Ever feel like you’re just busy, but not really accomplishing anything? Maybe you find yourself saying “I need 8 more hours a day” just so you can get done, what you need done.
We’re going to make your week up to 10x more effective and productive, with some very very simple steps.
A lot of us out there feel that because we’re creative people, in creative businesses, we need freedom over our time to accomplish our goals how we need.
The problem with this, is that we deal with our goals like a reverse queue. Often, the item that comes across our desk last, is the item we focus on first. It’s the thing in front of us now, so that’s what we complete.
When faced with terms like time blocks and priority lists, many businesses like ours say they need freedom of time to do what they want. The problem is that this becomes counter-productive. The steps and goals needed to reach our larger visions are never taken.
We’re constantly scratching at the surface, never digging up and executing the true goals we have to do. It’s like calling an friend or saying sorry, the longer you leave it, the harder it gets.
Well no more! This is the post that’s going to help you get a hold of your week and start allocating YOUR time as an investment. The beauty about time is that it truly is an investment, if you spend it wisely, it’ll return 10 fold.
These steps and this plan won’t work over night. You need to commit to a plan and stick to it. There are always teething problems, you won’t get it right straight away.
But think of it like this, try it, just for a couple of months. It might not feel easy straight away but you will get better at it. A lot of the below is about building habits. Good, healthy and productive habits.
If it doesn’t work and you really gave it your best shot, you can go back to how you were doing things. But if you want different results, you need different actions.
Decide your priorities
First, we need to decide on your priorities. This is the hardest part of becoming productive.
Typically, what happens is we’re overcommitted to too many tasks. Customers, our business, family, friends, sport teams, charity work, you name it. We have a list of commitments and things we need to do every day.
You have MAYBE 10 hours a day. Even 8 – 6 is insane to keep up as a working day. The trick is NOT more time.
Parkinson’s Law states that “a task will swell so as to fill the time available for it’s completion.”
If you give yourself 2 days to write an email, it will take two days. Give yourself 2 minutes and a deadline, you better believe it’ll take 2 minutes.
When it comes to priorities, we often feel we have more than we can handle. But when we’re asked to write them out, we might find they’re not too many.
So where does all the time go? Distractions and “buffer tasks”, but we’ll get to that later.
Here’s where we need to start.
Grab a sheet of paper and write down a list of you priorities. But don’t go mad. 12 month or 5 year priorities are impossible to control. Let’s keep it simple and look at 12 weeks.
What are you priorities over the next 12 weeks? Write them down. They could be goals such as “sell to 50 customers” or they could be actions such as “call Mum once a week”. Income statements like “generate £100 000 in sales” are also perfectly fine.
What we want are S.M.A.R.T. goals. Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.
Specific means it’s not “make more money” or “call more customers”. How much money? How many customers?
Measurable means you need to be able to mark off every time it’s completed. “Spend more time in the gym” is not measurable. “Go to the gym 3 times a week for 30 minutes each” is.
Achievable – remember, we’re looking at 12 weeks here. That’s 3 months. “Become an Olympic rower” is not going to happen, unless you’re already at that level. “Loose 2kg in weight and run 5k” is more likely.
Relevant means, will this goal or priority actually make a difference? Is it relevant to your long term goals or is it even productive. “Open and read 50 emails a day” might sound productive, but really it’s just busy work. This also means no cheating. You can’t put “turn my computer on” as a goal.
Note: for some people, the goal of getting out of bed and eating breakfast is a big deal. I’ve suffered from crippling depression myself for a number of years, and setting a relevant goal for me sounded like “write 10 000 words for this essay”.
However, the goal of “get out of bed and make breakfast” should have been the first thing on my priority list. The problem is sometimes we give ourselves goals that are too large. Although thinking big might be good, if it’s overwhelming, you’re never going to complete it. Which makes you feel unproductive again and the negative cycle continues.
Give yourself productive goals.
Time bound. We’re focusing on goals that are “within 12 weeks” but also, it helps to add time based phrases to your goals and tactics. Once a day, once a week, for 30 mins per day etc. Give yourself a limit and stick to it.
Make the list
Here’s the tough bit. We’re getting into weekly habits here.
When you’re making your 12 week plan. Look at all the goals you’ve got. We now need tactics and actions to make those goals happen.
