Hustlers get a lot done by working smarter and harder, and that means setting goals, making plans, and having systems to execute those plans and reach your goals. It also means managing time wisely so that it doesn’t slip away.
I love the idea of time management but have always struggled to make it work for me. It’s appealing to think of having every day planned out to the minute and being able to simply execute that plan. I’ve been able to do this successfully only twice in my life. The first time was from ’94-’96 when I was an LDS missionary in Brazil and we had a set schedule we followed and zero distractions. Every hour was planned out with a single focus. I woke up at 6:30, said prayers, showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, and at 7:00 started studying scripture and our missionary guidebook. At 9:30 am we left the house and worked until 9:30 pm. Each night after we got home we had a set routine and we were in bed by 10:30. One day each week we had “preparation day” or “P-day” when we went to get groceries, did our laundry, wrote letters, and took care of other errands. We had no jobs, no girlfriends, just the same schedule 6 days a week (with a slight modification on Sundays for church meetings). We got a lot done, and it was easy.
The second time I felt completely in control and on top of was right after my mission for a period of a few months. I was attending university and planned out every day and put just as much focus on my studies as I had into being a missionary. Despite a history of lackluster performance as a student (my high school GPA was something around a 2.3) I was able to take 25 college credits in a single semester and got all A’s, except for one A- which the teacher said he would change to an A if I wanted him to. I worked out every day, ate well, got eight hours of sleep every night, and felt on top of the world. Then I got a job and discovered girls and the next semester I failed three classes.
Since then I’ve tried many times to stick to a schedule but it has never seemed to work because of interruptions and trade-offs. It’s one thing to manage your time when you’re a 20-year old missionary, and it’s quite different when you’re married with small children. Sometimes our kids go to sleep by 8 pm. Other nights they’re up until midnight and coming out of their room every five minutes to complain about what the other child is doing.
I’d like to get to bed by 9 pm every night and wake up every morning at 5 am, but even if it weren’t for the kids keeping me up there’s the matter of business events I want to attend, or going out with friends, or maybe my wife and I need to talk about something and we can’t put a time limit on it. The next thing you know we’re getting to bed at 1 am and then it’s hard to wake up four hours later. There are things I’m not 100% in control of that affect my schedule, and there are other things I don’t want to eliminate. So instead of trying to plan everything perfectly, sticking to it 100%, and then when I fail throwing my hands up in the air and saying “Well, that didn’t work!” and going back to managing by inbox, I’ve created a way of working that helps me focus on my goals, work efficiently, and yet still be flexible enough to fit other things in when they come up. In other words, the goal isn’t perfection, it’s improvement. I don’t need to stick to my schedule 100%, I’m happy with 90%.
Here’s how it works.
Goals are dreams with deadlines. — Diana Scharf
I start out with big goals. Here are a few of mine:
- Build a self-sufficient internal marketing team for MWI by January, 2017
- Sell 5,000 copies of Chief Marketing Officers at Work by March, 2017
- Give a 20-minute business presentation in Mandarin by June, 2017
I’ve put all of my big goals into a Google Sheet so I can see them all at a glance along with deadlines, like this:
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
It’s not enough to have a goal. Each big goal needs to be broken down into smaller tasks, each with their own deadlines. For this I use Wunderlist, although many other to-do lists or even a pad of paper can do the trick. Here’s an example of how I’m doing it with one of my goals above, which is to sell 5,000 copies of my book by March, 2017.
Within Wunderlist I create a to-do list of higher level buckets or tasks I believe need to happen. Some of these may have hard dates in which case I can give the task a due date, some of them may be ongoing in which case I won’t put a date on it.
For example, the book trailer is something that gets done once, so it makes sense to have a due date. But promoting the book on Instagram doesn’t have a due date. At some point I’ll stop doing it, but for right now it’s merely a bucket for other subtasks. More on how I manage these later when I talk about my calendar.
Within “book trailer” I then have subtasks, like this:
This is where I get specific and detailed about what needs to happen in order for the subtask to get done. Then, this combines with my calendar to become the ultimate combination of get-donedness.
