Blog Post

3 lessons from Marc Andreessen's productivity heresy

Former Netscape CEO and now Ning overlord, Marc Andreessen recently posted something of a manifesto with respect to personal productivity. Given productivity is an issue dear to the hearts of WWD readers, I thought we’d take a look at some of Marc’s ideas and see if we couldn’t draw some inspiration from them.

Marc’s first suggestion is to do away with your schedule. While this is a tempting idea, and certainly one we’d all benefit from at times, it’s probably only useful for people with more than a little power in their hands, as demonstrated by Marc’s example of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Marc admits as much in his post.

For everyday web workers, either freelance or employees, we’re often bound to the schedules of our clients. And while it may be tempting at times to not go to the neverending sequence of meetings you can find yourself in, it’s a sure way to lose a client. Web Worker beware! As Marc suggests, only do this one where you can get away with it.

Next, Marc tackles the issue of lists, suggesting you have “three and only three lists: a Todo List, a Watch List, and a Later List.” While this isn’t exactly GTD, it’s certainly a valid way of tackling the “next action” notion of responsibilities and kept simple, on something like 3×5 index cards or a .txt file could absolutely manage your responsibilities in an effective way. The “night before” approach Marc suggests, where you write your next day Todo List before you go to bed is also an effective way of doing a priority review.

Procrastination is an issue we all face, and Marc suggests we approach it in terms of structured procrastination, where rather than doing nothing while you avoid that next nasty piece of work, you get lots of other stuff done – blogging, reading, emails, wireframes, whatever. So long as you’re doing something while you avoid doing the nasty stuff.

Awesome idea, and very, very bursty. Just make sure that you eventually get to the piece of work you’re procrastinating over. Especially if it’s a client deliverable.

Email overload is something we all face. Getting that inbox zero happening is a major challenge and if you’re not careful, you can end up stuck in your inbox rather than actually working. Marc’s suggestion that you deal with email just twice a day is a great idea. Of course, in the real world, it’s not always completely possible. However, if you make your clients and co-workers aware that this is your approach, they will soon learn to deal with your mid-morning and late afternoon mail avalanche as you wipe out the email pile.

Marc is absolutely correct when he says that email is a flow killer. It can be a huge interruption to your ability to actually complete other work. Jumping in and out of email is concentration destructive. Set your email to check just once an hour for new mail (or get really brave and do it manually on your twice a day schedule).

We’ve really only touched lightly on Marc’s ideas, and you should definitely read the whole post and many comments it has drawn. And then, take action and introduce a little productivity heresy of your own! And if you are feeling generous, share them with us.

9 Responses to “3 lessons from Marc Andreessen's productivity heresy”

  1. With respect to Marc’s productivity article, I really liked the 3 lists approach he advocates. I started out doing it in notepad, but that quickly because cumbersome. I wrote a small program to help keep track of it. It’s free to download and use forever. It runs on Windows. Here’s the link:

    If anyone has any suggestions, comments or ideas please don’t hesitate to email me.

  2. wow….this guy almost echoes the thoughts at TaskBin…i mentioned at another place on webworker that my priorities are today, tomm, this week and soon. of course every now and then something needs immediate attention and i make it a ” NOW ” item.

    The todays items are my todo list, tomm’s tasks are watch list and so on. Call it structured procrastination or just i guess its the same..

  3. I think the big take away from Marc’s article isn’t so much “here’s my plan, follow it religiously to productivity nirvana”. Rather I got “here’s my plan, it greatly reduces nonproductive-yak-shaving cruft”. Its a nice outline of how to build the minimal structure to ensure you’re capturing your tasks and managing your time, but warns against letting the process replace the product.

    I’d recommend people who liked Marc’s article, but found it too far from GTD or too lose for them check out Leo at Zen Habit’s Zen To Done.

  4. He’s right about email being a productivity killer. Blackberries are real attention stealers.

    Basically, if you can read or respond emails in a meeting, you probably don’t need to be in the meeting at all.

  5. Well, I definitely think that the 3 list idea works just great. Reading your emails, but also having separated IMs for work and home, trying to minimize the internet ADD are great means too. Schedule, however, even if indicative is still a good idea. Focusing on a certain topic need a schedule – this is the way to keep disturbances away.

  6. What I’d prefer is no daily schedule and no scheduled meetings or activities with no particular purpose. However, since I’m an introvert, I like to be able to prepare for conversation. People dropping by rattles me as much as the weekly status meeting frustrates me. Drop me an email, tell me what it’s about, and if we NEED to meet I want to set up a time with a buffer of solitude surrounding it.