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Marketing Fit Interview: Mike Vardy of Productivityist

Mike Vardy Headshot
While I don’t consume every post from the majority of the blogs or podcasts that I subscribe to, there are a handful that I never miss an article or episode from. Mike Vardy’s website, Productivityist.com, and his podcast, Mikes on Mics, with Michael Schechter are two of those. If there is a new productivity tool or technique, Mike has likely already tried it. He has a straightforward approach to his writing. Mike helps those that regularly consume his content to become more productive, while acknowledging the challenges that come along with make changes and developing new routines.

In this Marketing Fit interview, Mike discusses where his passion for productivity came from, his experiments with a virtual assistant, his deep appreciation for beer, the biggest productivity mistake he sees people make and much more. As usual, the first four questions are the same that everyone is asked and the next six are unique to Mike.

Where does fitness fit into the list of competing priorities?

That’s a tough one for me. In fact, it’s one of the tasks I struggle with regularly. I have tried to simply add it as a task into my system to be completed at some point during the day, but I’ve had to actually schedule it in a consistent timeslot five days a week in order to make it stick. I’ve also tried to find different ways to better connect with developing the fitness habit, using the Focus T25 workout program because it equals one “pomodoro” exactly in The Pomodoro Technique and getting into yoga through DDPYoga because I’m a pro wrestling fan. Like with anything I struggle with but know I should be doing, I look for something that really connects in order to make it happen on a consistent basis.

Do you use an iPhone or Android? What apps are on your home screen?

I use an iPhone 4S, as I’m still stuck in a three-year deal here in Canada. I’ll likely stick with an iPhone when I upgrade because i’m so firmly entrenched in the ecosystem.

Mike Vardy iPhone Home Screen

I’ve had a lot of people ask why I keep the bottom row clear of apps, and it’s because I don’t want to accidentally open an app – unlikely I know – and also because my daughter’s image in the screen photo is in the bottom row. (Actually, the latter is the main reason.)

What area do marketers overlook but could drive the biggest impact for their company?

I think that a lot of marketers tend to focus more on quantity than quality, rather than using some critical thinking (or even creative thinking) to better blend the two. I know a lot of firms that work with fewer clients and fewer projects and are in higher demand as a result because of the quality of work they deliver. I think a lot of this misplaced focus is because we’ve become more time-centric than task-centric, and time is a hell of a lot harder to manage than tasks.

What is your best life hack or productivity tip?

What Chris Penn said would be my top choice, but I’d say that checking email (or any two-way communication platform) second thing in the morning, not first, is a second one worth adopting. That way you can get your most important thing done before moving on to what is important to others. When you check email first thing in the morning, what you’re saying is that what you had in mind for your day is not nearly as important as what someone else does. and let’s face it…you probably have something that came in via email from the day beforehand that needs dealing with before today’s emailed tasks do, right?

Where did your passion for productivity come from?

Funny you should ask, as I was recently going through some old paperwork from my Costco days. As I looked through my paper planners, I realized that a lot of what I use now had its humble beginnings back in the late 90s. I guess I’ve always been interested in becoming more efficient and effective. It’s only since I really started to dive deeper into the productivity space that I’m focusing on effectiveness first and looking for efficiency as a secondary consideration.

I really started to become incredibly passionate about productivity when I was trying to balance my Costco management career with a fledgling comedy career. That’s when I started to explore different approaches, workflows, and systems in order to work on both aspects of my life as best as I could. It was from those explorations that I created Eventualism, a productivity parody site, and from there I eventually became the very thing I was parodying: a productivity specialist.

It certainly wasn’t a straight or easy path, but it was most definitely the right one for me to take.

What did serving as Managing Editor at Lifehack and as an Editor at The Next Web teach you that you’re now applying to your work building Productivityist and the accompanying products that you have launched?

