In a recent talk at RocketSpace, serial entrepreneur and investor Sami Inkinen shared his story of rowing across the Pacific Ocean. His talk was chock-full of unexpected advice for achieving work-life harmony.
Inkinen co-founded the real estate search engine Trulia and is now the founder and CEO of the chronic disease research startup Virta Health. He's also an investor at Obvious Ventures, with a personal focus on investments that promote healthy living.
Inkinen's advice on maintaining a healthy balance between work and home life, all while scaling a startup (or two), is definitely worth considering. Here are five work-life productivity hacks we gleaned from his talk.
Define What's Important
Take time to understand what matters in both your life and at work. Only then can you begin prioritizing how you spend your time.
Inkinen shared how he took inventory of his time use in 50-minute intervals over time and discovered that he spent 26 percent of his work time sending and answering uncategorized emails. Much less was spent on strategic thinking, delegating and communicating with his teammates.
"One of my biggest lessons in everything I've done that has actually gotten somewhere is... you [should] just sweat the big stuff," he says. "Ultimately, impact matters, and you can only drive impact by focusing on the big stuff."
For Inkinen, the professional "big stuff" falls under the following categories: people, strategy, cash, and an awesome product. Though he didn't share the specifics of his personal "big stuff," he did share that being fulfilled in your work is a great start. “Being happy and content and living a purposeful life is actually a foundation for good relationships in life," he says.
He added that no matter where you're spending time—whether it's at work or at home—it's best to give whatever you're doing your full attention. "It's important to be 100 percemt present in whatever you do," says Inkinen. "It's much better to have 15 minutes of quality time with my daughter, than to have 2 hours of Slack and email on my phone while she's 'playing with me.' If you are in the zone with whatever you do, you're going to have much deeper relationships with people."
Follow a Life Plan
Once you understand what matters in your personal life and at work, make and follow a life plan.
Startup founders may be familiar with the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) framework for annual and quarterly planning. The OKRs system was invented at Intel and is used at many companies, including Google, Uber, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Inkinen suggests pairing a professional tracking system with an Inner Scorecard system for the personal side of life, a concept he borrowed from Warren Buffett.
Inkinen has a 15-year life plan, broken down with five-year, one-year, quarterly and weekly goals. He assesses his personal plan for himself each month to make sure he's on track and refreshes it annually. In those monthly reviews, he asks himself, "Am I living the most amazing life I can based on my plan?"
Inkinen pairs his personal planning with an "Always/Quarterly/Weekly" plan at work, which he uses to assess his professional progress. He checks his progress each Sunday to make sure he's on track.
Practice Aggressive Calendaring
So you've defined your priorities and have a plan. That's a great start, but be sure to follow up with a daily makeover.
"I've structured my calendar pretty aggressively," says Inkinen. "Every morning from 7:30 to 10:00 is my creative work [time]." During that block of time, Inkinen focuses directly on whatever is most important for the company for that day or week. "By 11:00 am," he says, "I've done my most important work for the day." He recommends that other founders implement a similarly strict practice for enhanced productivity.
The only exception, he says, is "people stuff. Interviews and customer meetings can override that [creative work time]."
Don't let your day get away without working on what truly matters. That could come in the form of three to four hours of focused time per day. It could also come in the form of scheduling all meetings for a certain day or two during the week and focusing other days on core work. Be the boss of your schedule!
Up Your Sleep Game
For the founders who are pulling back-to-back all-nighters, who somehow missed Arianna Huffington's Sleep Revolution, news flash: It's not cool to be sleep-deprived!
If you're only getting a few hours of rest per night, you are hurting both yourself and your company. So stop the abuse and get some sleep. "It's the number one performance-enhancing drug,"says Inkinen.
"Sometimes you work 18 hours a day. Sometimes you work seven hours a day," he says. "This idea that you should just give everything you have to your company... is stupid." So, get a grip on "simple human physiology" and get some sleep, he suggests.
Imagine the End of Your Life
What is it that you want people to say about you when you're gone? Or when you've lived most of your life? If you're not sure, take some time to write it down. In fact, Inkinen suggests doing a very specific exercise.
"Write three speeches—for three people you'd like to give a speech at your 80th birthday party," he says. "That was a powerful exercise for me. Then, look over your 15-year, five-year, and one-year goals, and ask yourself if you're allocating your time the right way. That will give you perspective."
Management Professor Thomas W. Malone leads a similar exercise in some of his courses at the MIT Sloan School of Management, in which he instructs MBAs to imagine themselves on their deathbeds. Visualize who is there, what is being said of you, where you are, what the setting is like and how you feel.
Both exercises, whether focused on old age or death, have a similar purpose—to help leaders identify what really matters to them and prioritize their time accordingly.
To hear more about Sami Inkinen's work-life harmony strategies or his cross-Pacific row from California to Hawaii, check out his RocketSpace talk in the video below: