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3 Powerful Lessons on Productivity and Flow from the Life of Susan Wojcicki, Ex-YouTube CEO
The above picture is from a video of Google’s first office and their earliest bunch of employees.
The woman with the baby is Susan Wojcicki, who was YouTube’s CEO for a long time and quit recently.
She was Google’s 16th employee and also the first team member to have a baby.
I built and ran several YouTube channels for years and while I had heard of Susan and knew that she helped Google acquire YouTube and helped build it to what it is today, I didn’t know about Susan’s history and how she ended up becoming one of the most powerful women in tech.
Sometime back I stumbled upon her Fast Company profile from 2014 and then went down the rabbit hole of learning more about her life.
Her journey is fascinating.
She followed her instincts and was always open to learning new things. This helped her tremendously.
She also has 5 kids! Imagine the productivity hacks she had to employ to manage work and life. Read on to know more.
From History to Computers – It’s Never too Late to Learn
Susan started learning computer science as a college senior. She was the only humanity senior at the computer science class at Harvard.
She was studying history and she had never thought about technology until she started working at a startup as a temp.
That’s when she realized that she could make cool things with tech and this prompted her to switch streams and opt for computer science.
Going for a completely different subject in your senior year in college is not easy. You’re set in your ways and change is uncomfortable, even if you want to try something new.
You have the usual imaginary constraints in mind about the steep learning curve and how you can’t possibly learn that thing you want to learn at such a “late” stage in your life.
Susan decided she wanted to get into tech and learned it.
So what if she was a humanities student who didn’t have an inkling of what it took to learn computers?
She didn’t let that push her back into her comfort zone.
It’s never too late to learn.
Know What You Like and Go With the Flow
Susan knew that she liked being creative and making things.
She liked doing art and crafts when she was young. She would make things using potholders, paper, etc.
As a kid she ran a business of selling spice ropes to her neighbours. She would tie up all kinds of spice sticks into yarn and fabric and make colourful ropes out of it.
When she got introduced to tech for the first time, especially how one could use it to create new things, she was intrigued.
It reminded her of the times in life when she enjoyed making things and she thought she could get back to doing that if she got into tech.
Google was a new startup and not many people knew about it then.
But she thought it’s going to be an interesting ride because they wanted to help people find information in all kinds of new ways and that meant she would be working on creative stuff.
So she went with the flow and didn’t think too much about it.
Sometimes that’s what we need to do. If something looks exciting and it lets us use the skills that we value the most then it makes sense to take that up.
Go with the flow.
Focus and Speed
I think it’s a shame that Susan isn’t running a productivity and self-development content empire because people will lap up whatever she writes on being productive and focused.
She would probably be the most authentic preacher of all things productivity.
I have trouble getting things done with one kid and she ran businesses worth billions of dollars with not one or two but five …yes, five kids!
And before you say Elon Musk does the same, no it’s not the same … absolutely not!
First, it’s far more difficult for women to rise up the ranks and break the glass ceiling. And doing that with a bunch of kids is ten times more difficult, no matter how privileged you are.
So how did she do that?
Of course, a supporting spouse, help at home, etc. but that wasn’t always the case, especially early on when she didn’t make the kind of money she is doing now.
Here’s the secret: Focus and prioritization.
She knew that she couldn’t stay nights like her young male colleagues. She couldn’t work weekends either.
So she had to ruthlessly focus on the most important work and prioritize it.
She always looked for ways to do things more productively, to help her get from point A to point B faster.
That helped her find the shortcuts to new ideas and getting things done quicker than others.
And when she would be at home, she would try to focus on family and kids only.
This compartmentalization of work time and family time is in vogue these days but for Susan there was no other option.
Not only did she want to have more kids and a great family, she also wanted to be successful at her job.
Being intensely focused at things that matter and prioritizing them was the key.
That has always been the key, isn’t it?
Hard work is important and sometimes working long hours is important too. I’m not the “work smart, not hard” guy.
But if you work hard on the wrong things then it won’t get you where you want to be.
If you focus on the most crucial tasks and projects, and prioritize them, and strictly say no to all the other unimportant stuff then you might find that you can get high-quality work done in much less time than you imagined.
Speed is a function of focus.
Focus on quality and productivity.