When he launched Asian Efficiency in 2011, Than Pham hoped to help folks increase their productivity. He counseled time management and focus — to get more done. Then he read a book about happiness and its impact on people’s lives. It changed Pham’s outlook.
“I had a revelation after reading the book,” he told me, “Happy people are productive people. Even if you don’t have the right technology, strategies, and tips, you’ll be more productive if you’re happy.”
Pham is a global authority on productivity, speaking at conferences, teaching courses, and hosting a top podcast.
He and I recently discussed his journey. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your company.
Thanh Pham: It’s called Asian Efficiency. I launched it with a friend in 2011 as a passion project. We created a blog to help people become more productive. That blog turned into a business. We want to help people maximize opportunities and live to their fullest potential. We offer online courses, workshops, and in-person events.
The idea is to maximize time, energy, and attention — the three currencies of productivity. We’re super-human productive if all three are in place. Most people lack time when they come to us. They’re overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. An example is entrepreneurs who spend time and energy on the wrong things.
Bandholz: Speaking of time, you work with a virtual assistant. Should all entrepreneurs do that?
Pham: Yes. I’ve worked with Jorrie, my executive assistant, for many years. I hired her too late — six or seven years into the business. I should have hired her in my first year. Time is scarce in an entrepreneur’s first year of business. The priority is typically generating sales. An executive assistant helps free up time — whether it’s booking meetings or arranging travel.
Anyone making $150,000 or more a year should hire an executive assistant. Jorrie works five to eight hours a week for me — part-time and not too expensive. Quality assistants are available for $20, $25 an hour. Hire someone who’s been doing it for at least two years. You don’t have to train them; they train you.
I prefer hiring an assistant directly versus using services such as Fiverr or Fancy Hands. It’s important to build a relationship with that person. Over time, she can make decisions on your behalf because she knows your preferences.
Bandholz: Is community building still part of your business?
Pham: Yes. We have had a community since 2016. It’s a huge part of our business. It’s a source of recurring revenue, which came in handy when Covid hit.
I’m always trying to add more value to our community. We’ve changed over the years from having a Slack channel to now having new classes every month, new coaching, and in-office hours. It’s great to meet online and communicate, but there’s something special about being in person.
We would ideally have industry conferences and in-person workshops and events. I’m not a big fan of the metaverse as much. I don’t see us going completely digital.
Bandholz: Do you get consumed with being efficient all the time?
Pham: It is something I’ve had to figure out. I’ve asked myself, “Am I being productive solely for the sake of being productive?” A book that impacted me is “30 Lessons for Living” by Karl Pillemer. He interviewed people about to die, asking them, “What’s one life lesson you’ll like to pass on to the next generation?”
The book’s theme is that happiness comes from our relationships with people — our partners, parents, siblings, friends, and communities. When these are in the right place, we tend to be happier, live longer, and feel better about ourselves. The biggest regret for many people is that they worked too much and didn’t spend enough time with their family or see their kids grow up.
I had a revelation after reading the book: Happy people are productive people. At the beginning of the business, I focused primarily on, “How do we make you so productive that you can get anything done?” Now, my message is, “How can we make you really happy?” Because happy people will be naturally more productive. Even if you don’t have the right technology, strategies, and tips, you’ll be more productive if you’re happy.
I’ve realized, especially with Covid, that we are all social. We’re tribal, and we want to be around others. Yes, Zoom meetings and remote podcasts are more efficient, but nothing replaces the in-person feeling. I’m okay with the inefficiencies, even cost inefficiencies, because we’re sharing an experience that’s hard to replicate online. What matters most to me are the memories and experiences.
Another key point is the importance of “thinking time,” a term from Keith Cunningham in his book, “The Road Less Stupid.” As our businesses mature, the impact that we make as the CEO or founder changes. In the beginning, we get our hands dirty with many smaller decisions. When we eventually step away from doing the work, we have a different impact, where our vision and decisions affect team members, clients, and customers in more significant ways.
Business owners have to remind themselves that it’s okay to mull over an idea. That comes from “thinking time.”
Bandholz: How can people support you and reach out?