In 1984, Apple launched the Macintosh – the first personal computer in the market without any programming language at all. It revolutionized the entire computer industry. Steve Jobs and his ingenious Macintosh team designed the computer to be used by the average person in the street and not only by experts.
Then comes the interesting, all-in-one case, with something new called USB computer – the iMac G3 in 1998. One thing it didn’t have was a floppy disk, which being replaced by a CD-ROM drive. At the time, many believed Apply made an insane decision for leaving a floppy disk drive off the iMac, but Steve Jobs never care. For him, the floppy was an archaic technology at that time.
Recently (September 7, 2016), Apple announced they are killing the 3.5mm headphone jack for their latest iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Many people again think Apple is being irrational, and perceive the decision is simply a way for Apple to make more money by introducing their latest wireless earphone called AirPod.
It really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us. And our team has tremendous courage. – Phil Schiller, Apple Marketing Chief
Clearly, Apple had made some life-changing and disastrous decisions in the past. The question is not whether removing the headphone jack is the right thing to do or not, because it will eventually happen, it’s just the matter of time. The important question is – did Apple remove the headphone jack at the right time?
It’s hard to answer this question, but the truth is, there is always an opportunity cost for the decision you didn’t make. Apple made the decision to push the technology forward, but at the same time, the same decision might hurt Apple’s revenue by going against the demand of the public.
The Opportunity Cost
This idea is applicable in the context of productivity as well. Improving your productivity is not the matter of doing a thing or carrying out a task on time. In fact, it’s the matter of doing the right time at the right time. The reason is simple – again, there is always an opportunity cost for the things that you didn’t do. In business and life, we’re facing this situation and problem very often.
- Should you attend the networking event? Or stay at home to finish the sales letter?
- Should you hit the gym after your work? Or head back home straight to spend time with your family members?
- Should you spend an hour to write an article? Or spend the same hour to read a book?
The opportunity cost exist simply because we all have one finite resource – which is time. It’s free, you don’t pay for it, but it’s limited, and it never come back when it’s gone. You may choose to work for an extra hour to bring home more money or go home to participate in your son’s life.
Just like the problem Apple was facing – to remove the headphone jack in order to pave the path for better technologies, or follow the demand of the public and only make the switch when the market is ready? Many questions like – how the market will react, to what if the competitor do that before us and win – rise up in the process of making that decision.
Apple had made a decision. The important question is – how could we make the right decision to improve our productivity in real life?
Five Steps to 10x Your Productivity
I have no absolute idea on the process of Apple came into the decision of making multiple breakthroughs for the company, and for the world. But here is the five steps process I can suggest to help you to do the right thing at the right time.
FIRST: KNOW YOUR PRIORITY
Finding your priorities is really the first and the most important step. Everything could become easier if you find out what you really want deep down in yourself. There are many cases in life where we need to weigh the importance of our career over our family, our studies over our friendship, or even our finance over our happiness.
Spend time to make your priority clear at the first place is crucial and extremely helpful, especially before you need to make the decision urgently.
Schedule some time, one to two hours a week to reassess your core focus and priority. It will be very helpful if you can include people who are important to you in the decision-making process. For example, you might want to discuss with your spouse on the issue of balancing your finance, career, and family; in another case, you should always include your business partner when deciding the direction and main focus of the company.
SECOND: MEASURING IMPACT
It’s common for us to face two or more choices in the same nature, but have a very different impact on the speed of execution, the resource required, the quality of results, and etc.
Some examples will be:
- To write a blog post every week for 6 months or to publish a book in 6 months?
- To major in engineering or to major in art?
- Take turns to raise the kid or to have yourself or your spouse, quit the job to raise the kid?
The natures are similar, but the impact is very different. In order to really improve your productivity, you need to know which action or task brings you the largest impact. Figure out which metric is best to measure the impact of your actions whether it’s the speed of completion, the happiness of yours or someone else, the monthly revenue or the customers’ feedback.
At the same time, we can also look into the input required such as time, money, and energy. The goal here is to get the most output with the least input. You probably argue that not everything is measurable, but I have to argue the fact. To better put this, everything is trackable.
You can’t measure exactly how happy you are but you can track your daily happiness level in the scale of 1 to 10. Agreed?
THIRD: FILTER THE NOISE
The first two steps are to figure out the right thing to do. But it might still be difficult to do so with all the distractions and unnecessities around us. In most cases, these distractions are much more tempting than the right thing we should do.
