It’s always hugely frustrating to me when I hear business owners saying they “don’t have time” to do the things necessary to improve their business. It’s nothing more than an excuse for not prioritising important tasks and choosing to spend too much time on things that, although they might be enjoyable, don’t actually play any part in moving someone closer to achieving their goals.
In a lot of cases, people end up being ‘busy fools’ (see my blog post: How my Vital First Principle can help accelerate your success). They say they’re too busy to work on their goals, without realising it’s a self-perpetuating lie. They’re busying themselves with so many tasks that are actually of very low importance in the grand scheme of things, that they never make the time to stand back and really analyse what they’re doing.
Around 80% of the things most business owners do serve no purpose in terms of helping them get to where they say they want to be. Too many people I speak to are victims of their own schedule, caught up in a never-ending treadmill of tasks and chores that overwhelm them. But, within two minutes of listening to them, I can almost guarantee I’m able to find them the time they don’t think they have.
This is not about waking up at 5am every day to give yourself more hours to get more done. It’s not about working longer and harder.
This is about simplifying your life, weeding out the ‘rubbish’ and eliminating things from your days if they don’t add value.
“You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” – Charles Buxton
So, I want to shift your perspective. The 6 steps below will help you find and protect the time you need to work on your business and goals. If you take my advice, I promise you’ll simplify your days and won’t have any more excuses holding you back!
1. Go on a low-information diet
Being productive means increasing/improving your output, so part of achieving greater success means reducing your input. We all receive a huge amount of information and news every day about what’s going on in the world, mainly through television and social media, but how much of it is truly important to you?
Of course, there are things we need to know in order to participate in society and make informed decisions, but around 80% of what you’re ‘learning’ each day is negative, unimportant and/or irrelevant to your goals. And this information overload is simply holding you back; it’s taking up space in your brain, wasting your time and draining your emotional energy.
So, only read and watch things that are relevant to you. Check the news briefly once or twice a day and learn to speed read. Cut back dramatically on the amount of television you watch for entertainment and really think about whether the thing you’re spending time absorbing is adding to your life and contributing to you achieving your goals.
Changing habits and abandoning routines that you’ve become used to might seem like a difficult thing to do but, trust me, once you’ve committed to it, you’ll be amazed at how much time you gain.
I’ve been on this diet for 10 years now and can honestly say it’s made me happier, given me more time for myself and has had zero negative impact on my success. In my opinion, there’s no downside to a low-information diet, so give it a go and I’m sure you’ll find that you don’t miss all those empty information calories.
2. Only check emails twice a day
You can waste an enormous amount of time on emails, checking, reading, replying, filing and deleting. When you interrupt the task you’re working on to check your inbox, you’re breaking your concentration and working much less effectively. You might feel you need to action or reply to some messages right away, which can be hugely distracting, and the overall result is that you become reactive in your working day, rather than proactive.
So, turn off automatic notifications for new messages and only check emails at 11am and 3pm – those are the times when you’re most likely to have responses to messages you’ve sent. And remember that you don’t have to answer or even open every email. Just because it’s a convenient moment for someone to contact you, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a convenient time for you to respond.
You might worry about missing stuff. Don’t. If it’s anything important, someone will call you. I find that after 24 to 48 hours the so-called urgency of an email has evaporated and the sender has managed to deal with any issue, perfectly well, themselves.
At the time of writing, I have 39,476 unread emails. That’s a lot, isn’t it? But the truth is that being selective with how often I look at my messages and which ones I open has been nothing but positive for me and my time. I’ve taken back control of my day.
3. Don’t multitask
Some people think multitasking is good because they feel as though they’re getting several things done in the same time as it would have taken to do one. In reality, focusing on one thing at a time is a far faster and more effective path to success than trying to juggle two or three things at once. If you’re constantly shifting your concentration from one thing to another, you’ll find it takes much longer to complete each task and your results will be of a lower quality. Multitasking is nothing more than an effective way to take more time to get less done, to a poorer standard.
It’s not just me saying this; it’s something that’s backed up by neuroscientific and psychological research, which shows that what you might think of as ‘multitasking’ is actually ‘rapid task-switching’. Because your attention and consciousness can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, your brain is having to skip from one thing to another and every time it does that, there’s a processing delay and a temporary drop in performance.
