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Priority Isn’t Plural: How Paul Jarvis Gets Real Work Done from Home

The author of Company of One, Paul Jarvis, shares why you can only really have one priority, and how working from home can be the best—if you’re disciplined enough.
by Eugene Yiga | Sep 3 2020

Paul Jarvis is a web designer, writer, educator, entrepreneur and the author of Company of One. After his book was published, we quizzed him on what it takes to build a self-sufficient business. Now that many of us are working from home full-time, we checked in with this one-man company to get some tips on how to get things done, why his number one tool for success isn’t the latest app, and how to stay motivated when you’re your own boss.

Which aspects of your work do you love the most?

​First and foremost, I can work in my underpants! I live in the middle of nowhere, in the woods, on an island—and love it. All I need is a computer and the internet. I don’t have to travel much, and I can work when I want (and more importantly, not work when I don’t want to).

I also enjoy helping people who are good at what they do get better. I realized early on I’m not great at working with total beginners, so my focus with all my products is to work with the folks who know what they’re doing in one or some areas, and are great at it, but need a bit of help or a gentle(ish) nudge in other areas to get exponentially better. For example, with my course Creative Class, I help people who might be awesome designers, writers, or developers get better at business skills—like managing clients and feedback, getting referrals, and filling their pipelines with leads.​

What parts of your work are challenging?

I have to say no a lot, which is hard, because I don’t like doing it. But in order to create the amount of work I do, I have to basically turn down every opportunity like giving talks, doing some interviews, promoting other people’s things, or even just being able to hop on Skype with anyone who asks to pick my brain about something. Since my business is a company of one (me), I have to be ruthless with how and where I spend my time.​

How do you spend the first hour of your day?

​Coffee, then writing. I’m a super morning person, so I tend to wake up between 5am and 7am, brew some coffee, and get to writing right away. Then I’ll open email, Slack, social, whatever.​

What is your typical daily routine after that?

I typically have a short 1-3 bullet list I’ll make of what needs doing on any given day and get to work. It could involve writing, recording videos or audio, making calls, doing live online events, writing code, working on a book, doing research, making WordPress themes, and so on. ​I have nothing that’s really routine about my day, which I like.

How do you overcome the obstacles to getting work done?

​It’s hard to shut out noise. I’m also not smart enough to multitask. I have no notifications on any devices. So if I want to know what’s in my inbox, I have to log into Gmail. If I want to know who’s talking to me on Twitter, I have to go to Nothing interrupts me except for calls and texts, and thankfully I get few of each.

I also shut down for a few months of the year, meaning no interviews, no being on social media, not writing my weekly newsletter—basically doing nothing but focused work. I find that helps if I have a big project, like creating a software app, book, or new course.

What’s your number one productivity tool or app?

​Turning off all notifications on all devices. I’m not sure if that’s a “tool” per se, but it’s definitely the number one thing I do so I can be productive. That way I can prioritize one thing, do it, and move on to the next.​

What are your top five to ten apps to help you get work done and achieve your goals?

  1. I love Zapier. The web is a bunch of connected bits of data at this point, so being able to connect them to each other is 100% important.
  2. I write in iA Writer or Bear, both of which offer almost no features or functions. All you can do is write.
  3. MailChimp. My weekly newsletter, the Sunday Dispatches, accounts for almost all of my revenue, across all products. So MailChimp runs my business with automations and campaigns.
  4. Dropbox. All my files, synced and backed up, accessible across all devices.
  5. Coda2. Since I have to edit a lot of websites and web apps, Coda is the easiest way to do it. Even if the code is in Github, I use terminal to deal with that, and Coda to edit those files.

Can you give us a photo and description of your office/workspace?

​I work at home, in a bedroom I converted into a home office. It’s sparse: I have a Herman Miller desk and chair, a nice Canadian-made comfy couch, and that’s about it. I built a reclaimed wood wall last year, which helps make my videos look nice and dampens echo for audio recording. My desktop is 100% empty.

What’s your strategy for dealing with email?

I try my best to make it impossible for people who don’t need to contact me (such as startups pitching their products to me) to get in touch. I still get a lot of emails every day, so I try to answer emails whenever I feel like I need a break from other tasks. I also set aside 2-4 hours every week to reply to my newsletter subscribers.​

What’s the best productivity advice you ever received?

​The word “priority” up until about 50 years ago was only used as a singular​ form. So up until the 1960s, you only had one priority. We all think we’re the best at multitasking, but in reality, we all suck at it. So I try to only do one thing at a time, give it my full attention, then move on to something else that I can give 100% of my attention to. That way, even if it’s for 5 minutes, what I’m doing is my only focus.

What other tips or life advice you can share with our readers?

​Question everything, especially advice​ on the internet (even if I’m giving it). Most people with “success” know how they got there and it’s a dataset of one, which is not statistically valid. There are so many ways to do so many things to get ahead in life, in business, in whatever you’re doing. So make sure what you’re doing lines up with why you’re doing it.

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