Dillon Carter

Entrepreneur, Hacker and Future Mad Scientist 🚀☕

Author: Dillon Carter Page 1 of 25

my nerdy productivity system using Airtable and Todoist

My Nerdy Planning System: Airtable + Todoist + Zapier

Recently I was asked how I manage so many projects (started two successful companies, graduated college full-time with a 3.49 GPA, and still have a girlfriend). What I’ve designed is taken from a few different people and put together. I’ll link to each resource that I used while piecing this wonderful system together. 

my personal productivity stack

A high-level overview of my system is that I reverse-engineer what I want to accomplish each year into daily tasks that are easy to execute. 

Let’s Dive Into the Details

The below structure was adopted (read: totally stolen) from the incredible Nat Eliason’s blog post on setting goals using Airtable

Like I mentioned above, I like to reverse-engineer what I want to accomplish for every aspect of my life that I personally find important. By doing so, I’m able to easily see my life as one large picture and how one thing may relate to another. 

First, I start with my Annual Goals, broken down by category (Business, Personal, Health, Class, etc). For each category, I like to have 2-3 massive outcomes planned. Keep in mind that these are not tasks but massive goals that I’ll need to turn into projects or tasks throughout the year. 

To make this concrete, let’s use an annual goal of Aura (my SaaS company) hitting $1.5m in ARR. 

Second, I sit down each quarter and review my Annual goals to determine what would need to be accomplished to achieve them. These new ideas become my Quarterly Goals. 

What should I accomplish this quarter to be on track to hit my annual goal of doing $1.5m in ARR? Based on current bottlenecks I would say hiring a second full-time engineer would have the highest positive impact. 

Third, I’ll sit down each month and do the same for my Monthly Goals as I did with my Quarterly Goals above. 

Now that I have a good idea of what I need to accomplish for the quarter, I can break that down into just what I can do this month; conduct 20+ cultural interviews and at least 10 technical interviews. 

Lastly, I set down each Sunday afternoon to break down my Monthly Goals into Daily Tasks that can be accomplished this week. I try to have 2-3 critical tasks for each day across all of my goals. 

To easily hit my monthly goal, I’ll most likely need to do the following:

Monday – Create job requirements

Tuesday – Post job listing on 5 remote working job boards

Thursday – Filter through initial candidates and schedule 30-minute cultural interviews for the following week

Friday – Ask my network for any potential candidates that would be a great fit and looking for a new role.

What we’ve essentially done is take a very large goal of doing $1.5m in annual revenue and broken it down into actionable tasks that can be done starting Monday. 

In other words: Annual Goals -> Quarterly Goals -> Monthly Goals -> Daily Tasks to complete. 

The point here is that each of the tasks assigned to this week relates to my Monthly Goals and so on. 

It may seem like a lot at once but I’m only looking at my Weekly breakdown throughout each week. When put into practice It’s oddly calming to know that if you just accomplish this week’s tasks everything else will settle into place with ease. 

using Airtable as a productivity tool

Creating a Routine

It’s essential to create a routine of reverse-engineering your goals. Otherwise, how do you know that you’re on track? Just as important, basing your weekly tasks off your Monthly/Quarterly/Annual goals keeps you on track. It’s easy to get “shiny object syndrome” being an entrepreneur. We all know how important focus is in the long-term. Why not make that easier on ourselves? 

For my routine, I’ve developed what I call Maintenance Day, which is a set group of tasks that when completed each Sunday ensure the following week is a massive success. Essentially, I’m “maintaining” my life to stay on track. 

Finding the Nerdy Glue 

Let’s get this out of the way… It’s actually super hard for me to not automate something these days. Being very busy means that I never want to waste a second of my time if I don’t have to. 

Part of my nerdy obsession is connecting my Airtable base with Todoist. Why? Because I work from Todoist in my day-to-day life. That’s right, even the Daily tasks in my Airtable are pushed over to Todoist. The reason for this is that I obviously have more tasks than just the 2-3 critical few that need to be accomplished. Why jump between tools when I’m getting deep work accomplished? 

my amazing Todoist task list set up

To streamline my daily execution, I have a Zapier “Zap” created that triggers every time I “complete’ a task in Todoist. It then searches my Airtable and checks off any found tasks. In doing so, the Airtable becomes “self-updating/correcting”. 

