During your day, you have a lot going on. Email, phone calls, meetings, interviews, driving, answering questions, tech support, coding, hosting webinars and whatever else you have to accomplish during those hours that you’ve defined as “work.”
Interruptions abound and productivity drops. Your day is spent playing catch-up on a million other tasks, trying to get your to-do list down to nothing, which rarely, if ever, happens.
The funny thing is so often, the thing(s) that truly need to get done to move your business forward never get accomplished. It’s unlikely you are suddenly going to find 30 hours in a day and even more unlikely that people will suddenly stop making demands on your time. So how do you accomplish that one task that unquestionably needs to get done but still have time for everything else?
Time blocking is the concept of sitting down once a week for just five minutes and scheduling time for yourself.
First introduced to me in my current favourite business book, The One Thing, time blocking is the practice of using your calendar to schedule “me time.” Or, as graphic designer Shawn Hooghkirk refers to it, “scheduling time for your most important client: yourself.”
No doubt you’ve heard this concept before, yet so few people actually take the time to do it. They think, “I’m going to work for two hours a day on X,” but then things come up. The phone rings. The baby cries. The boss walks in. Soon, that “me time” turns into “we time” and the can is kicked down the road for another day.
That project that’s going to revolutionise your life is, once again, put on the back burner, replaced by tasks that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t truly matter.
Time blocking is more than simply hoping and wishing for the availability to work on a project. Hoping and wishing are not going to cut it in a busy world – you must schedule it!
Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Others make it happen. – Michael Jordan
If you want it to really happen, you need to schedule it and treat it like your most important meeting of the year.
Time blocking is a mindset that says “no” to interruptions and forces you to specifically take time in your day to work on your most important tasks.
It’s a mentality that says “Nothing but life-or-death emergencies can interrupt me from my time.” It’s telling other people that this time is “off limits” for interruptions. It’s a conscious choice that you make long before you arrive at the moment.
When you schedule that time for yourself and hold to it fiercely, two amazing things happen:
- You get your most important task accomplished quicker, more thoroughly, and with more enjoyment.
- You are still able to handle all those other tasks in your life.
People will adjust to your time blocking. You’ll still get to your busy work. Emails won’t get missed, phone calls will get returned, but you’ll be immensely more successful because of your “me time.”
Understand that time blocking is not just for business. Anything in your life that you want to focus on improving should be time blocked.
After all, what’s more important? A meeting with a client or ongoing dates with your spouse? Hopefully, you said “ongoing dates with your spouse,” but why do your client meetings get preferential treatment and dates relinquished to “when we have time”?
My first venture into time blocking was while writing my recent real estate investing book. Later, I used it to time block several hours a day to improving my book sales.
Then, I scheduled more time to sit down and work on nothing but improving the weekly real estate investing webinars I host on BiggerPockets, the website I work for.
Today, I even time block my P90X workouts, to write articles for BiggerPockets and Entrepreneur, dates with my wife, YouTube videos, church activities and other things that I deem as “most important” in my life.
Time blocking is not difficult to plan for, but can be incredibly difficult to do. You’ll be tempted to break from your time block to work on other things. However, the following six-step process has helped me time block my most important activities to get the most out of my day.
1. Schedule your time blocks
At the beginning of the week (I like Sunday evenings), sit down and deliberately and specifically define your week. Physically write it on your desk calendar or make the dates in your computer’s calendar.
2. Find a quiet place to work with no interruptions
You may need to leave the office or your home to accomplish your task. Coffee shops, rented office space, the local park – you get the idea. Pick a spot that will help you focus with minimal distractions.
3. Let others know
If you work closely with other people, let them know (politely) that you’ll be head down in some significant work for your time block, and you’ll be checking your email when you return.
Be sure to let someone know where you are, though, in case there truly is a life-or-death emergency.
4. Turn off your phone and other tech traps
I know, blasphemy! But your cell phone will rob you of your productivity. Turn it off, along with anything else that will rob you of your time.
5. Be held accountable
As with any new habit, it’s a good idea to allow someone else to hold you accountable. Whether that’s an individual, a mastermind group or some other structure, you are more likely to hold to your goals when other people are helping you keep your promises to yourself.
Related: Can productivity tools help me?
6. Keep your promise to yourself
Finally, in the words of Nike, “just do it!” Actually sit down and work on your most important projects for your time block. Don’t let anything stop you!
Time blocking has completely changed my life, and I believe it can change yours. People will begin to ask you, as they often inquire of me, “How do you get so much done?”
