Brad Keywell


3 Hacks To Save Time And Energy

Thomas Thwaites set out to build a toaster from scratch. (Photo Credit: Daniel Alexander.)

I believe everything can be done faster and better, period. If you’ve ever spent time with me you would probably know that.

So I ask the question, why do things take longer and why aren’t things better? There is always a quicker way to get a project to completion. I’ve become a student of these time-saving hacks and over the years I have tried out enough to know which ones actually work.

Don’t Start From Scratch: It’s Been Done Before

The first hack? Don’t start from scratch.

In 2010, Thomas Thwaites decided to build a toaster. He gave himself 5 months, assuming it would be fairly easy to deconstruct a toaster, figure out the component parts, source the materials, and build. After pulling it apart, he realized there were over 400 components made of 100 different materials, primarily plastic, nickel and steel. Still committed, he called an iron mine for the steel (they said yes, sort of), BP for for the oil to make plastic (they said no), and tried to melt down old coins for the nickel. By the end of the “Toaster Project”, he said “I realized that if you started absolutely from scratch you could easily spend your life making a toaster.” (Check out his TED Talk, it’s a great story.)

One of my core beliefs is: Everything has been done already and you just need to make it your own.

Don’t think you have to create a deck from scratch. I bet a consultancy, startup or a VC firm has created some version that can provide inspiration (or express the things you don’t want to see in your own creation). Don’t hire a custom design firm to build something for your office or home; go on Google images to page 20 of the search and find a used version for a fraction of the cost. Figure out what “excellent” looks like by researching. Your idea has been thought of before, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Just make it yours. 

Incidentally, this advice itself is largely stolen, although the hacks are my own. if you haven’t read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I highly recommend it.

Give A Quick No

If you’re having a conversation with a colleague and you need to make a decision, what if the answer is not “yes” – easy, right?  If not yes, the answer must be “no” – or so you would think. 

But over the course of two-and-a-half decades in the world of building businesses, I’ve come to learn through painful experience and studious observation that human behavior tends to favor a slow “no” over a quick “no.”  And a slow “no” is toxic, dangerous and a threat to productivity and efficiency.

A quick “no” takes courage, as it requires the responder to have the certainty in their opinion and their authority that they have the confidence to say no. It requires them to have the self-confidence to believe that they will still maintain the trust of the questioner while delivering a response that might disenfranchise the questioner.  This is not as easy as saying “maybe … let me get back to you”. It requires confronting the facts and getting over the fear of negative human emotion.

This hack always reminds me of Steve Jobs, who said, “When you think about focusing, you think focusing is about saying yes! No. Focusing is about saying no.”  My version? We sometimes need to say “no” to the good so that we are able to say “yes” to the best.

Recognize The Stories You Tell Yourself

Jim Dethmer, a very gifted personal and organizational coach who is a friend and advisor, has taught me a fascinating way to be mindful of the reality of “storytelling” as an element of our relationships.  He proposes that when you think you know what someone else is thinking, you act as if your thought about their thoughts is actually the truth – as if you can definitively read their mind, and then you react to what you think they are thinking (rather than what they are truly thinking). 

So Jim proposes to try to incorporate this into your interaction with friends and colleagues – literally say to them “I tell myself the story that you are thinking ________ – is that what you are actually thinking?” This simple acknowledgement of our human propensity to tell ourselves stories about other people’s thoughts, rather than let them speak to their own true thoughts and feelings, opens up a new framework for communicating more clearly.

As a hack, this reduces confusion and drama that we impose on ourselves.  It creates a better work culture and environment for getting stuff done – and perhaps even more important, it can improve communication in your personal life.

For more musings like this check out my website at and my podcast The Upside, in which I explore the best hacks of entrepreneurs and leaders.

Share on social: ︎ ︎

© Brad Keywell 2021