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The 80/20 Rule of Time Management: Stop Wasting Your Time

November 8, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229813

Small-business owners waste their time on what I call $10 an hour work, like running to get office supplies. Meanwhile, they forgo the activities that earn $1,000 an hour, such as sending the right email to the right person, or negotiating a lucrative contract, or convincing a client to do more business with you.

Entrepreneurs don't realize the same 80/20 principle -- the adage that 20 percent of customers equal 80 percent of sales -- applies to every dimension of business. And that includes time management.

We entrepreneurs are extremely prone to rationalize, "I can do it myself." Then we spend six hours trying to extract a virus from our computer or fix a leaky faucet.

Sure, we may be competent to do that little job. And sure, sometimes you have to do everything when you start out. But now you're doing a $10 or $20 per hour fix-the-faucet job and you're not doing your No. 1 job, which is getting and keeping customers. That job pays $100 to $1000 per hour.

Many a promising business has been killed by those little jobs. When someone says "time management," you probably think of time logs, goal lists, and "Getting Things Done." But getting busy is not what makes you rich.

We're tempted to hire out the toughest jobs, like sales and marketing and public relations. These are extremely high-skill tasks. It's almost impossible to delegate those tasks to someone else. How about hiring someone to do your laundry, or sort through your email?

Five things you should do immediately in order to stop wasting time and start earning the real dinero:

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Hire a maid. If you have a significant other, he or she will thank you. It is easy to find someone who knows how to cook. Easy to find people who know how to clean. They will love you for paying them $10 to $13 an hour to do those jobs. Somebody's praying for that job now.

As a go-getter, your core entrepreneurial skills can earn you hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. So there's no reason why you should be scrubbing your own toilets. In fact, I argue that it is your moral obligation to hire someone to do that.

Downton Abbey fans will recall that the aristocratic Crawley family thought it was their duty to have servants and provide them employment. Same goes for business owners. The United States would be back down to 5 percent unemployment if entrepreneurs stopped taking out their own trash.

Just get over yourself and….

Get rid of your $10 an hour stuff. Let's assume you are no longer wasting time vacuuming your own carpets or listening to your own voicemails. You are still hurting yourself if you are obsessed with being "efficient." That is not an 80/20 approach to time. Instead, ask: "What else am I doing that is so menial, it could be cheaply outsourced? What am I doing that I should stop doing altogether?"

Hire a personal assistant. With some effort you can hire a perfectly competent person at $8 to $15 per hour and they'll be happy because it is more interesting work than flipping burgers. I don't care where they are. Virtual is fine. In my case, I hired a friend of a friend, Lorena, whom I heard was looking for work. I started her out changing furnace filters and taking my car to the mechanic. Within six months, she was managing my email box, doing triage to ensure that I only read what really matters. The time she saves me is worth its weight in gold.

Don't feel guilty about relaxing. The most productive people are a little lazy. If there are really only a few hours a day in which you do $1,000-an-hour work, does it really matter if you screw around for the rest of the day? Downtime gives you the mental space you need to think. You can't be a great strategist when you're hustling from morning 'til night. Feed your brain instead, so you're sharp when you're negotiating the next sales contract.

Focus on your most productive time slot. Everybody has a timeslot in their day when they do their finest work. Ernest Hemingway wrote first thing in the morning. Barack Obama is a night owl. (He reportedly even outsources decisions on what to eat and wear.) I do my best work between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. I don't do email before 10 or 11 a.m. I keep that space open. It's reserved for writing or doing really strategic jobs. That's the part of my day when I'm most productive.

Make these changes and you'll hit consistent stretches of $1,000 an hour many days of your week. Then and only then will you reap the true rewards of being an entrepreneur.