052: Mind Management for Productivity with David Kadavy

By August 24, 2016Podcasts

 

David Kadavy

Author and fellow podcaster David Kadavy discusses how to train yourself to get into and maintain a productive mindset.

You’ll Learn

  1. How to reframe your idea of productivity
  2. How to label different productive states
  3. How to use different activities to get into these productive states

About David

David Kadavy is author of the #18 Amazon best-selling book, Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty and the host of the Love Your Work podcast. Prior to writing Design for Hackers, David founded the Design departments at two Silicon Valley startups, and freelanced for clients such as oDesk, PBworks, and UserVoice. David also launched numerous other projects on his own, none of which failed hard enough to be worthy of mention here.

Items mentioned in the show:

052: Managing Productivity with David Kadavy

Pete Mockaitis
David, thanks so much for coming here live in my home and putting up with me as I try to figure out the audio software.

David Kadavy
Thank you for having me, Pete. It’s good to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been enjoying your podcast, Love Your Work, and it was fun hanging out at Podcast Movement and you got so much stuff to talk about. Could you maybe open us up by telling us a little bit of kind of what’s your story and your particular kind of thoughts around cutting out the noise and getting to some focus in your work?

David Kadavy
All right, so story-wise, I used to work in Silicon Valley. I worked for a few different startups as a designer, and then I was blogging all that time and I was blogging about graphic design or visual design, teaching it to software developers like they’re already coding the stuff. They might as well know how to design it. I ended up writing a book called Design for Hackers, and that came out in 2011.

Through that process, I started to get really curious with getting my mind in the right state to do certain types of creative work, why was it that I was banging my head against the wall 12 hours a day, so I could get like 15 minutes of flow to have some good writing. I got really interested in that process, and then I ended up getting hooked up with Dan Ariely, who is a behavioral scientist who wrote a book called Predictably Irrational, writes about irrationality.

He was cofounding a company called Timeful, which was developing through the artificial intelligence calendar. I ended up advising that company on integrating my own productivity philosophy into this app from a designer’s perspective as well. Then that company got bought by Google, so now a lot of its features are showing up in Google Calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

David Kadavy
Like the Goals feature you might have seen. I can’t take credit for any of those features. I was really just an advisor. I talked to them once a week for an hour or so, but yeah I worked on those in some capacity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fun. That’s fun. Tell us what have you discovered along the way about getting those minutes of flow and cutting down the noise and making that happen.

David Kadavy
Well, at the base level I think of it as the productivity isn’t so much about time management as it is about mind management. P eople like to think, “Oh, time is our most scarce resource and everybody is very busy, etc.” But really, you can like I said I was banging my head against the wall 12 hours a day. Then in 15 minutes, I might write thousands of great words like, “What if I could have just enjoyed the rest of my day and wrote those great words?” I started to think about how does my brain work, how can I get myself into that flow state, and spend the rest of my time in whatever states are necessary to inform that flow-state time.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing question.

David Kadavy
Yeah. I mean that’s the base level thing. It’s like how can I use my brain as a tool and mindfully get myself into the right mind state. Even there’s times where the question I’m often asking myself is, “What’s the work that I need to do? What’s the mind state that I’m in?” If that mind state that I’m in right now is conducive to a different type of work that I can go ahead and do right now, then maybe I’ll just go ahead and do that work. If there’s other work that I really need to do, if there’s something I can do to get myself into that mind state to do that type of work, there might be certain rituals or trigger actions that I can use to get myself into the right mind state.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s a fascinating dichotomy, if that’s the right word. They’re associated with okay two choices. I can either do what would be best for my current mind state or I can shift gears and change into another one. Do you have a preference or like roughly what proportion of the time do you deem it optimal like, “You know what, let’s change up the agenda. Just do what’s feeling great in my brain right now.” Versus let’s kick it in gear and do what needs to be done?

