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Productivity Interview: Michael Sliwinski from Nozbe.com - Mirasee

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Productivity Interview: Michael Sliwinski from Nozbe.com

ProductivityMichael Sliwinski is the founder of one of the best online productivity tools, Nozbe.com.

Written to fit with the principles of “Getting Things Done”, Michael, a productivity junkie and trainer, and a bit of a software geek, wrote up a bare-bones version of Nozbe.com in an evening.

Five years later, he and his staff of twelve have rolled out Nozbe 2.0, mobile apps and in just a few days, a “desktop” version of Nozbe.

So how does a super-busy entrepreneur – who happens to also be a productivity expert, who also (literally) wrote the tool for it – get it all done?

Listen to this audio of my interview with Michael as we discuss being focused, the number one trick for doing unpleasant tasks (it involves a tomato) and the one common theme he noticed from interviewing productivity heavyweights like David Allen, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki and others…

Click here to listen to the audio

Questions asked:

  • Q: You are a busy guy – how do you get it all done? (1:22)
  • Q: You’ve got lots of ideas, how do you stay focused and follow through? (7:01)
  • Q: What are some of the productivity hacks you use every day? (12:16)
  • Q: How do you get back on track on the days where things don’t go well? (19:19)
  • Q: Do you give yourself “repercussions” if you don’t get your stuff done? (28:10)
  • Q: What are your thoughts about these “distractions” like social media, especially as an entrepreneur. (30:33)
  • Q: You’ve interviewed productivity heavyweights for your magazine. What’s the common takeaway? (37:42)
  • Q: What are some of the things you do to ensure your work/life balance? (44:33)

Topics and resources mentioned:

Distilled wisdom from Michael Sliwinski:

  • Tip #1: Find a good idea and focus on that and only that.
  • Tip #2: Staying focused is easy if you’re passionate about what you are doing.
  • Tip #3: Have trusted mentors and listen to their advice.
  • Tip #4: The key is to develop good habits.
  • Tip #5: Jot the top three priorities for the next morning at the end of your day. Do those before anything else.
  • Tip #6: Don’t open or do any “distraction” things (email,  Twitter, etc.) until noon.
  • Tip #7: Use a tool to collaborate with your team, not email.
  • Tip #8: Stay organized with your tasks, so that you can easily pick up where you left off.
  • Tip #9: Bad days will happen. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
  • Tip #10: Delegate! (or if that’s not possible, outsource, …)
  • Tip #11: Give yourself mini-rewards, especially for completing stuff you don’t like doing.
  • Tip #12: When things didn’t go so well, examine why. Learn from the experience and make adjustments.
  • Tip #13: Practice, practice, practice until you’ve ingrained the new behaviour as a new, good habit.

Interview Transcript:

Peter: Hello everyone, this is Peter Vogopoulous from Firepole Marketing.com. Welcome once again, this is another interview installment for Productive Marketing Month. I’m very, very pleased, very honored to have Michael Sliwinski – did I say that right Michael?

Michael: Yep.

Peter:  He is the founder of a wonderful getting things done online application app called Nozbe, which you can find at Nozbe.com. He’s also a blogger at Nozbe.com and he’s the editor of his own magazine and video show called Productive Magazine which you can find, as well through either Nozbe.com or the Productive Magazine website. And he’s also the CEO of his own marketing agency, called APIVision so clearly, this man does a lot. He is also the premiere sponsor of Productive Marketing Month which means he did a lot of work with the survey. We’re really pleased to have him. Welcome Michael.

Michael: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Peter: It’s our pleasure, our pleasure. So I’m going to ask you the same thing I ask every other very, very busy person who I interview here. You’ve got Nozbe going on, you were just telling me earlier before we started the interview how you’ve been working hard on the desktop version, and you’ve got your eMarketing agency, and also you somehow manage to do your video show where you’ve interviewed some amazing people. How do you get all that done? How do you get it all done? Is what we want to know.

Michael:  You know, I think the most, most, most important thing is the focus, right?   So make sure that’s the most important thing.  Actually, the most important thing for me right now is Nozbe, ‘cause Nozbe is my application. Because right now, Nozbe earns me money, obviously, but also because it’s my favorite thing. I’m building – I’m building a tool that I love to use, that thousands and thousands of people and companies use all over the world. And actually the whole idea of changing, of influencing how people work, it’s incredible.

So clearly this is my main focus. Particularly it’s my passion. You know, that’s why I was, I wasn’t born a very organized person let’s say, my wife for example, she’s organized by design. Well, I’m a disaster, and that’s why I love getting things done. Initially for myself but then eventually for the world. And now with Productive Magazine, Productive Magazine Show, I’m trying to learn from the community, learn with the community , how to get things done, get to the top, really meeting people who are mentors, I’ll say, to just learn more about getting things done, about productivity, about my fans and all this stuff. Because, you know, right now, this is information society, this is what we need to know. We need to know because habits and we need to know what to do to get it all done, right?

