Have you ever said this: “I worked hard all week and didn’t get anything important done.”?
Join the club. But here’s some good news: you can give up “busy” and start doing things that matter. You just need some tools.
Today I’ll give you five tools for staying focused on the important stuff.
Author’s note: I didn’t invent these. Effective people all know them. But I’ve put them to work, and they’ve made my life a lot better.
The fastest way to get trivial things out of your way is don’t do them.
Time is your most precious asset. Someday it will be gone. Not everything nor everybody deserves some of it. You need the skill of saying, “No.”
Here’s a great example: email.
A lot of email is noise. It not only takes your precious morning time—it burns your focus, decision-making energy, and emotional budget. Why read it, hang on to it, or respond to it?
You can instantly delete a lot of email with no consequence; if it’s important, they’ll call.
Do it later. Much later.
Next week. Next summer. Next year. Doesn’t matter. Put it off. Make sure it will show up again on your radar at the right time, and then move on.
Do something important instead.
Then, when it shows back up, consider eliminating it. The goal here is to get stuff out of your head and off your calendar, not to have it pile up and stress you out.
Example: your cell phone rings during high-value time.
Remember when we were kids and the phone would ring during dinner? What was dad’s policy? “Don’t answer that!” Dad would lose his stuff if someone jumped up to answer the phone. Dad was right: if it’s important, they’ll leave a message, or they’ll call back.
Don’t drop your game-changing strategy session take a routine cell phone call.
Repetitive tasks are entrepreneur-killers.
Say there’s a task to be done. Worse, it has to be done over and over. And on time. And accurately. How do you deal with it?
Find a way to get it done with little-or-no effort.
You can use tools, build systems, optimize workflows, etc. But find a way to make that task take somewhere between no time and very little time.
Here’s an example of building a repeatable workflow for myself:
“Edge, trim, blow, mow”
I mow my own lawns. It used to take me two hours, and it didn’t always get done perfectly. Lots of stops and starts. Lots of going back to the garage to get something. Lots of inefficient sequencing.
So I built a recipe that I call “edge, trim, blow, mow.” I follow it every Saturday:
- Clear off the back porch.
- Load all the necessary tools into my gorilla cart.
- (Note: I have the tools listed, so no need to think.)
Edge, Trim, Blow
- Edge around all concrete surfaces.
- Trim around obstacles and curbing.
- Blow grass into the yard.
- Cut the grass in the front and the back.
- Clean out the mower with the blower.
- Unload tools from the cart.
- Put the cart away.
The job now takes half as long (1 hour), and it’s perfect every time.
Maybe I’ll outsource (delegate) it someday, which is where we’re going next. But for now, I’ve developed a system/process that cuts my time in half and eliminates thinking. I spend the time daydreaming about important stuff, and the job still gets done fast and right.
Most people are terrible at delegating or outsourcing.
They hold on to things because they want them done “right”. But here’s an economics lesson that explains when you should hand them off anyway:
Absolute vs. Comparative Advantage
Suppose you and I grow apples and bananas, and these two facts exist:
- You grow apples better than I do.
- I grow bananas better than you do.
Then it makes sense for us to specialize. I outsource apples to you, and you outsource bananas to me. That way, we end up with more total fruit production.
But now let’s change the facts:
- You’re better than me at apples and bananas.
- But you’re way better at apples than you are at bananas.
It still makes sense for you to outsource bananas to me. By you focusing on what you do best, we produce more total fruit. That’s one reason you should delegate busy work even if you can do it better.
Moreover, consider this saying I coined a few years back: “Don’t use people to get the work done; use the work to develop people.”
It’s not semantics. You should be delegating anything that will help someone else level up. It will take some time, but they’ll learn it. They might even do it better than you after a while. And your business will be more capable as a result.
At church, we’re always planning activities.
There’s always way too much planning. There’s cooking, planning and organizing, and notifying everyone. I’ve seen entire 1-hour meetings dedicated to whether we should eat A or B.
So we simplified. Activities now look like
- a potluck
- at the same day and time every month with
- a simple activity after dinner.
Think about what that does:
- No food gets planned, but everybody gets to eat what they want.
- The activities don’t require any planning unless someone volunteers to plan something they’re really excited about.
- There’s no need to notify people multiple times via multiple channels.
We’ve gone from 100 hours of preparation down to almost zero hours. And we have an activity every month where people can relax and enjoy their time together.
With those 100 hours, we “visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction and keep ourselves unspotted from the world.”
What To Do With All That Extra Time
Don’t rush to fill that time back up. You’re not a robot; you’re a business owner. Your prefrontal cortex has a limited amount of energy to spend on thinking hard about important things. So don’t cram your calendar full stuff just to feel busy.
“Busy is the new stupid.”
I don’t know who said this. It’s been attributed to Bill Gates. But the first time I heard it changed my life. Another quote that also impacted me was this:
“If you level up as a leader, everything currently on your calendar will be gone.”
Brutal stuff, eh? But it’s true. And it’s kind of hard. But it’s either that or staying in the weeds and devaluate your time.
Here are some things that should occupy your time:
- working on strategy
- developing your people
- learning and getting mentoring
- cultivating important customer relationships
- relaxing, daydreaming, and thinking random thoughts
- working on getting rid of even more busy work
When busy work threatens important stuff, apply one of 5 tools: