This week we’re welcoming August Turak to the Productivity Giants Series. August is an award-winning author, speaker, consultant and contributor for Forbes.com and the BBC. An ex-entrepreneur, August attributes the bulk of his success to living and working alongside the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey for the past decade. He’s now the founder of the spiritual and educational nonprofit the Self Knowledge Symposium Foundation (SKSF).
Read on for August’s definition of productivity, the importance of delegating, and his reasons for becoming a total fitness nut.
What does the first 90 minutes of your day look like?
The first 90 minutes of my day is pretty awful because I have to get up and go immediately to the gym where I have a personal trainer who kills me like he did this morning from 7 o’clock until 8 o’clock. So, first 90 minutes is 30 minutes of getting out of bed and 15 or 20 minutes of getting to the gym, and then an hour and a half of just being, an hour of personal training, and then 30 minutes of being in the shower afterward.
What’s your number one productivity/time-saving tip?
Well, the most important productivity tip I can give people is prioritization. If you try to do everything, you’re not going to be good at anything. The most important thing is to realize that time is the most important asset that, and it’s a wasting asset, it’s the one thing that no one has enough of. The more clearly you can articulate what it is you’re trying to do with your life, the easier this is.
What’s your definition of productivity?
My definition of productivity is being able to accomplish what it is you want to accomplish. Are you productive? The old saying is, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. So productivity has no meaning whatsoever except in terms of what are your goals, and objectives. And what is a reasonable amount of time or resources that you think should be dedicated to getting that goal, or making that number or accomplishing that mission.
And the closer you come to either achieving it, based on the parameters that you’ve set for yourself, then how productive are you going to be?
So I would say productivity is a question of having what your mission, your goals, objectives, and what are the parameters for being able to, if you’re setting for that, and then meeting those parameters. The better, the more you can meet them, the more productive you are.
What have you become better at saying no to?
Well, you become better at saying “no” to everything that distracts. What are the distractions? What are the things that are not important, that are not essential? That you say “no” to?
I remember a venture capitalist, who was very successful and made zillions of dollars – and he said his main job was saying “no” to people who had good ideas, and in such a polite way that they would come back to him with their next good idea, because he could only concentrate on the few really, really good ideas that came by and he’d have to say “no” to the rest of them.
So having the discipline to be able to say “no.” What’s really hard is when something makes sense, something’s probably a good idea, but it’s just going to spread yourself too thin and you’re not going to be able to concentrate on those few things that are absolutely essential. This also becomes extraordinarily important in terms of delegate, because a lot more fun things that you should say “no” to are the things that deserve to be delegated and a lot of successful people grow out of their successfulness because they can’t delegate. They say “yes” to everything and they fail.
What book has changed your life and why, since we’re on the topic of books and reading?
The thing that most changed my life was just becoming very interested in meeting a higher purpose. Religious writing, religious things, the things that I started reading about religion and spirituality when I was a very young man, 18, 19, or 20 years old. I have this quote that I carry around, a quote from Dostoyevsky, the great Russian writer – he said, “Man is a mystery. If you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, do not say you wasted your time. I occupy myself with that mystery because I want to be a man.”
What’s the biggest hindrance to your productivity? How do you combat it?
What stops us from thinking big, from having an imagination, is fear. We’re terrified. We don’t want to set our sights too high because we want to manage what we think is going to be the inevitable business point. And if I don’t try, if I don’t tell myself that I’m going to, someday I’m going to go to Mars, then when I don’t go to Mars, I won’t be disappointed.
So I think it’s fear. It is fear that holds us back and what goes along with that fear is that we hang around with the wrong people.
When you lose focus, what do you do to regain it?
Hang around with the right people. I mean, a lot of times if you’re just thinking of yourself as a lone wolf in life et, then you may be years where you walk slowly because you don’t even know it!