So for me, that’s the whole thing. I know what my primary focus is what my core business is and it’s Nozbe. But the rest of the stuff, it just comes from my passion for productivity, and let’s say: my path will be complete if I just focus on Nozbe. I’m spending some of my time to these other ventures which I guess is good, and I get to talk about productivity to people, and I get to learn a lot you know. This is the thing.

Peter: That’s wonderful. And do tell us just a little bit, for the benefit of our viewers, just for context here, and I mean, I recall following Nozbe and you for some time.  It seems as if you started off, from what I understand, this was a tool that you made for yourself and then you refined it and started showing it to the world, then you were hiring developers and you were also following your passions that’s what you were doing productivity training for people. I remember seeing you do that, and you also have a very nice productivity primer on Nozbe.com. A really nice simple way of getting started getting things done, so just tell us a little bit about that. And how that sort of – did that just fall into place, or was that by design?

Michael: Well, yeah, it just fell into place. I mean the whole time I was running APIVision, it is no longer a business that is for hire anymore, because I focus my energy now on Nozbe and other products. But until that point where I launched Nozbe, I was for hire. I was working with many, many companies, helping them with productivity stuff on the internet. And because I was fairly successful, I was starting to, not to meet deadlines. I was starting to be disorganized.

And then I found the book “Getting Things Done” and then I built Nozbe practically overnight.  I built it for myself. Very, very bare bones, just for me, just a simple thing. And I was using it, I was refining it, and then I decided that it’s a thing that could actually, you know – if it works for me, maybe it would work for some other Michael’s in the world. That’s why I decided to launch it. And when I launched it there were many more Michael’s than I thought, on this planet. So I continued using it. And I was running Nozbe, the first year, as a side business, but after one year of running it and seeing that there was a big potential there, a lot of users there and that I enjoyed working on it more than working for other customers, so I decided to go full time. And it developed into, into a business.

But the thing is that meanwhile, while I was preparing Nozbe I was already very active in the GTD community. I was already reading blogs about getting things done and was posting in forums, so I knew already, more or less the GTD community, I was already searching for tools and hacks to get things done better and all this stuff. So my passion for productivity, was building itself while I was building Nozbe. And that’s why it was easier for me when I launched Nozbe to get to the community and ask them for feedback, and later to continue developing this passion for productivity and to do Productive Magazine and do courses and trainings, you know, and some other stuff. That’s why, for me Productive Magazine is an internal part of my DNA. I love doing this because it’s just so much fun and it just keeps me grow.

Peter: That’s great. And it was great to watch that you did that and that you gave us this context so thank you. You know, this ties sort of nicely into what I was wanting to talk to you about next. Is that I mean, you’ve done all those things – Nozbe and Productive Magazine, and you probably have more ideas that you could do, but, you know, you talked about focus. How do you choose what you’re going to do?  And once you’ve chosen, okay, I’m going to do Nozbe, and I’m going to do productive magazine and I see how these things tie together – how do you make sure you follow through and they get done and you don’t get distracted by this shiny object or, letting those other ideas take more priority.

Michael: You know, okay, to give you more context for this: before I launched Nozbe and succeeded with Nozbe, I failed three times with the startup. So, it’s not like it was bull’s-eye in the first run. It wasn’t. I tried and failed three times, and what I learned from that was that I was actually pursuing many different things at a time. And this gave me with Nozbe; early success with Nozbe gave me the confidence to focus just on that.

And right now I have so many ideas, I mean, so many ideas. And now my team has grown, I just hired four amazing new developers, and so the team has grown, we’re bigger, but, I have many more ideas, but the thing is still: some things you just have to let go. Some things I just treat as training for something, right? So for example: I had an idea for a product back in the fall, so I was working on it on weekends just working in it a little bit to get a feel of how it would be, how it would turn out, and I basically shelved it. But I shelved it in a way that was just- I gave it to my developers and asked, can we use it in some way in our business? And so right now we have this internal product for ourselves that we will use to you know as an example. And while I still think this idea could be a different product, I’m too busy working on my product and making sure it works for me than launching it as a separate product.

And there are many things like that. But the thing is you should always listen to your heart and what’s really the thing that’s genuinely yours and genuinely something you are passionate about, or that is just a shiny object that will just fade away after a week or two. And for me, if I have this new shiny object, I like to play with it, but I always, you know focus, I make sure that I know where my priorities are. And because our products are tied to something I’m really passionate about, it’s not a big deal, it’s not a big problem. And also, just, in the start-up world especially, many people tend to you know show off: I’m into this and that and that and that but if you’re like that, then it’s really hard to succeed in anything. So that’s why, that’s why – and of course, the second thing is that I have really good mentors. So when I talk to my mentors about my ideas, they often – you know to talk to me in a way that, you know, Michael-

Peter:  “that’s not so good, Michael!”

Michael: Let this go! I mean, this is cool that you have this idea, but think how you could turn it into something for your main thing, for your project but don’t make it a different thing –don’t lose focus. So it’s also good to be surrounded by mentors, and to talk to people who are just wiser then you, and this is something I’ve been trying to do also with Productive magazine, as you have seen. We have talked to Seth Godin, to Jason Fried, Michael Hyatt, Leo Babauta, to David Allen, and you know, all of these guys, you know, Guy Kawasaki, all these guys are very smart guys, so when you talk to them, you learn things. You know how to go back to the goal.

