3 Simple “Forcing Functions” That Will 3-5x Your Productivity

3 Simple “Forcing Functions” That Will 3-5x Your Productivity

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I’m often asked how – in a 2 year period – we were able to:

The truth is… very little sleep and hacking away at our approach to getting work done.

I believe most people don’t mean to be lazy. They typically aren’t producing because they haven’t improved the way they work. Everyone is capable of 3-5 times more output by changing a few simple things around in HOW they work vs. WHAT they work on.

In this post I’m going to cover an approach I call “forcing functions” (borrowed from my geeky product development background) that I’ve been doing for years to 3-5x my productivity (or output) during my work week.

Exclusive Bonus: Download a list of my Top 5 productivity hacks (for free!).

But first, a quick overview…

The Power of Forcing Functions!

The concept is best explained with a story.

Sometimes when I give a talk I go over a concept called “Motivation Trumps Knowledge.” Β The idea is simple but I usually use a simple story to explain it.

One day I was meeting with my younger brother Moe at a coffee shop and we were talking about his property management company. He was having a hard time finding and getting introduced to new building owners to grow his business. He had set a goal to have 100 units under management within 3 month but he didn’t feel like he was on target to hit his goal. That’s when I introduced him to this concept.

I asked him who’s the person he loved most in the world? He replied, his wife. Then I asked him to play a game with me. I asked him, based on todays understanding of the work involved, etc. how likely would he be to hit his goal in 3 months?

“Hmmmm, probably 60-70% I would guess,” he answered.

This is where things get a bit intense, but I do this for the purpose of my example. I then asked him to visualize a person with a gun to the head of his wife, and he knew – 100,000% that if he didn’t hit his goal within 3 months that the guy would pull the trigger. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that the trigger would be pulled.

“How likely are you to hit your goal?” I asked.

“100%, there isn’t a doubt I could do it” he said.

So what changed?


That’s it. Most of the time, we don’t fail to achieve our goals because of lack of knowledge and how-to, it’s because we haven’t associated the right level of motivation to the outcome.

It’s a powerful story to help remind you that anything is possible when our backs are against the wall.

Maybe for you that’s your parents, your kids or your purpose.

So how does this play into forcing function?… well let’s look at the definition:

A forcing function is any task, activity or event that forces you to take action and produce a result.

I believe the best way to work is to put ourselves into a position to execute. Essentially, forcing us to complete a task.

Here’s how I use this concept to get more done in a day…

Schedule Working Meetings To Discuss and Do

My mind always works better with other people around me. I LOVE talking to smart motivated people, so anytime someone asks me for my time, or I have an idea that I know will require some work on my part, I always put both the ideation/conversation part of the meeting and the DOING into the same meeting.

Some people find this weird the first time they experience it, but for me it’s a must.

For example, lets say a company I invested in is about to start raising their next round and they need introductions to investors. What I’ll do is schedule a 30 minute meeting (Skype Video is my preference) and let them know that I’ll be making the intro’s during that meeting – so feel free to work on emails while we’re talking.

Usually the call goes something like this:

  • quick updates
  • question on their ideal outcome
  • information I can use for intros
  • send 3-5 emails to investors
  • let them know to circle back if I can do more

30 minutes and I’m done.

The alternative – and what I did in the past – would be to say I’ll make some intro’s, start the email to follow up over the weekend when I got a chance to breathe, then forget to do them or be so late in responding that their round is closed πŸ™‚

Using a working meeting as a forcing function for micro projects that can be done at the same time is key to doing more in a day and not having a todo list that scares you.

Going Powerless While Co-Working

Are you super productive the day before you leave on a trip? You wonder how come you can’t have that kind of day everyday? It’s because the travel is a forcing function to getting everything done that you’ve been pushing off – knowing that you won’t have time to do it later.

This next strategy uses that mechanic to keep you super productive.

If you love the working meeting concept, then you’ll love the powerless co-working sessions. If you’re like me and you work on a laptop, then you should take advantage of it.

2-3 times a week, I’ll leave my office and go co-work at a friends company or coffee shop and NOT bring my power cable.

I’ve got a MacBook Pro so that gives me about 3 hours of power to get shit done.

That’s when I slam through a bunch of emails, get some serious planning done or design some new product features. There’s something magical about a 3 hour forced completion work session.

My life really embraced this concept a couple years ago when my son started going to day care. I made a commitment that I would pick him up everyday at 4:30pm and do the “night” routine. Knowing that I’m off the grid 4:30 – 7:00pm every night transformed my afternoons.

When I was single, I would just let things stack up and get everything done at night before going to bed. Now that time is gone.

Creating time constraint work sessions either personally enforced, or by not bringing your power cable on a work session will have a huge impact on your output. It also gets you into flow a lot faster.

HUGE investments into an outcome

If you can get working sessions and time constrained blocks of time figured out, then the last “forcing function” strategy would be to make a HUGE investment in an outcome.

