“Time mismanagement is always my biggest concern,” said a client of mine this week. So many thoughts came to mind that I realized it was time I laid these out on paper. Almost all of these could be entire chapters for a book on the topic on things that high achievers do to plan their time, but here’s a high-level overview of what I know works.
1. Weekly: Schedule time for your zone of excellence or your One Thing
The more time you spend doing what you love to do and are best at, the better: that’s almost always where the money is since you’re at your most impactful. You too can apply your own version of Google’s 20% Time or 3M’s 15% time. It’s a chance to do your best thinking, best strategizing and hopefully also your best work. Start with 20 minutes and work up.
An alternate version of this – which also works supremely well – is spending 20% time on your One Thing. Answer this question that Gary Keller wrote about in his 2013 book The One Thing: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
2. Weekly: Schedule your “Big Rocks”: the most important things go in your planner first
The idea of ‘big rocks’ was how Stephen Covey used to talk about making sure you put the most important things in your schedule first – at the beginning of the week – before other less important ‘rocks’ and ‘sand’ filled the time jar and you ran out of space for the things that actually matter most.
So, first you schedule the most important prospect/client meetings, your workout time, your key family time/events and necessary prep/travel time for these things too.
3. Weekly: Schedule your power habits, weekly habits, and daily habits
First, schedule any remaining power habits. My definition of a power habit are the 1-4 high impact 20% things that give you 80% of your results, such as referral asks, working out, and date nights.
Create a list of your daily/weekly habits and schedule them or put them on your daily to do list. You likely need a list separate from your Habit Tracker that includes some hard-wired habits or other tasks you have that are not on your habit tracker. I reference this list once week as part of my weekly planning.
This is no small task but makes sure you can be proactive about the inevitable things that can otherwise slip through the cracks and force you to waste time reacting to a ‘crisis’ (last minute errands that throw you off your day) that could have been avoided. These things can include paying bills, having adequate household and pet supplies, and scheduling car maintenance).
4. Focus Days, Buffer Days and Free Days
This is a concept created by Dan Sullivan that’s worth experimenting with. The focus days are days primarily focused on making money – your days of prospecting and client meetings. Buffer days are days for working ON the business – for planning, meeting preparation, professional development, strategizing, and marketing initiatives.
The advantage to separating your time between focus and buffer days is it allows your brain to preserve energy by not having to change roles and interrupt its flow. It helps you focus and slows down your energy depletion. You either have your business development and client servicing hat on or a totally different hat that requires a different type of energy and thinking.
Free days are a BIG DEAL. On these days you do NO WORK, no work email, no reading for work: you give your brain a rest so it can recharge and be more productive when it’s called upon during the rest of the week. This too helps you focus exclusively on the rest of your life and be more present and not feel conflicted like you should be working on a business project. For me, this is Saturdays.
5. Daily: Prioritise your day by ABC and 123
Ideally the night before, identify your top tasks. ABC priorities can work well where:
A is urgent and important – a must do
B is important but not urgent – a want to do
C is a nice to do.
Over the years I find people do well with a top 6 or a top 3 task list. The key is not to feel guilty when you don’t get to everything but to feel peace of mind that you did the top tasks.
The graduate level to this is to then time block and schedule out your whole day so it is extremely structured. You do this to reduce decision fatigue which creeps up on us unwittingly almost every day. You have already decided what to do. And, fine, if something more valuable comes along, it should still require less deliberating.
6. Daily: Have focused time blocks with a key objective and use a Pomodoro Timer
a) Shut out all distractions. If you can, turn off the internet, close your door, put on headphones, hide your phone, tell people to leave you alone etc.
b) When you start getting serious about each time block you have – whether it’s 20 minutes or 50 minutes – write down what the main objective is.
c) As the time block ends, write down what your main accomplishment was. I got this idea from podcaster John Lee Dumas who created his own Mastery Journal to help with this. He even recommends you score yourself on productivity and discipline for each time block. Why not? You don’t get the time back in this lifetime.
d) Lastly, use a Pomodoro Timer. If you’ve never heard of this idea, Google it. Basically, you can get a cheap kitchen timer clock and stick it in a visible place so you can see it ticking down. It helps keep you on task.