You can copy my Zapier Zap here

To clarify, I use Airtable mainly for planning and Todoist for the actual execution of things. Because Todoist is incredibly fast at adding new tasks throughout the day, I work from there 90% of the time. 

A final change I could make is to have Zapier create new Todoist tasks when a new Weekly Task is added to the Airtable to further streamline my process. Either way, What Nat has put together is fantastic alone. This is simply my nerdy adjustment and how I take such a framework and execute on it daily using Todoist. 

How to Successfully Use Defaults to Streamline Your Life

Defaults are an amazing limitation one can easily apply to their personal life. A default (like the name implies) is your go-to choice for anything from the airline you always fly with (unless you’re a travel hacker) to the brand of t-shirts you always wear. 

Usually, the process is the following: problem -> consideration -> decision -> solution. 

If we take a little time upfront to determine what our default should be in any given situation (the consideration and decision phases), we can easily eliminate half of the equation. 

Here’s a shortlist of my current defaults:

To further streamline my life, I’ve created a List within my Amazon Prime account named “Defaults” so that anyone could jump into the list without thought and replace or reorder something that I routinely use. Even better, I can use a tool like CamelCamelCamel to easily alert me of massive price drops to stock up or take advantage if wanted. 

Although not holistic, the above list should give you an easy idea of where defaults could fit into your own life. I urge you to not stop at just physical products but to expand your defaults into other aspects of your life; the same lunch during the workweek (this alone is a game-changer), only wearing Omega brand watches, only getting a Grande White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks (don’t judge me) or only holding work meetings on Mondays. 

Regardless of the aspect of your life, you can easily find defaults that better serve you than having to continually make the same decision every single day. Now, let’s talk about Decision Fatigue for a quick moment. 

The Problem With Decision Fatigue 

Decision fatigue is a plague that leads to unproductive time throughout each day. What should we eat for lunch? Where should we go to replace our favorite t-shirt? What airline should we book our flight on for an upcoming trip? These endless decisions create an overwhelming mountain of mental fatigue that further takes away from what’s actually important. 

Not only are these decisions fatiguing but they’re also repetitive – leading to daily overwhelming and task decay. In a blog post from Rescue Time, they found “the average user switches between tasks more than 300 times per day (and this was only during working hours!)”

That’s a single day. Imagine what negative compounding is happening after just a few weeks of this. 

Defaults Lead to Automation/Streamlining 

I first started learning about defaults thanks to my rather (un)healthy obsession with automating the majority of my personal and professional life. When it comes to automation, standardizing your inputs is paramount to achieve consistency of quality and execution. If we replace the word standardize with default, it’s relatively the same thing. From this perspective, better defaults lead to a streamlining or automation of your life in the areas that drain you the most.

Tools like Instacart are only as good as the inputs they’re given. When you eat the same breakfast and lunch during the week, it’s much easier to completely automate your grocery shopping or have a bot quickly replace your favorite t-shirt via a Slack message. 

Deploying Explore / Exploit Algorithms

Another fantastic outcome of using defaults is that it ensures quality. I’m not sure about you but I have the biggest buyers regret when it comes to shopping for clothes. If I don’t already own the specific item, I’ve got a roughly 60% chance of regretting my buying decision within the following hour of the transaction. 

One method I can deploy to easily handle buyers’ regret is an algorithmic approach I learned from reading Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. The book looks at various algorithms that can easily apply to general life. One that I found most applicable is the idea of Explore / Exploit. This algorithm states that you should take a period of time (perhaps using an Optimal Stopping algorithm) to explore various options. In this first phase, you’re simply “tasting” a bunch of different options. Next, you would “Exploit” the best option found from the Explore phase. 

A great example of this could be purchasing t-shirts from 5 different brands (the Explore phase). Once you’ve tested all 5 you would then choose the best option as your new default (Exploit). 

You can also do this with restaurants (sometimes you want to Explore new options but when you’re not feeling adventurous, you should Exploit the best options using a tool like FourSquare to easily track your previous reviews). 