In some ways it works on the same principle I shared in the story about my brother above but it’s one I’ve been using for many years.

Make a HUGE investment of time or money in the outcome you desire.

Over the years I’ve done this in a variety of ways:

  • Moving to San Francisco: Burning the boats and moving to the epicenter of my industry forced me to not waste the opportunity and elevate my skills to participate with some of the smartest folks around.
  • Paying $10K+ to learn a new skill : I’ve done this several times in my career where I invested a large sum of money to learn a new skill by the best person in the world. Making this investment meant I wasn’t going to minimize their time, advice or suggestions.
  • Burning the boats: When I was 24, I worked for 2 years saving every penny to start a company. I emptied my savings account and put it into my new corporate account hiring 3 people day one. I was all in!
  • Scheduling Webinars: When I want to blog or share an idea, the best thing I can do is schedule a webinar and share the link to my twitter followers. Committing to delivering on the content is a great forcing function for me to review my notes and create something great for everyone who joins.

If you’re reading this and you’re getting caught up on the money aspect – because you hardly have any – stop it. It’s not about the money, it’s about the size of the commitment.

It reminds me of the saying, “The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.”

You need to get committed.

I’m always asked “Should I move to San Francisco to build my tech company?”

The question isn’tΒ should you… the better question is: WOULD YOU?

That says way more about the type of entrepreneur you are and your level of commitment to being successful than anything else.

If you’re willing to make a HUGE investment in the outcome you desire then you will naturally focus all your time, energy and focus to that outcome.

It’s why Ramit invests $50K+ a year on a personal trainer, a nutritionist and other things to keep him focused and committed on his goals (noticed I used the term invest… because that’s what it is, an investment!).

If you’re serious, sometimes you need to go all in. Not because it’s required, but more because it’s what’s going to set you up for the highest likelihood of a positive income.

As I described above, understanding your default state to procrastinate and adding forcing functions throughout your week is a key strategy to get more done.

It’s not about prioritizing or saying no, it’s about setting up the right environment for YOU to be productive.

Remember, it’s o.k. to…

  • ask people to stay on a call while you get what they need done
  • play games with yourself by not taking a power cable with you to a work session
  • force yourself into a corner, forcing you to win to escape

It’s all about “Knowing Thyself” and stacking the odds in your favour.

No matter where you are in the world and regardless of what you’re working on, I hope you’ll start on a journey of understanding yourself so you can create your own forcing function of success.

Exclusive Bonus: Download a list of my Top 5 productivity hacks (for free!).

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  • http://www.referralcandy.com/ Visakan @ ReferralCandy

    Intense stuff. I’ve always known this stuff to be true but I’ve always avoided putting myself on the spot like that. Time to ramp things up. Thanks, Dan.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Start simple and work you’re way up. πŸ™‚

      Glad you enjoyed.

  • http://www.chillik.com/ Zain Abiddin

    Wow! Great post Dan! Curious to know where in San Francisco did you stay and what networking strategies worked the best while you were here?

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Zain, I lived in the Mission – got a place on Craigslist but if short term just use Airbnb.

      I plan on writing more about building relationships in the future, till then get this book: http://www.masterminddinnersbook.com

  • http://www.uberflip.com Braedon Hebert

    Love the “go powerless” idea. Riding the train home for the holidays I forgot to charge my laptop beforehand – finished what I had to do with time to spare thanks to the slowing dwindling battery’s motivation!

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      you can also do that when bringing your laptop home from work… don’t bring your power cable. πŸ™‚

      glad you liked.

  • matthewwoo

    Great post by the way slight typo -> It reminds ‘me instead of mind’ of that saying β€œThe difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.”

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Updated! Thanks.

      • matthewwoo

        No problem, by the way I just moved out to SF and joined Yo as their first PM, if you have time for a quick 30min chat over skype, would love to get your thoughts on marketing & growth for Yo.

        My Skype username is matthew.woo and my email is matthew.edan.woo@gmail.com

  • KJ Prince

    “Paying $10K+ to learn new skill : I’ve done this several times in my career where I invested a large sum of money to learn a new skill by the best person in the world. Making this investment meant I wasn’t going to minimize their time, advice or suggestions.”

    Interesting post Dan. Care to share what skills you learned?

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      KJ, I’ll save that for another post. πŸ™‚

  • Matt Miller

    Hey Dan! I have ADHD like yourself and I’m curious to know how you use these strategies while dealing with this? I tend to get driven to distractions, when trying to put in off hours to learn a new skill.

    Great strategies though I’ve found putting in 10k+ and going all in (quitting job investing 40K+ into a startup) to be times where I’ve been most motivated.

    The gun to my wife’s head is a new on though will definitely give that train of thought a try! Reminds me of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRfoFGGyRvU

  • http://razorcreative.blogspot.com richgould

    Love this one Dan. Thanks.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Thanks Rich!

