Sep 1, 2017
I’m a productivity junkie. I really get a kick out of knowing that I’m not wasting time. I do this almost to a fault: making a list of errands in order of geographical convenience and logic is second-nature. I say all this, not to merely toot my own horn, nor to raise your eyebrows, but to preface this sentence…
Hear me out.
Yesterday, I watched TV ( more than I care to admit here in this article) and I loved every second of it. I procrastinate like nobody’s business. I love last-minute deadlines. Sometimes, I’ll have a project on my calendar for months and decide: “Meh, I’ll do it the day before.”
The thing tying all of that together? My craving for precious down-time fuels my productivity. So, if you’re curious how I’m able to pull it all off, then allow me to walk you through the basics.
You might not need to go for a whole month on this. Sometimes, a week will provide you with plenty of information to make some significant strides. Think of this like a reverse to-do list. It’s a Done list. But get ruthless about it. Write down everything, even that little Facebook rant you just left. Be sure to leave notes about how long it took you (i.e. Facebook rant, 14 minutes).
If you already use a digital calendar, (good on ya!) I suggest getting into a practice of retro-actively marking down how your time was spent. Did that meeting go 15 minutes longer? Fine. Make sure that’s reflected in your calendar. Did you accidentally spent 14 too many minutes posting a rant on Facebook? Okay, then — mark it down.
Keep track of these things for a day, a week, and in some cases a month. You’re collecting information that will help you later on in the next steps…
Before you go and roll your eyes about how capitalism is ruining everything, hold your horses and un-bunch your undies. The purpose of this step is to highlight whether that Facebook rant was actually valuable to you. Maybe it was! If so, that’s awesome because you just freed yourself from the guilt of spending your afternoon on Facebook!
Example: If your business/career is politically driven, then a Facebook rant about the state of your local government might be a really great way to spend your time.
If attaching dollar signs next to “Time with Family” makes you want to launch your lunch into the trash can, then I recommend creating your own scale of value. For instance, if family time is invaluable for John Smith then he should mark it down as worth 1 million Smithees, a just-now-made-up currency. Maybe for John meeting with his employees is worth 10 Smithees, and meeting with clients is 150 Smithees.
The purpose of this step is to intimately understand how much you value the way you’re truly spending your time.
The last time I did this, I realized that I was spending WAY too much time reading sales emails. They were clogging up my inbox and I was mindlessly choosing to go through them. What did I do about it? Read on.
Creating systems, processes, and automation for as many things as you can, (and especially your lower item tasks) is going to save your behind someday. I promise.
Here’s what I did about those silly sales emails: I knew I didn’t want to unsubscribe from them completely, since that’s how I keep tabs on my colleagues and all the cool stuff they’re up to. But I still knew that I didn’t want to get distracted from my really valuable work in the middle of the week. So, I created a Gmail filter which would automatically cause those emails to skip my inbox and go directly into a corresponding folder. Some folks stop there. Not I! Because I still value the task of reading these emails, I scheduled a 30-minute spot late every Friday afternoon in my calendar. Boom. Automatic email labels. Automatic calendar event. Systematized email reading once each week.
Here’s what you could do about those Facebook rants: Let’s say you know an occasional rant does the body (or business) good. Great. There’s this fantastic feature on Facebook now, “Save Post.” See a good thing to rant about but don’t want to rant about it right this second? Put it in your Saved Posts and then schedule a regular time to dive into that folder.
Here’s what you can do about all that client stuff: I use Fons for all my client billing and scheduling. Easy peasy. Fons automatically sends reminders to my clients, charges my clients, deposits that money into my bank account, and even provides options for monthly billing or reschedules. My clients have access to my office hours and all the confirmed appointments show up in my Google calendar! My clients only have to enter their payment info once and have access to a browser app or mobile app. Again, automatic and easy.
Here’s what you can do about that valuable Family Time: Sometimes “automating” is as simple as managing expectations. I have colleagues and even my own Father (a college professor) to who makes it known to their co-workers and clients that if one of their family members calls mid-meeting, that meeting gets paused, no questions asked. Again, ask yourself, “What can I do to delegate, automate, systematize the expectations here?”
Here’s what you can do about standing in front of your closet: Deciding what to wear can suuuuck the life out of me emotionally. What’s clean? What shirt goes with which bottoms? Do I like how I feel in it? I got ruthless in this area. It’s been a slow journey, but I’ve managed to travel enough this last year to prove to myself that I really only need 30 items of clothing. Each item will go well with any of the other items in my closet. Thereby eliminating the need to stand there naked in front of my closet wondering what I should be when I grow up.
Here’s what you can do about all that BBS: “Boring Business Stuff” is different for everyone. Some folks hate spreadsheets and paying taxes. Great. I bet you anything that if you hire someone else to even just help you with that stuff, that you’ll end up saving time in the long run. Some folks hate social media. Sweet Baby Moses, hire someone to help you! There are people out there just dying to help you do your job AND they’ll do it 1,000 times better than you!
Here’s what you can do about standing in front of the refrigerator: Let’s face it. Sometimes I don’t have the forethought to think past the keyboard under my fingers as I type this. Come to think of it, I still don’t know what I’m having for dinner tonight. No problem! Again, I’ve scheduled a weekly trip to the grocery store and have a pre-written note that I save on my phone with a list of basic, weekly items. This means that as I type this, I know there’s at least one frozen pizza and makings for a salad in my refrigerator or veggie chilli makings in the cupboard. (I’m also looking into some of those tasty food delivery boxes out there too!)
Most folks are OK with just saving a bunch of time. That’s fine. But I’ve chosen to take the majority of that extra time I’ve saved and use it for good!
Example: I used to spend more than 10 hours every week billing clients and dealing with scheduling and rescheduling. Whether I liked it or not, I was choosing to value those 10 hours in that way. *Barf* Thankfully, I woke from that nightmare and now have most of it all automated via Fons. That choice to value my time differently has freed up more than 520 hours each year!
What did I do with all that time? Well, a lot of things, but most obviously life-changing: I launched a podcast! The Bare Naked Bravery podcast and community of listeners has completely blown my mind with awesomeness and I could not have done it by wasting time with all that BBS (Boring Business Stuff).
My encouragement to you is to go back over your list of valued tasks and do more of the higher value things. Not only will your clients, family, and employees thank you, but eventually the world will thank you too. You see, we all deserve to spend our lives doing the things we are called to do, the things we love to do, and the things we’re really really really stinkin’ good at. It makes the world a better place and I mean that in the most hippy dippy, woo-woo way possible!
Emily Ann Peterson is a singer-songwriter, teaching artist, marketing consultant, and creative entrepreneur. Her podcast, Bare Naked Bravery, features conversations with everyday heroes about the quiet successes and loud failures required to do the brave things for which we know and love them.
Peterson’s mission is inspire a global resonance and magnanimous community through the marriage of art and whole-person development.