At the top of a sheet of paper, write your most pressing, important and life changing goal. The thing that will genuinely make a difference.
Under that goal, brainstorm, research and write down all the tactics and actions that will make that happen.
Some of them are going to be “talk to an expert” or “get help”. If you don’t know HOW to accomplish your goals, you’re going to have to speak to experts. Simple as that.
Might I suggest too, that you get comfortable asking people for advice? Interviewing people with set questions is a fantastic way to learn. Other than that, research your ass off for your tactics. There are millions of books on most topics.
However, to be honest, we know what we need to do most of the time. It looks like hard work and picking up the phone most of the time. But here’s the deal, you’re NEVER going to accomplish your goals unless you’re comfortable being uncomfortable.
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
– Timothy Ferriss
You should now have your #1 priority and a list of tactics underneath. Sometimes it helps to write out the steps and process you’ll go on, to achieve that goal.
For example, if my goal is “get 1000 page views per day within 12 weeks” I first want to list the tactics I know. But also the steps in order I’ll need to take.
-how many visitors do we get now? Investigate Google analytics to get page views.
-make list of top 5 posts to get 1000 views in total (200 views per post)
-research 5 blog posts and read them on how to increase traffic
-make a list of 20 people who would share my content via email
-write and send an email asking people to share my content
-email my list and ask them to share it
-write 3 posts a week and publish
–pick 36 topics and choose a headline
–choose a content type for each post (batch into groups of 3 i.e. list post, how-to guide and video transcript.)
–Write outline for each blog post
–Pick 3 topics each week
-get 5 backlinks per week to top content
-email 20 people per week for backlinks to my content
-test social PPC for cost per click idea
–set up Facebook campaign for 5 posts
–allocate $100 per post
–run for 2 weeks per test
–log into Facebook and view highest view count and lowest cost per count
–create campaign for longer term 1 month run for 1 post
-set up automation to post to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
–write 30 tweets and set up to post 3 times a day.
–repeat every 10 days
–post to Facebook and LinkedIn once per day
-investigate social posting automation
–new post with zapier, set up zap to post to Twitter
–new post with Zapier, set up zap to post to Facebook
-investigate Reddit posting opportunities
I’ve got my list of tactics and actions. These are the things I need to do over 12 weeks just to reach one goal.
This list, is why you feel overwhelmed. Because we DON’T write it down, we have the list going round and round in our head. I urge you to write it down and get the list out of your head. You’ll surprise yourself with how much you need to do.
If you have more than one goal, you need to prioritise which goal is more important. If you have 2 priorities, you don’t have any priorities.
This is where it get’s hard. You now need to prioritise the actions. Which one will get you closer to your goal? Which ones are more like busy work? Are there any goals that someone else can do?
If you have more than one goal, which do you need to focus on? I’m not saying you can only have one goal per 12 weeks, but you will need to make adjustments depending on time.
It’s as simple as that. Prioritise and stick to it.
Include the necessities
You also need to account for all the stuff, which takes time, but doesn’t really come up in our list. Some of these things are low value, but you have to do them. Some of them keep you alive or happy. Others might seem like a waste of time, but will save you HOURS of effort in the long run.
Buffer blocks – know that there are times when things come out of the blue. Meetings, calls, questions. We’ll collate all these tasks into buffer blocks. Walking, driving, breaks, we need to account for these things.
Email and communications – whatever you do, don’t open your emails first thing. We often use email as a to-do list, which is the wrong way to view it. It’s still mail, you don’t wait by the door and open every new piece that comes in. We’re going to assign a specific time where you can open your email and respond to all your inbound emails, should you need to. You can also use this time to email out, send communications, make calls and do the busy work.
Lunch – give yourself time to eat lunch and enjoy it. If you’re busy, working over lunch won’t make you less busy. Eat food, take a break and allocate it. No one likes a martyr eating over their desk while they work. It’s counter productive.
Exercise – exercise, hobbies, reading, downtime. It all takes time from your day. Block out times where you dedicate yourself to exerting your body or mind. “I never have time to go to the gym”, this is where we make time. Your health and mental well being is 100000000000000000000000 times more important than answering emails. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably an asshole.
Family and breaks – spend time with family, friends and NOT working. When everything turns to shit, being busy won’t help you. But spending time building relationships will.