  • http://SteveDaar.com Steve Daar

    Saw you recommend Love The Killer App recently. I picked it up and am about 1/2 through.

    I took note of that ham/eggs line from that book as well.

    Thank you for showing/being an example of how to share knowledge.

    I’m committing to begin sharing more of mine

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell


      If you think about it, sharing knowledge of what we’ve learned and how to improve the future is a default start for the human race. It’s the only reason why we have running water, iphones and capitalism.

      I consider it my responsibility to do so… and I’m trying to get better at it πŸ™‚

      Glad you enjoyed the book… was the one that changed it all for me.


  • http://about.me/mikisegal Miki Segal

    Great article Dan! I’m curious, what were some of the skills you paid $10k+ to learn?

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell


      I’ve got so many people that asked me that question that I might write about it this week.

      Stay tuned for the answer.

      => http://danmartell.com/newsletter

  • lewishowes

    Powerful stuff my man!

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Thanks Lewis… I was a bit hesitant to write the story about my brother and using that kind of situation to make a point, but I felt it needed to be said.

      It’s really a double edge sword … you want to feel empowered to do anything, but then it also brings the responsibility to own our outcomes 100%.

      Appreciate the support… I want to write more like this.



  • mliubinskas

    I’ve been a big fan of this model and this pushes it even further. Thanks.

    The other thing I’ve done is pick a single obsession which goes for three months. Every extra hour in the week goes to that obsession.

    The other challenge I see me and others struggle with is saying no. Good language in your arsenal to say “Thanks, but it’s not for me.” is really helpful.

    Slight typo at the end “to setup you up for”.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      I’m the same way.. I call them practices but I do them for 40 days to create the habit… could be a simple as drinking a litre of water as soon as I wake up in the morning πŸ™‚

      On saying no, I actually wrote this:

      Thanks for the comment.

  • William Cosentino

    Dan, first time visitor and enjoyed this write up. The example you used for your brother is very familiar to one that I heard Darren Hardy explain (also dealing with a tragic family scene). It’s for sure Motivating!

    I find that in order to get laser focused on a task, I have to shutdown every single distraction around me. I also loved the no power cord concept. That’ll push you to get shit done!! πŸ™‚

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      William, big fan of Darren.. actually got to chat with him a few months ago.

      No distractions is key. It’s why I live a life of ZERO notifications. The only ones I allow in are from my wife and she uses them sparingly πŸ™‚


  • Eric Spencer

    Stumbled on your blog today. Found this post. Wow. This is powerful stuff! I’ve already shared with my network. Thank you!

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Thanks Eric! Appreciated.


  • Samir Adel

    Great article Dan .. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your strategies with us, I have mine too πŸ™‚ .. I also wanted to highlight this point: It is a journey of self awareness and knowing what motivates you and what distracts you then you setup your own environment for max. productivity.

    Thank you so much

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      My pleasure Samir.


  • mbmo

    Awesome man, love taking quick action… so easy to say and not do. Doing and saying at the same time make it easier! I find even moving the laptop out of the office say to the kitchen table even helps.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell



  • http://coastlifestyles.ca Ria Qureshi

    Hi Dan,

    I always work better under pressure. I love going powerless whether I’m working at home or at the office — an excellent force-function productivity idea that gets the juices flowing fast!

    I love how you describe what I’m already doing “force-function productivity”
    I’ve never heard it described that way, it’s very powerful!

    Ria πŸ˜€

  • http://stlstartuplawyer.com Mary

    I love the idea of forcing functions. A friend and I decided to partner on a product launch that will release right before the new year. The short deadline has definitely put a fire under my seat and I feel like I’ve been more productive than I ever knew myself to be. Now I know this is possible all the time. I will definitely use your advice.!

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Mary, time compression is a great motivator … same reason we get some much done before a flight πŸ™‚

      Appreciate the comment.


  • http://espressodigital.co/ Ryan M Hall

    Absolutely awesome article. Love the idea of forcing functions.
    I haven’t done working meetings, but have asked my partners and collaborators for weekly or biweekly meetings because (even though it’s a running joke) I’ll start it and forget if I don’t have that meeting.

    Thanks much! Loved it.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      My pleasure Ryan, thx for the comment.


  • http://mikebrcic.com/ Mike Brcic

    Love it, Dan! I use pomodoro a lot for the same effect. I’ve also been wrestling with a decision around a big investment lately, but you’ve inspired me to take the effin’ plunge!

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Mike, any structure is better than none. I’m a big fan of block time = using my calendar to plan my day / big rocks.

      Thx for the comment.


  • https://www.linklay.com Kimanh

    Love this, and going to implement some new things from it soon too. I recently started a 30-day get one thing done challenge to keep myself accountable as the groups host! Let me tell you, that is working really well πŸ™‚ (Well, for that one thing it is)

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