Because There Was Nothing Going On

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Harvest is a multimillion-dollar, fantastically profitable, growing business that boasts thousands of customers from freelancers to Fortune 500 companies. The company has grown to over 30 employees and boasts one of the most beautiful tech offices in New York City.

But it’s how they did it that’s most impressive — over the course of 10 years, without a dime of outside investment, 100% bootstrapped, and in the city of New York.

In an age of tech celebrity, high-profile fundraises, and billion-dollar acquisitions, it’s how Harvest founders Shawn Liu and Danny Wen’s achieved success that you’ll find incredible. What Shawn told me was their secret ingredient is something you’ll never guess.

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The Science Behind Why You Procrastinate In The Afternoon (and How To Stop)

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It’s 3 p.m. and you find yourself struggling to focus on work. You can’t seem to stop checking Facebook. Instead of being productive, you welcome distractions like text messages and co-workers coming by to chat.

Welcome to the afternoon slump: that time in your workday when your brain refuses to cooperate with you and you can’t stop procrastinating.

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Rethinking Productivity as Choreography

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Despite the profusion — or distraction — of helpful productivity advice, sometimes I feel like I’m trying to squeeze my working style into systems that just won’t fit. That’s why I appreciate ways of thinking about productivity that encourage you to align how you work with your natural inclinations and rhythms.

When you’re stressing about how you’re not getting enough done, it’s easy to stop listening to yourself and to ignore those rhythms. Psychiatrist Dr. T. Byram Karasu points out the cost of such heedlessness:

Like all of nature, human beings are biologically programmed. Our psyche’s interference with the physical rhythms and cycles is detrimental to our bodies, only to be negatively resonated, in return. This vicious circle is a distinctly human phenomenon. No other living creature steps out of pace with nature and survives. Chronobiology (the biology of time) asserts that our bodies have an internal rhythm or music, which we not only can but should tune in to.

Being productive isn’t about a continuous, speedy march from waking to sleeping, though it can certainly feel that way. What if instead, the ideal was not just about crushing your to-do lists but attunement, aiming not for time and task management but for tempo management?

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Buzzfeed’s Kismet Engine that Drives Deliberate Focus

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People often hold this ideal about how great work gets done through serendipity, as if brains to stumble upon each other like characters in a romantic comedy. More often, the spark happens when we create the conditions for it to do so. If you really want lightning to strike, you don’t just mosey along empty-handed, you go out there with a lightning rod.

Jon Steinberg, president and COO of Buzzfeed found his lightning rod system, what he calls his “kismet engine.” That fateful engine is Snippets, a surprisingly simple productivity system that originated at Google.

How Snippets works at Buzzfeed is this:  employees send Jon a weekly email by the end of the workday on Friday identifying what they’ve been working on and what they need help with. Everyone can also subscribe to each others’ snippets. As for Jon, he reads his compiled snippets over the weekend and then responds with feedback and questions.

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The Only Thing that Matters

The journey of the entrepreneur is to figure out what matters. We know that starting a company requires extreme focus and prioritization.

But figuring that out is no easy matter because of the jumble of possibilities and complexities of running a business, on top of the cottage industry of abundant, contradictory, and just plain bad business advice.

These 6 pieces are the thoughtful reflection of industry leaders on what matters, above all else, in building a successful company from scratch.

The only thing that matters – Marc Andreessen

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Drive, Drift or Develop? The Different Productivity Types

The main thing that marks the Developer is that they are comfortable making forward progress even in the midst of uncertainty. Even in the midst of their work they are perpetually scanning the horizon for new insights, new opportunities, and new ways of approaching their work.

Todd Henry of The Accidental Creative breaks down three different productivity types – the Driver, the Drifter, and the Developer.

Drivers are motivated by the task at hand. They want to get stuff done, nose to the grindstone.

Drifters are multitaskers of life, diffusing their focus on many different things.

The Developer involves a balancing act of perspective, fostering focus while allowing drifting and dreaming.

Whatever productivity type you tend to be, try to actively go into Developer Mode and take some time to see both the forest and the trees.

Which productivity type are you?  

The Peak Time for Everything

A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to the body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when most of us perform our best at specific tasks, from resolving conflicts to thinking creatively.

Sue Shellenbarger explores The Peak Time for Everything for WSJ.

Some takeaways: Nap around 2pm. Tired times make for better open-ended thinking. And retweeting chances increase between 3-6 pm.

Circadian and natural rhythms, and thus peak times for doing stuff, depend on the individual. Read on for some pretty interesting ideas on how to set your activity to your inner clock.

Tips for Better Time Management

[T]ime management isn’t primarily about using minutes well, it’s about using yourself well. And using yourself well means spending most of your time in your sweet spot, which is at the intersection of your strengths, weaknesses, differences, and passions.

Peter Bregman found that many people “agree or strongly agree that they don’t spend enough time at work in their sweet spot, doing work they’re really good at and enjoy the most.”

Focusing at work isn’t just about concentrating on the tasks at hand, but also about focusing your talents. Stay in your sweet spot longer.