According to research by the American Psychological Association, multitasking results in tasks taking as much as 40% longer than if they were focused on one at a time. And a Stanford University study showed that people who considered themselves to be great multitaskers made more mistakes, remembered fewer details and took longer to complete tasks than others who weren’t frequent multitaskers.
I know that when I focus on just one problem or challenge at a time, I’m able to get much greater clarity and that leads to quicker and better results for me and my businesses. If you haven’t already done so, read my ‘Vital First Principle’ blog <link>, where I share the techniques I use to find and focus on the highest-value activities that will make the most positive difference. If you learn to prioritise properly, there is no need to multitask.
4. Avoid meetings
In my experience, very few meetings are actually ever essential and most are a total waste of time. The saying ‘time is money’ is true and bad meetings steal both from your business.
People who schedule endless meetings usually do so because they want to appear productive. Nine times out of ten, it’s a meeting for a meeting’s sake (anything but productive!) and you leave feeling that everything on the agenda could have been covered by a couple of phone calls and an email or two, which would have been much more efficient.
If you’re asked to attend a meeting, really think about whether it’s worth your while and don’t confirm until:
- A single purpose for the meeting has been clarified
- All attendees have agreed on that single purpose
- A time limit for the meeting has been set
If there’s more than one purpose, it’s all too easy for a meeting to wander off topic and become nothing more than a productivity hit, so make sure you don’t waste your valuable time. For years now, I’ve been incredibly selective about what meetings I attend and it’s saved me hours and hours every week.
5. Saying “no” to things
Every day, we all have people making various demands on our time. It might be an invitation to attend an event or meeting; perhaps someone wants your advice or help with a situation; it could be paid work you’re being offered or someone might simply be trying to get you to do something that’s actually their responsibility.
The big problem with all these things is that it’s human nature to want to avoid disappointing or coming into conflict with other people. And so we tend to say “yes” when, really, our gut is telling us ‘no’! We’ve all committed to something and then regretted it later, maybe even feeling resentful about giving up time that we’d rather be spending elsewhere.
So, start saying “no”. You have a limited amount of time and need to learn how to say no to things without feeling guilty or that you’re letting someone down. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to give yourself more time to focus on your own stuff, and colleagues, friends and family should understand that.
If you’re not used to turning down requests and invitations, you might feel uncomfortable at first, but it does get much easier the more you do it.
5 tips for saying “no”:
1. Be polite. Always thank the person for getting in touch / thinking of you / asking you to attend.
2. Don’t over-complicate it. Be as honest as you can and simply say you don’t have time / don’t feel you can take it on at the moment / have something else on that day, etc.
3. Try to offer an alternative. That might be recommending someone else who might be able to help the person, making a less time-consuming counter-offer or giving another time in the future when you might be able to do what they’re asking.
4. Be firm. If it’s something you know you’re never going to want to do, then make sure you’re clear with the other person and don’t leave the door open – that will only make it more uncomfortable for both of you when they come back and ask again.
5. Don’t reply! As with not opening or responding to every email, perhaps you don’t need to respond to a request. If it wouldn’t be rude to hold fire on responding, just wait and see whether the person comes back to you. You’ll find many won’t.
6. Downsize your tasks and projects
As well as learning to say no to other people, you have to learn to say no to yourself. Start with hobbies and commitments outside your business and ask whether they’re adding to your quality of life or taking up valuable time that it would be more beneficial to spend elsewhere. Do you really need to be on two committees and involved with three local groups? Or should you scale back, at least for now, and put that time into your business instead?
Are you spending time on things that contribute nothing towards achieving your goals? We all need time to relax and ‘zone out’ but is it worth sacrificing some of the ‘less worthy’ activities that are currently eating into your available time?
Finally, stop creating time-consuming work for yourself. Look at your weekly tasks and trim them back by prioritising the most worthwhile tasks. Then, spend the extra time gained working on your business.
The great American management consultant Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”, and I think that sums up these six points perfectly.
Be ruthless with trimming back your current activities and only keep the ones that really matter. There may be some fallout from pulling back, some people might take offence to you saying no and you may miss some of the things you’ve become used to doing. But I can assure you, any short-term pain will soon be replaced by a huge sense of relief and you’ll realise that by using your time to work in a ‘smarter’ and more focused way, you’ll be able to accelerate your business success and achieve your goals more quickly than you thought possible.