Auren Hoffman is an entrepreneur, angel investor, author, and current CEO of SafeGraph, which graphs datasets together to solve humanity’s biggest secrets. Previously he was founder and CEO of LiveRamp an identity resolution provider offering data onboarding. I had the chance to sit down with Auren and learn more about his productivity habits, including managing his inbox, dealing with meeting overload and more.
What type of meeting are we having? What is the goal and the agenda? When we have meetings we pre-write the goals and share the agenda. We do that even with external meetings.
Q: Do you experience meeting overload – how do you handle it?
Auren: Yes, I do experience meeting overload and to counter that I always try to have as few meetings as possible, with as few people as possible. For example – our Eng VP would have all engineering meetings on Wednesday and only on Wednesdays. Wednesday was release day so it worked for the engineering team. Code reviews and other types of meetings would also happen then. That streamlines the rest of the week for a team that isn’t big on meetings. That might be easier to accomplish for engineers – but it is an example that can be useful for others.
Also, it is really good to know what you are trying to accomplish in advance. What type of meeting are we having? What is the goal and the agenda? When we have meetings we pre-write the goals and share the agenda. We do that even with external meetings.
Finally, another useful idea is to streamline attendance, because most meetings don’t need everyone that gets invited.
Q:How does multitasking in meetings help or hurt productivity?
Auren: Most external meetings are on the phone. When that happens there are too many opportunities to multi-task. In-person meetings are better because you don’t multi- task. If you find yourself in a meeting where people aren’t focused it is a good sign that the meeting is not run well. It doesn’t necessarily mean the meeting is bad (that might be the case) but at a minimum, it means the meeting should be run better. Once someone was checking Facebook in a meeting I ran. I thought to myself that it might not be that person’s fault and perhaps I needed to make the meeting more compelling.
Contrary to popular belief, you should put yourself in a small box and limit your options so that you are clear and focused.
Question: What haven’t I asked that would help us unlock your real secrets around being productive?
Auren: The number one thing that smart people do wrong is that they overvalue optionality. I believe the same is true of companies. Contrary to popular belief, you should put yourself in a small box and limit your options so that you are clear and focused. You should eliminate options. Most super smart people are doing the opposite: they are constantly growing their options. Business school teaches you to open up options. But if you think of one of the most important things you do in life to succeed is getting married. That is the ultimate elimination of options. The reason that works so well is that it forces you to have focus on a key relationship. That same insight should apply beyond marriage.
Question: What are the productivity habits that most improve your workday?
Auren: I subscribe to the Get Things Done methodology and a zero inbox world.
Responsiveness depends on your job and personality. I am at the extreme end of being responsive.
Question: How important is being responsive to other people? Are you selective in how you are responsive?
Auren: Responsiveness depends on your job and personality. I am at the extreme end of being responsive. I am not sure this is necessarily important for everyone else. I get back to everyone within a day. I got that habit in college. I once emailed Steve Jobs in college and he got back to me right away. Same thing with Steve Ballmer while I was still in college. I was in the middle of an engineering project in the middle of the night and I wanted answers from them and they got back to me quickly. It was really impressive — and this was an email from an unimportant college student. From these interactions, I wondered if they were successful because they were responsive or were they responsive because they were successful? I am not sure of the cause and effect here, but I chose to emulate them just in case.
Question: When you think about the most effective executives what productivity attributes stick out the most from them?
Auren: In general – what should you choose to focus on is the most important driver of productivity. You need to focus on the really big things. Figuring out what the really important things are is difficult. In addition, I also focus on tiny minute details because the details are useful. But I don’t focus much on the middle – because you don’t have the time to do everything. Instead, I want to empower folks to get things done.
To get this strategy to work I need to surround myself with the right team, communicate the right strategy to that team and when I do engage with the team, I find the right area to sweat the details.