What Snorkeling in Costa Rica Taught Me About Productivity

I am currently in Costa Rica with my family for the holidays. Every day my wife and I (and sometimes a family member) do something active – stand up paddle boarding, surfing, hiking to a waterfall. It was a very active yet very relaxing vacation.

One day this trip taught me more than the others, though. That was yesterday – the day we went snorkeling.

As I floated in the Pacific, looking downwards to coral reefs to watch fish (parrot fish! clown fish! small yellow fish!) I felt myself drifting. I was headed in a general direction of “with the group” and “away from the rocks” and “toward the fish”, but I was still drifting, with only a life preserver tied around my wrist in case I wanted or needed it.

As I floated, I found myself wanting to go in a specific direction and to a specific place to see a specific fish. But when I started to swim, I felt myself staying in place because the tide decided it was going out right then. As hard as I kicked (with fins) and swam with my arms, I simply didn’t make progress.

Costa Rica flowers
Fast forward ten seconds to the tide wanting to head back in the direction I wanted to go, and I made it to my destination quicker than I could have ever done on my own.

And this may sound weird, but I thought to myself “Isn’t this just like productivity?”

Let me explain.

The Productivity Trap

The startup/entrepreneurship world is obsessed with productivity. Every other post I see through my Twitter feed is “X Ways to do Y Things Faster”.

People create whole courses about productivity, to sell them to people who supposedly don’t have enough time in their day to do everything they need to do so they buy a course that takes time when they should be doing something else.

If I was a true hustler, I’d create a course that people can buy and get nothing in return so that they can focus on the work they’re supposed to be doing.

But I digress.

Productivity as a culture is a lie. It’s a sham. Life and work isn’t about getting more done. It’s about getting more out of the things we do. It’s about enjoying our down time when we’re not working and getting our obligations done. It’s not about working 14 hour days seven days a week until we are exhausted, swimming against the tide.
If you’re just trying to get more done, you’re not being efficient and letting others help you. And yes, this is a lesson I am constantly learning. I have huge control issues in my life and business, and am working to get over both of those so that my life can be more full and my business more successful.
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Tim Ferriss’s thinkings around building a business. In his recent post Testing The Impossible: 17 Questions That Changed My Life, he writes:

If I could only work two hours per week on my business, what would I do?

I read that and it floored me. It put words to exactly how I’ve run my business at times – just trying to remove myself as a bottleneck. I’m lucky to have a product that works and makes money, so when I approach a time where I realize I am the bottleneck to things getting done well I try to hire someone or build a process that will solve it. The solution depends on the problem. Different hammers for different problems and all that.

Becoming Less Productive To Be More Productive

As we head into 2017, I am challenging myself to continually be thinking how I can be less productive (aka do fewer things myself, but really concentrate on those that I am doing) so that others (or software) can do things that I am currently doing manually.

What about you? Where are some areas that you can be “less productive” and stop trying to swim against the tide, instead allowing others to do things for you and thus get you to where you are trying to go faster?

Here are a few areas you should probably start:

  • Let a CPA take care of your taxes for you. This saved me probably 20 hours in 2016 alone (for 2015 taxes) and also saved me thousands of dollars because of deductions and such that I did not know to take.
  • If you own a business, let someone else do your bookkeeping. I use Bench.co for mine and it a) probably saves me 2-3 evenings a month of reconciling books and b) lets me have a very real look into my business each month.
  • Pay for those tools you are on free versions of but doing things manually to get around paying the $8-10/month that they cost. Support another small business and free up your own time and headspace.
  • Hire a freelance developer to build out tools that take care of things that you do again and again. I remember paying a developer overseas $80 to build out a tool using the YellowPages API, when I could have created the tool myself in a few hours. But it saved me a few hours and we got the work done faster, and a reusable tool.

As for me? I’m thinking about the following:

  • Where I can use virtual assistants to do some of the tasks that I currently do, such as setting new profiles live on the site or scheduling CredoCast guests.
  • How I can build scaleable processes, like support areas, to answer common questions so that I get fewer repetitive support requests.
  • Where I should be willing to spend up to $50/month to get an hour of my time back. If I bill myself out quite higher than that, I should be willing to spend some money to get time back that I can either spend doing work or just relaxing a bit.

What about you? When have you fought against the tide when in reality you should let it take you there?