Why I Buy My Toilet Paper on Amazon, and 7 Other Personal Productivity Hacks


One of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life is ask my friends and family how it is to be around me.  It’s that moment of silence before they deliver their answer that makes me most fearful.

As I interviewed several of the people I care about, one common denominator arose: “James, you always tell us you’re too busy. It’s fine, I get it, you’re just a busy guy.”  Their responses were small jabs that allowed me to see myself through someone else’s shoes.

It wasn’t until I listened to a Podcast episode by Tim Ferriss a few months later that the REAL blow came in. In his podcast, Ferris simply stated:

“Being busy is a form of laziness–lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.
Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.”

Pow. Knocked to the floor. I couldn’t agree more. “Too Busy” comes from a fear-based mentality of compensating or avoiding confrontational yet essential action.

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Determined to never be too busy for the ones I care about, I’ve dedicated the last year of my life to automating, systematizing and outsourcing everything I possibly could. Interestingly enough, this effort flowed over into my personal life, where things like cooking and cleaning needed to be addressed.

As a kid, my dad would constantly remind me of the simple mantra, “Time is Money,” to which I promptly subscribed to. In recent years, my opinions on that axiom have changed. Time is relative. I believe “Energy is Money.”

Some of the items below will seem ridiculous to most. Probably because I’m only saving 5 to 10 minutes. But that’s not the point. My intention isn’t ever to save time, but rather to conserve my energy. It can be mentally exhausting to worry about long “to-do” lists all day, remember to get to the post office before it closes, and pick up your dry cleaning before 5 o’clock. When you are an entrepreneur, you are constantly creating. CREATING takes energy. A LOT of energy. Can we really afford to be so lax with our creative energy?

Here’s a list of eight major things I’ve done to reclaim my lost energy, conserve time, and focus my day on the things I really enjoy: making videos, writing, surfing, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

Outsourcing Hack #1. Automatic Payments & Banking

I haven’t stepped into a bank or written a check in over a year. Everything that has to do with writing or cashing checks has been automated as much as possible. It may sound silly to some, but a 6 minute drive (each way), and a 5 minute wait in line at the bank is not worth it to me. Most major banks offer a Mobile App on your smart phone that allow you to take pictures and deposit your checks without ever leaving your home.

I’ve also made sure that any  monthly billing expense (utilities, car payments, rent, etc) has been set up for automatic billing.  Most companies offer this as a service from their online portal. If they don’t, your online banking should offer a service that allows to send payments atomically online. (Wells Fargo bankers, check out BillPay).

One could argue that writing a check takes no more than 3 to 5 minutes, but that’s not the point here. If every month, you have to think about paying 5 to 7 bills, just think about the mental energy that is wasted as you worry about these inconveniences. Setting up a automated billing just makes things so much easier!

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 4.36.05 PMOutsourcing Hack #2. Outsourcing My Cooking

Healthy living is a huge priority in my life. I won’t stand for eating fast food or microwave dinners. If I decide to cook myself, it takes time, there’s no way around it. Coupled with the fact that I really don’t enjoy to cook, I decided to hire a personal chef.

Here’s how simple it was:

I handed my chef a meal plan from a fitness book and told her to avoid things like dairy and gluten. Then, every week, my chef delivers 10 meals to my doorstep (5 for lunch, 5 for dinner). On top of that, she delivers snacks, water and anything else I request.

The Result: I haven’t stepped foot in my local supermarket for 9 months, and I’ve saved hours on cooking (and deciding what to cook).

Although automating my cooking has probably had the biggest impact on freeing up my time, I know this can probably be the most expensive luxury that I’ve listed. The point here is this: consuming food is essential, and grocery shopping, cooking and eating DOES take time. How can your process be automated or streamlined? Can you hire a concierge to shop for you? Can you cook in bulk and save meals for the week to prevent interruptions in your work?

One service I found (but have yet to try) is BlueApron.com. This service delivers fresh ingredients and a recipe straight to your home. It cuts out the shopping, prepping, and guess work out of eating a good meal.

Outsourcing Hack #3. The Dirty Laundry

When I was 17, I got a job at a local surf shop in town. The first task they gave me was to re-fold the clothes on one of the racks. I quit the next day. I don’t enjoy doing laundry, (ask my mom!) and I also see just how much time it eats.