Peter: That’s really amazing about Productive Magazine; I’m going to ask you about that in just a second. I wanted to ask you – what you just said has so much wisdom, in the last five minutes. I’m always fond of saying that you know, you, as an entrepreneur are sort of like a gardener and you have one watering can and only so many trees and if you plant five trees and you give each tree a little bit of water then none of the trees are going to grow. But if you only plant one tree and you water that tree every day it’s going to grow and eventually that tree won’t need watering and you can go off and do another tree.

Michael: Exactly.

Peter: So I think you’ve said it really well right there because losing focus means your energy gets spread.

Michael: Yeah, the thing is I’ve been running Nozbe five years now… five years! So that’s a lot of time and the problem with this is that the more you know the less you know. I mean for example me, after five years Nozbe should be a very mature product that doesn’t need any development and I see endless possibilities too for Nozbe which is why it’s hard for me to let it go because I see where Nozbe can go next which is why it helps me focus because with this I can see I can still go all the way up. I mean the further you go, the more possibilities you see and that’s why it also helps me stay focused.

Peter: So, getting down like to tactical stuff, like day-to-day stuff, I mean you’re obviously a user of your own tools, so I don’t have to ask you that, but I invite anybody to try out Nozbe.com, and if you’re filling out our survey this month, in Productive Marketing Month you have a chance to win a year-long subscription to Nozbe so go ahead and fill out that survey everyone. So how do you stay on top of things and follow through, make sure it gets done. Obviously Nozbe’s your core, you work with a team of people, developers and I know that you probably use Nozbe for that, too. What are some hacks that you use to stay productive every day?

Michael: So then, the most recent thing that we just discussed before the interview was the thing that I do in the morning, so more me for example the routine is very important. Like, and this is something I’ve been struggling as everyone else. It’s not like I’m a, you know, superhuman, it’s not true, I’m a person like everyone else — the thing is to develop good habits. For example, for me right now the question was to develop good habits for today to make sure that I’m on top of my game the whole day. It’s usually we are not at the top of our game the whole day because you know as the day goes you just get sloppier and sloppier, so in, in my case the important part is that in the morning when I wake up, I do my stuff that I had planned the day before. So I’m trying, as much as I can, just before I get to sleep, I jot down three most important things I need to accomplish tomorrow. And they’re just three things, not too many things. Just three things that are most important for me so that at the end of the next day I will feel proud that I did them. Right? So I have this routine you know, and I just put it on paper, you know put it on paper next to my computer or next to my bed, it depends, but I have it there.

So when I wake up in the morning I don’t launch email, I don’t launch Twitter I don’t touch all these, you know distractions, you know things. I just get to these three things. For example just today in the morning the night before I went with my daughter to kindergarten, I wrote two articles. Just before, you know before the breakfast, I just went there down to the computer, I just knew which articIes I needed to write, I had more or less and idea what I wanted to write there and I just sit there and write. And for example right now my routine is that until 12 o clock, until noon, I don’t open all these distraction things. I don’t respond to phone calls. So afternoon is the credit time, and at noon I’m trying to do some exercise and sometimes cook some in the kitchen sometimes a half an hour other times an hour just go for a run or something it depends how I feel, but I do some exercise, at least something to makes sure the level is still up.

And then, after noon, 1pm, I’m all for my people. I open email, I go to my inbox zero routine, I open Skype, and I talk to my team I schedule meetings and all this stuff. So I make sure that you know, after one o clock pm I can respond to people. Because if you’re running a company and if you’re just a one man show, you can find yourself responding to people all day long. So for example this thing helped me, you know, give me this, you know, barrier, until twelve I don’t respond to people. Okay, there are days when there is an exception, I need to respond because of some urgent issues, but I try not to. I try not to. So, this is my, for example, one of my habits. Every day it’s getting better, every day it’s getting better, every day it’s getting more consistent with that, and it really helps me a lot. I mean my team, I was one person, then we were three, then we were you know seven, then we were eight, now we are twelve, so things are growing and I need to make sure that I have time, the creative time, to write feedback on my team, to write articles, to write specs, to draw up designs for our application, to write marketing materials, I mean to all these things, all these things require my focus and having email, having you know Twitter and all this stuff and being responsive is not a good idea. That’s why I try to limit myself like that.

Peter: It’s an amazing thing. So you force that focused time, a block of time so that you have this time to work. You control it as much as you can, so tell us a little bit about that. How do you, what do you do in order to control it. You already said you personally don’t open your email; you don’t take your messages. Did it take some training on the part of the people you work with? Your team for example. For them to learn that you don’t get talked at in the mornings, so you have that focused time.

