Education for Business: 5 Secrets of Productivity by Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, the genius of modern times, is undoubtfully worth this title. And not because he created one of the most expensive companies in the world: we’ll see later that it was not money that made him move forward. During 40 years of activity, he made revolutions in five different fields: personal computers, music, phones, digital media, animation movies. What helped him reach such wonderful results? He relied on certain principles. writers found them out and created an article about how to use these secrets in real life.

  1. Focus on Most Important Things. Be Merciless about Priorities

In 1996, Jobs lost control over the company. One year later he came back and got trapped with the difficult situation: “Apple” was about to bankrupt. At that time, the product line contained a set of main products and peripheric devices for them including several versions of the same gadget.

Steve Jobs made a decision just a week later: reduce the quantity of products by 70%. Only 4 of them left: one desktop PC and one portable PC in versions for professionals and regular users. The strategy worked. The company was saved from bankruptcy and earned 309 million dollars during the next year. The only reason was the choice of 4 priority products.

A decision about what NOT to do and what to do are equally important. It works for both companies and products.

How to Use It?

Your point is to find your priorities and concentrate on them. Remember the Pareto rule: 20% of efforts bring you 80% of results. Do these 20% and deny all the rest mercilessly.

Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Start with the final goal. Determine precise goals (it is cool if they’re expressed in numbers). Develop precise steps and strategies to reach them. Deny everything not making you closer to final results.
  2. Find your 20%. Arrange your to-do list according to 2 parameters: efforts required (1 point – minimum efforts, 10 points – maximum) and influence gained (1 – minimum influence, 10 – maximum).
  3. Your main priorities are tasks with less effort ratings but highest influence. Complete them first.

2. Dare Towards Simplicity

Jobs simplified products while focusing on their main points and excluding unnecessary components. Machines have to be elegant and user-friendly devices, not to challenge customers. This value was so big for “Apple” that first user guides for Mac users started with the quote by Da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

Jobs thought that simplicity should come from conquering the complexity, not from ignoring it. Simplicity is not just about minimalism or denying obstacles. To refuse unnecessary buttons of the phone one has to understand the role of every element deeply and offer a simple, elegant alternative which is at least equally effective.

Simplicity is much more difficult to achieve it than complexity. It takes a lot of efforts to make your thought clear and make a simple thing. But it is worth. As only you reach it, you can move mountains.  

How to Use It?

Answers to the following questions will help you find simplest solutions to your problems:

  1. Why does this problem exist? Define reasons of the problems and reasons why you need to solve it. Why do phone buttons exist? Users need them for navigation and data entry. So, the problem is not in buttons, but in the way to enter numbers and other data.
  2. Are there obvious solutions to this problem? People frequently think a complicated problem should have a complicated solution. That is why they deny the first obvious way appearing in their minds.
  3. What is the smallest thing I can do to solve the problem? Enlist all possible solutions and concentrate on the one you think to be the best. Now delete everything not adding value to this solution. It is not easy, but it is exactly the key to make it simple.
  1. Say “No” to Thousand Things
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The skill of prioritizing is not enough. The ability to refuse far more things sometimes looking quite important is equally critical, too.

Steve’s methodology was different from all other ones with the fact: he thought that the most important solutions mean not what to do but what to refuse doing.

Take the iPod as the example. MP3 players were uncomfortable with their many buttons and wheels. It took users time to find out how it all worked. In the iPod, it is enough to make some intuitive clicks to get the access to thousands of tracks.

Many designers try to distinguish their products by integrating more and more functions but Apple moved the opposite direction. Their iPod was constructed to help people listen to music. Everything possible to distract them from this main activity was rejected mercilessly.

Knowing what you did and what you didn’t do are equal reasons to be proud. Innovations mean saying “No” to thousand things.   

How to Use It?

Here are 5 tips to learn saying “No”:

  1. Soft “No (“No, but”). Explain that you are concentrated on other things at the moment, but you could agree with pleasure after finishing current tasks.
  2. “Let me check my calendar and come back”. This allows you to have a break and estimate your priorities without agreeing automatically.
  3. Use e-mail auto-assistants. Why to use this instrument only on weekends and holidays? Teach people respect your time, use automatic answers.
  4. Say: “Fine. What should I deprioritize then?”. Remind your chiefs what you would neglect if said “Yes” and make them offer a compromise.
  5. “I can’t do that but X might be interested”. It is pleasant to think that your help is unique and priceless. Still, people frequently do not care about who helps them till they actually get help.

4. Don’t Follow Your Passion, let it Follow You

In fact, Steve Jobs was not passionate about computers. His real passion was to create instruments helping people reveal their potential. The success of Apple and its founder was not in finding his calling in computers as many people think. But he understood these devices can change the world and did not want to stay aside from this process.

Your job takes a significant part of your life, and the only way to be pleased with it is to go in for something you think to be great. The only way to create something great is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, go on looking. Don’t stop. You’ll understand when you reach the goal.

How to Use It?

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You probably expected to read something like “do what you love to do”. That’s it, but the definition “what you love to do” shouldn’t be perceived literally all the time. You can create computers but be satisfied with the fact you change lives of millions of people. And that is why you will love your job: creation of tech devices.

The writer George Martin once said that he did not really like to write, but he liked what was written. In other words, you need to find a higher goal. Then, it will be easier to complete the success formula: to find an activity you like and people are ready to pay for.

  1. Memento Mori: Don’t Forget about Death

In his famous Stanford speech, Steve Jobs revealed his main life motivation: death.

We all have days filled with things we don’t really want to do. But when there are more such days than those filling you with enthusiasm, it is time to review your life. If things are not looking good, maybe it is time to change your career.

Don’t forget about death being unavoidable. This is the best way to stop thinking that you’ve got something to lose.

How to Use It?

Ask yourself every day: “If today was the last day of my life, would I do things I’m going to do?”. And no, this is not the reason to do what you want with no limits. This is about your higher goal you “write” for to say that you “like what is written” after.

Keeping death in your memory is a good way to stop looking on other people’s opinion (it is probably the strongest obstacle on the way of your self-development). Would you worry about what people say during the last day of your life? I doubt that. Do what you think is required and try doing as much as you can.


Being productive and effective does not mean doing everything. It means doing what is important. Find your priorities and concentrate on them. The other side of the coin is the need to refuse thousands of things taking your time and energy mercilessly. Dare towards simplicity in everything but not through the banal denial of things. Go in for understanding the point, the sense of a subject. Your calling is not always a thing you love to do. Sometimes is the thing you do to reach something. Always look for the higher goal. What would you do if it was the last day of your life? Try to live according to your values and don’t forget about death: this is the good way to avoid doing senseless things. Let your favorite business grow and be your passion.



Disclaimer: This content does not necessarily represent the views of IWB.


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