You’ll be able to look at them, smile, and reply: “Time blocking!”
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Become A Life-Hacker
Life-hacking is about accomplishing more in less time, with less stress, at a lower cost with the use of simple digital tools.
When Martijn Aslander was 17, he was running a company that had 60 part-time employees from the back of a classroom. By the time he was 21 he had two companies, and was directing 140 people. At 27 he decided to sell his companies, and ended up bankrupt as a result of the experience.
What looked like a complete disaster actually ended up being the single best lesson Martijn could learn. He woke up the next day and everything was still there. He had his arms and legs; he had his health. And the worst had happened, which meant that nothing could go wrong anymore. From that moment, anything was possible.
He then asked himself a key question: How big is the chance you will do this again? The answer was simple: There was no chance. Big lessons had been learnt. At that moment, Martijn realised that there was no point in ever getting upset when something goes wrong. It happens. The next time you will fly.
Martijn believes that we are always looking for the next challenges. Millionaires want to be billionaires. Billionaires want to win a Nobel Prize. There is always another goal. So how do you find success and happiness? By asking how you can contribute the most to mankind. In many ways, Martijn was already a life-hacker. At 17 he’d discovered a way to make money without doing much work, simply by being smarter and spotting a niche.
At 27 he learnt that possibilities are what you make of them, and the more you share, the greater your impact, and the more you will receive.
These are his rules to becoming a life-hacker, and doing more in less time, with less stress, at lower costs.
1. Don’t operate on untested assumptions
Most of the fears that people have, and particularly entrepreneurs, are based on assumptions that they haven’t tested. And most untested assumptions are simply not true. They live as ghosts and monsters in your head, but they’re not real.
We live in a very interesting time, where it’s actually risky to be safe. Safe doesn’t exist, and it never has, because you are never in charge of all the events that take place around you. Change is the only constant. For centuries we’ve operated on the notion of survival of the fittest. He who is strongest will win. This is also a faulty assumption. Success today isn’t about strength — it’s about the ability to adapt to new circumstances. Over the last ten years more circumstances than ever before have changed, and the rate is just accelerating.
You have to have an open mind; you have to learn to be flexible.
2. If you’re in the business of doing business, you will soon be out of business
How do you measure business success? Be careful that your strategy isn’t focused on possessions — fancy offices, a big building, or cars as status symbols. If you’re too focused on things, you’ll be too afraid of losing your stuff. Entrepreneurs who are focused on a higher purpose concentrate on improving themselves, their people and doing the best for their clients. They’re far less afraid of sudden changes and turmoil, because possessions aren’t as important, which makes them agile and adaptable — exactly who you want to be in a changing world.
I see it as the rise of the ‘funpreneur’. The rise of a new breed of people who are focused on doing what they love, and who aspire to a higher cause, instead of just focusing on the business side of things. It’s tough to compete with people who don’t do business models, but focus on purpose instead.
3. Give your teams the freedom to adapt
There are two types of teams — those who are flexible, have an open mind, and are willing to adapt to new conditions and environments, and those who are terrified of making mistakes and therefore seldom venture out of the established norm.
The type of team that forms the foundation of your business is up to you. Are you hiring people with flexible, open minds and giving them the freedom to make mistakes, or do you stifle innovation in your organisation?
Remember that mistakes are often the only way to learn something. If people are really dissatisfied with their own errors and performance, they will internalise the experience far more deeply. There will always be some mistakes. My advice is to create an environment where everyone learns from mistakes — their own and those that others make — and try to make mistakes that you will benefit the most from by encouraging your team to take chances. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to make mistakes on purpose, but create a safe environment and deal with mistakes in a way that shares the lessons, and instils the learnings in your business.
4. Make a ‘not-to-do’ list
We’re so busy making ‘to-do’ lists that we forget to make ‘not-to-do’ lists. Remember that you’re in charge of your life, and you can go in any direction you want. Yes, there will be circumstances that influence your life, but ultimately you can change everything. There’s less financial risk than ever before in doing business. You don’t need big offices, buildings, or cars. Everything you need to make an impact is at your disposal. The only things holding us back are our assumptions.
While you are creating your to-do lists and strategies, take some time to write down what you shouldn’t be doing — what you don’t want to do, what you should avoid — the business or person you don’t want to be. Focus on what you love, and build a great life around those principles. Don’t allow yourself to live in fear.
5. Leverage the holy trinity of dynamics
I believe there are only three things you need for success: People, information and ideas. With these three things, you can set anything in motion.
