Time is the most important asset we have. It’s the asset we all have equal amounts of, regardless of location, income, race or gender. Time represents true equality. If there’s a meaning to life, in my view, it is to use your time as best you can (however you choose to define this).
Let’s be realistic. You can’t get back time and save it for later. You can only get back time and put it to use on other things. There are 24 hours in the day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks in a year. Some of this time you’ll put to good use and some of it will go to waste. So when I say ‘how can you get back some time’, what I really mean is ‘how can I get time back from wasteful activities and put it to better use?’.
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To start, you need to have a good understanding of where your time is currently being spent? Whether you use time tracking tools or even just looking at your calendar, what you’re really trying to determine is:
- What am I spending time on that’s getting me closer to my desired outcome(s)?
- What I am spending time on that’s not helping me or taking me further from my desired outcome(s)?
You can ask these questions within the context of your work, business and your personal life. Time doesn’t care if you’re working or relaxing. Every second of the day, our time is slowly ticking away and we’ll never get it back.
To ‘get time back’ from wasteful activities and put it to use on things that you consider to be a good use of time, there are four things you can do.
The first and maybe the most obvious thing you can do is simply not do that thing anymore. This is my favourite way to be more productive; do less.
For example, years ago, I offered Mailchimp support as a service. But I found that the Mailchimp projects were always a lot more time consuming for the same financial return. I realised that if I simply stopped offering this as a service, more of my time could be put towards other services that yielded a greater return. By eliminating this service, I was able to get back some time and put it towards other services that were a better use of time.
Elimination should always be the preferred option. Unfortunately, we can’t eliminate everything we do. There are always going to be things you have to do which is why the next option is to streamline or simplify.
Streamlining is about taking the things you have to do (they can’t be eliminated) and streamlining the process so they take less time. Why spend an hour doing something that can be done in 30 minutes?
My wife and I hate doing the grocery shopping. You have to drive to the supermarket, find parking, walk around the store and find everything you need (inevitably I end up doing 3 laps for the store), pack the car and drive home. It’s a huge waste of time.
We find it a lot quicker to order our groceries online. Sometimes this means we don’t get everything we want if items are out of stock or if we forget something but it’s a sacrifice we’re happy to make. By streamlining the process, we can cut a 1-2 hour activity down to around 15 minutes.
In my business, we use a lot of checklists. Having a checklist helps me to do my work a lot quicker than if I had to remember how I did it last time.
So streamlining is about taking the things you need to do and making the process more efficient. But even better than this is automating your tasks so you don’t even have to do them.
Firstly, there’s no point automating a process that doesn't need to be done (eliminate) or that hasn’t been simplified first (streamline).
Once you’ve identified work that can be automated, this is where you can really start to get back some time. Automation tools like Zapier, Hazel, TextExpander, Alfred and Keyboard Maestro allow me to do things without actually using any time to do them myself.
For example, when a new lead inquires to work with me, they book a call via Calendly. Zapier takes the booking information and adds it to Pipedrive where I manage my leads. It also updates my email provider, ConvertKit, and sends an automated email response with next steps. Finally, tasks are assigned to me and my assistant to confirm the appointment. This saves me a few minutes for each new lead and if we multiply that by 20-30 leads per month, we’re starting to see some real time savings.
I use Hazel to automatically save and file all the invoices and receipts that I receive. And I use ConvertKit to keep in touch with customers and nurture leads.
Automation has allowed me to get back time that can now be used to increase our capacity and grow the business. Unfortunately, not everything can be automated; some things need a human touch. But even then, there’s one more option.
By outsourcing part of your work, you can get back time by having other people do the heavy lifting for you.
Here are a few things I outsource:
- Accounting » I have an accountant prepare our financial statements and file tax returns. Not only is this something I don't want to do, I wouldn’t know where to start.
- Admin and Content work » I’ve been working with a virtual assistant (VA) for a few years now and wouldn’t go back. My VA, Judy, helps with some of the daily admin tasks related to my business. She also helps prepare blog posts, podcasts and videos for publishing. I used to do all this myself but by creating an easy to follow process (streamlining) I can outsource this to someone else.
- Contract work » In the last few years I’ve onboarded a few contractors who help me to service clients. I have a full-time automation expert who does all Zapier and automation work for our clients. I also have a few Asana and Pipedrive experts that my clients can book coaching calls with. As I’ve grown, I’ve realised I was becoming the bottleneck and I can’t be the one to help everyone. Using contractors helps me to service clients in less time (which they love) and it increases our capacity.
I appreciate that outsourcing isn’t an option for everyone. If you’re starting a new business or you have a full-time job, maybe this isn’t an option yet. But it’s a great goal to aim for. When I first started my business, I did everything myself. After a few years of growing my income, I was able to afford outside help. In the 4-Hour Workweek, author Tim Ferriss talks about how even full-time salaried employees can use a VA to do parts of their job. Executives usually have assistants, why can’t you?
When exploring these options, it’s important to approach things in this order. There's no point outsourcing something that can be automated. You shouldn’t automate something before it’s been streamlined. And you shouldn’t do any of these things if the work can be eliminated.