- Browsing Facebook when you should finish up your sales proposal.
- Watching Netflix when you should workout at the gym
- Reading the news when you should get the landing page design done for your client.
Too many people are trying to deploy their willpower when facing these distractions and external temptations to stay focused on what they should do. At the end, they usually give in to the distractions and then blaming themselves for the lack of self-control.
As a human being, we were designed to stay alert to the environment since 200,000 years ago. But our time had changed to the state that demands our focus to get things done, while the environment is filled with even more and more noise and distractions. The best way to remove the unnecessities and block out the noise is not by willpower, but by designing an environment that allows you to focus physically and mentally.
Get away from distractions if you want to do focus work by turning off your phone, blocking websites that you didn’t use, and alerting others that you need an hour or two of deep focus time. Besides, you can use music to prepare yourself mentally based on the nature of your work.
FOURTH: AUTOMATE REPEATED DECISIONS
In 2014, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had his first-ever Q&A publicly. He answered many questions in that session but one of the most interesting questions is this:
“Why are you wearing the same t-shirt every day?”
In case you haven’t noticed that yet, Mark Zuckerberg wears the same gray t-shirt in most public events. While everyone is expected a playful answer, Mark said this,
“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.”
He doesn’t actually wear the same t-shirt, he has multiple same gray t-shirts at home. But for him, what he is wearing is really not that important. Yes, of course, he needs to wear something, but he really doesn’t want to think about it. Instead, he decided to focus all of his energy on how best serve the Facebook community.
Every decision in life, regardless how small it is, such as what to wear or what to eat for breakfast, is time and energy consuming. Adding them up, they became a part of your life that take away a lot of time and energy. Making sure you have less decision to make can avoid decision fatigue.
But they are important, you still need to wear something, and certainly you need to eat, and you need to check your emails too. Yet, they don’t bring you the biggest impact, they are not the most important thing to do now. And these are the tasks we want to automate.
Set up a system to automate repeated decisions in your life. As mentioned by Ramit Sethi, having able to live a rich life allowed him to hire personal nutritionist and chef. The point of doing so is not to brag, but to make sure he gets the best foods without the need of making the decision of what to eat. This spares himself more time and energy to make important decisions for his business that create even more revenue for him compared to what he spent on the personal nutritionist and chef.
Start to automate your decisions by acknowledging these repeated tasks. At first, you need to spend some time to figure out a plan, but it certainly pays off afterward. In business, create a communication system so that most repeated processes are being automated with minimal monitoring.
FIFTH: MAINTAIN GOOD PHYSICAL & MENTAL HEALTH
The final step is nothing new – you need to have a good body to perform at your best. For instance, your performance and productivity will certainly drop if you’re having headache or back pain. And there is nothing much you could do if you’re paralyzed by poor health.
It’s not easy to achieve the health and fitness level at the athlete standard, but unless you are an athlete, you probably don’t need that. The fundamentals to attain peak physical health are really boiled down to three aspects: diet – what you put into your mouth, exercise – how you move and how much you move, and sleep – the amount and the quality of your rest.
Besides physical health, mental health is another crucial element in improving your productivity. You will never perform better when you’re depressed than when you’re pumped. A brief suggestion to improve your mental health is practicing meditation, engaging in positive self-talks, and examining your emotional quality from time to time.
With good physical and mental health, it’s certain that you will be able to make better decisions and take necessary actions quickly.
Does Apple Made The Right Choice
I love what Apple did. I love how Apple acknowledge its power to push the technology to the next level. I believe there is no one else could pull off the same feat without risking to lose their entire business in the smartphone industry today.
But I am not sure whether removing the headphone jack is the right decision to make.
One of the biggest killers of productivity is indecisive.
But what leads to indecisive? Our fear of the uncertainty, our urge to see the future before we act, and the belief that everything should always pan out as we desired. We are too caught up in the results when we are making a decision.
There is no absolute path to success. There is no way to perfectly predict the outcome. And there is no right answer to every question. In the core, the way to really improve productivity is by reducing indecision and inaction. To do that, we all always need to embrace the presence of the opportunity cost, be adaptive and stay flexible.
- Thank Mikael Cho, Founder & CEO of Crew. I learned about the 5 steps process from Mikael in maximizing one’s productivity as a busy startup founder.