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The 3 Most Crucial Time Saving Strategies (by the way, they’re easy!)

The 3 Most Crucial Time Saving Strategies (by the way, they’re easy!)

There is just never enough time in the day to do it all, is there?

That’s one of the biggest issues people face when trying to be productive and effective. Too many jobs have an infinite capacity for work; you could do your job for 60, 80, or even 100 hours per week and still find stuff to do, right?

I believe that not only is the ‘forty-hour work week’ a total misconception, it is actually a damaging belief that many of us have been raised with and are now trapped by. When we are at a job that has a contractual agreement of some kind to do a set number of hours per week, we will fill those hours with work … regardless of our actual workload.

And when you really think about it, how illogical is it for companies to base staff contracts on hours rather than output? It makes no sense for successful profits or other results.

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I have been fortunate enough to have received advanced training from a range of coaches and mentors on effective time-saving strategies. Not just managers trying to figure out how to get the most out of me within 40 hours, but people who have figured out how to be 50-100% more effective than their counterparts, in half the time.

Today, I would like to share my three top tips with you. The idea is that while any one of these strategies will greatly reduce time-wastage (doing more in less time and much less effort), the idea is to combine them all. These tips are just scratching the surface, and I highly recommend you research further into each of these principles:

1. The 80/20 rule of nature—Pareto’s Principle

Most high-achievers are generally good at prioritizing, but most are terrible at being able to let the lower priority tasks go uncompleted. Many of us will complete high priority tasks first, but then still spend many hours struggling through all of the other tasks, trying to reach the mythical ‘empty in-box’. If you are in a job that could provide enough work to keep you infinitely occupied, then you are chasing a rainbow. Most jobs can fit this description.

I believe we tend to fear ‘missing something important’, so we try do it all. Paradoxically, in doing this we actually compromise the quality of our most important work—a much greater risk to our career!

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The Pareto Principle, a term coined by famous quality and performance researcher Joseph M. Juran, suggests that most circumstances in life follow this rule of nature: 80% of outcomes come from 20% of inputs.

In context, this means that most of your results are actually generated by a small portion of your time and efforts. Only 20% of the work you currently do is actually important to the results expected of you. It also indicates that the other 80% of the effort you are putting in will only be getting you 20% of the outcomes you desire.

I recommend that for the next month, you set aside 15-30 minutes per week where you will not get interrupted. During this time try this exercise:

  • Write down your entire task list of everything you do for work (later you can apply this exercise to your entire life—that’s when things really start to shift!) This includes everything from major activities and projects, down to answering emails and phones.
  • Write down a summary of what outcomes or results are expected of you—e.g. % of sales, things built, contracts written etc.—that are most crucial to your success.
  • Now go back to your full task list and uncompromisingly select the 20% of those (one in five) most directly linked to those outcomes and results. These are now your highest priority tasks, and your goal should be to increase the effort you expend in these.
  • Then go back to the remaining tasks on the list and rate them in terms of importance from least to most (e.g. one to five scale). The smaller the number, the more pointless the activity—these are your ‘80%’ activities. For each of the 20% activities you increase, you need to make room by decreasing or simply not doing one of these 80% activities.

Another way to do this is to ask yourself, “If I had to produce the same weekly results but I had to work one day less per week, what would I need to reduce or stop doing?”

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Over time, with trial-and-error experimentation, you will become really clear about what matters and what actually doesn’t matter. You need to let things go, and sometimes you need to allow small negative things to happen in order to make room for much larger positive outcomes.

2. The email trap

I once did a totally informal little study where I found that I lost about four to six hours per week, simply transitioning from what I was doing to check my emails (and back again). This is a completely unproductive activity. All this does is:

  • Eat up hours where nothing is produced.
  • Force you to try and ‘find your place’ again in the incomplete task you were doing (which is more time lost and a complete loss of momentum).
  • Create anxiety about the new emails you now see as pending tasks, which will distract you until you deal with them.

I have since found the solution. I currently have an annoying auto-responder email message saying I only check emails at 11am and 3pm, and including my mobile number “if it’s urgent”. You don’t have to do this, but let’s look at the concept behind it:

  • By only checking emails twice per day, I force people to only contact me urgently when issues are genuinely urgent, which has cut down distractions by about 60-70% (seriously!)
  • 95% of emails do not need an urgent response and can wait a couple of hours. By dealing with emails in bulk, you cut down significantly on distraction and transition time. Teach others to not use email as a form of urgent communication.
  •  I only ‘touch’ emails once each. They are either turned into a task for later (so I can forget about it for now), dealt with there and then (for anything that will take me less than one minute), or they are deleted/archived.

3. Eating the Big Ugly Frog

My coach, Phil Drolet, taught me this one. It is amazing how distracting it is to have a big, ugly task looming in the back of your mind. Your inner attention keeps looking at it while you are trying to focus. This is usually a task that is:

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  • Time intensive, or
  • Involves conflict, or
  • Perceived to be difficult (but in my experience usually turns out to be OK).

Try this for a week and see how you feel: Make ‘eating the big ugly frog’ (i.e. doing the hardest task) the first thing you do every day, even before you check emails or reply to phone messages. There are a few roles that require emails be checked first thing in the morning, but even then it’s usually only a few that need reviewing.

Believe it or not, you are most productive at the beginning of your shift. Use this energy to destroy that anxiety-provoking task, to give you complete peace of mind for the rest of the day. When applied alongside the 80/20 principle, doing this task is usually also the most effective thing you could do that day!

I also often see people bouncing around between two or three tasks of equal priority, instead of just doing one at a time. If this is you, I guarantee that you are losing hours per week, without gaining anything out of it! Research ‘mindfulness techniques’ and learn to do one thing at a time. Have a detailed to-do list that categorizes everything in terms of importance/priority, and then do each activity one by one. If applied properly, anything left over at the end of the day probably doesn’t even need to be done!

These days, it is pretty common for me to have nothing of importance to do after about 11:30am, simply because I follow these rules. Bring freedom into your life, by first letting go of the myth of the ‘eight-hour work day’, and second by disciplining yourself to follow these rules. Counterintuitively, there is freedom in following rules. Try it for a few weeks and tell me I’m wrong!

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Have yourselves a productive, effective, time saving and carefree week!

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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