“We all have the time; the question of the quality of life is answered by how we spend it.” – Tony Robbins
Two of the most common, non-racing questions I get lately are these, in some form:
- How do you do all that you do?
- Do you ever sleep?
I find these entertaining, because, like most of us I assume, my self-doubt and mental framework tends to focus on the things that I DON’T do, the areas in which I fall short. Let me preface this (and any of these related posts) by insisting that I do not have it “all figured out.” Just like most of you, I’m a constant work in progress.
Am I an efficiency machine? Far from it. Am I proud of how far I’ve come in that regard, just in the last 2-3 years? Extremely.
The answers to the above questions… Yes, I sleep. Lately, I haven’t slept as much as I’d like, but that’s more due to the sleep habits of our two young sons than it is my work habits or lifestyle. How do I accomplish the things that I do on a regular basis? That’s a little bit more layered question; and that basic premise will be the subject of many of the blogs in this series. Developing distinct, measurable, intentional goals has been instrumental. Defining actionable processes to reach those goals, and prioritizing those into my daily routine is huge. Identifying and eliminating unessential and unimportant tasks is often difficult, but extremely necessary. Learning to “batch” or “chunk” my time and tasks is something I’ve found very beneficial. Incorporating automation in areas of business and life has helped significantly. As I’ve grown, specifically as a businessman, learning to say no (both when and how) has been instrumental. The thing that most people don’t realize is that I don’t do this on my own (that’s the dirty little secret that most successful people don’t really advertise: very few are truly “one man/woman shows”). Learning to delegate and surrounding myself with an incredible team is probably the single biggest factor to my personal and business growth (and in many ways, happiness).
Lots to digest (and many posts coming), but we have to start somewhere! In my experience, what little success I have experienced starts with one key process (that is largely related to many of the other principles I noted above… And we’ll get to all of that) that I think we can all benefit from: Scheduling our Days.
“Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.” – Tim Ferriss
Long before my wife and I were married, we adopted some core financial principles from Dave Ramsey. It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done, and we’re both huge advocates of Mr. Ramsey’s work. In following his teachings, we’ve developed a monthly budget every month for more than 8 years. When speaking of creating a monthly budget, one of Dave’s go-to quips is “You tell your money where to go… So that you don’t wonder where it went.”
I apply the same approach to my time. I budget time in the form of a schedule. There are a variety of ways to do this successfully: written lists, alarms, computer programs and apps, personal planners, etc. Personally, I seem to do better with a spreadsheet format that includes space for every waking hour of my day. A week in advance (Sunday evenings are typically my scheduling time), I budget my time for the upcoming week. Much like financial budgeting, it takes some practice to get it right. Also like financial planning, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Like a great many things, the thought of the task is much more daunting than the task itself.
The biggest key for me in scheduling my days is to not approach it like a to-do list. I’ve always been very task-oriented. And I love the feeling of marking items off of a to-do list. That still fits into my regular routine, but on a much smaller level (I’ll get to it in a future post). The beauty of laying out a schedule in advance is that I’m typically able to do so while I’m removed from the pulls of the “urgent,” which allows me to focus on the important. This is a topic that Stephen Covey wrote about at length in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
When I sit down to schedule my week, I begin by asking myself, “What’s important to me?” What makes me happy? What do I want to make sure not to miss this week?” These answers are typically pretty consistent, and inline with larger goals, ideals, and/or principles (again, topics I’ll touch on later). If I were to try to create my schedule at noon on Monday – picture the phone ringing with a call holding, text messages buzzing, social notifications beeping in, a to-do list a mile-long – rather than Sunday evening, my list would probably look much different. That’s because the stuff that we deem important is all too easily skewed by the urgent demands of the moment. This is why it’s so critical that I remove myself from these distractions when scheduling, and encourage myself to allocate my time with perspective.
“Thinking about your epitaph, as morbid as it is, is a nice way to cut through all the noise and force yourself to look at your work from a super zoomed-out perspective, where you can really see what matters to you.” – Tim Urban
Think about what needs to take priority. Again, writing it down or putting it into a spreadsheet in advance makes it so much easier to perform with clarity.
“Learn to ask, ‘If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?’” – Tim Ferriss
In short, developing a schedule gives me the power to say no to the distractions of the everyday, allowing me to focus on the tasks that are truly important to me. This goes for every facet of life; every role and goal that we all perform and seek to accomplish. Far too many of us in our culture wear our busy like a badge and go through life in a completely reactive state. I know, I’ve lived it. When I live in that reactive state, I feel busy all day long – it never stops, there’s always some urgent fire to put out or some disgruntled customer to make happy, some important person to impress – and yet at days end, I look back and struggle to pinpoint what I’ve accomplished. A few years back, I noticed those days turning into weeks, months, even years where it just felt like I was on a treadmill: working and digging, only to look up and feel as though I hadn’t really gotten anywhere. The only way to stop the cycle was to become actively intentional. Increasing productivity, and more importantly increasing happiness has as much to do with the distractions, projects, and opportunities that we turn down as it does the effort we put into the endeavors that we choose to pursue.
“What we don’t do determines what we can do.” – Tim Ferriss
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs
When I sit down to a blank week ahead of me, I begin with one important question: What’s really important to me this week? Again, the answers (multiple) are typically relatively consistent and inline with a larger vision: try to think in terms of years, rather than weeks (much less days or hours). Whatever the answers to this core question, that’s what goes on the schedule first. That makes sense, right? It’s most important!
For me, my order of importance typically begins with self-care and growth. I come first. Does that sound selfish? Good. I think it is – and that’s intentional. I am confident (the kind of confidence that comes from experience) that I am not capable of helping or taking care of others if I cannot take care of myself. So I work constantly to train my mind, my body, and my craft. I come first. This means that the first things that go onto my planner include exercise, reading time, writing time, stretching, meditation, and more (I experiment fairly regularly, so my weekly schedule is pretty fluid).
Once I’ve blocked off some time for me, family is next. I’m very happily married. I have two young sons. Mentors (and just about everyone for that matter) tell me that time (specifically time with small children) goes by fast. I don’t want it to; so I try not to let it. Every phase of my life, whether it seems incredible in the moment or not, is just that. And I’ve lived enough to know that every phase is finite. I’m going to wake up one day and my kids are going to be in high school, or out on their own. I realize that all parents fight that internal battle between being the provider and being there for our spouses and children. It’s not an easy thing to balance. And yet, as parents, it may well be the most important balance of our lives.
My wife and kids deserve my time (and more importantly my attention: scheduling time alone is not enough) – and when I step back and look at the big picture, there’s no one else I’d rather give it to. So I schedule it in (right after the personal, just for me stuff that comes first): date nights alone with my wife, independent time with each of my boys, and family time when we’re all together.
Next are my friends.
Whatever time is left on my schedule gets dedicated to my businesses. Often (gasp) as little as 25-30 hours a week (and I’m actively working to continue to shrink that number).
How do I do that? More importantly, how can you do that? It’s easier than you think (OK, easy may not be a great word, but it IS possible). More to come.