David Kadavy
I’ve taken it to another level now where I’ve been practicing thinking about that so much where now I just pretty much have a system of like I kind of think of it as like a perpetual motion machine like a perpetual productivity thing that whatever I’m doing at any given time is going to inform and create potential energy to inform another task that I’m going to be doing later and they’re all sort of work together in a rhythm and they work with my own biological rhythms. They work with the rhythms that exist in our world. So I have it kind of down where like I sort of know what I’m going to be doing. If it’s Monday morning and somebody is like, “Hey, you want to meet up for a coffee meeting, Monday morning?”

“Well, I don’t have anything necessary sort of on my schedule but no, I’m not going to do a coffee meeting on a Monday morning. Monday morning is very precious creative time for me like I know what I’m going to be doing at that time. I can’t necessarily tell you what the project that I’ll be working on next Monday morning is going to be, but I know that I know that is kind of now or never creative time.” Just as an example.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve sort of figured out your unique rhythms that work for you personally and so I’m thinking here so how do I get me some of that. If I want to be sort of tapping into this fun kind of perpetual productive flow thing you got going on, which sounds very appealing, what should I do? What should be my first steps?

David Kadavy
A big part of implementing this is understanding your own behavior and understanding just like Dan Ariely’s work that understanding that you have some irrationality. It can be very easy to give somebody a picture of exactly what their day should look like, but when it comes to actually making their day look like that, you can’t just do that overnight. You have to sort of train yourself, so that’s a bit by bit thing.

So, I think as like a first step, I think what’s valuable for somebody to pick even if they can just pick it depends on what level you’re at. But I think minimum is find a 2-hour block, one 2-hour block in your entire week where you have it blocked it in your calendar and that’s where you’re going to work on your top priority project. From that, you can build up to having a better sense of what mindset you’re going to be in at certain times and how that’s conducive to certain work. But I think that’s’ a good first step.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool and so when we talk about mind states, I imagine that there are perhaps an infinite number of ways we could categorize, classify, label, or name them. But what sort of names, labels, categories do you use for yours, just so maybe we can recognize ourselves in that little bit?

David Kadavy
Yeah, that’s great. That’s a great observation because there’s infinite categories but they’re not going to be that useful if you have 1,000 different mind states that you can be in. I find that for me, there is hopefully I won’t forget any of this, but for me, this generation, detail, exploration, and then there’s recharge. I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one there. I can kind of go down the list of that stuff.

Generation is sort of the creative work, which for me is flow state work. So generation, let’s take writing as an example like I love writing. Generation is where I might be doing what I call barf draft, where I’m just writing. And if I come across something where what was the year that this thing happened or what was the exact quote? I’m just going to put that in brackets and just write whatever I can think of.

David Kadavy
Then there’s detail which that’s the time when it is time to find out what is the date that that happened, what is that exact quote that somebody used. Exploration is the time where I might be – I think that I have a problem that a lot of people have which is I’m naturally curious about everything

All my interests are always changing. I always want to read a new book about something. It can be very easy to think to yourself, “Well, everyone once in a while, I have this serendipitous thing happened and I find something great on Facebook, or I find something great reading a book, so because there’s a little bit of value, that means they can do it whenever they want. But you can be more intentional about exploration work, which is allowing yourself to follow your curiosities in an intentional way that can lead to serendipitous things happening.

Recharge is doing things that like maybe going getting a massage, having a date night with your partner, things like that that help you recharge so you can be more productive later on. These are just a few of the ways that I think about it, these different mind states.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. I can really relate to them. I think one extra mindset I’ve had I don’t know what I would call it like cruising or slaying many tasks I guess. It’s like, “All right, Inbox, you have 100 items. You will have zero when I’m done with you.” It’s like for me, it’s like a ferociousness like we’re going to slay, and we’re not spend a lot of time on the slaying. It’s like, “That time sounds good, thank you.” Then it’s like if they are longer than they are going to end up somewhere else. Or it’s like we’re just gonna slice these voicemails in terms of what’s like, the most efficient way I can process schedule and what needs to happen to them, so I guess at the end of the day in our world, getting things done, David Allen, episode 15, I’m thinking it’s like processing in terms of like we’re doing high-volumes of little things.