This is a very interesting perspective to view the mechanics of your life. A perspective that could lead to a better life altogether. I’ve found that the reduction of things, whether personal or professional, leads to more success. This seems to be the opposite of my assumption that a successful life requires more complexity. Rather, a simplified life leads to more success. 

The Homeless Millionaire: When having nothing means having everything and the Four Pillar Equation

The final domino fell. My family had been running an entertainment business for quite a while (I don’t mean like strippers but weddings) and decided it was time for them to expand. Like true moguls, they found a local rental company that was for sale. They went through all of the due diligence required and bought the company.

 

They immediately went to work to grow it and use both companies to influence the other. The only bad thing about this seemingly successful story was timing. It was 2008 and the US economy quickly slid into a financial gutter, waiting for the dust to settle before coming back out to play.

 

Like most when buying a company, they used leverage. A smart move in most situations and you couldn’t blame them for using that financial strategy, but when a bank calls your $750,000 loan, things become complicated.

 

They quickly realized we would lose our home and would have to file bankruptcy. Losing your home, at least when you still have an income really isn’t as bad as it sounds. We just went from homeowners to renters and my parents needed to rebuild their lives. Fortunately, we still owned the initial, still profitable but struggling first business.

 

It was a tough time financially, but we recovered fairly well. I learned a lot from that time. We’ve always moved frequently. Not for any reason other than my parents wanting to try a new place out. Always in the same city and within the same ten-mile radius. With each move, I began to loathe the process. Realizing how much shit (literally providing zero value) I, a then nineteen-year-old owned, was appalling, to say the least. How had I actually had enough life to hoard this amount of useless junk?

 

Eventually, I found myself removing a lot of my belongings that simply sat in my room and in my closet to avoid having to physically move it and re-clutter my next room. I donated what I could and trashed what wasn’t salvageable. I felt lighter. A weight was lifted that I didn’t even know was there the whole time. In essence, I found minimalism. Not the spiritual minimalism, but the Stoic, Spartan and ultimately practical minimalism.

 

Over time I became more content with less and my spending habits began to reflect that shift. If I had $100, I found something that I wanted and spent it. It wasn’t until I found a small book in my step father’s office called “The Richest Man In Babylon” that I took things a step further.

 

In one chapter of the book a rich man sends his heir-to-be son to another city with two things; a bag a gold and a clay tablet holding the “laws of gold”. Foolishly the boy loses the gold quicker than he could imagine. Unable to return to his father, as it would be shameful to do so he remembers the clay tablet. Immediately implementing the gold laws his financial life changes.

 

At a coming home feast put on for the son, he tells his story. The important lesson I took away from his story was in his return. Not only did he return the amount of gold his father gave him but did so with interest. Instead of the one bag, he gave his father three. He had something to show for his time and effort. After my time, granted a short period, I had nothing to show from my meager earnings. I had truly built nothing from my hard work and could show little of it.

 

Sure, I had all of this stuff, but what of financial security?

 

This lesson made me shift my perspective on value. Things can only provide so much value. I’m not a minimalist in a traditional sense, I wear $14,000 watches for god’s sake. I decided a new view on value needed to be created. A new perspective on a modern life. Instead of having a ton of things in our home, what if we were minimalist in the things that provide small amounts of value and invest more in things that provided more value? In essence, only paying the appropriate value in regards to the value we receive from what we own.

 

My Panerai 213 that I’ll get paid $800 to wear for a month

 

From this new perspective, I would argue a One Bag lifestyle while also using value to create more value. What the hell does that even mean…..

 

Instead of raising my expenses to consume, I would spend my money on things that would yield more value in my life in either time, new money or even income. I’ll wear the same thirty pieces of clothing that provide a minimal amount of value to my life, but then briefly own a $14,000 watch because it provides a short period of enjoyment (because I really enjoy horology), but can also sell that watch at a profit. Therefore getting my cake and eating it too.

 

Everything I took to Paris for a week fit into the small weekender bag above….Including a suit.

