Are you tired of ending your work week with more items on your to-do list than you started with? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get more time in your week?! What if you could accomplish more, by doing less?
It turns out, there is a way to get some of that precious time back. You don’t have to be a slave to the never-ending to-do list!
We all inherently know that time is our most limited non-renewable resource, but we don’t always treat it that way, do we? You can always go get more money. You can find ways to restore your energy. But once time is gone, it’s gone. Forever.
So, how we spend it is deeply important. And this matters to you. Because if you’re like most small business owners, much of your time is spent putting out fires. Most of us are barely keeping our heads above water as it is.
Accomplish more by doing… less
Nope, this isn’t magic. It’s one of those ideas that seems blindingly obvious in hindsight, but it’s something few of us are actually doing.
What’s the key? Do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
Let me say that again: do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
Before you dismiss this as overly simplistic:
- How many times this year have you spent time replying to a few “quick emails”… when you should have been working to optimize your sales funnel?
- Or, how many times have you spent hours tweaking tiny details on your website… when you should have been training one of your team members to take some annoying and time-consuming task off of your plate?
- How many items on your to-do list this week will truly impact your business in a meaningful way?
If we’re honest with ourselves, many (most?) of the things that work their way to the top of our task list any given day or week are the things we like to do, are good at, can get done quickly, or give us a dopamine hit when we cross it off the list. But all too often these are not the most important items to get done.
So, what will it take to do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t? It really comes down to four key principles.
Are you actually setting aside time for high-leverage work on purpose? You have to choose: will you stay on the hamster wheel of working in the business? Or are you going to get off the wheel and work on the business on purpose instead?
Do you even know what you’re trying to accomplish and why it matters? Until you can clearly articulate what you want to achieve, you will continue to use time haphazardly.
Even if you’re being extremely intentional about working on the business and you have extreme clarity on what you’re trying to accomplish, there will always be more work to do than there is time available. So, you absolutely must prioritize the work to be done. The highest leverage work has to go to the top of the list.
A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.John Maxwell
There’s a clear corollary for this: prioritizing your list is telling your time where to go instead of wondering where it went. We’ll talk more about a tool to help with prioritization in a bit.
Highly focused people do not leave their options open. They select their priorities and are comfortable ignoring the rest. If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.James Clear
Let that sink in for a moment. You must focus on your top priority and only your top priority until it’s completed. Having a prioritized list of valuable work is worthless if you don’t actually focus on the top priorities.
The alternative is to continue making an inch of progress in a hundred directions, instead of miles of progress in a single valuable direction.
But what about the fires?
I asserted earlier that many small business owners spend much of their time just putting out fires. And those don’t just magically go away. Many of the fires do, in fact, need to be dealt with.
Fires can be dealt with in one of two ways:
- Real fires need to be put out. So put them out! Then get back to your prioritized list of tasks.
- Recognize that many “fires” actually aren’t fires at all. This will take some practice, but if you’re diligent you’ll begin to see that many of the things that seem to demand your time aren’t nearly as urgent as they first appear.
I don’t know of a better tool to help in making this distinction than the Eisenhower Matrix. Popularized by Stephen Covey in the 90s, this is a simple and effective tool for classifying work to be done.
Notice how only tasks in one of the quadrants (both urgent and important) truly qualify as fires that need to be put out right away. Your task list is probably filled up with fake fires, though - things that are urgent but not important. Tasks in the urgent/not important quadrant are perhaps the most dangerous and sneaky because they appear to be fires at first glance. They demand immediate attention, but in reality are not very consequential.
If you’re going to succeed in doing more of what matters, then this is the first place for you to focus on. Start asking yourself whether each thing that feels urgent each day actually is important. If it is important, it’s a real fire! Put it out and figure out how to prevent it from happening again! If it’s not important, then make the decision to defer it or delegate it to someone else.
Your goal should be to spend most of your time working on things that are not urgent but are important. And you should ruthlessly eliminate all of the things that are neither urgent nor important.
A practical step to do more, by doing less
This is all great, but you need an actual plan if this is going to work for you. So here’s a new habit for you to consider installing into your day. Feel free to customize the details to work for you, but this is what has been working for me for years.
But first, a couple of disclaimers:
- I’d be lying if I told you that I always execute perfectly on this - I’m constantly fighting the temptation to chase things in the Urgent column of the Eisenhower Matrix. The practice has become much easier to maintain over time, though. So the longer you do this, the more natural it will feel.
- All of what follows assumes that you’ve actually started making time to work on the business and that you’ve clearly identified the mission you’re on. If you haven’t taken these two steps, then it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to even determine what belongs in the Important column of the Eisenhower Matrix.
Your new habit
- Begin every single week by identifying the most important work for this week.
- Helper question: What 3 things, if you accomplished them this week would represent substantial progress toward your goals? If you actually finished these, would it be a huge “win” for the week?
- Begin every single day by identifying your most important work for today.
- Helper question: What 3 things, if you accomplished them today would be a win? If you accomplished these, would you end the day confident you used the day well and that you’d made progress on your 3 objectives for the week?
- Claim time on your calendar. Right now. If you don’t, someone or something else will.
- Think of your calendar as your budgeting tool for your time. Spend your time on paper, on purpose.
- Actually do what you planned to do!
- Your plan is worthless if you don’t actually follow through. Of course, there will always be challenges, but to every degree possible you should strive to actually stick to the plan you made.
- Finish every day and every week with a review of your progress.
- Helper question: Did you complete what you set out to accomplish? If not, why not?
- Helper question: What must you accomplish tomorrow? Next week? Answering this question at the end of the day/week when everything is fresh gives you a real advantage over trying to remember tomorrow/next week.
As you build this new habit, you’ll discover that you can easily accomplish this in 10 minutes or less. But the return on investment for those 10 minutes is absolutely massive. You will likely save yourself from spending hours each day on work that is less important.
Be sure to give yourself some grace as you start with this. You will not execute perfectly in the first week or two. And remember, this isn’t magic. You’ll still have to do the hard work of identifying your most important tasks and then actually do them.
If you embrace this, though, I am confident that this will become a transformational practice for you. You will be spending time on the things that matter the most. You’ll finish your days and weeks with a sense of true accomplishment. You’ll feel in control of your time and your schedule. You’ll find that you actually have more time to invest in your most important relationships. And your business will grow!
PS: If the whole idea of accomplishing more by doing less is appealing to you, then here are just a few of my favorite resources on the topic.