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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!

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

More by this author

Stubborn Mules: Motivational Interviewing for the Completely Unmotivated How to Move up within a Company – Career Progression Secrets The 3 Most Crucial Time Saving Strategies (by the way, they’re easy!)

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

There is a great deal of advice in the world telling us how to succeed in life, but often we are given advice that isn’t tailored to our needs, desires and priorities. Success means different things to each of us, and living a life that feels genuinely successful to me might be very different to your idea of a successful life.

Naturally, when we follow the advice of someone else, which is tailored to their life goals and personality, we can end up with something that doesn’t deliver on the promise. We don’t get rewarded with our vision of success: we get theirs.

This is why I’m a proponent of self-discovery, introspection and personal sovereignty. So how to succeed on your own terms?

These 7 essential steps are not going to tell you exactly what to do, but they will provide you with the tools and the questions to ask so that you can discover your own path, so you know how to succeed in life on your own terms.

1. Know Thyself

One of Socrates’ most well-known quotes is,

An unexamined life is not worth living.

I argue that an unexamined life is not a successful one. Self-knowledge is something we could dedicate our lives to, but I’m not suggesting you sit around and navel-gaze in order to find happiness and meaning.

Thankfully, there are people who have created techniques and systems that less us fast-forward through a lot of personal philosophizing, and quickly identify some key aspects of what makes us, us.

You might want to find out what your ideal daily schedule is,[1] and you can take tests that reveal just that. Or you might want to figure out what you need to get things done – and yes, there’s a quiz for that too.

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None of these tests are infallible, and some are more scientific than others, but the process of asking yourself questions about your behaviors and traits is invaluable when it comes to determining your path to succeed in life.

For example, if you know you are an introvert and are unhappy in your current workplace, it might be worth considering why that is (an open plan office space perhaps) and what you would prefer.

It’s these little questions that will provoke answers in you that can guide the decisions that truly improve your life now and in the future.

2. Figure out What Matters to You

What lights you up? This is a question that often gets forgotten as we age. A fortunate child will be given the stimulation they desire in the form of bright toys, affection and entertainment. Little by little, the things that bring a child joy get replaced by what society demands on their behalf.

When we return to that question, and ask ourselves what really matters and what brings us joy, we can move closer towards a successful life. It can help to think back to your childhood, and the times in your life when you were in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state.[2]

In a state of flow, time slows and our focus is directed like a laser. We are fully present.

Whilst not everything in life that matters to you will conjure up a flow state, it’s a good indication of the kind of activities and experiences you can try to incorporate into your life on a regular basis.

A successful life is made up of moments like this, and when you know what matters to you and brings you a sense of joy and purpose, you can go about creating more of that.

3. Play to Your Strengths

Why spend your time only on mitigating your weaknesses, only to feel average? Instead, playing to your strengths and amplifying those skills and qualities you already have will help you go from average to extraordinary.

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If you’re great at big picture thinking and love dreaming up new ideas, but often lack attention to detail, acknowledge that. Then instead of trying to improve your analytical skills, focus instead on developing your existing skills of imagination and insight. When you need someone with a keen eye for detail, you can collaborate with those people.

Jackson Pollock was an extreme introvert, with no real desire to get his artwork in front of people. Fortunately, he had Clement Greenberg, who was much further towards the extrovert end of the spectrum, to popularize his work and get Pollock the publicity he needed.[3]

Start by identifying your strengths and what comes naturally to you. Then work on developing those and becoming known for those strengths. You can always find someone who will help you in fill in the gaps.

4. Listen to Yourself

It isn’t always clear to us that we’re on a path that leads us to failure or to success. People can spends decades in a job that is unfulfilling and slowly breaking their spirit, without even realizing it – until it’s too late. This is usually because they haven’t learned how to truly listen to themselves.

The challenge we face is that we’re listening to so many other sources of information; whether it’s the news, television, social media, family, friends or colleagues. Many may want to help, but that doesn’t mean they know what’s best for us. Only you know what success means for you, and working this out begins with listening to yourself.

Listening to yourself requires practice. It’s a daily effort, which over time, does get easier. That inner voice of wisdom will get clearer, and the decisions you make will feel more convincing.

To start, you could try to set aside 10 to 15 minutes when you first wake up, in silence. Rather than look at your phone, checking emails or social media, simply sit in silence, listening.

Ask yourself a simple question like, what am I feeling right now, in this moment? Notice the answer that bubbles up, without getting lost in the story. Starting an inner dialogue, without judgment is one of the key tools you can use to start making better decisions in your life.

Learn more about listening to your true self in this guide: How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment

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5. Listen to Others (But Not Everyone)

Listening to yourself is one thing, but listening to others is crucial in order to learn, empathize and be of benefit to your community.

Truly listening to others is not just waiting patiently until it’s your turn to speak. Active listening requires focused attention, and the intention to understand where the other person is coming from.

When you do this, you can ask better questions and discover more about the world and everyone in it, as well as learn how to interact with others in order to succeed in life on your own terms.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone you come across. Trolls on the internet may come into the category of people not to listen to. Some people’s opinions will do more harm than good, as not everyone has your best interest in mind.

It’s worth identifying a shortlist of people whose opinions you will listen to. Brené Brown, author of the New York Times best-seller Daring Greatly, recommends taking a 1-inch x 1-inch square of paper and make a list of people whose opinions matter to you. These are the people who love you and will genuinely support and help you. According to Brown,

“If you need more paper, you need to edit.”

6. Make Time for Reflection

It’s easy to go through life without taking inventory of what you’re actually accomplishing. Missing this crucial step means we end up jumping from one goal to the next, without feeling like we’re getting anywhere.

Make time, ideally each day to reflect. You might keep a paper journal, or an online document. Either way, jot down:

  • What went well today
  • Something you’re grateful for
  • What would make tomorrow even better

Doing this can have measurable benefits to our overall sense of well-being, as well as keeping us focused for more success in the future.[4]

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It also helps combat feelings of lack and doubt, that arise when we compare ourselves to others. When we look at someone who appears to be more successful than us in an area of life, we can forget how far we’ve come and how much we have to be grateful for.

Making time to reflect on what you have accomplished is critical to keep you on track, and just not looking at what others are doing.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Arguably the most important step of all:

Remember that there’s nothing wrong in changing your mind and correcting course.

The path to a successful life is not straight and narrow. It meanders and there’s no harm in going back and picking a different (and better) route.

“I think our life is a journey, and we make mistakes, and it’s how we learn from those mistakes and rebound from those mistakes that sets us on the path that we’re meant to be on.” — Jay Ellis

Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them and change your mind. Ultimately, there’s no better way to succeed in life on your own terms.

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Featured photo credit: Shirly Niv Marton via unsplash.com

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