 

This idea had me coin the homeless millionaire idea. The old view of wealthy people held strong the idea of grand estates, closets filled with things you’d wear once a year and sheer wastefulness. The view on money should be that of someone who USES things to get more value instead of consuming them. There’s nothing wrong with owning a home, assuming it provides cash flow or pays for itself (like house-hacking). There’s nothing wrong with driving an Aston Martin, assuming you can enjoy it long enough for the excitement to wear off and then get out for what you put it. This idea would shift your perspective on what you own, turning your liabilities or expenses into actual assets.

 

You can afford anything you want, as long as it’s profitable.

 

If any statement in Today’s time could ever change your life, it’s the one above. Changing your perspective on value, ownership, wealth and on HOW you can do something versus IF you can do something is the key to an amazing life.

 

So could all of your belongings (besides furniture of course) fitting into a single bag, you driving an exotic car, wearing $14,000 watches and even traveling frequently lead to a more financially wealthy life?

 

Yea, I think so…

 

I know this isn’t the most clearly laid out podcast and the idea needs some work, but the meat is there. I’ve been working on this “new modern life”, the Four Pillar Equation financial idea for the last year and testing what I can to prove the concept and as time moves forward I’ll share more clearly laid out concepts for you to better understand this awesomeness that is positively plaguing my mind each day.

Goal Completed: Company That Generates $100,000 In Revenue Per Year

Last year was a total let down starting this Amazon business. The learning curve seemed bigger for me than most, but I suffered through that curve and made some very key changes going into 2017.

 

One of those key changes was shifting to 100% wholesale based sourcing for inventory. It allowed me to make larger purchases in a fraction of the time and also allowed me to work/run my business from anywhere in the world, which I tested in Paris and Oregon earlier this year.

 

I went from struggling to spend $5,000 a month on decent inventory to spending $25,000+ each month on inventory that is consistently selling month after month with stable margins and profits.

 

Although the margins aren’t the best compared to another business model like Private Label, It’s super scalable and easy to get started with minimal risk involved.

 

Last year I did roughly $40,000 in sales, netting only a few thousand in profit. I basically made a dollar an hour. This year on the other hand, I find it a waste of time to work more than 20 hours a week on the business, mainly due to spending restraints that I am addressing actively, routinely do $25,000+ in sales each month and make enough to easily live off of and save while completing my Finance degree.

 

Don’t mind the MASSIVE drop in sales this past month. You can thank hurricane Irma, Chinese factories shutting down and backorders…. Such is the life of an Amazon seller.

 

So what does six-figures look like with a wholesale based Amazon account? Not that exciting actually. Sure you can make enough to live off of and you technically have the freedom to travel and live wherever, but It’s not enough to really do some financial damage.

 

Getting passed the $500,000 a year level in sales would allow you to easily live off your business’ earnings, save a great deal each month and live just about anywhere. Not to mention, if you’re reinvesting say 30% of your profits back into the business each month, you’re able to grow quite a bit month over month.

 

This is my next goal, although I’m actually aiming for $1MM in annual sales for 2018, which is a massive jump from where I intend on ending 2017 ($200k in sales).

 

Either way, I’ve accomplished a massive personal goal: starting and owning a company that does six-figures. It’s obviously not as fruitful as I would have hoped, but many companies fail a lot sooner. I’m proven the business model, now I just need to scale it ever higher, each and every month moving forward.

 

Moving forward I plan on routinely spending $100,000 a month on inventory, mainly restock rather than new, untested inventory. I’m currently able to spend $32,000 moving into Q4 with the addition and scale of some newer, high-volume inventory. Again, a massive jump, but totally doable over the next year.

Three Cures for Freedom

I’ve found there are different kinds of freedom, although we love to use the word singularly in our society. I want you to really think about freedom for a bit. I’m not talking about the patriotic kind, but the natural, innate kind of way. You’ll find the following kinds of freedom:

 

  1. Freedom of Resources (money)
  2. Freedom of Location (travel)
  3. Freedom of Time (to be able to travel and use your money)

 

These different freedoms are amazing exclusively of each other, but true freedom comes from obtaining them all together as they magnify their benefits.

