One hundred and sixty-eight hours. That’s how much time any of us has to accomplish our tasks and goals each week—at work, at home and out in the world.
Sleep seven hours per night and that window closes to just 119 hours.
If you feel like you spend too much of that time stuck doing things that don’t add value to your life and the lives of the people you care about, you’re not alone. The good news: It’s easier than ever to generate stronger results, both personally and professionally, while actually making less effort.
The key: Work smarter, not harder, by taking a few steps that can make you significantly more efficient and effective—freeing up precious hours each day that you can reclaim to live a better life.
For advice on how to do exactly that, we turned to a guy who literally wrote the book on working smarter—several books, actually—Ari Meisel. The founder of Less Doing and a world-renowned productivity consultant to businesses and individuals, Meisel highlights a three-part framework to achieving better results with less effort:
- Automate; and
Optimize: Streamline How You Do Your Tasks
Optimizing means breaking down tasks—in business and in life—to their bare minimum and eliminating anything that’s not completely necessary. Optimizing asks you to stop and examine exactly what you are doing and how. What is the specific task at hand, and how can you simplify it even further?
The goal is to get to the smallest number of actions that will produce a desired outcome. Don’t try to do the most possible; do the least necessary. Just because you spend a lot of time doing something doesn’t mean you’re doing it well.
Optimizing your time, energy and resources requires you to take two actions:
1. Identify Your Current Patterns
You need to be able to identify your current patterns before you can adjust or eliminate activities or behaviors. Start by tracking habitual tasks or behaviors that you’re interested in changing or getting rid of—what you’re working on, how long those tasks take, how many things you are doing at once, how much money you spend on food, how many times you ate at your desk. Assigning data to your day-to-day routine shows you where you can improve and can boost your sense of control. (Knowledge is power, as they say.)
You can start to track behaviors and time in a journal or a notebook. Or you can use technology and apps. There are apps that track your time, that automatically tell you if you’re headed toward a traffic jam (perfect if you have to get to a meeting with a prospect, or pick up the kids across town), apps that track your spending and net worth, and, of course, tech that measures how many steps you’ve taken throughout your day.
2. Implement the 80/20 Rule in All You Do
Typically, only about 20% of your actions drive 80% of your results. So once you identify the steps you take to complete a variety of tasks, you can focus on doing the 20% that really have an impact—and jettison or reorganize the other 80%. Some examples:
- Emails: You could probably eliminate 60% to 75% of the volume in your email inbox simply by setting a filter to immediately file every email that has the word “unsubscribe” in it (an indicator of ads and spam and other nonessential emails) to an optional folder. This one move makes your inbox a place for productivity and getting things done. Later, you can fly through the unessential emails much faster when you address them at a time of your choosing.
- Clients: If you serve clients, it’s likely that about 20% of them account for about 80% of your revenue. Focus the bulk of your time and attention on them—once you’ve tracked your client base and know which ones make up that 20%.
Automate: Set It and Forget It
Once you’ve streamlined tasks, automate all you possibly can. Essentially, automating means examining all of the bite-size tasks left over after optimizing and determining what software and/or processes can be used to get them done without human interaction. This ability to let go can save time and provide a stronger sense of freedom, too.
Example: There are lots of ways to automate activities around the house to save time, such as the subscription services offered by online retailers. You can, for example, arrange to automatically purchase water filters (or dog food or just about any regularly replaced item) and have them mailed to you every few weeks or months. Once you’ve automated such tasks—“set it”—you can then “forget it” and spend your time focused on things that are more productive, fun or both.
Along the same lines, tech-enabled appliances can make mundane tasks such as grocery shopping more automated. One example: Smart refrigerators often come with super-wide angle cameras mounted inside the fridge—allowing you to see your inventory from your smartphone while you’re at the grocery store. Some also come loaded with voice assistants (think Alexa) that you can use to set timers, add items to your grocery list and call up recipes.
Bonus: Automating tasks not only frees up time and mental energy but also helps ensure you make fewer mistakes. If you automate reminders to do important tasks or reorder important items, you can greatly lower the risk of frustrating human errors. Automatic bill pay is a great example. Even if you don’t write a check anymore, you probably pay your bills yourself online. Instead, you can set up automatic recurring payments and remove any chance of the mortgage or other important bills slipping by you when life gets hectic.
Outsource: Take It Off Your Plate
Can’t automate it? Pass it off to someone else. Outsourcing means delegating—which can require a big mental shift if you believe you’re the only person in your life capable of performing certain tasks, and that your fingerprints must be on virtually every activity within your company (or department or family).
The problem: That “do-everything” mindset is incredibly limiting. It doesn’t make sense to put yourself in a position where you are 100% essential. You need to strike a balance between the absolutely necessary and the off-loading of nonessential tasks to achieve optimal workflow, peak output, productivity—and a nice life!
Remember, you want to focus on the 20% of your actions that yield 80% of the results. Taking the bulk of your daily tasks off your plate can free up the time and energy to do so.
One great way to outsource business and personal items on your to-do list: Hire a virtual assistant to perform tasks, do research into topics you need to know more about and so on. A virtual assistant can make a dinner reservation or doctor’s appointment, find and send the perfect gift, gather information and medical reports on a health condition a family member is experiencing and even manage projects (on the high end).
Example: You’re lying in bed at the end of the day, when you suddenly remember that you need to make an appointment to see the dentist. So you alert your virtual assistant. He or she is obviously not going to make the appointment immediately, at 11 p.m. But the fact is, you are done as soon as you send that request—done worrying about it, thinking about it and even doing it. All you have to do is show up for the appointment.
Ultimately, delegating through a virtual assistant is a muscle that you need to exercise (like any other). People find it tough to say no. But if delegating is not an option you give yourself, you’re going to feel even more hard-pressed to say yes and get in over your head.
Best advice: Start small, on tasks that you feel aren’t mission critical. A few good outsourcing experiences may very well encourage you to farm out bigger and bigger tasks that free up serious extra time.
Your time is a rare and valuable resource—so start using it to your full advantage. These three strategies can help you do tasks more efficiently or eliminate them entirely, leaving you with more bandwidth.
Choosing a Virtual Assistant
Within the virtual assistant world, you have two main options:
- Dedicated assistant. A dedicated assistant is just as it sounds. You have one person assigned to you specifically. That person gets to know you and your preferences. You can train him or her in the specific things you like: direct morning flights, aisle seats, Enterprise versus Hertz. One negative of a dedicated assistant is that he or she is usually more expensive than an on-demand assistant. Also, if that person gets sick or can’t make it to work for whatever reason, unless you have backup systems in place, there will be a bottleneck.
- On-demand assistant. An on-demand assistant is on the other end of the virtual assistant spectrum. There can be thousands of assistants in the pool. Usually, on-demand assistants are best for low-focus tasks that don’t require a lot of explanation—such as making reservations or setting appointments. On-demand assistants are almost always less expensive than dedicated assistants. You can have support 24/7 because there’s always someone in the assistant pool ready to get to work.
Eric Lawton is president of Impact Financial Wealth Management and Family Office Services.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This article was published by the BSW Inner Circle, a global financial concierge group working with affluent individuals and families and is distributed with its permission. Copyright 2020 by AES Nation, LLC.
Impact Financial Wealth Management, AES Nation LLC and LPL Financial are separate entities.