The Bezos way: sleep, puttering, and three high-quality decisions a day

One of the most successful business people in the world…putters?

Jeff Bezos has always been one of those people whose ideas and thinking make a lot of sense to me. When he talks, I listen.

So when I recently came across a fantastic interview with Jeff Bezos, I jumped right in. The entire interview is great and I really think watching the whole thing is worth your time. But there was one section that really stuck out to me: his prioritization of sleep, calm, and quality.

It’s 2 minutes and 29 seconds of your day well spent, but here’s the basic gist:

  1. 8 hours of sleep a night. He goes to bed early and wakes up early. He thinks better, has more energy, and his mood is better when he gets the right amount of sleep, all of which contribute to making him an effective decision maker. The opposite can hold true too — being tired or grouchy can lead to bad decisions.
  2. Puttering (yes, this is an official Bezos term). Bezos’ morning routine isn’t manic or hectic, it’s quite the opposite — he putters around, taking his time and slowly ramping up. This is his time to read the paper, have coffee, and eat breakfast with his kids. It’s really important to him that he have a slow, calm start to the day, which is also why he insists on no meetings before 10 a.m.
  3. High quality decision making. He likes to do his “high IQ” meetings before lunch because that’s when he’s sharpest, and he knows by 5pm he’ll be wiped. Anything that’s important that pushes late into the day gets rescheduled for 10 a.m. the next day. He recognizes that he “only” needs to make a few key decisions a day, not thousands of small ones. If he can make three high quality decisions a day, that’s plenty good.

This is astonishing and inspirational for all the right reasons. For all we hear about how awesome it is that people are constantly “hustling”, working 20 hour days, sending 50 emails from bed, and squeezing every minute of the day for max productivity, we have in front of us Jeff Bezos — one of the most successful business people in the world— puttering.

Sleep. Calm. Prioritizing. Quality over quantity. Recognizing limits. These are the kinds of principles that have made him a wild success in the long run. I think we’d all do well to mimic these practices.

Excuse me while I go putter around for a while. 🚶

We agree with Jeff’s ideas on sleep and calm — so much so that Jason and David wrote a book about it! Check out “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work”.

The Also/Or Dilemma is the result of OR, not ALSO.

For three years, we wrote, produced, recorded, and published a podcast called The Distance. Over nearly 60 episodes, we told stories about small private companies that had been in business for 25 years or more. The premise was that there’s a lot to learn from businesses that have figured out how to not go out of business. And there was.

Then, earlier this year, while The Distance was still going strong, we had an idea for another podcast focused more broadly on how to run a better business. One with our own point of view, not just other people’s stories.

Awesome — time to launch another podcast! Wait, not so fast. First we had to make a choice: We could continue doing The Distance and start a new podcast. This would mean running two podcasts. Or we could stop running The Distance and start a new podcast. This would mean running just one podcast.

This is a scenario many companies confront. I call it “also/or.” These two seemingly innocent words determine wildly different outcomes.

Most companies, products, and services start out simply. It’s rare that the first version of something is more complicated than the second.

But once a company starts saying yes to one good idea after another, it starts accumulating scars. And scars they are. When companies decide to do something and it works, it usually doesn’t go away. Ideas turn permanent. Before you know it, things aren’t so simple any more.

Saying yes to more and more good ideas without dumping some of the earlier commitments invariably leads to a place of compounding complexity. Too many good ideas eventually combine to make one big bad idea.

You see this all over software today. Setting after setting, preference after preference. Each one is an example of a company’s refusing to make a choice and offloading the decision to the customer. It’s sold as customization, but it’s often just one “also” after another.

By forcing a tradeoff on every new “yes,” you corner yourself into considering the value of something. And only once you value a thing accordingly can you make a better decision about what is worth pursuing. It requires you to reconsider: Is this still worth doing? Would we be better off doing something else? That’s a healthy exercise from time to time. The true test of how bad you want something is whether you’re willing to give up something else to make room.

So what did we end up doing?

The choice wasn’t obvious. It’s easy to end something that’s a clear failure. It’s much harder to end something that’s doing fine or better. The Distance was doing well. According to the number of weekly downloads and industry data, it was in the top 10 to 15 percent of all podcasts.