I’m a big fan of Michael Hyatt and recently stumbled onto an older post of his about creating an Ideal Week or “the week I would live if I could control 100% of what happens,” an idea he says he got from author Todd Duncan. This excerpt from Hyatt’s post is the key for me:
Sure, you can’t plan for everything. Things happen that you can’t anticipate. But it is a whole lot easier to accomplish what matters most when you are proactive and begin with the end in mind.
I can’t control everything my kids do, and there are things that will come up that interfere with my ideal week, but that’s ok because I’m not aiming for perfection, I’m only looking to do better than if I didn’t plan at all. My ideal week isn’t a plan so much as a guide. It’s a template for getting things done. Here’s what my ideal work week looks like right now.
You’ll notice some of these are specific, such as the blocks of time dedicated to checking email, while others are general, like “book marketing.” During my weekly and daily planning I may modify a calendar item from my Ideal Week to be more specific, but if I don’t do this then when book marketing time rolls around, I go to Wunderlist and look at my Book Marketing to-do folder:
Based on goals and deadlines I then decide which items within Book Marketing I am going to work on during this block of time. Right now CMOs at Work is the big priority, so chances are I’m going to spend most of my time on that. However, I am gearing up for Influence Inc and need to lay some groundwork, so if I’m planning ahead perhaps I’ll modify my calendar for next week so that I work on CMOs at Work four days of the week and Influence Inc one day.
A few notes on this:
- I may make radical changes to this today, tomorrow, next week, or in a month. It’s purpose is to serve me, not for me to serve it.
- Checking email first thing in the morning? Despite scores of article like The 1 Thing Super Successful People Never Do In The Early Morning and an actual book called Never Check Email in the Morning I still start my day by checking my email. This is because I live in Hong Kong, and my team in the US is finishing up their day when I start mine. If I respond first thing in my morning this gives them a chance to respond to me before they sign off for their evening. If I don’t respond to the emails they’ve sent me during their day, I’ll have to wait an extra 24 hours to get a response. This process is quick–on my phone I can go through 100-200 emails in a few minutes and divide them into those that are urgent and those that aren’t. Then, following David Allen’s two-minute rule I respond quickly to urgent emails that require a brief response. Then I get on my desktop and respond to urgent emails that require more typing than I can do comfortably on my phone. Once I’ve processed all the urgent email I’m done and I move on to exercise.
- I work from home most of the time, which is why “family lunch” shows up every day.
While this is my ideal schedule, it doesn’t reflect the realities of life. Here’s what my week looks like next week when I add in my real life commitments (in blue).
For example, on Wednesday and Thursday I’m attending and speaking at a digital marketing conference. That means I won’t be eating lunch with my family, and I may not have time for many of my other Ideal Week activities. That’s ok–if they’re critical I can move them around to other days, rearranging as needed. I may delete some of my Ideal Week activities, like family lunch and exercise, just to clean things up a bit since I know those things aren’t happening on these days, but I’ll leave the rest as a reminder of what I would like to work on if I have spare time during the conference.
Note: If you’re wondering how I make different colors for different calendar items, I’m using Google Calendar and I set up multiple calendars for different areas of my life and then I can display or not display them using the bar on the side, as shown below.
Making it Work
There are two distinct challenges to organizing your life this way; 1) getting everything set up, and 2) sticking to it.
It took me several days of pushing aside most of my other work in order to get organized. Sticking to your Ideal Week is harder, because there’s no end. This isn’t a temporary change, it’s for the rest of your life until you find a better way to organize and plan. It’s easy to get to the point where you ignore your Ideal Week and push it aside to deal with urgent matters. It’s hard to tell those things that seem so urgent “Not now, you can wait.” But if you stick to your Ideal Week you’ll find that much of it becomes habit, freeing your mind to focus its energy on creative pursuits rather than managing minutiae.
How do you manage your time? Do you have ideas for where I could improve what I’m doing. I’d love to hear!
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