“Do less with more impact.” – Damon Brown

“Keep in mind that inspiration doesn’t mean waiting until you feel like doing something, but putting in the proper R & D (research and development) so you are likely to find the creative spark and the strategic genius,” suggests author of The Ultimate Bite-Sized Trilogy, Damon Brown,  a successful entrepreneur who has been on the cover of the Wall Street Journal and writes a regular column for Inc. Magazine.

I call Damon Brown my muse of subtraction (and multiplication) for reasons you’ll discover below. The Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur Trilogy is his collection of three books full of truly helpful reminders geared toward more productivity for entrepreneurs  though I’d argue many of the principles hold for anyone faced with a head full of exciting ideas and a finite to-do list and not just entrepreneurs.  (Warning: Watch out for too many stray ideas you know you aren’t likely to finish!)

In the Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur Damon offers suggestions that I sometimes chant like hopeful “bring on the strategic genius?” mantras on harried mornings. Chief among his advice charms?  “Monotask” a counter to the known illusion of multitasking. And yet, aren’t we all tempted to squeeze as many things in as possible–to just answer that one email response or follow the intriguing idea that is heading nowhere fast? Unless it’s urgent, it’s almost always counterproductive especially before we’ve nailed the hardest deadlines and/ or remain aligned with our most cherished goals.

Sure, revenue based ROI matters, Damon reminds us, but Time ROI is perhaps way more important to consider. That is, if you want to ensure a future with potent product launches (products includes books, my author friends!)–and at least of equal importance–a more satisfying life.  

I met Damon Brown at the American Society for Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference last May, where he led a panel with food and drink journalist Jeannette Hurt on how writers can successfully earn more passive income. What surprised me is that both journalists correlated their success with being true to their core strengths and expertise.  Take away: Know your strengths, be true to them and don’t get distracted. (In fact, Brown and Hurt recently published a new book on the subject of passive income.)

It was a terrific panel and I was particularly interested in some of the things Brown said about focus and productivity.  I couldn’t help but wonder how Damon had written so many books (18 thus far) on top of his TED talks and his coaching practice…not to mention being a stay-at-home dad to two young children.

“Productivity is mostly about subtraction and focus,” Damon said later when we talked after the panel.  Our conversation prompted me to buy The Productive Bite-Sized Entrepreneur, at the next break–and I wrote the word “subtraction” down and underlined it in my notebook.  

It was an auspicious time for me to come across Damon’s  work. I was finishing up editing a major book project–and aching to bring the chapters to fruition with two talented authors. We were approaching finished manuscript form for an eager audience. In my experience editing manuscripts, there are layers that unfold other layers of work which typically land you with last-minute BIG Rubik’s cube puzzles. I intended to stay in the “zone.” I wanted to push every last chapter to perfection.  Alas, I was in the deep throws of what Damon calls the “hardest 1%” — bringing a product from cocoon to butterfly. Of course, I would be obsessed with making it perfect!

In my immersive sessions to the finish line, I followed all of the normal productivity rules. I did NOT check my email at all before I “ate the live frog(s).”  (Mark Twain’s cheeky term for the hardest task.) Check.

I avoided social media entirely– except for explicit assignments on behalf of my clients on designated days. I scheduled social media in immersive batches the same way I did my editorial and writing projects.  Check.

Around regular meetings, surprise fires to put out and prioritized tasks, I also made time for absolute silence and said “No” when I felt overextended.  Check. Check.

But wait a minute. Did he say R&D for creative spark? I love research! So, I also added my own blend of a little new productivity habit first thing in the morning – a secret runway to immersive concentration. I woke up early to read and research, pen out, geeky glasses perched on my nose. When I didn’t hit snooze (I’m only human!), I made sure I read for at least a half hour-on a subject other than that which I was tackling in that day’s tasks-with–most importantly-NO interruptions. (Phone and computer hidden from view).   I love the practice of taking notes and reading intensively from a physical book. I noticed it had a head-clearing effect on me and began to set me up against a day of likely fragmentation. (Though I couldn’t take Damon’s advice on skipping my coffee until later!)

After I tweaked my work habits for the task at hand, I felt like my mind had taken a luscious bath, a feeling of clarity and sunlight inside of me no matter the weather outside.  And it rendered the creeping feeling of burnout into slow, calm newfound energy. It’s true. I had to let everything else go and kind of drop out sometimes to get to the finish line.

The funny thing about subtraction is its incredible powers of multiplication–creating one long and wide airway runway strip to land your most cherished projects–in the thrill of a finished form.  

About Damon Brown: Damon Brown helps side hustlers, solopreneurs, and other non-traditional entrepreneurs bloom. He co-founded the popular platonic connection app Cuddlr and led it to acquisition within a year, all while being the primary caretaker of his infant first son. He now guides others through his consulting/coaching, popular online bootcamp, regular Inc.com Damon Brown column, and public speaking on platforms including TED <bit.ly/DamonTalks>. Damon’s most recent book is The Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur, the latest in his best-selling Bite-Sized Entrepreneur series. He is also co-author of The Passive Writer: 5 Steps to Earning Money in Your Sleep. Join the conversation and get your free creative entrepreneur tools at JoinDamon.me.