Michael: Yes. So, I mean, look, with my team, I keep track of my team, we do a weekly review. So for example my CTO and my chief of customer support, we with these two people, I do a review every week, so every week at exactly at noon and one pm on Monday we do a review with each of them so I, we don’t the things that we have to do and we make sure that we’re on the same page with the focus for each week. And also over there I tell them how this week is going to be like for me, and my chief of customer support she’s also kind of my assistant, she helps me manage stuff, so she also knows that for Michael, you don’t schedule stuff for Michael until 12pm, noon. So apart from one pm she can schedule anything for me. So, she knows that, right? And also, when I talk to my people the rest of my team we have also weekly all hands meetings. Also, they know how I work and I am also asking them how they work. We try to make sure that we know how we work each of us, which kind of habits we have to make sure that we can, you know, that I know that the fact is for this guy I need to send feedback early, for this guy I need to send feedback later and all this stuff. So we try to be on the same page, and also because we communicate through our tool, and I’m not trying here to sell my tool. The idea is that we communicate through a tool. We don’t communicate through email, it’s really an important change, because when you communicate through email the messages from your team get lost with the messages from everyone else.

Peter:  Sure.

Michael:  – and when you communicate through a tool, through any online tool for task management, and you have you know collaboration, it’s a different things because you can make tasks, so everybody knows which task is belongs to whom. We call them tasks so we know, you know, what needs to be done and stuff, and when I want to communicate with my team I have, is what I do, before noon, I open of course Nozbe because over there, I see the communication from my team, so over there I do communicate with them to make sure that they are on the same page as I am and I know their problems and their situation. But, I don’t open emails, I don’t get more distractions. So I think when you work in the team environment it’s really important to communicate through a tool and not email. Because email wasn’t built for collaboration, it was built for communication, and not to have collaboration and it’s a bit difference.

Peter: Well said, well said. Despite all these things you have in place and how you respect how everybody works and you try to control your mornings for your focus, despite all these things, sometimes just the best laid plans for your day just go awry. There are days where everything takes longer then you expected and things don’t go the way you expected and it just forces you right off your schedule and you’re not on your routine anymore. How do you handle it when the plans go off the rails? How do you recover? What do you do to get back on track if you sort of stray from the productivity wagon?

Michael: Yeah, so there are several things. If something happens beyond my control, like for example there’s an emergency or I need to go because my daughter is sick or something, so when things like that happen, well, they just happen, so I have to deal with that and because I have, I know where I have my thoughts so I know where is my inbox, I know where is my, you know, to do list, I know where all this stuff is. So when I, when this thing is over, I know where to get it back.

Peter: You get back into it quickly.

Michael: Exactly. Very, very quickly. And also here, very important trick is: don’t be so hard on yourselves, guys! I mean, really, we’re just humans, so things happen, and worse than that. We are human and we have worse days and this is just like that. I mean, the work or the pressures or whatever you have a bad day. It happens. Don’t be so hard on yourself, try to get back on your feet, but if you have one bad day, it doesn’t mean you’re a lousy person. I mean, many people are like that. I was like that for a very long time, you know. Because, you’re not on top of your game every single day. It’s not possible, we’re not, you know, Robocops, we are not machines, we are people. So the tricky part not to be hard on yourselves in this thing. Also second thing for example: if I have a bad day, and I cannot focus, I use something like that. This is a…

Peter:  Wonderful. Pomodoro.

Michael: Pomodoro technique. Yes, so what I do is put it up on 25 minutes, and take I’ll just put it there, and it starts and it starts ticking. One and you know, so it starts ticking and the thing is, when you have something ticking here, you start feeling anxious a little bit. Like “hmm. Okay, the clock is ticking, time is ticking, OK I should focus on this right not.” And then it’s kind of, I don’t know for some reason it’s easier to focus o something because there’s a pressure, you know? And as we know from our, you know, from our college days or our high school days when there’s pressure on you to deliver something, you start doing it. Right? Because there’s pressure. So this thing is a small red thing, and gives me this pressure. And I remember very well and I wrote it on my blog that I had several situations where I was thinking about an idea about a problem for two hours without any productive resolution. But then I just put the clock and in twenty five minutes I solved it. It was just amazing, this power of focus, this power of pressure, helped me get back on my feet and I was already being very hard on myself for losing two hours and doing nothing and this kind of stuff, so it really helped me — helps me focus. So I recommend this. And you don’t have to use it every single half an hour, but it really helps, helps to get back when you have a sloppy day.

Peter: That’s great. And for the benefit of our readers too, there’s also a blog post I’m going to run in Productive Marketing Month titled “Three things you could do TODAY to improve your productivity”, one of those things actually we talk about time boxing and the Pomodoro Technique which you’re using right there. You can find it at the pomodorotechnique.com and more just, you know search Firepole Marketing blog for that post, we’ll put it up. But that’s great, great. It’s so cool to see your private tomato. That’s wonderful. I love using the tomato for the days, for the days where like you said, it’s sloppy or for the things that I don’t like doing.

Michael: Yeah, exactly.

Peter:  But when I like doing something I really find that I don’t need the timer, but when I’m doing something I don’t like doing, like my administrative accounting, whatever stuff, let’s say, and I’ve I’m very tempted to go off and surf something – the clock keeps me focused for the 25 minutes and for the 25 minute increments that I need. So actually, let me ask you that too, you know, the stuff we love doing get done and isn’t that amazing how that happens? But the stuff we don’t like doing sometimes, it’s harder to do so we have to focus and we have to push ourselves, how do you stay motivated? Do you use your bright red tomato, do you do other tips or tricks?

Michael: So, the thing that I learned recently was to delegate.

Peter: Wonderful. Excellent, excellent technique. I highly recommend it.

Michael: best technique ever, so you just delegate what you don’t like. So for example, I hated accounting for the company and I was doing it for quite awhile. My father was helping me in that, and now, I just hired my father for that, so I don’t have to do it at all.

Peter: Wonderful.

Michael: So, this was very helpful, but if you cannot do that, if you couldn’t delegate a task, there are two things that I’ve been using with very good success. So, first of all, for example when I was doing accounting for myself, I was, you know, I just took my laptop on my lap, I was doing all this accounting thing with me, to the living room and I would just put a movie I wanted to watch anyway. But the movie I already knew, but I wanted to watch again. Like for example haven’t seen the Braveheart for I don’t know, several years, I wanted to see it again, this kind of thing. And I would know that it’s also time boxing. So the movie last let’s say two hours, in the case of Braveheart it lasts three hours, but you know. The movie lasts a certain amount of time so I know that I have to be done with that by the time the movie ends. But the cool idea was that I was watching the movie, so I was enjoying this, and then I was doing this clicks, printing and all this you know, dull stuff while I was watching a movie, so after that I was quite happy that I watched the movie and did the dull stuff. So this is actually a technique I was using and the second thing recently I have learned a lot to schedule somethimg really good, I mean, very similar theme, something really good, really nice to do after you’ve done the miserable stuff.

Peter: Rewards!

Michael: Rewards! Yes exactly. Give mini-rewards to yourself, right. You know I’m going to watch something, I’m going to go out, I’m going to do something, once I’m done with that. And then you just start doing this because you want the other thing, you know? Because this really helps.

Peter: Do you find it helps? The whole psychology of reinforcement that plays into that. You know, I accomplish something, I’m supposed to reward myself so my brain gets used to the idea of rewarding myself. Do you find that works? Do you reward yourself for major things too?

Michael: yeah. Definitely. I mean, for me it does, for me it does, I like to reward myself in this sense – it really helps me do this dull stuff. Dull things. And it depends what kind of rewards work for you, kind of, I mean everyone has different kinds of rewards systems and sometimes the rewards may not be so cool or something, but in my case I try to pick small rewards like, but the ones that I really, really help me. And then you know, I tried to have a night out after I’ve done, after I’ve had a good day, to make sure that I have – I live, I don’t just work, right? So I, so I did this kind of things when I don’t do that I’ll punish myself and postpone it for tomorrow and make sure that tomorrow I deliver the results. So well, it depends, but, in my case it does work. In my case the rewards work and actually I read a book called “The NOW Habit”. I recommend this book. It’s a very, very good book. It’s a book about beating procrastination actually, so a very, very good read. I’m going to be writing about this book on my blog soon. So over there I’m using this power of schedule. So the idea is that I’m first scheduling the good things on during the day, so I’m going to scheduling when I’m going to do exercise, I’m scheduling when I’m going to have lunch, I’m scheduling the good things, the nice things. And then I have the, you know, holes between them that I have to fill up with work. So that, that makes me again, more focused because I need to get these things done to make sure I have my lunch that I want. It’s – it works. I mean in my case it does work.

Peter: You mentioned something earlier that I wanted to ask you about and how do you think that plays into it? When things… are there repercussions and self-imposed repercussions when you don’t get things done? So let’s say you wanted to get things done but for some reason you didn’t or you did you had one of those sloppy days or, I know you said don’t beat yourself up I understand, I certainly agree we shouldn’t, but, I mean if you feel that you didn’t really accomplish what you needed to accomplish – how does it work for you? Do you have self-imposed repercussion, do you say: “no I’m not going to get the reward – bad, bad Michael.” How does that work?

Michael: Well it depends of course on the person. But most of the time I’m going to try to find something positive about it. I’m trying to find what I have learned from the experience. Why isn’t, why didn’t it go so well? And for me the reward is to find a better way to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish and to find a way why it hasn’t been done, and then I’m trying to postpone my reward let’s say for next day. If I manage to approach it from the, you know a different angle or something. So you know, I recently also learned the best, you know, we learn from our failures, so when you have failed the good thing is to actually study why you failed, and then try again.

Peter: Wonderful. There’s some self evaluation there some self assessment. What happened today that was wrong, why did I not get it done, and learn from it? That’s great that’s fantastic.

Michael: ‘Cause you know something, it can be a very trivial thing. You just scheduled too many things. You got stuff done there were just too many things, and you learn, okay – so I shouldn’t have scheduled so many things for one day because then I will be miserable anyway because I won’t get them. This is the thing we talked about before. I scheduled, I planned, three major things for each day, I think Leo Babauta said three big rocks or something in his Zen to Done course. So three things and this is really easy, because you actually get these three things done very quickly, and then when you do, you have you feel even better because you accomplished more than these three things. But, if you plan, you’re going to do ten things tomorrow, and then you know it can be tricky.