David Kadavy
The 2 minutes or less tasks, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I want a name for that. Where does that fall for your brain state?

David Kadavy
I don’t have a name for that, but it’s something that I do. I don’t have a great number of things that fall into that category, so it’s usually a pretty short session, but as far as brain state, like I say I don’t have a name for it. What could it be?

Pete Mockaitis
Consultants they love to categorize and name things. But I’m thinking it does feel distinctively different from some of those others. I feel like when I’m doing that, I’m in a different place than when I’m exploring or what I’m generating.

David Kadavy
Certainly not trying to think creatively. It’s not detail work like I’m not thinking – I mean I could be putting my every last bit of mental energy that I have towards making sure everything – yeah, I’m at least competent enough that I can spell things and form sentences. Well, that’s a skill level thing. For some people, it can be difficult. They have to think more harder, but it is sort of like things that you might be able to do while listening to music that has words in it type of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s a great distinction.

David Kadavy
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m there. if that happened to be, I was with my fiancée and we were trying to get our addresses mailed out. And so I had the Google Doc and collected them from the places they came from, you know Facebook, text message, deep in my email because someone emailed me their address back in the day for another social function. She started playing some music with words in it a little bit louder than I could handle it and so I was like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I just can’t quite do this while I hear that.”

David Kadavy
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“If you’re really in the groove, I can give you some headphones.” And she was like, “Oh no, that’s fine.” But that is a nice indicator there, like what intention is demanded of me for something.

David Kadavy
Yeah. You mentioned that. I guess I would maybe categorize as something I don’t have a treadmill desk, but I have a treadmill desk, it would be something that I could probably do while on the treadmill desk. If you’ve done a standing desk stuff, I know I find that there are certain times where, “Oh, I got to think hard about this thing, I have to sit down.

Pete Mockaitis
You better sit down for this.

David Kadavy
Yeah. I know. Exactly, right. you better sit down for this so like you have an email from an angry client and you’ve got a process all right like what’s everything is going on here, how can I – you smooth the situation over, what is their perspective. You have to think hard about these things. That’s not something that you’re going to like handle right now in 2 minutes. You might be able to do it in 2 minutes if you are able to like really focus in your brain but you’re going to need a good portion of your mental resources to process that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I hear you. That’s part of the game. It’s just like recognizing, realizing, honoring, “Okay, our brain stays. They can kind of go differently at different times and you’ll have a beautiful kind of synergy matchup if the task at hand is congruent.” It’s in harmony with your brain state, but then you say the other part of the game is changing your state and now I hear Tony Robbins in my ears like –

David Kadavy
Oh, wow!

Pete Mockaitis
“Make your move! Anchor your state! Use your body!” Like what is it that you do to make a shift in brain state?

David Kadavy
Gosh, it’s something that now I feel because I have consistency, that I don’t do a lot. I don’t find myself having to do a lot because I have that system down but I know when I was writing my book, my brain was really sensitive to getting into the right state, so I had certain things that I would do. One example was there might be a time when I needed to do really high-level thinking like I’m sitting down at the keyboard, I’m trying to write a barf draft or something and it’s not happening and I’m feeling physical pain.

Then I realized, well I need to see the landscape better. So for me, I would get a whiteboard and I love to put the whiteboard on the floor and you’re using bigger muscles. It’s taking over of your consciousness and you’re able to think high level and doing high-level brainstorming on the whiteboard with something that I think of it as almost like going for a bike ride. You’re pedaling up a hill, and now you can see all the landscape. You can see the lay of the land, and so then when it does come time to finally do the generation work again, do that barf draft, then you can finally do it. Now sometimes if I wanted to do that high-level thinking, I would go to the Hancock Tower –

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

David Kadavy
In Chicago.