There is a Dry Cleaners/Laundromat about 3 blocks from my house. I drop off a heap of clothes and in 3 to 5 hours I have a stack of clean, folded laundry for about $22. The only thing I’m trying to figure out now is how to automate the process of getting my laundry picked up and dropped off so I don’t have to do it myself.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 4.41.42 PMOutsourcing Hack #4. Pimp my House!

Eight months ago I hired an Interior Designer. Reason #1: I knew NOTHING about interior design. NOTHING. Reason #2: I didn’t have the patience to learn anything about interior design. The process was simple. The designer helped me to identify what styles I liked, and which I despised. Then, she came back to me with a small list of options to choose from. I would be presented with three types of couches, or 2 chandeliers, all I had to do was pick the one I wanted best and my work was done. She and her team was responsible for ordering, delivering and installing.

Now, am I recommending an interior designer? No. I actually wouldn’t recommend a designer/decorator to most people. But here’s the point of this example: any time someone can help you to eliminate the research and decision-making process, you are saving time AND precious “thinking energy.”

Outsourcing Hack #5. Clothes Shopping

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 4.48.06 PMI get it. Most people enjoy shopping. I don’t.  I actively think of ways to avoid the mall, and the dizzy spells of overwhelming indecision that frequently accompany these trips.  If left to my own devices, I would spend way too much money buying the wrong attire that I never end up wearing.  The Solution: Trunk Club.com

I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my “Personal Stylist,” I sent in my measurements, and then I received a “trunk” with eight articles of clothing to choose from.  That’s it. Eight.  A Blazer, pair of dress shoes, some pants and some shirts.  I spent 30 minutes playing dress-up and I had my decisions.  I kept what I wanted, and shipped the rest back. Easy.

Outsourcing Hack #6. Keepin’ it Clean!

About five blocks from my house there’s a parking lot. Every Wednesday, a “mobile” car wash operator sets up shop. On my way to the gym, I throw him my keys, and when I’m finished working out, my car is ready to go. I’ve not only saved time by getting someone to wash my car for me, but I’ve saved even more time by doing it on the way to the gym. It’s killing two birds with one stone…or as I like to say: Feeding Two Birds with One Seed.

I also have a maid that comes every other week to clean my home. I actually think that this is a great place to start if you are looking to outsource some of your personal duties and responsibilities.

Outsourcing Hack #7. Amazon’s Auto-Ship Program

Toothpaste, Paper Towels, your favorite soda and toilet paper-we all need them, and it takes time to get ‘em. Well, not any more. Thanks to Amazon.com, you don’t just purchase your name-brand essentials online, but you can have them auto-shipped directly to your home every month.

This does two things: First it saves time, and second it gives you a nice shot of dopamine every time you see a box at your front door with your name on it. I mean…who doesn’t like getting things in the mail?!

Amazon: Supporting Recluses & Hermits Everywhere!

Outsourcing Hack #8. The Personal Assistant

I use a personal assistant to fill in the gaps. I took a good hard look at the things in my business and personal life that I really did not enjoy doing, and made sure that my assistant and I developed efficient systems to prevent me from ever doing these things again. This includes managing my calendar, booking travel arrangements, and even responding to my email. How my assistant and I have worked together to make my life more efficient and productive is deserving of it’s own blog post, but having someone (whether part-time or full-time), is probably the easiest way to make a dramatic impact on the amount of time you spend on creativity-draining activities and tasks.

Here is a list of four of my favorite software applications that help manage and systematize how I work with my assistant and other members of my team:

1. 15Five.com – This cool piece of software automatically sends “questionnaires” to each of your team members at the end of every work week so they can share their “wins,” “losses” and other updates. In less than five minutes, you can get an accurate summary of how they spent their week, and how they plan on spending next week.

2. Basecamp.com – Any project management software is better than nothing. I’ve been using Basecamp for about 2 years now, and it’s simply amazing for organizing people and projects.

3. SweetProcess.com – Anything in your business can be automated through documented processes and systems. SweetProcess is a simple piece of software that allows you to make your own processes with ease. Highly recommend!

