Secrets of Productivity: Sam Neo, Founder of People Mentality Inc, Stories of Asia, and StoryBuddy

by Anton D. Javier
Photo courtesy of StoryBuddy
15 May 2022

We’re all given the same 24 hours in a day and how we use it is up to us. These individuals are no strangers to the hustle, juggling multiple businesses and passion projects, all while navigating ever-changing work norms, family life, and other challenges. In this feature, they let us in on how they spend their time so that they can work and play hard.

Founder, People Mentality Inc, Stories of Asia, and StoryBuddy

Tell us more about yourself – your role, the work that it entails, and what keeps you busy at the moment.
I am the founder of three start-ups that I created to work as an ecosystem. My first company, People Mentality Inc, is an employer branding consultancy company that helps MNCs and SMEs improve their branding so they can become an employer of choice. My second company, Stories of Asia, is a media company that aims to help people and organizations find their voice through storytelling. My latest venture, StoryBuddy, is a tech storytelling platform that helps people write, like how Canva helps people design. All three are formed with one purpose — to enable people.

My work right now is all about growing the businesses. Scaling the business and building teams, and looking for additional ways I can help the business. My family keeps me busy too as I love spending time with my wife and son, and never want to miss any precious moments.

Describe your morning routine. What do you do to help set the tone for a productive day?
Everyday is different, but what's consistent in my morning routine is taking care of my son. Preparing him for school, making breakfast for him, and sending him to school. Then I usually get started with checking my e-mails and messages to make sure that I clear whatever needs to be cleared. Things that can be cleared easily will be cleared first, before I go ahead with the meetings I have for the rest of the day.

This routine helps me be productive, especially with three growing companies where people are depending on me to make decisions. If I focus too much on the hard decisions first, that could be a bottleneck for the rest and things don't move.

Another routine, though not really a morning one, is that I write LinkedIn posts every day, sort of like a daily sharing. I do it to work on my personal branding, but it's also about documenting my journey and my thoughts, to try and make an impact on the platform.

Can you walk us through your typical workday?
My workday normally starts at 10am. My day cuts off around 5 to 5:30pm because I need to pick my son up after work. So what I do is I try to compress all the meetings and work that I have in this time period and try not to have meetings longer than 30 minutes. After that, I spend time with my son and wife from around 6.30 to 9.30. We usually unwind by watching Netflix. After that I do some housework and try to finish more work before preparing for the next day.

Becoming an entrepreneur, in addition to navigating the pandemic and new rules of work, is definitely a challenge. Can you share some secrets to productivity that allowed you to live life meaningfully all while ensuring the success of your startups, as well as your new venture StoryBuddy?
Firstly, it’s about setting some routines — setting a fixed time for work or for family and being as present as possible.

Second, don’t focus on doing a lot of things faster. Focus on how you can do less while delivering more. How do you do that? It’s by working with your team and not thinking you can do everything on your own. In the past when we first started, I wanted to do everything on my own. But knowing how you play to each team member's strength is important as well.

Third, it’s about identifying which projects have high impact and which don’t. The last thing I want is to waste time doing a lot of work that results in minimal growth for the company and myself.

From a productivity point of view, my role now has shifted towards providing direction and guidance. For the operational stuff, I trust my team to run it, while I come in to provide guidance where needed. That's my productivity hack.

Ultimately, invest in things that save you time. If you can spend money to buy time, spend the money. I think the problem with a lot of small businesses in particular, or growing start-ups, is that they want to save every single cent. It’s good being prudent, but not to the extent where you hamper growth. If you need a virtual assistant, invest in one. I could be sitting down in front of computers, settling all the documents, setting up the account and doing invoicing, but it would better help the business if I focused on business development instead.

(Related: The Secrets of Productivity — Cherin Tan, Creative Director, LAANK and co-founder, The Botanist and Her Thieves)

How do you rest and recharge during your free time?
I play basketball every two weeks and I work out three to five times a week in the evenings. I also have a bit of “me time” and meditate. I spend time with family and friends. I think it's about escaping from my regular routine.

I have also been listening to audiobooks. I don't have time to read physical books, so I listen to them when I drive or travel around Singapore. It helps to get me excited, and from there, I can get inspired quite easily. When I listen to new materials or talk to people, that helps give me new ideas. And when I get excited about new things, I tend to be more productive.

Sleep more or sleep less – and why?
More. You need to rest to think clearly. And in my area of work, it requires a lot of innovation. I am constantly engaging with people and I need high energy for activities like presentations.

As a serial entrepreneur and a father, I don’t have the luxury to sleep that much, so I get about six hours a day. I've learned to operate in less than ideal situations these days and still do well given the circumstances. In the past, without proper sleep, I typically didn't do as well, but found ways to overcome that by setting up systems, preparing myself mentally, and recharging in ways I mentioned before. That's how I overcame some of these issues.

If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you use the extra hour?
Family time. The reason why I spend so much effort building my teams, trusting, guiding, and putting them in the best position to succeed independently is so that it frees up my time to spend with my family.