Pete Mockaitis
We can see it.

David Kadavy
Yeah, I can see it through the window right now and there is – things have changed there a lot but there was a café on the 95th floor and I had a membership. I could go up whenever I wanted. They had Wi-Fi up there. And they had tables right next to windows there, best view of Chicago. Something about being in a high-level area was great for certain sorts of creative work and this is supported by research. If you want somebody to do accuracy work, put them in a room with like low ceiling and cramped spaces. You want somebody to think creatively, you want a high ceiling. You want like blue walls and –

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Walt Disney was big on that with his creative folk. It’s like, this is like the imagination room and this is the editing room.

David Kadavy
Oh, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Very different vibes to the environment there.

David Kadavy
Yeah, exactly. Thinking about those sort of things, I would mess around with supplements even like L-theanine, which is –

Pete Mockaitis
The queen of the amino acids.

David Kadavy
It’s an amino acid that increases your alpha wave stage –

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

David Kadavy
Which makes you sort of calm and so it synergizes with caffeine, so it’s actually a tea called gyokuro tea. This is a little advanced and I shouldn’t be mentioning it because it’s going to sound like it’s some sort of magic bullet.

Pete Mockaitis
We want the tactics.

David Kadavy
That you still …

Pete Mockaitis
Because it will solve everything.

David Kadavy
Yeah, you need to be tactical here like, “Just drink this and you’re going to magically write a best-selling book. There you go.” But gyokuro green tea has a high level of theanine in it and theanine synergizes with caffeine in that at certain mixes, it doesn’t make you jittery. It makes you more focused and we get sort of like a theanine buzz like if I really wanted to – it was better for exploratory-type stuff. It wasn’t great for like what detail work, better for generation work or exploration. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

David Kadavy
Those are just of the few different or going to get a massage is one of the things that I would do, which I would categorize it as a recharge thing. If I was really stuck and I had collected a lot of different disparate pieces and I wanted to connect them together somehow, I needed to allow myself to relax. This is all stuff that, since I’ve been doing a lot of reading in neuroscience books and things that I have found for much of the stuff research supporting some of the things that I came up during my process of trying to get this book out of me.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m going to have some fun doing some brainstorming about activities and where they fit in the groove. And so that’s one piece is like what activities fit what brain state I’d call it for me and then another piece is you identify a few key drivers there and one of them was associated with your body and motion with the whiteboard.

David Kadavy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Another key driver was like the location, the environment like you’re up there in the Hancock Tower looking the whole thing, all of Chicago. And so it seems to me the chart I’m envisioning will take hours maybe a near lifetime to settle in or maybe just a dozen hours that are just like the rows and the columns with like what’s the brain state as maybe columns and then what are the things associated with it as well for your body, for your environment, and for maybe music or whatnot.

David Kadavy
Activities that can trigger those.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

David Kadavy
Those things. Yeah. I mean there were so many just like moving my body was one thing because I’m somebody that sits at the computer, and if you’re somebody who sits at the computer all day, and you’re typing with your fingers, there’s only so much creativity that can come up of this motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you.

David Kadavy
So like going swimming was something which I’m not a great swimmer, but I made the habit of going to a pool and swimming because it is just the sensations that you ended up feeling in your body are totally different from normal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really true.

David Kadavy
And you’re moving really, really big and taking Latin dancing lessons and all those things. Yeah. You could definitely go right down the list and it can be anything for different people.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, unique.

David Kadavy
Like there is a congruent example I saw in The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, who is a –

Pete Mockaitis
I love that movie, by the way.

David Kadavy
The movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, is based on him. He had a client who I think he would have board meetings that were very stressful. I don’t remember that exact part of the story but they worked from –“Well, that’s the time where you feel the most flow?”

