3 Strategies to Painlessly Free up Time and Get More Done
What juggling a growing tech company, grad school and a toddler taught me about how to efficiently manage time and priorities like a superhero.
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We're all wearing many hats and trying to fit multiple roles into a single 24-hour day. When new commitments come up, they often get layered on top of already busy lives.
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For the last three years, I managed three full-time roles as a grad student, mother and co-founder/COO and have made it through (relatively) unscathed. Now that my son is about to start school, my company Thinkific blew past $5 million in annual revenue and is continuing to grow, and I handed in my last paper officially earning my master's degree, I feel like I'm in a position to share some hard-fought lessons learned.
It turns out, with a small amount of planning you can add hours back into your week to make more time for the things you want to prioritize. Here are a few of my favorite super-human tricks:
Strategy 1: Eliminate.
The key to doing it all is to not, in fact, do it all.
Start by making a list of all the things that you expect to spend time on in the next two weeks. Then, for your first pass through your list, the goal is to identify what you must focus on immediately and what you can let slide (for now or forever).
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Warren Buffett employs a two-list strategy. First, make a list of your top 25 priorities. Then, circle your top five, giving you your second list. From this, the top five list becomes your to-do list and the remaining 20 become your avoid-at-all-costs list. It sounds extreme, but having a clear focus on your highest priorities allows you to focus on what matters -- and moving those items to completion!
This tactic of letting fires burn isn't just relevant for entrepreneurs. We all have more priorities than we have the resources to address and we need to make decisions about what we're not going to do.
When you consciously choose what to drop, you remove the stress associated with the fear of unintentionally missing commitments. More relevantly, you create the space and time to tackle your top priorities first before moving further down your list.
Strategy 2: Outsource.
For tasks that you've determined need to be done, the next question is whether they need to be done by you.
Outsourcing work can be a hurdle faced by entrepreneurs who are facing the mind shift between being self-employed (where we've created our own job) to being a business owner (where the question is about what needs to be done for the business, separately from who does it).
There are two primary ways to outsource work -- by delegating to other people and by using technology to do things for us.
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Beyond looking at professional tasks that can be better suited to another team member, a virtual assistant or a contractor, there are some great ways to delegate errands and tasks to others that apply to everyone. Perhaps the most underutilized example here is grocery delivery. Grocery delivery has effectively no cost, can save everyone time and even eliminates the unhealthy food brought home when shopping on an empty stomach! For a fee, services like meal preparation, housecleaning and professionals like bookkeepers and accountants at tax time are all additional ways we can offset work to free up more of our own time.
Technology is also a great way to outsource, and there are countless apps and tools for this. Calendar management and scheduling apps are at the top of my opportunity list. Doodle allows a group of people to painlessly coordinate which days/times will work for everyone to get together, Google calendar lets my family share calendars so we can schedule around each other without having to consult a paper calendar on the fridge and Calendly allows me to leave booking a time for calls or meetings up to the other party. No executive assistant or back-and-forth email threads required!
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Strategy 3: Optimize.
At this point, your to-do list is down to a list of what you yourself need to (or want to!) do. Spend time considering how each item on this list can be done more efficiently. Here are a few examples of what's worked for me:
- Meetings expand to the time we give them. To counter this, go through your calendar and cut your meeting times in half. When you get right down to business, you'll find you can usually accomplish just as much in far less time.
- Batch tasks together to keep distractions at bay throughout the week. Do necessary errands all on the same morning, make all of your calls before lunch and book check-in meetings back-to-back rather than staggered throughout the week.
- Wind down faster. I like to watch an episode or two of TV before I go to bed, but I watch it at 1.3x speed. After a few moments you don't even notice that it's sped up, and when combined with not watching commercials or the credits, it fits an hour-long drama into a 30-minute time slot. Every second counts!
- Head outside. Just because you're tied to work doesn't mean your family has to be. Reading, in particular, is an excellent activity on the go -- our family has spent many days at the beach or playgrounds while I was immersed in a textbook in the shade. My son wasn't stuck at home just because I was busy, and the change in scenery was good for me, too.
- Block off your most productive work hours on your calendar so meetings don't get added (for me, this is first thing in the morning). Then, use this as heads-down focus time. Close your email, set Slack or other social tools to silent and use a tool like Brain.FM to clear your mind for the task at hand.
Finally, one of the most critical factors in a successful time management strategy is to regularly re-evaluate it. If we actively look for ways to focus on priorities and where to remove, outsource or optimize activities, we'll be able to tackle more with ease. And hopefully, with these tips, we can all feel just a little more super-human!
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