Get Efficient


“If you think about it, Airbnb is like a giant ship,” he says, holding up the napkin. “And as CEO I’m the captain of the ship. But I really have two jobs: The first job is, I have to worry about everything below the waterline; anything that can sink the ship.” He points to the scribbled line of waves that cuts the boat in half, and below that, two holes with water rushing in.

“Beyond that,” he continues, “I have to focus on two to three areas that I’m deeply passionate about—that aren’t below the waterline but that I focus on because I can add unique value, I’m truly passionate about them, and they can truly transform the company if they go well.” The three areas he’s picked: product, brand, and culture. “I’m pretty hands-on with those three,” he says. “And with the others I really try to empower leaders and get involved only when there are holes below the waterline.”

Leigh Gallagher

There’s been a lot written about the strategic focus of successful entrepreneurs.  Eisenhower’s Matrix, Peter Drucker, and others.

I find Brian’s approach refreshing: follow your unique strengths, empower your team, and fix the problems that might sink you.  His distinction of patching holes only below the water line is especially meaningful to me as I often pick the wrong problems to get personally invested in. 

Want to get better at a sport? There are clearly documented methods and approaches to practice. Want to get better at playing guitar, the drums, or the sax? Same thing.

But with those, even if you practice poorly, a certain number of reps will get you somewhere. And the reps are easy — you can sit down and practice the drums for hours, if you have the time.

I have written quite a bit over the years about accelerated learning, and practice techniques for learning new skills.  Like Jason, I too have found it very challenging to practice management skills.

Managerial trials and reps are much harder to come by. And when you practice being a manager, you’re already on stage. Your flubs have consequences. Fucking up could cost you or someone else their job. It could cost a business money, customers, reputation. But when you practice guitar you can sit in your basement, alone. No one cares, and there’s nothing at risk, if your pinky can’t stretch three frets quite yet.

I don’t know… There are a lot of reasons it’s so easy to be a bad manager.

Another reason is that you feel like you have to contribute when there’s really not a lot you should be doing most of the time. Many managers over-involve themselves. Not even micromanage, but are simply around the work being done too often. They get in the way. It’s an easy mistake to make when you’re trying to prove yourself. Especially early on when you’re job title doesn’t really line up with your experience. You’re still just practicing.

Jason Fried

For over 4 years I've been reading a book every week. Its one of my favorite habits and creates new learning opportunities for me all the time.

I still accomplish this just about every week, and it's lead many of my colleagues intrigued with how I pull this off while running two organizations and a home life. Much to their surprise, this habit is largely the reason I have the opportunity to do just that. 

When it comes to your time, reading is one of the most valuable investments you can make. A few hours in a book will return years of wisdom.  There are few investment opportunities with that kind of ROI. That newfound knowledge will make you more effective with the limited time you have.

There are two challenges to overcome if you want to build this habit for yourself.  First, you have to learn how to read a single book in a week, and secondly, you have to build enough discipline to do it week after week.

How to read a book in a week

There are a staggering number of people who don't read regularly.  I believe this is largely psychological. Books are thick and dense and our mind tricks us into thinking there just isn't time to flip through the book, let alone understand it fully.

Reading a thick book is not as intimidating as it first seems. On average it takes me 4 to 6 hours to read a book.  If we assume 6 hours, it's roughly an hour of reading each day to get through it fully.

Well, you could swap your Netflix time for reading, but that approach didn't work for me. I enjoy a good TV show, movie or sports game.  If my reading takes this time time away from my family, it won't get done. 

So, I invented a new technique that I call reading in the gaps. It's so simple, obvious and effective that I can't believe more people don't do it.  

Our professional days are full of 10 minute gaps. We wait for someone to arrive for a meeting, take a short mental break from your work, wait for someone to finish a task that has you blocked.  Even at home, waiting for your significant other to come home get have dinner.

For me, those were stale moments which provided little value. When others might pick up their phone to check Facebook, I pick up my Kindle and read a few pages.

That's it. That's the big secret. 5 of those breaks each day turn into an hour of reading each day, which sums to enough time to read a full book in a week.

How to read a book a week, every week.

Learning to read a book quickly and thoroughly is immensely valuable, but making that routine part of your life requires some big changes in discipline.

Many authors have published their research about developing habits. Charles Duhigg provides a comprehensive study in his book The Power of Habit.

As a compliment to Duhigg's study, there's one key for making any habitual change we need in our life.  That is, to desire the habit.  We follow our desires, at all expense and at all costs. If you crave the results of reading, and the pleasure of learning, the reading habit becomes natural.  But, if you'd rather eat cookies and watch reality TV shows, then reading will take a backseat. 

It's not enough to desire the habit. You must desire it more than your current habits.  Alas, this is the monster that must be spayed on the path of any serious life change.  New habits are challenging and demoralizing at first, and therefore undesirable.  It takes great energy to plow through, and most of us won't cope with the pain to do so.

You cannot truly experience the benefits of reading every week until you have done it for a couple of months. There's a transition period, where you force yourself into the habit in order to desire it later.

Do what you can to make this transition enjoyable.  If you find yourself reading a book you don't enjoy, put it down and pick up another one. There's no reason to force yourself to read something you don't like, when there's so much out that that you will enjoy. Reading something you don't enjoy is a guarantee you will stop reading eventually.

What book will you start with?

If you aren't sure where to start, take a look at my library. I share a small collection of the professional development books I've read that are pertinent to entrepreneurship.

Make sure to send me a note on Twitter, @joshwalsh, with the book you selected to start from. I'm cheering you on.