4. ToDoom.org – I enjoy having a personal “To-Do” list app. This one is awesome. It’s free, simple to use, and visually friendly. If you are looking for a to do list program, I’d check this one out!

Ridiculous Obsession or Essential for Entrepreneurs?

A few months ago, I wrote a quick post on Facebook sharing that I’ve done things like outsource my cooking and cleaning, and quite a few people seemed triggered by the concept. Commenters seemed quick to justify why they were doing their own cooking or cleaning: “I enjoy doing laundry.” “Cooking allows me time to relax and reflect.”

The true intention of this post is to show you just how valuable and previous your energy and your time is. Unfortunately, most will read that line, nod their head, but never actually “get it.” I know this because entrepreneurs will refuse to spend $22 to get their laundry done, but are willing to work 14 hours a day THEN come home and do their laundry. #crazy. These habits reinforce to yourself and to others that you don’t value your time and energy very highly.

It’s opportunity cost. Every time you say “yes” (or worse-say, “ok, fine I’ll do it myself!”), imagine what you’re actually saying NO to.

Einstein once said, “Try to not to be a man (or woman!) of success, but a man of value.” How much value can you be to the world when you spend so much of your time and energy doing things of little value?

The Results:

Did freeing up my time mean I got to work more? No.

Well…yes. Kinda. I don’t see “working” as “Time in front of the Computer.” If you have a goal or mission in life, you don’t just just fit into the 9 to 5 you decide to carve out for sitting at your desk. It’s 24/7. It consumes your life. When you begin to realize that the time you take to go on a walk, or read a book, or spend on your favorite hobby is ALL part of “You Working,” you’ll discover just how valuable and precious your time and energy are. Getting plenty of sleep, eating right, relaxing, enjoying life…these seemingly unrelated tasks have far more to do with your productivity, creativity and workability than most will ever know. I’ve simply done what I can to make more room for them in my life. Here’s to you doing the same!

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  1. says

    I was reading this article battling between loving and hating it. Debating leaving a comment…

    For me, personally, I love contact with people – it rejuvenates me. I can’t tell you the number of leads and contacts I’ve made by chatting and networking in a natural way at the bank, the mall or the grocery store.

    However, being home alone cleaning alone can be a waste of time and precious energy – so I think outsourcing that would be very smart. Laundry – yes. When we lived in Italy we took our stuff in and it was amazing to have the folded, clean clothes waiting for us! Loved that.

    Also, cooking double portions and freezing – very smart, yes!… but giving up one’s ability to cook all together? Cooking is a CREATIVE thing, and giving this up for “more screen time” reminds me a little of the little boy on the computer who has his mom bring a sandwich to the door while he plays video games.

    There is nothing sexier than a man who can cook.

    I think if we look at where we waste time/energy, a lot of us would find SCREEN TIME (which comes from unplanned distraction) can be reduced, not just actions that take us out in the world to interact with people. Can you do an article about those programs that lock out anymore than 20 mins of, say, Facebook per day? I forget the names…

    I hope my comments don’t leave you the wrong way. I really appreciate you putting this article together, and respect you sharing this with us. Thank you for the privilege of joining the conversation, James.

    Also… good for you to mention (in passing) your priority to work-out, THAT in itself will double your energy and clear your mind.

    Wishing you energy and inspiration!!!

  2. says

    Wonderful post! I am a huge fan of outsourcing low value activities… but I’ve had a serious “block” in taking the plunge to hire a personal chef. This is a big one! I too am a super health conscious surfer, so I can’t do take-out or many of the delivery services. Can you give any tips on you found your awesome chef?

  3. Kim says

    Sometimes you don’t even realize the impact a post has on you until you find yourself talking about it with your friends. I found myself talking about this blog post a couple of times since I read it. Great post James! Thanks for sharing this.

  4. says

    Sally, I have also had a block about hiring a personal chef. Two other solutions I have used are buying pre-made healthy food at gourmet grocery stores such as Whole Foods, here in Newport Beach, California, USA. Secondly, I used FitnessVT.com to calculate a custom lean diet to make the shopping for pre-made food a simple selection of items.


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