Strategy sessions – there needs to be 3 hours a month, unbroken, where you can plan, strategise and draw longer term tactics. Giving yourself time to plan is CRITICAL to the success of your business. There are no exceptions, businesses that take time to plan, so they can follow a plan, are more effective, productive and less stressed.
“Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted”
So on top of all your tactics, the above are absolute necessities for your business. Filling up isn’t it? Well, here’s the good bit.
Absolutely no one, can argue with you when you say “I don’t have time for this, because I need to spend time with my family”. Absolutely no one can get pissed with you, when you say you can’t do a meaningless task for them, when you say it isn’t a priority. People would rather be disappointed now, for 2 seconds, rather than disappointed later when you can’t deliver.
Use time blocks
As we’ve said, we don’t need more time. What we do need to do is understand how much time activities take.
This is where we really 10x our output. Time blocks.
Time blocks are 30 minute to 2 hour blocks of the day where we dedicate ourselves to a task.
“Ah but I need freedom to complete my tasks!” People who shout that, don’t know what their tasks are. You’re free to build your tasks into whatever order you need. Spend as little or a long on them as you want.
But what we tend to do, is start a task and just see the rest of the day as time to complete it. So we let ourselves be distracted. Pick up our phone. Browse Facebook, answer emails. Because we have thought ourselves into thinking we have all day.
We let ourselves be distracted for no reason, other than dopamine. Simple as that. We are still monkey-brained animals that value novelty and let our chemical desire for new and shiny things to dictate our actions.
So we get distracted and don’t complete what we’re capable of. Giving yourself uninterrupted, pure focus, deep work time is the most valuable habit you can posses. There is no limit to what you can achieve if you give yourself time.
What’s scary is trying new things and KNOWING you’re going to go without shiny dopamine for a while. So we invent reasons to be distracted. It’s how busy people live their lives. But not productive people.
I can either do 2 hours of deep work, complete a task which will make my life better, or I can flit from distraction to distraction, never really doing anything.
As I said, try this for a few months. If there really is no difference, then go back to your old ways. But if you’re reading this far, I’ll assume you want to do something new.
Every single MINUTE of my day is accounted for. Every day from Monday to Friday. I know I want to complete the goals I’ve set out. That’s my discipline to wake up and know what I’m doing every day.
First, set aside time for lunch every day. 1 hour. No less. DO IT. Read those books you’ve been meaning to read. Have lunch with people around you. Let your human machine refuel and be nourished. At the end of the day, social media and cloud apps aren’t going to sustain you. Enjoy food, it’s been around longer and will be around longer than anything else you’re doing.
Next, assign at MAXIMUM, two 1 hour slots, per day, for email and communications. Mine is 12pm but it used to be 12pm and 4pm.
I don’t want to get into the whole argument of “I couldn’t possibly leave my emails all day! That’s where all my important messages come in” If that’s true and I mean REALLY true, measure it. Look at every single email you answer and receive per day and mark it down.
Either mark them down as
- Helped me acheive MY goals
- Important – had to complete today
- Other person thought it was important
- Could have waited
- Didn’t need to see, read or send
- Time wasting (the classic ‘fwd: Thoughts?’ email is just someone else moving bullshit busy work around because they don’t want to weigh in)
I’m going to be less than 10% of emails help you with your goals. So start ignoring them. If it’s a REAL emergency, you’ll probably be in the same building.
Next, assign up to 3 hours per week for buffer tasks. Doing stuff like answering questions, browsing the internet, research etc.
Once per month, assign a 3 hour, unbroken block to strategy and planning sessions.
Once per week, allow yourself 1 hour at the start of the week to plan your week.
I try to assign 2 buffer blocks of 1 hour per week for meetings. I know they’ll come up and it means people can book that time. Meetings that are booked in the week before, go into my weekly plan before I do anything else.
Assuming you can say no to meetings which will just waste your time, but more on that later. We also only have 45 minute meetings. You don’t need an hour.
(We haven’t even got to your priorities and tactics yet).
If you go to the gym at 6pm or 5pm, write that down. Write down times for dinner and family time. Give yourself time to travel. Say to yourself you’re done with work when you’re doing those activites.