He said, “When I’m playing catch with my son.” He built a routine where he would play catch with his son, and then he would I think he would listen to a song that he likes and then maybe there was a snack he would have, and then he would have his board meetings. He gives himself the flow state and then he’ll have these other trigger activities, and then eventually he worked down to where he wasn’t playing catch with his son before the board meeting because that’s not necessarily practical. But then maybe taking the snack or listening to the song would help him get into the same state because those thing had been associated together and he then became better at getting himself into the right mind state for going to that board meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Okay, so this was really juicy talking about flow, brain states working with the one you’re in or trying to change it up. Any other quick tidbits you’re like to share about cutting down the noise and producing some more good stuff?

David Kadavy
Well, quick tip is something I don’t think some people don’t think about that is related to this idea of maybe even being a song that has lyrics is earplugs.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

David Kadavy
Earplugs are great. I use earplugs in the morning even when there is not noise for my morning creative sessions.

Pete Mockaitis
I will confess I at times will have earplugs and then noise cancelling headphones on top of them.

David Kadavy
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And then just like instrumental focus music on top of that and it’s almost jarring when someone is trying to get me hey, what’s up?”

David Kadavy
Yeah, yeah. Have you ever tried simply noise dot com, simplynoise.com?

Pete Mockaitis
Simplynoise.com? No!

David Kadavy
It’s great. Well, they’ve got different types of noises. They have one. It has a horrible name but it works really well. it’s called brown noise and it’s really good at blocking out noise and I find it gets me into a brain state.

Pete Mockaitis
And so like it’s related to white noise?

David Kadavy
Yeah. There’s white. There’s pink.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you.

David Kadavy
I think brown noise, it has just more I’m not an audio engineer but somebody told me it’s like more natural sounding. It sounds like a waterfall, really. Yeah, something about that definitely helps me focus inward on having less stimulation but there’s other times where certain types of work the noisy café and being able to hear the conversations and being able to hear those things bouncing off of each other works.

Now you hear it all the time people say, “Well, I go for a walk to when I get stuck. Sometimes I need to go to a café like actually getting intentional about those things and recognizing the patterns, so that it’s not just a thing that you can give yourself permission to do at anytime instead of doing productive work can go a long way to be to be able to use them strategically.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, any other pieces you want to make sure you get out there before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

David Kadavy
We’re going to talk about my favorite things.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Fast faves. Strap in. It’s going to go fast.

David Kadavy
I certainly don’t want to delay getting into that, so –

Pete Mockaitis
All right, well let’s kick it up. I know you often your reading lists on your podcasts.

David Kadavy
Yeah, I do.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to put you on the spot and ask you (1) favorite book you think that folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs might like.

David Kadavy
Your Brain at Work by David Rock. That is one of the – it’s one of the first neuroscience – I guess you could call it pop neuroscience. It’s pretty technical so maybe neuroscience isn’t really quite right, books that I read. In it, he talks about the brain, talks about the different chemicals that work in the brain in different regions of the brain, the different types of thinking and takes us through a story of different people going throughout their day and being in different situations and what’s going on in their brain that helps them switch off.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

David Kadavy
That’s something that I find really valuable. It was like one of the first books I read after I wrote Design for Hackers and after I had gone through that trial and error experimentation of seeing what works for me and I found some nice tools in there, too, some of the supported things that I had already figured out for myself. But having that helps make it a little bit more real and easier to actually keep going and implement.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. How about a favorite quotation, something that as you reflect on it, you kind of go back to it and inspires you repeatedly?

David Kadavy
On my iPhone, I got an iPhone 6, and the problem with iPhone 6 is it’s too tall like I can’t use my thumb to hit the top –

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a little tricky as a one-hander.

David Kadavy
The top icons. The top icons are really hard to get to, and so the top icons that’s supposed to be like the most important ones, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh.