An idea in itself is worthless. It’s really nothing else but combined information; creatively connecting unconnected dots. The ability to make ideas materialise in this world however holds value, and for that you need people and information. Information is the bridge between ideas and the people who make them happen. What’s incredible is that we are living in an information society.
There are more people connected than ever before. We’re living in a network age and an information age, which means you can focus on all three, connect the dots, and unleash an unprecedented amount of ideas.
6. You don’t need a budget to innovate
The Chief Commander of the Dutch Army approached me to help him find a way to innovate that didn’t involve cutting into his budget. My question to him was, ‘Why do you need budget?’ There are 50 000 geeks in the Netherlands who dream of flying in a jet fighter or being submerged under the ocean. Simply by redeploying assets they already have, the Dutch Army can make these dreams come true.
So many organisations miss this crucial point. Money is naturally scarce, and the dynamics of money are weird. People are afraid to spend it because it’s scarce, and they’re uncertain if what they’re spending it on is a risk or not. As soon as there’s a financial risk, and you don’t know the outcome, you’re hesitant to jump in. And this ends up stalling innovation, because there’s an over-riding belief that you need money to innovate.
But what about applying other resources other than money alone? Always consider what you can do with the resources you already have. This will take financial risk out the equation, which will lead to less fear. Once fear is gone, people step in, open up and contribute. If you get rid of the risk, you enable your team. In many cases, finance is not an enabler, it’s a disabler.
Imagine if you could stop asking for money and setting your price, and instead asked your clients to pay what they believe your services are worth. You’d quickly either make more money, or realise you’re helping the wrong businesses, or not demonstrating your value clearly enough.
Entrepreneurs know this — they’re used to bootstrapping and being creative. The problem is that as we grow, we forget, and start becoming reliant on money to grow. And this stifles us.
So how do you begin to use the resources you have? Start by targeting the one percent of your clients that are able to do 100 or 1 000 fold what they are paying you in terms of money. What can you barter or trade with them? What resources can you offer each other that are actually more valuable than money? What could your clients potentially do for you that would actually save you money? Or what would they love to pay for, that you potentially aren’t offering right now?
Every single organisation has resources that they can deploy without financial loss. Start with 1% and build on it.
7. Build your social capital
Social capital builds monetary capital. It’s not the other way around, and yet so often we focus on monetary capital first. Instead, focus on achieving something that will lead to monetary capital. I give away my social capital freely. I share my books and ideas for free. It clears my mind, and I know that I can create ideas faster than you can steal them anyway. That’s how you should view ideas. Giving away social capital gives you access, and then you don’t need money — that’s the secret to success.
People are too careful with their social capital — particularly their ideas. I promise you this — the chances of becoming a millionaire with just one idea are miniscule. If that’s your strategy, it’s not only dangerous, but you’re wasting your time. If you become someone who can share ideas freely, and focus on bringing people, knowledge and ideas together instead, your chances of success have grown exponentially.
Remember, people love to share, and you want to tap into that. Look for zero plus, not zero sum.
8. Become a life-hacker
The term ‘life-hacker’ was coined in 2005 by tech journalist Danny O’Brien. He was covering a group of programmers who were very productive, and yet they weren’t stressed. They were satisfied. How did they manage to be productive and stress-free? The secret wasn’t only in what they were doing — but in how they were sharing those secrets and tools.
I personally use a few hundred tools that allow me to do a lot more in less time, and I’m happy to share the tactics that help me to work smarter. This is why I launched the lifehacking.nl website, but all the contributors on the site share the same philosophy — we freely share our insights to help others. This is a critical element to life-hacking. There is so much information out there, so many ways to access insights and information. Are you using them? Are you learning and using the tools available? There are tools that can save you hundreds of hours a year. Tap into them. We can learn so much from each other; get the best people possible in your posse and in your community.
9. Understand the dichotomies of knowledge workers
Knowledge work is something new. Traditional business systems are based on hands. You exchange time for money. But today we are working with our heads, and the reality is that you cannot work with your head for eight hours a day, particularly in artificially-constructed work hours. One third of the population work best in the evening, and yet they’re expected to arrive at the office at 8am sharp. Not only are they causing traffic jams, but they’re not working in their optimal conditions either. We need to rethink the model. We need to stop treating computers like modern typewriters. We seem to think that answering hundreds of emails is working. It’s not. We’re all just distracting each other.
