It can often feel like there isn’t enough time in the day. Between work, side projects, spending time with friends and family, learning new skills, and basic maintenance (don’t forget to eat and sleep!) our daily 24 hours gets filled quicker than we’d like.
Which probably explains our current cultural obsession with productivity. However, getting the most out of our days isn’t simply about doing more. But about doing the right things.
For Ben Lang, prioritization, focus, and time management have been issues that are constantly top of mind. Because they’ve had to be.
From founding and running his own company, to working as a full-time marketer for AI-powered help desk, Spoke, to wrangling time for his multiple side projects, events, and online communities, Ben’s days are especially packed.
Which begs the question: How do we get the most out of our days? Especially when we have so much we want to get done.
In this interview, we spoke to Ben about his daily routine, how he prioritizes the work that matters most, and the importance of consistency when it comes to hitting your long term goals.
Finding your focus starts at the beginning of your day
We’ve written about the importance of having a morning routine in the past. But talking to Ben, the importance of starting your day off right becomes especially clear:
“I wake up at 7am every day. Weekends too. And start with something physical like a game of tennis or yoga before spending an hour on my computer going through my current projects and getting prepared for the day.”
“I wasn’t always like this and there was definitely a hard learning period at first where I’d get up later or sleep in on the weekends. But what I discovered was that it wasn’t until I started to be very consistent about waking up to my alarm, every single day, that I started to see results.
“Those first hours are my most productive and I was wasting them by not being committed to a schedule.”
As the old saying goes, “You overestimate what you can accomplish in a week, but underestimate what you can accomplish in a year.”
Yet when most people talk about productivity, they discuss the things you can do in the moment. Like blocking distracting websites, prioritizing your workday, and protecting yourself from unnecessary interruptions.
Talking to Ben, however, it seems like the most important things you should optimize for are outside the workday. Things like getting exercise, eating right, and sleeping enough. Or, the sort of general wellness that bleeds into the rest of our day but gets ignored when we typically talk about productivity.
Doing more focused work comes down to two things: Consistency and Prioritization
With the right start to your day, the next question is what to do once the day has started?
When you’re juggling multiple projects this isn’t as easy as it sounds. First, you need to decide what the right work is. Then, find ways to protect yourself from everything else that wants to take your attention away from working on it.
“When you’re passionate about so many different ideas and projects, how do you balance all your commitments and feel like you’re actually making progress on them?”
“That’s been a struggle for me, because we can all go ahead and work on a million things but not move forward with any of them. So the question then becomes not what do you want to do, but what do you want to actually finish?”
In this way, Ben says that consistency is more important than perfection.
Rather than obsessing over all the things we could do. It’s better to simply put the time in every single day to work on what is most important to you.
Yet while consistency makes sure that we’re spending some time every day on our most important work, how do we make the most of that time?
“I use products like RescueTime to see where I’m spending my time and measure myself. And the weekly emails are super helpful in seeing what I’ve been spending my time on. But, I think I’m still in the phase of trying different productivity methods out.”
While he’s still perfecting his personal productivity methods, Ben suggested a few paths to help protect your focused time:
- Use the right tools: Technology can both distract and empower us. And Ben firmly believes in the latter. He suggests putting your phone in airplane mode, shutting down all apps and screens other than the one you’re working in, as well as using things like the Facebook News Feed Eradicator plug-in to stop you from getting sucked into the rabbit hole of social media.
- Harness the power of the humble list: When it comes down to doing focused work, Ben says one of the best tools is also the simplest: lists. Ben uses Wunderlist to make meticulous lists around everything that needs to get done and the actions he needs to take to get there.
- Experimentation is key: “When it comes to productivity, I think experimentation is so important. Everyone has their own strategies that work for them, but you need to try things first to see if they work for you,” he explains. “That’s why I love reading what other people are doing on Twitter or other blogs. I think it’s just so important to go through the process of seeing if something works for you.”
There will always be things that want to take your attention away. But by using the right tools, being organized, and committing to consistency we can put ourselves on the right track towards doing more focused work when it matters.
How your work environment can be a productivity booster (even when you’re travelling)
When you have multiple projects and interests on the go all at once, you more than likely will be moving around a fair bit. And few things kill our productivity like being in an uncomfortable work environment.
For Ben, who has worked in Tel Aviv and San Francisco as well as throughout Southeast Asia, he quickly discovered that having a consistent work environment was a major productivity booster.
“For me, one of the most important things is to have a very comfortable working environment. Which makes it hard to just go to a cafe and do work, because I want a comfortable chair and the right monitor height and all those things.”
But we can’t always be working in the perfect situation. Which is why Ben suggests investing in the tools you need to make an environment comfortable for your working style.
“I love my Roost laptop stand and can’t go somewhere and work without it. I also bring a mouse and keyboard with me if I’m working out of the office. Noise is also a significant factor in my ability to focus, and I’ve become a huge convert to my Airpods as they do a great job of drowning out background noise.”
The freedom of working for someone else
Lastly, as someone who has spent time both leading and working for companies, Ben has a unique view on the connection between control and time management. Yet, while it might seem like you need total control over your time to be the most productive with it, Ben explains how there’s actually freedom in working for someone else:
“I’ve definitely been on both sides and can say that it’s a very different experience. When you’re a founder, your company is your sole focus and everything revolves around it.
“Whereas when you work for a company, you have space to think and spend time on your passion projects. You get the privilege to be able to think about things that excite you and that you’re passionate about on evenings and weekends and anytime outside of the work day.”
We’ve talked before about the liberation of limitations, and how sometimes having less time to work on projects makes us more productive. And this seems to be the case with Ben. Consistency is almost a by-product of constraints. The less time we have to do something, the more we want to use that time wisely and effectively.
If you’re the type of person to get excited about every new idea that comes up, you’ve probably faced a lot of the dilemmas Ben talks about. Where do you find time to do it all? How do you prioritize what work is most important? How do you make sure you’re able to do the most with the limited time you have?
While these are questions that can take a lifetime to figure out, talking to Ben one thing became incredibly clear: consistency and commitment will always take you further than feeling paralyzed by wanting to do it all at once.
If you want to find out more about Ben, you can follow him on Twitter or ProductHunt. And check out his work with IT Kit and Spoke—a company that’s using AI to help empower Human Resources and IT professionals.