Michael Sliwinski is an author and serial podcaster, a productivity guy who’s passionate about working remotely (#NoOffice) and in a mobile way (#iPadOnly). He’s the founder of Nozbe, a project management and collaboration platform (web-based with native apps for the Mac, Windows, Android, iPad, and the iPhone + Apple Watch).
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in the Polish seaside city of Gdynia. I have a great younger brother and wonderful parents who inspired me to become an entrepreneur. When I was young, my parents were barely making it paycheck to paycheck during communism. However, the fall of the dictatorship made it possible for people to start their own “small companies” and my parents seized the moment. This way, they taught me what it means to be entrepreneurial, and thanks to them I’m constantly learning and growing… and having the time of my life in the process 🙂
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
As an incurable optimist and a really fulfilled person, I don’t have many regrets. However, recently, as the Basecamp controversy arose, I remembered my own management-related mistake. Perhaps I could have avoided it if I had realized early enough that the boss doesn’t have to call all the shots. I could have avoided making my team feel uncomfortable if I had established a “brain trust” in my company earlier and consulted the critical decisions with a group of cross-functional teammates. Now we do that and it lets me catch my mistakes earlier and really take advantage of the power of intellect of the smart people around me.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
The two bad recommendations I kept and still keep hearing are related to the company and team management. The first is that “every serious company should have an office” / “if you don’t have real headquarters, you won’t be able to grow a meaningful business”… Well – in my company (similarly to Automattic or Basecamp), we don’t have a physical office. Everyone works from home, and we’re doing great! Our apps are used by over 700 000 people and teams across the globe.
The second thing is how many leaders and managers claim that trust is good, but control is better. I believe it is totally the opposite, and the more you trust people, the more motivated and involved they get.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it, and what you learned from it?
It was around 2005-2007. I was a freelance marketing consultant. I worked from home, helping other businesses get better results online. But managing projects for many clients at the same time became a struggle. I couldn’t stick to deadlines or fulfill all my commitments. I was tired, stressed, and overworked.
Fortunately, I got David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done,” and convinced by the method, I built a tool that would help me achieve my goals and implement the GTD system in real life. That’s how Nozbe came to being.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I run my company 100% remotely. We don’t have a physical office, and everyone on the Nozbe team works from home. This way, people don’t waste time commuting to and from work. They can adjust their working hours to their private lives and be there for their close ones when they need them. They can work in focus that none of the typical open-space habits can ruin. You can learn everything I have to say about the advantages of working remotely in my latest open-source book at nooffice.org.
What is your morning routine?
My morning routine
… starts in the evening the day before. Then:
– I write some ending thoughts in my journal to summarize the day and keep track of the things I hadn’t thought of earlier.
– I write down my three most important tasks for tomorrow.
In the morning:
– I try to get up at 7 am and prevent myself from using the snooze option 🙂
– I note three things for which I am thankful (small things in the context of yesterday and today) in my journal on my iPhone, or I read the Bible and pray.
– I drink water with lemon.
– I prepare and drink coffee with my wife, and after we manage to get our three daughters ready, I drive them to school.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I’d say it’s writing things down:
– Writing journal
– Writing up my ideas
– Writing on my blog
– Providing written feedback to everyone on my team
Writing improves communication. Writing makes our thinking and learning visible and more permanent. Writing also helps explain and refine our ideas to others and ourselves. Written feedback is more thorough.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
– Writing things down – again 😉 It helps me focus on what I have to do.
– Working in blocks of time, especially having a block of focused work during the time of the day when I’m the most productive.
– Planning my day the evening before.
– Automating the processes so that I can reduce the barriers of entry to tasks – to avoid procrastination.
And having a great and productive team around me also helps. Even though we don’t see each other as we all work remotely, I feel their presence in our projects, tasks, and comments to tasks. They get me going and push me to be better.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Well, these are definitely my top picks:
- “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen based on which I built my first productivity app Nozbe and started my online business.
- “Essentialism. The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown helped me take my business and life to a whole new level.
- “Rework” by the Basecamp founders Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson lets me have all of their great business ideas in one place.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I have plenty of them. But here are the ones that I’d quote today:
“Work is not a place to go; it’s a thing you do.” (I heard it somewhere and it really stayed with me as I run my company completely remotely)
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” (Greg McKeown)
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” (David Allen)