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

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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 October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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