Digital skills are nowhere on the strategic agenda of boards. The time and skills of your employees are the most valuable asset you have, and yet we aren’t doing anything to help our employees become life-hackers. Digital skills won’t only help your teams to work smarter and save time, but become real assets, and not just glorified typists. If you focus on digital skills, your ability to find information and ideas faster than anyone else will grow, allowing you to spread those ideas, learn faster than your competitors and entrench strategic skills in your organisation. Take these skills and invest in them heavily. It’s a true differentiator.
IN YOUR TOOLKIT
Create your own time
Life-hacking is all about learning from others and using tools and technology to do things smarter and faster. There are many ways to achieve this goal — you just need to be open to them. Take Pepe Marais, co-founder of Joe Public United, South Africa’s largest independent advertising agency.
Four years ago, Pepe decided to employ a driver. “This solution isn’t for everyone, and it took me a full three months to get used to the idea, but once I got over my own insecurities, it was a revelation. I have gained 32 hours a month — that’s the equivalent of one full work week — simply through using my travel time constructively.”
Learn from the Titans
Tim Ferriss is the master of getting more done in less time — and he’s made it his business to share these tips and lessons with others.
Read this: Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss’s epic amalgamation of hundreds of tactics, routines and habits, collected over the course of two years from the world’s most successful business people and world-class performers, and distilled into a notebook of tips and tricks to use in your every-day life and business.
Listen to this: A summary of the book is available on Audible.com (another key tool for life-hacking and a great way to maximise your time in traffic and the gym by listening to business ‘how to’ books and top biographies).
Watch for free: Accelerated learning with Tim Ferriss is a 13-minute video available on Youtube and below. If you want to maximise your ability to learn quickly and efficiently, start here.
14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity
These morning rituals will give you a boost toward success.
Developing the perfect morning routine that maximises your lifestyle and predilections while squeezing the most productivity out of your days is a trial-and-error process. One size doesn’t fit all. You have to know yourself in order to customize the best morning routine. Do you need coffee to even get into the shower? Then build it into your routine, and prepare your coffee maker the night before, so you simply have to wake up and hit the “on” switch.
The good news is that there are best practices in the morning that have been proven to make the most of time and capitalize on the body’s biorhythm and that have been widely practiced by wildly successful business moguls and entrepreneurs.
So take a look at the next 14 slides to see what morning routine hacks you can build into your ritual to ramp up productivity and create your best life.
Finding Your WHY This Year (Why Do YOU Get Up In The Mornings?)
If you wake up every day for something you believe in, you will live your purpose.
I had a long conversation with a colleague and I asked her if she knew why she did what she did. What was her reason for getting up in the morning?
I contemplated the question I had just asked and realised it was not such an easy question to answer. I had spent years figuring out what’s important to me in my life and my career but had not yet figured out exactly why I do what I do. Why do I get out of bed every day and do this advertising thing? What do I believe in and why do I believe in it? What is my why?
This led me down an interesting road of self-discovery, and it soon led me to Simon Sinek. I immersed myself in his podcasts, TED talks and books and began to understand why some companies are successful and why some aren’t. I learnt about the Golden Circle and how all companies know what they do and how they do it, but very few know why. I learnt that people don’t buy into what you do, they buy into why you do it.
Simon says, (sorry, I had to!) “There are only two ways to influence human behaviour: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
We are inspired by leaders and organisations that communicate what they believe in. They have the ability to make us feel special, safe, like we belong, and like we’re not alone.
Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King and the Wright Brothers are great examples of people that started from the inside out, they all started with their why.
Sinek points out that “Leaders have a rank but those who lead, inspire. It’s leadership’s responsibility to point North, say where we’re going and allow everybody else to figure out how to get there.”
I could see the value in these great leaders finding their why but I hadn’t quite answered my own question – What is my why?
Using the Golden Circle I worked my way from the clarity of my ‘what’ to the fuzziness of my ‘why’.
The more I unpacked this, the more I realised how it influences so much more than just my career choices. It influences my life choices as well. It impacts my relationships with my colleagues, my goals and it helps me prioritise what is important and what isn’t.
I’ve learnt that to truly understand your why, you need to understand what it is that you believe in and value. You need to allow these beliefs and values to guide you – to become your North Star. Your compass. When you know where you’re going, (and why) you’re flexible along your journey. But if your destination is unclear, the route you’re taking and the obstacles that come with it become your focus.
Knowing what you do is easy.
Knowing why you do it, that’s the part that takes work.
But once you’ve figured it out, you’ll find yourself being drawn to people and organisations that have a similar why to you. You’ll find your work has more meaning, and doing that work, becomes more meaningful.
If you wake up every day for something you believe in, you will live your purpose.
Start with why by Simon Sinek.
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