We debated it internally, and we chose “or.” Ultimately, we felt The Distance had had a great run, and that ending it on our own terms meant we could make room for something new.

For the new podcast, called REWORK, we didn’t have to hire more people, increase the size of the crew, or attract audiences for two different podcasts. We’ve released a half-dozen episodes, and we’ve already more than doubled the audience we got for The Distance. And it’s growing fast.

The next time you’re faced with this kind of decision, stop and think about the language. Instead of saying “Yes, we’ll do that also,” you have to practice saying “Sure, we can do that instead.” “Or” always forces a choice, and that’s a good thing.

This article also appears in the November 2017 issue of Inc. Magazine.

Daniel Craig— Flip flopper

In celebrity news this week, Daniel Craig will be back as 007 in the next James Bond film slated to be in theaters Nov 8, 2019. (My birthday by the way. Thanks MGM)

But his return is quite the surprise for us interested in the movie franchise. When Time Out asked Daniel about returning for the next Bond movie after Specter in 2015, Daniel let us know:

I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists.

Daniel Craig is a giant flip flopper…

As many families do, after a long week, my wife and I don’t feel like cooking on Friday night, so we look to eat out. We are terrible however with the decision about where to go.

We simply don’t care enough. I’m not a picky eater. I don’t feel strongly about most restaurants we can choose. We hem and haw about going to this place or that place. I remember nights where we would eventually just give up on our plan to go out, since we couldn’t decide.

Then we had a kid, Addison. She’s three. Most of you know at least something about three year olds. Holy hell they have strong opinions.

Think getting her to wash her hands before dinner is going to be easy tonight? Forget it. She’d rather throw herself from the stairs.

But this has also been a blessing. For those dinners on Friday nights when we have trouble deciding, we just let her decide. And she does. Instantly.

Her strong opinions lead to very quick and certain action. And we keep tapping into that.

For many parents, choosing a preschool is a stressful activity. It wasn’t for us. Folks are amused when they ask us “How’d you choose Addison’s preschool?”

I tell them, “Addison picked it.”

She’s three!? And she picked her school when she was two?

Yes. My wife and I had been debating between three different preschools. They all had various pros and cons. In our minds they all felt a bit equal. We didn’t feel strongly. The decision started dragging on.

So we just let the strong opinion holder decide. And she did. It took seconds. She picked the school she wanted and we went with it. It’s been a great choice. Of course if she said, “I want to go to school at McDonald’s” we’d have intervened.

“Strong opinions, weakly held” is a phrase a bunch of interesting people have publicly adopted: Marc Andreessen, Fred Wilson, Jeff Atwood.

Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster, and once the Director of the Institute for the Future, coined the phrase in the 1980s that leaders who want to successfully lead their organizations through uncertainty and ambiguity need to have “strong opinions, weakly held”. It’s the only way to get anything done.

Should we build this product? Prioritize that feature? This marketing plan? If you have weak opinions you won’t have the energy to get unstuck. You’ll be paralyzed in indecision. And you won’t be able to convince anyone else to follow you through the challenges.

But having a strong opinion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open minded. Be passionate about your ideas and thoughts. Use that energy to get the evidence to back them up and get people to help you. But don’t close off arguments. Flip flop when something convinces you you’re wrong.

One thing that caught my eye about Daniel Craig is how productive he’s been, especially now since Spectre the last Bond movie he had announced would be his last in 2015.

4 projects quickly followed in 2017 with major changes to his normal character repertoire and a TV show with a demanding schedule.

Compare that to the last two Bond actors who were in just a couple projects in the two years following their roles as Bond.

Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton after their last Bond movies

Daniel Craig’s strong opinions appear to have given him the ability to make quick and decisive action to tackle some really interesting and different projects in 2017.

But he has flip flopped.

That’s fine. The rumor was an enormous paycheck convinced him, but that’s been debunked. I think he simply likes the role. And much needed rest after the crazy production of the last Bond movie gave him a new perspective. He was always open minded about the opportunity, even if his opinion was once strongly against it.

I think more of us have to step up and form strong opinions about the decisions we have. Anytime you have a inkling about what’s right, use that energy to see it through. Stay open minded when people and situations naturally push back, but either way you win and increase your productivity, energy and drive.

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