It’s when you have the right kind of support group around you of people that are saying “hey, hey, hey,” you know? That’s one of the reasons why I have a personal trainer at the gym. I mean, he tells me when I’m losing focus. And he also makes sure that I maintain focus. You know, I don’t even know that I’m doing, I don’t even know that I’m losing focus. And then when he says “posture up” I realize that I’ve lost focus.
I have written about this for Forbes too, it’s called “Are You Coachable? The Ten Steps to Coachability.” These are the two things that I think everybody needs. Do you have a teacher or a coach? I have had a teacher or a coach in my entire life. My spiritual coach just died at 100 years old, a year or so ago, so for the first time in my life I really don’t have a spiritual teacher right now. If you don’t have a teacher, get a teacher, and when you get that teacher, listen to them. Don’t argue with them. Don’t tell him, let him tell you. That’s where the humility factor comes in.
Number two, get yourself a group of people that you hang around with. You know, Warren Buffett said there’s only one reason to have a billion dollars, so you can only hang around people you like and respect. You should always hang around with people that are pushing you. Hang around with people that are better than you are, people who have got the guts to talk to you truthfully and tell you what they see, and then have the guts to turn to these people, your teacher or your colleagues, and say, “listen, how am I doing? Am I losing focus? If you were me, what do you think I need to do right now?”
And this is the best way you can do to maintain focus. The biggest single mistake that people make up and down our whole society, we’re so enamored with this rugged individualism, super you know, whatever. But we have to do it all by ourselves, and part of it is this idea, you know, we can start thinking “Hey, I’ve got to do it all by myself.” The other thing is we live in a society where no one wants to be held accountable anymore. If I have a personal trainer, he’s holding me accountable. And most of us, if I go to the gym all by myself, then nobody’s going to be watching, nobody really cares if I goof off, right?
For people who don’t know where to go to find a coach, what would you recommend as the first step they can take?
Well to me, the first step, and excuse my French for saying this because it’s the same first step as it is in everything. Get off your ass! You know, I’ll tell you how I found one of the most important coaches I ever had in my life. I used to go to bookstores in cities. They were all independently owned and operated and in those days, bookstore owners were sophisticated guys. You like books, and you like thinking, and you like learning. And I would go to these guys, and I’d say, “Who is the coolest, who of the people who come to this bookstore that you know could teach me something?” That’s how I found my first mentor.
What have you learned from your failures? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Well, I’ll tell you, I think one of the most important things you’ll learn from your failures is humility. I think learning it is extremely important, you know? I have a lot of favorite failures! But I remember one time, I was, I’d had big success on a number of jobs, and every time I interviewed it seemed like I always got the job and so I had it all down pat, and I had this guy for a job and I really just kind of wound it up and turned on the Auggie machine and gave it my best pitch and when I was finished, he said, “You’re an I, me, and mine-r.” He said, “I’ve been listening to you for ten minutes and it’s just ‘I, I, I, I, I, I, I.'” He said, “we’re a team.” And he said, “You probably need to be a one-man company somewhere.”
I was devastated – but then I walked out and thought about it. I said, “You know, you’re absolutely right. He’s absolutely right. I’ve got to change. I need to be more of a team player. I need to be less of a “me.” So I think that failure is extremely important in making you realize that you’re not the center of the universe.
Failure is not the end of the world. You learn to get over your fear of failure, and you learn to be able to put things in perspective and as long as, okay, this is just a bump in the road. And I’ll go to bed early tonight feeling depressed but tomorrow I’ll get up and give it hell and I’ll go after it again. The right kinds of failures are absolutely essential for building the character that you’ll need to be successful overall in life.
In the last 5 years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Absolutely, in the last five years, nothing has become more important in life than becoming a physical fitness nut. I think probably four, four and a half years ago, I was still smoking cigarettes. I weighed about 40 pounds more than I weigh now. I went to the dentist, and they happened to give me a blood pressure test and my blood pressure was way up – so, the very next day I quit smoking.
So, I went down to the YMCA and I hired myself a trainer. And that was almost four years ago now, and I have been doing that ever since. Getting very, very serious about my health has been the most important habit that I’ve changed in the last several years.
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