Three Great Tips to Save Time…Starting Now

Ahhhhh….too much to do, not enough time!

How often have you said this to yourself in the last year? It’s true: our time is our most valuable asset, and there’s never enough of it to go around. More time = More money. With that in mind, here are three tips to help you save more time for the things that really matter most:

Tip #1: Set Up An Information Firewall

We all suffer from information overload. Every day we’re bombarded with new messages from clients, co-workers, family members, and friends…not to mention the constant news updates and social media distractions. The key is to keep out the information that you don’t really need by setting up an information firewall. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  • Do not take calls from people you don’t know. If you see a phone number that you don’t recognize, don’t pick up. Let it go to voicemail and check it once a day. Another great option is Simulscribe (which sends you text e-mails of all your voicemails so you don’t have to listen through each one).
  • Set designated times for e-mail. This is straight out of the Four Hour Work Week, and I can’t tell you how much time it’s saved me. I used to click the refresh button on my inbox at least a dozen times a day. Now, I limit myself to checking e-mail no more than once every few hours. It’s amazing how much more I can focus on actual work.
  • Set agendas for all meetings and calls. Before each meeting, take time to find out what each person wants to learn. Then, use this information to clearly define an agenda for the meeting. If you don’t do this, people will just ramble on endlessly.
  • Set priorities: find out who matters most to you (family members, close friends, high-profit customers), and devote most of your available time accordingly. Do NOT get sucked into long conversations and commitments with people who don’t really matter to you. Take time to define the few things that will make a major positive impact on your life.
  • Take time away from the digital world. Unplug your internet for a few hours a day. Go for a walk without your cellphone. We’re all so dependent on constant information that we often get distracted from actually getting things done.

But regardless of how much information we filter out, there’s still way too much for us to get done. How do we prioritize?

A few months ago, I had a realization. I was quite overwhelmed; my “To-Do” list just kept getting longer and longer and I never had time to get everything done. That’s when I decided to try something new: a “stop doing” list.

Tip #2: The “Stop Doing” List

A “stop doing” list is exactly what it sounds like: a list of things that you want to stop doing. With our busy lives, it’s really easy to get caught up in the things we need done. Often we forget about the things that we need to stop doing and the bad habits we need to fix. Lifehacker has a great quote about how to identify the problem:

“take a hard look at how you spend your day and try to identify where your giant black holes of time are. Too many coffee breaks? Too much time spent surfing productivity sites (though we’ll give you a free pass on that)? Once you figure out where your time sinks are, write yourself a do-not-do list so you minimize how much time you spend doing things that aren’t particularly productive.”

Some people believe that staying busy is the key to success. That is not true; the secret is to stay busy with the right set of activities. If you put all your effort into low-reward situations, you’ll end up getting nowhere.

This is where the “stop doing” list can help. You can use it to figure out the high effort, low reward activities that you’d be better off avoiding. It also helps adding a sentence or two reminding you of the benefits of stopping this particular activity.

Here’ s an example of my “Stop Doing” List from a few years ago:

1)      Stop my trivial web surfing. Eliminate constantly checking www.nba.com for game highlights while I’m trying to do work.

2)      Eliminate long chat sessions with my friends that don’t serve a purpose. Get to the point quickly; don’t get distracted by idle conversation.

3)      Stop eating out so often. It is expensive, time consuming, and usually bad for my health.

Now I have a confession: I actually haven’t fully stopped doing any of these activities. I still surf the web, chat with my friends, and eat out. It’s really challenging to eliminate any bad behavior one hundred percent. The process of adaptation was very slow. But it’s been worth it: over the last few years, I’ve saved a lot of time, energy, and money by dramatically reducing each activity on my stop-doing list.

Tip #3: Saying No – Even When It Hurts!

The best instant time saver I know of is to say no. People have a hard time doing this even when it is the obvious response. They are afraid they may offend someone, they may be hedging their bets, or they may simply not want to make a decision at that particular moment.”

-  Mark McCormack, founder of IMG and author of “What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School”

It’s true. It really isn’t easy to say no, but it really is often the best policy.

One of my friends works in sales at a major software company. He was working to close a major deal with a potential client. What he didn’t know was that the potential client really had no interest in the software but wasn’t comfortable with just saying no. Instead, the client kept rescheduling meetings and delaying any decisions. Finally, several months later, the client told my friend that they weren’t interested.

My friend was very upset. He felt he had been misled. The worst part was that it was a lose-lose situation – everyone had wasted a lot of valuable time. If the client had just said no upfront, both parties could have moved on to more productive things.

But what about the other person’s feelings? Won’t it hurt them?

I’m not going to lie. There’s a good chance that saying no can hurt someone’s feelings in the short term. No one likes to feel rejected. Back in high school, I had a crush on this really popular girl. It took me months to build up my courage to ask her out, and I was pretty bummed when she turned me down. But honestly, it would have been much worse if she’d said yes but not actually been interested. Eventually, the relationship would have fallen apart and I would have been even more hurt. Hearing the upfront “no” was tough, but helped me move on with my life.

Another thing: it’s important to say no, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it. The girl who turned me down was really nice to me. After I’d gotten over her, we actually ended up becoming friends. It is possible to reject someone and still cultivate a positive relationship.

What are some techniques you’ve used to save time? Please share in the comments

4 Responses to “Three Great Tips to Save Time…Starting Now”

  1. Jackson Fauchery says:

    I like your point about batching email. I read the 5 hour work week too and think that only checking email at certain, pre-determinded times throughout my day would save me a lot of time. Unfortunately, I work in a business where timeliness is important. There are certain things that just need to get done within a a short time of getting a request.

    The other caveat as that I’m relatively low on the totem poll. I can’t have my boss or my boss’s boss email me and not respond for 2 hours because I’m batching my email…

    What do you suggest in these situations? Is there a way to get around these problems so that I can satisfy the requirements of my job but also increase my efficiency?

    • Vik says:

      Jackson, thanks for the comment! Yeah, it’s a great time saver, but there are definitely some issues especially for time-sensitive stuff.

      What I’d suggest here is to maybe create two e-mail addresses (both of which redirect to a single inbox). Explain to your boss that you’d like to batch for productivity with “lower priority e-mails” and will respond quickly to “higher priority e-mails.” Give him both e-mail addresses and explain that one is for urgent stuff while the other is for general stuff. If you see something coming from the urgent e-mail, respond quickly, otherwise you can batch for most other things.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Thanks for the tips. One thing I have learned to do is not let the telemarketers finish their sales pitch. I hate being rude, but most won’t let it go if your nice. So, a quick hang up and it saves several minutes each time they call.

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