One of the things those roles taught me – besides what I didn’t want to do – was that I wanted to write about areas of productivity that weren’t being explored as deeply as I thought they could be. I wanted to write and teach people about things like idea management and focusing on tasks over time, for example. I’m big on mindfulness, awareness, and intention when it comes to the space I specialize in rather than focusing on the latest apps and top ten (or greater) lists. It’s not that I’m not a fan of apps (my propensity to test a variety apps has been well-documented at Productivityist and elsewhere on the internet) or even lists (my 3 Things series is most certainly a list post of sorts), but I think that apps and lists only work when supported by a strong foundation and approach – things that only human beings can put in place and then foster.

You have been chronicling your experiment using a virtual assistant. Based on your experience, what advice would you provide to someone who may be considering bringing on a virtual assistant?

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is that you shouldn’t worry about what tasks you could offload to a virtual assistant. Instead, focus on what you want to deliver and then break it down to what will help you do that. Then look at those things and see if you could use a VA to help you achieve those results in a way that really makes you, your work, and your life shine. Think big, not small. Then move forward with the help you need, whether it be through a personal virtual assistant through a company like Zirtual or a service-based offering like FancyHands.

As an entrepreneur, how has social media helped you to grow your business? Is there anything you wished you did differently when starting to engage in social media?

I wish I’d entered the social media landscape with more intentional approaches when I first started out. I am sure I’m not alone here. There are so many social networks out there that I probably would have been better served to really focus on two or three rather than dive into a slew of them every time they came along. That would’ve helped me with engagement and probably would have lead to better choices along the way.

Still, the great thing about social media is that it flows like a river. As long as you haven’t been reckless with it, it’s something that is malleable and adaptable over time. For example, I only recently launched Productivityist social media profiles. I’m glad I waited because now I know exactly how I’m going to use them. Same thing goes with Pinterest. I didn’t really get into it all that much when it first arrived on the scene, but now that I know more about it I can populate it with things that are appropriate and in an organized manner, rather than simply throwing a bunch of stuff in there and having to deal with the organizational aspect later.

I have a talk called The Social Media/Productivity Balancing Act, and every time I give that talk I learn a little bit more myself. Again, it’s that awareness I was referring to earlier. As soon as you get caught up in social media you really need to make sure that you don’t lose your awareness in the process because it’s that awareness that helps you engage at a much higher level.

Anyone that listens to your podcast, Mikes on Mics, will learn that you’re a beer aficionado. What is it about beer that you appreciate that you think others too quickly dismiss?

I think that people don’t consider beer drinking a hobby. But I do. The reason I do is that I look for interesting beers no matter where I go. I have a beer cellar (which I keep tabs on in Evernote) and I really enjoy the process of learning about what I like in a beer and what I don’t like in a beer.

I just started reading The Craft Beer Revolution by Steve Hindy, who is the cofounder of The Brooklyn Brewery, and there are definitely parallels between the craft beer culture and the tech startup culture. Having spent time writing for various technology journalist websites and spending more time exploring the craft beer space, I can see innovation and resourcefulness that transcends both industries. I think if you look deeper into a hobby, whether it’s productivity specialization, drinking and cellaring beer, studying bourbon, watching pro wrestling, or following high-tech startups then you’ll find yourself appreciating it all the more.

What is the biggest productivity mistake that you see people make?

Hyper-scheduling themselves. They block out every minute of the day, leaving no flexibility or wiggle room for anything. Doing that immediately puts you in a time-based mindset and that forces you to deal with items of urgency. I don’t use my calendar as a task manager as that isn’t where its strength lies. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t block time out to complete tasks, But I am suggesting that you don’t get too specific with the tasks you planning to complete during those time blocks. A task manager is best suited for specifics in that area. A calendar simply helps you slot in agreements you’re making with others (or yourself) at specific times. It’s critical to use your calendar in a way that creates structure without paralyzing you in the process because that’s when you wind up “doing” productive instead of actually “being” productive.

Thank you to Mike for taking the time and hopefully it was helpful to you!

You can connect with Mike Vardy on his website, his podcast, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+.