 

Have you ever thought about why you need a job? Have you ever questioned this “fact”? Those who spend every dollar they earn are slaves to their job and boss. They hold the keys to your freedom, because at any time they can easily throw you to the street to fend for yourself and because you spend the same (or more) than you earn, what will you do then?

 

You’ll most likely go into (more?) debt or ask family to bail you out. Those of us who live on less than we earn, save and invest the rest aren’t affected or even worried about being let go. I can speak from personal experience on this.

 

But we say we live in freedom, that we are free. If you have to wake up and do something you do not enjoy doing like going to a job because you need the money, you are not free. What would you call someone who is required, each day to work for someone else because they do not have a choice? I’m quite sure that is a similar definition of slavery.

 

This isn’t some manifesto-style post. This post is meant to make you question the life you live and to understand there are solutions to these problems we simply call life.

 

Freedom of Resources

 

Although many consider the only way to reach this freedom is through winning the lottery or going public with a company like Snapchat, the simple truth is that it’s much simpler and more in your control than others would have you believe.

 

In fact, it’s summed up in a very short blog post from my idol, Mr. Money Mustache who, with his wife, retired after only working 10 years with enough money to live on FOREVER…

 

It’s important to note that freedom of resources DOES NOT mean you have enough money to spend on stupid things and buy new cars each year. That’s foolish and a terrible financial decision that keeps many, even high-income earners poor. The goal is to live a great life, build wealth and be free. Not “look” rich, but to actually BE rich.

 

Doing my best to become a minimalist, I’ve found just how little we really need to live amazing and happy lives. Once you realize this, spending goes down 90%. This makes freedom of resources easily accomplishable. It also makes your life lighter by allowing you to move with very little and have everything you need. No checked bags, no semi-truck to move your belongings if you decide to move. Everything easily accessible and purposeful.

 

Zero waste and more money in the bank.

 

I’d love to make this part of the post longer, but the reality is that it doesn’t need to be.

 

We often think the things we have yet to learn are very complex and shrouded in the terminology we won’t be able to grasp. The truth is that it’s often simpler than our high school classes ever were. We simply choose not to take the time or find the right sources of knowledge.

 

Hopefully, I can help with that.

 

Freedom of Location

 

Travel, the one thing almost everyone wants to do but most never do for various reasons. I’ve finally been able to start traveling with my girlfriend. We spent four days in Oregon in a private cabin hiking, seeing waterfalls and enjoying hot springs for all of $25 for both of us. Next, we spent 5 days in Paris in a private and fully furnished loft in the middle of town. We saw palaces, catacombs and amazing artwork for a grand total of $250.

 

What did you spend your last $500 on?

 

I tell you this because freedom of location has never been more available than any other time in history. It’s easier now to find a job that will allow you to work remotely. Not just from home like a decade ago, but literally ANYWHERE in the world. As long as you have the skill set and perform, the companies do not care where you are. First a week it’s Paris, the next it’s Peru.

 

When you add the awesome hobby of travel hacking to a remote job and a freedom of resources, the world is completely open to you. No $1000+ plane tickets or expensive hotels. Try $100 flights and fully furnished apartments for $50 a night around the world. Cheaper in some locations.

 

Freedom of Time

 

Once you have a lighter life through minimalism, require much less money to be happy, are able to live and work anywhere you want to be in the world and have the financial resources to comfortably do so, you can begin to develop a freedom of time.

 

This is probably the hardest to accomplish as it takes a ton of patients from how I see it.

 

Freedom of time can mean many different things for each person, but for me, it means that each day I can decide what I want to do. I am not forced to do anything ever for whatever reason. I can still be running my business each month, but it won’t require time from me if I set it up right.

 

Also, because I’m working hard to build a business that is completely online, I should be able to have freedom of location, and because it generates a profit, I’d have freedom of resources. It’s quite difficult to have freedom of time if you don’t have at least freedom of resources. Unless you want to be a hobo. Technically they have freedom of location and time, just no resources. It’s interesting how missing just one of these freedoms, but having two others could mean the difference between being homeless and considered “rich”.

 

I think it’s important to work towards achieving these freedoms as they are leverage points that yield incredible benefits and bring us closer to actual freedom in life.

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