Busy, so busy!” It’s the default response for many of us when asked how we’re doing. But more often than not, come the end of the day, we have little to show for all of that busy-ness. However, being time poor is usually a reflection of being decision poor.
Here are ten high quality decisions you could be making to not only get from time poor to time rich, but get more meaningful work done.
1.Start Saying “No”
Roman philosopher and statesman, Seneca, put it best; “people are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy”.
Time, unlike money though, cannot be earned back after we’ve spent it, yet we find ourselves saying yes to all sorts of demands on our time – and that includes pointless hour-long meetings.
When you say yes to something, you might be inviting serendipity into your life, but you’re also saying no to everything else, including your own priorities. By saying no more often, we free ourselves up to do more of what will bring us closer to our own goals, not somebody else’s.
2. Turn Off Push Notifications
Today’s typical workplace is characterized by the sound and sight of desktop and smartphone notifications, keeping people in a state of hyper-responsiveness that puts Pavlov’s dog to shame.
What we call multitasking is in actuality, task switching, and after a notification has forced us to switch between tasks, it can take us about 23 minutes to get back into flow. And when you consider that the average employee touches their smartphone 2,617 times a day, checks emails 74 times a day and receives 46 smartphone notifications a day, it’s likely that they spend little to no time in the flow state at all. Even 1/10th of a second task switches – like glancing at a notification but not pursuing it – can add up to a 40% productivity loss over the course of a day.
As a result, people are spending little time in what psychologists call ‘the flow state’ (you might know it as ‘the zone’), an optimal cognitive state where we’re up to five times more productive, according to McKinsey.
To counter this, turn off notifications on your smartphone and desktop – especially when you’re trying to focus.
3. Set Shorter Meetings
For whatever reason, the conventional wisdom of the corporate office has led us all to set meetings to 60 minutes by default, even though 15 minutes would suffice in most cases. Setting shorter meetings acts as a forcing function, getting us to get to the point and not spend the first 20 minutes making small-talk.
In many cases tough, a meeting isn’t required at all. If all you’re doing is communicating information, then more often than not you can do so via instant message or email without compromising said message.
4. Batch Check Email
The average person checks email 74 times a day, or once every six minutes. And when we check email sporadically throughout the day it means that we’re not cultivating time for deep focus and work. We glorify Inbox Zero, but what we’re really glorifying is being awesome at responding to other people’s demands on our time.
Check your email at set times of day – two or three times, and close it outside of those times. You’ll quickly find that there are very few things in life that require immediate attention, and your time is better spent thinking, not playing Whack-a-Mole.
5. Stop at the Point of Diminishing Returns
How often have you found yourself working on a proposal or presentation, having delivered most of the value in three days, but proceeded to spend another two days ‘fine tuning’ it? That’s two days of low value work that would be better spent on high value activities.
High performers stop working when they’ve delivered sufficient value, but most of us are prone to behave like Forest Gump on a gridiron team, continuing to run straight into the dressing rooms after scoring a touchdown, not knowing when to put the ball down.
6. Use Momentum to Overcome Procrastination
When we sit down at our desks, it can be difficult to get started on that high value but difficult task. That’s because we’re physiologically predisposed to taking the path of least effort in order to conserve energy – it served us well as hunter-gatherers.
But hunter-gatherers we are no more. Nowadays, this tendency can prevent us from doing our best work, and sees us opening Twitter for the umpteenth time, or browsing through our LinkedIn connection requests, instead of getting started on our work.
To counter this, we can use momentum.
The amount of energy we need to apply once we’ve started on a task is far less than that required to start in the first place. It’s a little like sitting on the couch in the evening and deliberating between reading a book, and watching Netflix…again.
We should probably pick up that book but it seems like such Herculean tasks. However, if we commit to just reading one page, we’ll find that reading the rest of the chapter becomes considerably easier.
It’s the same with your work. Just start on the smallest possible unit of work – 100 words if it’s a 2,000 word article, an introduction slide if it’s a 20-slide presentation – and you’ll soon find yourself in the zone.
The 80/20 dictates that twenty percent of inputs are responsible for eighty percent of outputs. In business, this might mean that twenty percent of your marketing channels are responsible for eighty percent of your customers.
By reflecting on the value of your work and tasks, you can prioritize by the highest value tasks, and focus on them instead of picking the low-hanging, but also low-value fruit.
This creates a snowballing effect that sees you end up much further along the road than you otherwise would if you focused on low-value tasks that leave you feeling busy, but with nothing to show for it come the end of the day.
Nowadays, all manner of tasks can be automated for less than $100 a month. Tools like Zapier or IFTTT are a great place to start. Whether it be marketing, sales, customer service or administrative tasks, chances are there are numerous tools that can help you earn more time back by flicking the proverbial switch.
If it’s an algorithmic or process-oriented task, then a computer can probably do it for you, freeing you up for cognitive tasks that require you to actually think, instead of get bogged down with the mundane.
If it can’t be automated but it is a low risk, process-oriented task, then it can surely be outsourced to offshore talent for a fraction of your hourly rate.
If your hourly rate is $100, but you find yourself doing something that a virtual assistant could do for $10 an hour, then every hour you spend doing it is not only costing you $90, but also the opportunity cost of the value you could be creating on higher value tasks.
As famed management thinker, Peter Drucker, put it, “productivity is what you don’t do”. Each quarter, reflect on your tasks, and what is or isn’t adding value.
What should you start doing, stop doing, do more of, and do less of?
This applies for your day-to-day tasks as much as it does your sales and marketing channels, the products you sell, and the customers you’re targeting.
By applying these ten steps, you will not only find yourself getting much more done in far less time, but also feeling more fulfilled by your work, for focusing on high value activities is not only more rewarding in the short term, but also more likely to get us kicking goals in the long term so we can cultivate the kind of life we want to lead.
Steve Glaveski is the author of Time Rich: Do Your Best Work, Live Your Best Life (Wiley), out in October 2020. Readers can download the first chapter of the book for free at www.timerichbook.com