Peter: Right, right, right. Great advice. So let me ask you; now that we also touched upon this briefly, and so I wanted to get your thoughts on this, I’ve been asking everybody this. You make sure you don’t open up any of those “distractions”, as you called them, until afternoon. So how do you work the distractions; email and the social media? I love hearing the divergent thoughts about this because, keeping up with the mass of email we get and keeping up with all the social media stuff that we seem to be, asked to do. What’s your personal philosophy on that? Because I love hearing the divergent thoughts of entrepreneurs and how they use these things or not use them.

Michael: Yeah, so, I, so something I have to learn still is for example the Facebook thing, because I am quite, I am kind of active on Facebook, but for me Facebook is such a big distraction. It’s such a big time killer, that I just, I’m still trying to avoid it. I prefer Twitter. On Twitter I get more involved with people, I get more communicative. I mean you can actually check it out. If you retweet me or involve, if you get involved with the conversation with me on Twitter, I’ll be happy to respond over there. So what I do is on Twitter for example, I schedule my Twitter time. So I usually do it you know, when I’m on the move, because I just use my iPhone as my Twitter client. I hardly ever open the desktop Twitter client, I don’t use Twitter on my desktop. I usually use it on my iPhone so, and there are so many, so many, you know small holes of time during the day where you can use it because we’re waiting in line or something, or when you’re just walking, or whatever. So I use the Twitter on my iPhone and I use this very cool application called “Buffer” for Twitter where you can just you know stock up some tweets and then they will just, appear over time. Because again, for example, what I read on my reader, so it’s a Google reader application called “Reader”, on my iPhone when there are things I would like to share with people I use buffer to buffer these out and then share them right there. So with Twitter, Twitter takes me about maximum half an hour to, to work and I feel quite engaged with people I am on there, and you know I have twenty plus thousand followers and still, you know, I feel it’s not overwhelming. It’s, I think it’s fun.

With email I think the habit of getting to zero with inbox I got it quite easy. I mean, I’m, it’s very easy for me to process my inbox is quite fast. The other problem I have sometimes is to schedule email. I can’t respond to some of the emails that need more than two minutes to respond. Because usually I use the two-minute rule. So when I go through my email inbox I respond quickly to emails I know the answer to right now and for the rest, the ones that I need more response, to a reply folder and over there I’m not always following through with, you know, and every day cleaning this up. So over there I need more work over there. But the habit of cleaning up the inbox, I got it quite, quite well. I think, Only this now, I need to schedule more time for email to make sure that all these responses don’t stack up. Because over there you can get to thirty, forty messages that need a response, and each message could take five to ten minutes, and then just, you know, it becomes all day of responding to email.

Peter: Sure, yeah.

Michael: so that’s why I swear over there I sometimes fall into this trap of having too many emails in this folder and not cleaning it up as I go. And this is something I need to work on. But apart from that it’s, it’s more or less okay, and so, for me this is how I manage , more or less the social media and for me, for example the blogging thing, it’s very easy. I use the Posterous platform over there and I just send an email over there when I send an email to my blog the email converts to a blog posts. And when it converts to blog post, it tweets. There is a new blog post and it sends a message to Facebook as well there is a new post. So I also like to automate all those things.

Peter: What do you use for that?

Michael: Posterous.

Peter: Posterous. That’s what I thought I heard.

Michael: Yeah Posterous. So in the future I will also be trying to get more automation also for my users in my application and minimalize my life because I think many still who still do too any labor tasks that we shouldn’t be doing. For example I love this thing that when I send an email to my blog platform, everything else gets done.

Peter: It happens automatically – you’ve got that automation.

Michael: It’s amazing. It’s really cool. That’s why I prefer, that’s why for me a blog post it’s a question of fifteen to twenty, twenty-five minutes because I have some drafts in my application and I just pick up on one of these drafts, you know, continue writing on that, and just send it over, and it appears as a blog post, so I think it’s a good system I have.

Peter: I admire you prolific writers. I usually take a little bit longer than that to get my blog posts out. Much to the frustration of my partner Danny. Danny can pound out a blog post in half an hour it takes me three times that amount of time to get a blog post, which I consider worthy of having the entire world reading. So I respect all you guys who manage to get that done fast that way.

Michael: Well the thing is that with practice it gets better. Just for example in my case when I started my michaelNozbe.com blog, so my personal blog, I wanted just to make sure that I get more practice to write. I like writing and I wanted to practice more, I saw great writers like Leo Babauta, other guys who write really beautiful blog posts. An in ime, I just said I think, I just write a lot more. Still my writing skills are not really the best, but you know, I keep writing and, for example, recently I encouraged one of my, one of my people on my team to start blogging because she was complaining that she, that her style is not the best, and I said; “You know just do a Tumblr or a Posterous blog. Keep writing. Even if nobody reads it, don’t – it doesn’t matter, just keep writing every day or every other day, but make sure to write. I’m going to subscribe to your blog, and I’m going to make sure that if you don’t post regularly, I’m going to ask you why.” So, in this sense, she’s right now writing every other day and she loves it and she gets to practice her skills. She posts without, you know, this stress because she writes in a foreign language for her, and actually, she writes in Japanese, so it’s a very big thing. And so, in her case, she doesn’t have the stress that you know there might be a mistake or an error, she just writes. And with writing you know, you get the skill.