David Kadavy
That’s where I got the very first icon on my iPhone is the Relax app because that’s one of my most useful apps for relaxing, but above that, I have placeholder icons which don’t really go anywhere. They’re just white icons. I can’t remember exactly where I found a place where you can just sort of make bookmarks on your home screen that go to nowhere and then line them up along the top. And so up there, I have four icons and it stays, “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” which is of course from the Steve Jobs commencement address from Stanford. I mean it feels so trite to quote Steve Jobs but those words I try to keep with me to stay hungry and stay foolish.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And how about favorite tool maybe like the Relax app that you find yourself using again and again? It could be hardware, software, gadgets, thinking framework.

David Kadavy
I mean it’s hard to pick anything but Evernote. I mean Evernote is amazing. I know a lot of people have trouble getting started with it. There’s probably a ton of people out there who like, “I tried Evernote. I couldn’t get into it.” My recommendation would be to start with a note called Inbox and just whenever you come up with something you want to record, just type it in there and let it be a mess. You’ll know when it’s time to add a new note or add a new notebook, and I’ve got like stacks of notebooks as well.

That relates to what we were talking about with mind states in that everything has a place, every thought that you have has a place where it goes. And so sometimes if it’s something that I’m thinking of that’s exploratory, it’s going to go in my research and development stack. There’s various research and development notebooks within there that are like things that are okay these are just ideas or cool things that I run across that go into these notebooks, that go into this stack that maybe someday they become actual projects and they move around. I think that people can get intimidated by seeing how complicated and well organized some people’s Evernotes or whatever organization system they have are but think of it like cell division. Just start simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I will. Think of it just like cell division.

David Kadavy
Yeah, all right. Just like let things grow organically.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve seen a little software about the cell, which grow and then divide. That was part of my Apple IIe childhood situation in school.

David Kadavy
That was like a game for cell division?

Pete Mockaitis
We had to like watch sodium and waste and all water and oxygen levels to get it what it needed to grow and ultimately divide. We’re probably gonna edit this part out.

David Kadavy
No. I was a big fan of the one where you could build monsters by doing math problems but that was –

Pete Mockaitis
Dude, that sounds way fun.

David Kadavy
I love building the monsters. It was Oregon Trail of course.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Also could you share a favorite habit, something that you do that really boosts your personal effectiveness?

David Kadavy
First-hour rule is that the first hour of everyday very first thing I work on the most important project at that time. And that way, I immediately feel pretty good about myself. If it’s a big daunting project and I am able to make progress and still give myself permission to quit after an hour if I want to, so that’s my most valuable habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell us is there something that you share in your speaking or in your books or your medium or your podcast stuff that really seems to resonate with people? They tend to share it, re-Tweet it, take notes, Kindle book highlight it. Is there a little David gem that you’re known for?

David Kadavy
I think the current one has got to be the productivity is about mind management, not time management.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah.

David Kadavy
Think about the way you’re managing your mind every moment of the day and being productive will follow.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, and tell us is there a key place you’d like folks to go to learn more about you and what you’re up and your stuff?

David Kadavy
Well we have people listening to our podcast right here, so I’ve got to say my podcast, Love Your Work, I love working on it. We’ve got lots of great guests on there, and then on Twitter, @kadavy, is a great place as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I really have the habit of enjoying your podcast, and the music, too, it just gets me in the mood.

David Kadavy
It’s good. That’s the album Wave from Sub Pop Records. It was great to be able to actually get permission to use that song.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Do you have a final parting word or call to action or challenge to those seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?

David Kadavy
Yeah, I would say at the very least find a block of time that you protect where you’re not checking email, you’re not looking at Facebook. I mean it can be 10 minutes. It can be an hour. It can be 2 hours whatever your level, whatever feels like a ridiculously easy goal, and just concentrate on one thing for that amount of time and build it up as you go and it will be this fortuitous cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, David, thanks so much. It’s been a lot of fun.

David Kadavy
Thanks a lot for having me, Pete.

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