7. Have an Ongoing Not to Do List
Write three columns on a page:
Delegate: Ask yourself: Could someone else do the task I’m doing at least 80% as well as me (and probably better)? Could someone else be scheduling your meetings, buying your groceries, cutting your lawn, or cleaning your house?
Automate: What processes or systems is your business missing? This is a big (efficiency and time-saving) task for a buffer day, 20% time, or to outsource to a specialist.
Eliminate: Who do you network with and get zero business from? Are your Instagram posts or Clubhouse rooms prompting business inquiries?
You don’t have to act on anything on your list today, but it gives you a growing sense of things to offload when you can. Keep it handy and add to it over time.
8. What strategies do you have for handling the unpredictable events that happen virtually every day?
Every day something unexpected happens that we had not planned for. It is why structure helps so much. It’s another reason why developing your zone of excellence is so crucial – you’ve so many positive, hardwired ways of handling yourself that you are less thrown off by life’s challenges (see point 1 again).
Three strategies that help are picking your battles (an AIWATT* response below), getting ever better at not taking things personally (when someone upsets or disappoints you), and avoiding environments and people that throw you off.
*Am I willing
At this time, (AIWATT)
To make the investment required
To make a positive difference
On this topic?
9. Saying No 90% of the Time
Warren Buffett is credited with saying: “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” He and his business partner Charlie Munger have a five second rule: when asked for something, to give it five seconds thought, and then, 90% of the time, say no.
Saying yes a lot and too much people pleasing prompts that time to be spent (often) on someone else’s agenda: another great reason to plan in such detail. You’ve already determined your priorities before someone calls or emails interrupting you with their ‘agenda’.
10. Active Recovery
I’ve discussed this a lot in recent weeks. In terms of time mastery, this is no longer a nice to have for the high achiever. Your body can only push so hard for so long and you become increasingly unproductive. You have to let it recharge, just like your electronics.
Take more mini breaks during the day so your battery doesn’t run down too fast. Make the time to allow your body to recharge physically with an hot Epsom salt or ice bath, sauna, massage, walk or stretching (not TV and alcohol: TV stimulates the wrong brain waves and alcohol messes with your sleep).
11. Monthly: Do a Review to Readjust
In his recent book, The Art of the Good Life, getAbstract co-founder Rolf Dobelli finds the most effective people in our culture are not overly stubborn about plans and change: “The most common misunderstanding I encounter is that the good life is a stable state or condition. Wrong. The good life is only achieved through constant readjustment.”
Once per month, I recommend scoring yourself in key areas on a scale of 1-10 (health, key relationships, professional and financial to name a few). Then I urge clients to ask themselves what to stop/do less/keep/do more/start and accept moving forward. It’s a great way to make small adjustments and to preserve a LOT – even if this feels less exciting. Successful people already have a lot of good habits (but are often tempted by the concept that change always equals progress).
Think these things are all a bit too much? Start by adding one strategy and then revisit this list. Experiment a lot with these concepts until you find what works best for you. There are other strategies that work better for some people, but I know that what I’ve shared works very well for many high achievers and I can testify to them personally.
I used to think this was all too detailed and stifling, but when I realized that this is what the highest achievers do AND that I actually find more time to do what I LOVE, I said ‘why not me?’ Plus, as you get older and have had a few peers die prematurely, you know there are no guarantees on anything and I hate to waste time by stubbornly thinking I should have lots of time to ‘improvise’.
Founder & President
Matt Anderson International
1177 Oak Ridge Drive, Glencoe, IL 60022, USA
Phone: +001 (312) 622-3121