‘Productivity Hacks’ Are All the Rage; Here’s How Investor Matt Dennis Applies Them to Daily Life for Peak Efficiency
When speaking with any highly successful person, you’re likely to touch on how they manage to be so productive, i.e. how do they fit so much more into the same 24 hours we all have in a day? Especially with the increasing distraction of technology, and the expectation of always being available to answer phone calls and emails, it’s harder than ever to stay on-task and focused.
“Productivity hacks” have become popular in recent years, which really just means easy tricks used to increase productivity. Used in conjunction with more complex regimented systems or structured daily schedules, these “hacks” can work wonders on your mental state, and take advantage of the times you’re at your best. Things like planning your day ahead of time, setting clear goals, only checking your email at specific times, and waking up early may sound like no-brainers – but it’s easy to fall into the habits of checking your emails as they come in, and snoozing until you absolutely need to wake up.
Sitting down with Austin-based investor Matt Dennis, who is about as efficient as they come, gave great insight into effective time management. Matt spent more than 21 years at INVESCO as a Senior Portfolio Manager managing several international equity funds before starting his current project, family investment vehicle S5 Capital. Now that he makes his own schedule, Matt credits productivity hacks accumulated over a lifetime to help him accomplish a full day’s work in about five hours.
Matt’s Top Productivity Hacks
1. He wakes up early.
Rising at 5:20 gives Matt enough time to meditate, read, drink his coffee, shower, and eat breakfast with his daughters before he heads into the office. With all of these personally satisfying tasks taken care of, he can now focus fully on work-related tasks.
2. The structure of his day is set and doesn’t change.
By following the same schedule each day, Matt knows what must get done and when it must be accomplished by. This mitigates distractions and enhances focus periods..
3. He seeks to limit priorities to no more than 2 each day.
By not overwhelming himself with a multitude of priorities, Matt can be sure to do everything needed to complete his 1 or 2 priorities. He is fond of the maxim, “You can do anything, but not everything”.
4. 7-10:30 am is reserved as “genius time”, crediting a mentor with this label.
Science has shown that for many, our most productive hours aren’t at the crack of dawn (and definitely not during the afternoon slump), but rather mid-to-late morning. Matt makes sure he is in his office, focused on his main priorities at this time everyday, having found this to be his sweet spot for productivity.
5. His first 90 minutes of work are uninterrupted.
When we say uninterrupted, we mean it. He wears noise-canceling headphones and doesn’t touch or use his cell phone. No calls or emails are acknowledged during this time. This is “big picture” time.
6. Email is checked at a designated time.
After two 90-minute blocks of work with short breaks in between, Matt finally checks his emails around 10:30. At this point, he has completed his top priorities as well as important research that will influence his biggest decisions. He’s also on his way to a significant break, where he works out and then eats lunch.
7. Post lunch tasks are those requiring less creative energy and focus, often administrative.
Once he has returned from lunch, he dedicates another 1-2 hours to finishing up work related priorities or fielding phone calls and then creates his priority list for the next day. Organizing his workspace is the last task before he leaves work behind for personal time, family time, dinner, and an early bedtime. This 15-20 minute exercise to identify the following day’s priorities is key.
8. Personal time is a priority.
Any time that Matt makes a daily priority list, he strives for balance, identifying 1 personal priority for every 2 work related items. Personal tasks include anything from learning to cook a new recipe or spending time on a friendship that is important to him (perhaps arranging lunch) to going to the dentist.
Productivity Hacks are Used in Conjunction with OPA
As mentioned, productivity hacks are best when used in conjunction with a more systematic approach to goal setting. For Matt, that system is OPA, or Outcome/Purpose/Action framework. The OPA framework is used to create a “Top 16” priority list for each calendar year, broken down into 4 goals each in 4 categories: professional, family, personal, and friendship. On December 31st, Matt literally divides a letter-sized piece of paper into 4 columns and 4 rows, titled “Professional, Family/Fun, Personal, Friendships,” and he lists the four things he’d like to accomplish in each category during the next 12 months. The OPA framework is also used dynamically for smaller objectives that support his big picture priorities.
Each goal then receives a clear OPA, starting with the Outcome he hopes to achieve. This process helps Matt to stay focused on his 16 priorities for the year, mitigating the risk of daily distractions de-railing his progress in achieving his intended Outcomes. The “Purpose” component forces Matt to clarify in words “why” this Outcome is important. A clear, defined purpose keeps an idea alive. The “Action” section is used to identify each of the specific steps needed to reach the Outcome Matt has mapped out.
For Matt Dennis, the “purpose” step is instrumental to ensuring that he stays motivated and follows through with the necessary actions to ultimately achieve the desired outcome. OPA is used to keep a “big picture” mentality and to eliminate many useless “to-dos” from your list.
Work is Only One Aspect of Matt’s Life
He may be accomplishing big things in his professional life, but Matt Dennis knows that there is much more to life than work. He is adamant about renewal: making time for family, hobbies he’s passionate about, and friendships. An active reader, Matt suggested a book to us that he recommends everyone reads, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Why? It’s an easy read that looks at the habits and lifestyle choices of those in “blue zones” where longevity is more than just chance and has led to richer life experiences. “The wisdom of these cultures is timeless and repeatable,” he says.
Wise words from a man with a clear plan.