Now, start using 2 hour time blocks for each activity or tactic. 2 hours might sound like a lot, but it isn’t. Think of it like this. If you only take 45 minutes from your 2 hour block to make a list of blog posts to research, use the rest of the time for another activity.
Personally, I don’t slot a new activity in, I just bump everything else up.
What if I run out of time? Learn from it, that’s all I can say. As a rule, when you start this, everything will take 4x longer, produce 1/4 of the results and cost 4x more than you think. It’s only from doing this week in, week out for a couple of months will you get a good idea of how long stuff takes.
Remember, you’ve got 12 weeks for your tactics. Don’t try to do to much per day. 2 hours is NOT enough time to build a landing page. But it is long enough to write the copy. Like I said, if you find it takes less time, learn from that and move to another task.
If you run out of time, only you can decide if you keep at it, or move on. Not enough time, usually means you haven’t broken the task down into enough steps. I’d rather complete 1 whole step in 2 hours rather than 20% of a task.
Either move on, or stick with it, but ALWAYS learn from what happened.
Say NO to everything else
Here’s the hard bit. You have to start saying no.
Opportunities will come up. Those are distractions. No matter what people say, they aren’t emergencies or once in a lifetime opportunities. If it isn’t on your plan today, this month or this 12 week block. It isn’t a priority. Simple as that.
Emergencies don’t really exist. Most of the time, they sort themselves out. Busy people LOVE emergencies because it gives them a new goal which they know will soon expire. We’re not busy people, we’re productive and effective people.
Drinks evenings, new webinars, shiny courses, sales meetings, people wanting to pick your brain? You don’t have time. They’ll get upset, mad even. They’ll tell you this is where you should be. They’re trying to distract you. Simple as that.
People can book meetings, sure, but they have to make it very clear what the meeting is for. What are the outcomes? Meetings are NOT for exploring options. Meetings are to decide things. Move forward.
You might even have to cut people from your life. It’s harsh, but if you want to be productive, there are 100 people a day who want your time from you.
We protect our money more than our time, but we’ll give away time (which we can never get back) so freely. See time as the investment and pick your investment opportunities wisely.
No one in the world wants to stand in the way of someone who has goals. Someone who has priorities is very hard to convince otherwise. People who value their time are who see time come back in return.
Measure your input and output
This is something which no one does. And you should do it at the start of the week, during your weekly planning.
Measure how effective you were in the week. How many of your tasks did you accomplish? This, is true accountability.
Accountability and ownership isn’t punishing people for actions. It’s measuring what they got done. If you have 4 tasks a day, that’s 20 a week.
Last week for example, I completed 12 of those tasks. That’s a 60% effectiveness rate. Not good. We need to be at 85% or above to really see results.
The problem is that if I had the 1000 clicks per day as my only measure. It wouldn’t be for 2 or 3 months that I could see how I’ve done. Let’s say I only measured at the end of the 12 week period. That’s a 3 month lag time. Am I working hard to get to that goal?
No way of knowing until 3 months time. So if I’m only working at 60% effectiveness, it’s reasonable that I’ll only get at maximum 60% return. That’s 600 views a day. Way off where I needed to be.
Even if I do get 1000 visitors, how much more could I have got? Was it fluke? What did I miss out which didn’t really affect the outcome?
Every week, mark down the number of activities you completed vs. how many you had. The first few weeks will be low. Don’t be discouraged. Stick with it. Amend your activities to suit.
Again, this is assuming you’re not willing to cheat. Make a cup of tea 5 times a week with a 2 hour block will surely give you 100% effectiveness, but I can assure you your final result output will be 0%.
I absolutely LOVE time blocks. It revolutionised my life. What’s funny, is the initial uncomfortable conversions of people who expected me to handover my time willingly, have almost totally disappeared.
People know I value my time. I know I’m working hard at crushing MY goals, not someone else’s.
I sometimes hear “I’m not organised and I can’t stick to things like this”. I totally understand how you feel. A lot of businesses feel the same way, but what we’ve found, is that NOTHING is stopping you.
You only give up this routine because you want to. No one, in the history of the world has or will ever say to you, “I want you to stop planning your day and week to accomplish your goals”. You decide to stick at it. Simple as that.
It’s about building a habit. And as much as that, it’s about giving up BAD habits of distraction, social media and email.
What do you think about the process? Are you going to give this a try? Let me know in the comments below.