Last week, we boldly declared as a company that we were done wasting time. No time waster—no matter how small—was above consideration. For us, this started a conversation, or more accurately, a consciousness that is now extending to almost everything we do.
With this in mind, last Thursday, we held a meeting among our key staff to discuss our ideas for saving time. The meeting itself, as we quickly realized, was an efficiency risk. After all, we pulled four people into a meeting that lasted over an hour–that’s more than four man hours down the drain. However, what we gained in that meeting will save us hundreds of hours over the next several months and years. Now, I will dispense some of our key insights from that meeting. Basically, our key time-saving methods fell into five categories. I’ll explain each of them (with examples), and how to implement all of them effectively.
Compounding is the name we give to any upfront investment of time that saves time in the long run. Those of you who read my previous post know that this key insight was what inspired our entire time-saving initiative in the first place. I realized I was spending several minutes every day deleting spam emails, instead of making the requisite 2-hour investment in unsubscribing from every spam list a single time. My average daily email volume has gone from over 300 to just over 50, from this simple, one-time investment. Even though I spent two hours on this project, I’ll be saving time within a couple weeks, and eventually dozens of hours every year. That’s the magic of compounding. Saving a minute or two a day can pay huge dividends quicker than you imagine. Do the math. You might be surprised.
Outsourcing is a popular tip among time management gurus, but we settled on the term “downstreaming” instead, because outsourcing implies sending the project outside of the company to be completed, which isn’t always what we want to do. The idea of downstreaming isn’t to simply send things away that we don’t like doing; it’s to ensure that the person performing the task is the lowest person on the corporate hierarchy who is capable of accomplishing the task at a high standard. Sometimes that person is outside our company, sometimes that person is inside our company. For instance, if your top salesperson is spending time booking their travel arrangements, that’s an inefficiency that is costing them time and your company money. That task might be completed by a virtual assistant outside the company or an executive assistant inside the company. Either way, the idea is to make sure that we’re sending it downstream, so the people upstream are focusing on their core competencies, and nothing else.
Batching is another go-to productivity tip of nearly every efficiency expert. The basic idea is that if you have something you need to do a lot, it makes more sense to do it all at once than throughout the day, week, or month. For example, returning all of your phone calls at one time each day, makes more sense than returning them as they come in. Anyone who has practiced batching can attest to its effectiveness, but few people understand the science behind it, which is that the time required to shift attention between tasks is often greater than the time required to accomplish a task. In other words, if I was taking and responding to phone calls while writing this blog post, I would spend a lot of time reorienting myself towards writing, then reorienting myself towards making and receiving calls. By batching, I get “in state” to write, finish writing, then do the same thing for phone calls. I only have to switch gears one time, instead of switching gears constantly. Switching gears takes a lot of time—time that is instantly given back when you begin to batch.
IMPORTANT: Be on the lookout for forced multitasking. Incessantly buzzing and beeping cell phones demand your attention and cause you to constantly shift focus. iPhone’s have a “Do Not Disturb” mode that is, in my opinion, the best feature of the new OS update. Once activated, all notifications are turned off, with the exception of phone calls from your “Favorites” list.
This next point is going to seem like a direct violation of my last point, but the nuance here is important. While humans are terribly inefficient when multitasking between tasks that require effort and attention, there are some tasks that really don’t require any mental processing power, but still need to be done. As an example, I have to walk my dog several times a day. It doesn’t take any mental effort, but it takes up time. For these situations, I like to “anchor” two tasks together. So, now, whenever I take my dog for a walk, I take out my phone and call someone. It’s a way for me to network and walk at the same time. Showers are another great area for anchoring. I like to visualize my day and/or listen to podcasts and audiobooks through a waterproof speaker. Find the parts of your day where your brain is on autopilot, and put it to work doing something that is easily achieved in concert with the autopilot task.
The bottom line is that not every task needs to be done perfectly. I know this is blasphemous to the Steve Jobs school of management, wherein programmers don’t sleep for 3 weeks because the sound your computer makes when it turns on needs to be .ooo43 decibels higher, but I don’t think these Jobsian disciples understand the true message of those corporate urban legends. Jobs understood that little things could make a big difference, but he also understood which little things made a big difference. I have identified several areas of my life that I’d rather get 80% right in 20% of the time, than 100% right by spending 500% more time. Reading is one of these areas. I read dozens of business books every year. You know what I’ve realized? Two weeks after I read a book, I remember a few key concepts, maybe one or two illustrative examples, and nothing else. So, why am I reading the whole book?! Now, I use getabstract.com to read a 5-page summary of the book that lists the key concepts and a couple illustrative examples. I can read exponentially more books and retain almost as much information, as if I’d read the entire book. My guess is that you can skim most of your emails, most corporate memos, and most web content (blogs, articles, etc.) and get what you came for–a key concept or action item.
So, now that you have all of this extra time, what are you going to do with it? In my opinion, the correct answer is a bit counterintuitive. With no unnecessary tasks or distractions, you can do things more slowly, more carefully, and more expertly. The goal of efficiency, as I see it, isn’t to do more, so much as it is do more of what you love and to do it better than you’ve ever done it before. We all have those parts of our job that we love doing and we’re really good at doing. We want everyone at our company to be freed up to focus on those items, and never be bogged down or distracted by the other stuff. That’s what radical efficiency is all about–investing yourself fully and freely into the actions and relationships that bring you the most joy and fulfillment.
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