Productivity Expert Mike Vardy On Daily Themes

Mike Vardy

Mike Vardy has an intriguing way of thinking about productivity – on his website, he states, “productivity isn’t productivity.” Rather, it’s “the partnership between intention, what you intend to do, and attention. You can’t just have one to be productive. You need BOTH.” 

Mike Vardy is a writer, speaker, productivity strategist, and founder of Productivityist, a program that offers tailored coaching, workshops, and tools for individuals and organizations looking to level up their productivity. He also created a time management and productivity system called TimeCrafting that helps people make the most out of their time every single day. 

We talked to Mike about the importance of intention and daily themes, setting limits on email, his routine as a night owl, and more. Check out the full interview below.  

Mike Vardy’s number one productivity tip…

I use energy levels as an indicator of what to do when. A lot of people look at their to-do list and go in sequential order or complete tasks by priority level, but we all know that if you have more than one priority you’re not really prioritizing.

So for me, looking at my energy levels is a really important way for me to determine what I should do and when I should do it, and also how I’m going to get the best outcomes based on the energy levels that I currently have.

On being a night owl…

Whether you’re a night owl or morning person, I believe your evening routine is more important than your morning routine because it really sets you up for the next day. I think a lot of people neglect the idea of a shut-down routine. My brain would just keep going a mile a minute if I didn’t have one.

My evening routine revolves around calibrating between this daily driver planning sheet that I use with my digital task manager and making sure that I’ve cleaned myself back to neutral. Next, I’ll take my daily driver and add the task that I want to complete for the next day. So for example, at the end of today, I’ll get my task management app back to zero and I’ll make sure everything is checked off.

Once I’ve done that, I’ll write in my journal. Then I’ll usually draw a bath, which actually helps you sleep better since it lowers your core body temperature. I learned that from Dr. Michael Bruce in this book, The Power of When. He’s also a night owl. 

When my brain is properly shut down, I’ll hit the hay and wake up the next morning with a fresh set of objectives going forward. 

On combating obstacles to productivity…

The biggest hindrance to my productivity is email. I’ve actually found a way to combat that with this three email work folder that I have in place, but I will often test the limits of my own system to see how far I can push it, and that gets in the way.

So, while email can play a role in that, often I will say, “Let’s see how much I can push what I can get done in a day, let me see what I can over-commit to.” And what happens is sometimes I’ll over-commit just to test the power of TimeCrafting and end up with too many things on my plate. I feel that when you are a productive person you push the limits just to see how much you can get done in a day. That’s not what productivity is really all about. It’s about getting the right things in a day. 

To combat these old beliefs getting in the way of me having a truly productive day, I have to give my brain a place to go when it’s feeling overwhelmed and over-committed. I check my energy levels, remind myself of my daily theme, and get clear on what I actually need to get done. 

“Productivity is about intention plus attention.” – @mikevardy @sanebox

On the power of daily themes…

I believe productivity is about intention plus attention. It’s about what you intend to do and then finding a way to pay attention to that. You have to have them both together but the second part is really important, because if you don’t have a way to pay attention to what you intend to do then you’re going to be aimless with your “productivity”, which means you won’t be productive.

If I feel like something is pulling me away from what my intentions are for the day, I ask myself, “What’s today’s theme?” That question helps guide me to a task or project where I can make some progress. Even if I don’t get everything done that day, I found a way to make things happen regardless. 

On learning from failure…

You’ve got to embrace failure because it’s going to happen. The best hitters in baseball miss the ball 70% of the time. What I’ve learned from my failures is that they’re inevitable. Once you become okay with that, then you’re more willing to take risks and make forward progress because you’re not afraid that you’re going to fail. 

I’ve had plenty of things that haven’t worked out over the years. Some of my own undoing and some things just didn’t pan out. The idea is to just keep going, and know that the most successful and most productive people are doing the best they can every single day and still failing, it helps you be more okay with it. 

On bad advice Mike Vardy hears often…

The bad advice I hear often is, “Get up early. The earlier you get up in the morning, the more productive you’re going to be.” That is, quite frankly, not valid because everyone’s body clock is different. Don’t fight your body clock. That’s one of the least productive things you can do because you’ve got far more important productivity battles to wage. That’s the piece of advice that drives me nuts because not everyone is wired to wake up early. So, don’t listen to, “You must get up at 3:00 AM, you must get up at 5:00 AM to be successful.” If it works for you, great, but I think that striving for that as the main goal is honestly silly.

On the practice of journaling… 

I was talking to James Clear when his book came out and he said that journaling was the one habit that really was hard for him. That’s why he developed the journal, The Clear Habit, because it was the one thing that eluded him for the longest time. 

Journaling can be whatever you want it to be. When you think about it, isn’t posting on Facebook a form of journaling? The difference is that you’re journaling for the entire world. Keeping a journal for yourself, whether it’s written or digital, allows you to see the story of your life.

I use Day One for journaling and I don’t break the chain, like the Jerry Seinfeld principle. I’ve had writer’s block and have still made entries, no matter what. Often, I’m working with people and encourage them to include screenshots, Instagram posts, what have you – even if it’s just a simple sentence, jot it down. 

So, journaling by far has been the thing that’s had the greatest impact because it allows me to celebrate my successes but also acknowledge my setbacks.

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