Peter: Practice, practice is everything isn’t it?

Michael: Oh yes, Oh yes.

Peter: Nobody learned it overnight. Everybody practiced.

Michael: Somebody said that the magic of ten thousand hours. Doing ten thousand hours you’re a professional.

Peter: Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. Yeah.

Michael: Exactly. Malcolm Gladwell.

Peter: You have a wonderful video and magazine show that you put out called Productive Magazine and you know, you interviewed like you said earlier some really major guys. Guy Kawasaki and I think your first issue was the father of Getting Things Done, David Allen, I remember seeing that and saying “Wow! What a score for the first issue”. So I mean, that’s a great thing. Kudos to you. What, I mean, always you’ve been talking about productivity with these people or their flavor of productivity as it applies to them. What do you think were sort of, like, the takeaways that sort of is common among all of these people that you think is, that seems to just come up all the time when you speak with all these people?

Michael: The most common thing is that everybody’s different. That’s the most common thing and I love it. Yeah, so I think, I think that what we just talked about earlier – it’s a question of practice. So that they practice what they preach and they try to practice a lot. Like when Guy Kawasaki came to social media he’s like 110% social media right now. For example when he started with Twitter he got immediately a hundred thousand followers. When he got into Google+ now he’s in how many I don’t know how many people follow him on Google+ so they are pretty much, they’re just passionate about what they do. And they do it 110%. I think this is the most important thing. Like David Allen, he’s all about productivity, he’s also he’s all about getting things done and he has in his habits engraved in him. When you talk to him, for him it’s just so obvious, and we’re like: “Come on! It’s not that easy David!” But for him, it I,s because it’s just so engraved in him.

And all these other guys, Leo Babauta, was practice, practice, practice. Was building a habit every month. A different habit every month and he got where he got, and, other guy Seth Godin just keeps on shipping, he keeps on shipping. He keeps in sending new manifestos, new books. I mean two or three blog posts a day. That is amazing. And, you know Jason Fried, so, I think the passion is the most important thing. They are passionate about what they do. And you can feel it when you talk to them. You can feel it, you can see it, you can just, sense it there. So for me, I think that the passion is what is in common with all these people. And that’s why this is what attracts us to them. ‘Cause this passion is just, you know, it’s contagious. I mean, when you, when there’s a passionate person, you just, you can’t help it, you want to be part of their passion, all of their tribe, part of their following.

That’s why for me it’s a privilege  to be able to talk to these guys and I’m, you know, humbled that they want to talk to me, actually, so and, to learn from them. But, you know, what I got from them mostly is this, question of passion. And actually I’m almost finished with a book about passion, so I’m going to self-publish it, it’s going to be free, so it’s not a big deal, but it’s going to be a self-published book and hopefully, hopefully sometime in the next few months I’m going to wrap it up and send it over.

Peter: I look forward to seeing that. Passion, and it seems like an “intense focus on your craft”. I think that’s also what seems to have come out of that, because they all seem, like you said, they all seem to be in it 110 %, whatever it is they’re doing.

Michael: Yes, yes, for example, for example, let’s say in my case. In my case, my biggest problem is my biggest weakness that I’m a very slow reader. I read very slowly. Not like, very slowly. But I don’t read as fast as I would like to read. For example I can type quickly, I’m fast typer, I type very quickly. But with reading I’ve got some speed reading courses to help. I’m still fairly average reader, let’s say. And for myself it’s a weakness, because I want to consume as much content as possible and I can’t.

So like two or three years ago, I found myself, making a New Year’s resolution, seeing that I had read three books last year. I mean, the year before, and I was like: “hmmm. That’s not really great isn’t it?” No, three books. Not good. And there are so many good things in this book that I want to write, and I have so much, two pages, three pages long, just the initial batch of things I wanted to read. And this is why for example, I discovered audio books. And the audio books just made the whole thing. Cause I’m just, people read stuff to me! When you have an audio book from Audible I’m a very good subscriber at Audible, so when you do that, you can actually double the speed of the, you know, of the reading, and because I speak quite fast, so for me listening quite fast, not a big deal. So I find myself, you know, reading, you know at least one book a week, because  when you drive, when you go run some errands I just have my iPhone with me all the time. I just put it on, I just put the book on and I’m just consuming these books like crazy. So just think about the change. When one year I read three books and then the next year, I read thirty books. Thirty! I mean this is a big thing. So, I just said, when you’re committed to your craft and when you want to be better, you find a way to be better despite your weaknesses. This was my weakness and I made sure that I got over it. Many people don’t like audio books. I love them. I love them and I’m going to, I’m just, I mean I’m actually just not reading a book if there is no audio version. So I’m hoping with each book I want to read, there is an audio version, because then I’m going to buy it and I’m going to read it.

Peter: So authors and publishers, take note! There’s a whole population out there that consumes information differently – and you just found the way you consume. Some people like reading it some people more visual, some people more auditory. And you just found your best way. That’s fantastic.

Michael: Yeah, for example, my wife, she enjoys sitting with a book and reading – and I appreciate it, I understand that. I don’t. I, for me it’s kind of dull, and I would like to do some other things. And then when I read the book by listening to it, I’ll do it when I’m running, when I’m going somewhere, and for me it’s not a big deal to listen to it and to still remember what the book was about.

Peter: Do you find you absorb it just as well?

Michael: Yeah, definitely, definitely.

Peter: So, I have one final question for you Michael, and then we’ll wrap it up. Always whenever we’re talking about productivity, we’re always talking about that whole elusive work-life balance, or not so elusive depending on who you are. So you know we’ve got work life and we’ve got our personal life, and you know sometimes the lines get fuzzy, particularly if you’re an entrepreneur, and a lot for the things we do are just focused around trying to maintain that balance so that we also make sure that we take care of the people we care about and our families, and taking our children to kindergarten, and like you said, having some time for ourselves. What do you do to make sure that you keep that work-life balance? What are some of the things that you have adopted to force that?

Michael: So there is a very good solution for that. If you’re a guy, get a good wife.

Peter: I second that! Happy wife, happy life.

Michael: Exactly. So my wife is quite, I mean, she appreciates what I’m doing and stuff, but my wife is quite, you know, ruthless as far as our free time. And she’s like: “Michael. This is 6pm. You are closing your computer right now.” And you know that’s it. She doesn’t do it because she wants to be you know, bad to me, she does it because she loves me. So, same goes, when this technique does not succeed, she just opens the door to my home office and lets my three year young daughter come in. And when my daughter comes in, I mean, no father can withstand a three year old daughter. I mean there is no way you can withstand that. So my wife makes sure that I keep my balance. Because I would, you know, when you love what you do, and then when you love your family, there are two things that you love and it’s really hard to distinguish between these two. So it’s really important for that. I also schedule my time with my family. So for example, if I know that, you know, from this to that, that I have time with my family, but then they go to sleep,  if my wife has something to do, I can work a little bit more for example, right? So I’m trying also to make sure that I get this done. You know, it’s good to have somebody else who’s helping you maintain the balance. Because with my scheduling and all this stuff, I’m pretty okay with that, but I wouldn’t be near as successful If I hadn’t had a wife who would, you know, help me out with that. So totally a support system like that is really important.

Peter: So, the secrets to success having a good support person and someone who is going to make sure that you’re going to take care of yourself too.,

Michael: exactly. Exactly,

Peter: Go ahead.

Michael: It’s just the thing. Sometimes you cannot do it on your own, and sometimes you just you know, always they are working and let’s find a support system from the outside is really, really helpful.

Peter: Didn’t Napoleon Hill in his book “Think and Grow Rich” talk about the fact that, obviously it was a different time when men were the ones, usually the ones who were doing the work, which is you know completely antiquated now, now it could just as easily be, you know any gender, but you know he was talking about how always behind a good man is a great woman. Didn’t he write about that in his book?

Michael:  Yep. He did.

Peter: He did write about that.

Michael: In my case it was always my wife has a great career. But because she had a job that has time boxes, time limits, I mean she goes back from the job so she, I mean, and when she’s coming, and I know when she comes back from her job and she sees me by the computer, she’s angry. So. So in this way, you know,  I think it’s a good balance because she has a job which is like, from you know, let’s say 9 to 5 and I don’t have a 9 to 5, I work from home and I, you know, I’m an entrepreneur, I could work, you know, the whole time. So that’s why it’s…

Peter: You’re an entrepreneur – you choose which 90 hours of the week you work.

Michael:  Exactly. That’s true. That’s true. But on the other hand, the good thing it comes down to is I can schedule some free time in the morning to do some run some errands or do something else, but yeah, and the thing it’s you know, my wife has a career, has a great career, but she helps me a lot because she is this great, my better half, so it’s a good thing.

Peter: Wonderful, wonderful. Well that’s all I have Michael, and I think we should be wrapping it up, I want to make sure that our readers are, or our listeners are going to listen to this whole video. I want to thank you so, so much for agreeing to do this interview. It was really, really insightful, lots of great tips lots of great techniques, lots of great insights. Thank you again for your time, thank you again for being a sponsor for Productive Marketing Month. It was really a pleasure to talk to you face to face, I’ve seen your posts, and I’ve seen your picture all over the place whenever I turn on to Nozbe or read Productive Magazine so this was a pleasure for me.

Michael: Thank you so much peter, this was a pleasure on my side, I’m just happy that you’re doing this what you’re doing, keep it up, you know and see how the survey results turn out.

Peter: Can’t wait to see myself. This is Peter Vogopoulos from Firepole Marketing interviewing Michael Sliwinski from Nozbe, so see you next time.

Michael: Thank you guys.

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