May 07, 2021 11 min read
Brian Tracy once said that "All of success in life is task completion." The struggle, for those of us wanting to get more done things, is how to go about completing more of these tasks. When you get right down to it, getting more of the right things done is absolutely key to achieving your goals in life.
The thing is, oftentimes we make the mistake of thinking that the solution is to engage in more activities, to spend more hours doing what we can proudly label "work." Productivity and personal effectiveness is more complicated than this. Denzel Washington had a good quote on this point where he said: "Don't confuse movement with progress. Just because you're doing a lot more doesn't mean you're getting a lot more done."
As Founder of Next-Level Artwork, in the course of running this company, I have seen firsthand that simply taking more action isn't necessarily the key to making tangible progress. Sometimes it may feel like you're working when really you're just wasting your time with stupid bullshit. Sometimes you may be at your computer doing stuff, but they're activities that are completely irrelevant to the growth of your business. Other times you may just be spinning your wheels and completely running around in circles. Here I'm going to outline some tips & "hacks" to help you become more productive and effective with your time.
For me personally, running through ridiculous thought experiments has helped me a great deal to become much more effective with how I spend my time. This is a practice I learned from Tim Ferriss, who often encourages us to ask a series of seemingly absurd questions, which have the effect of breaking us out of our conventional thinking patterns and allowing us to brainstorm solutions and see pathways and opportunities that we otherwise may have never noticed.
Such questions could include:
"If there was a gun to my head, how could I achieve my 10 year goals in the next 6 months?"
"If I could only work 20 minutes per day on my business, what would I spend my time on?"
"If I could only do 3 things all day in my business—and nothing more—what would those three things be?"
Questions like these require you to completely stretch your mind and think about your problems in a way that you almost certainly have never considered before. It's very common for us to fall into routine thinking patterns, where we go down the same mental pathways, and think about our problems in the same way, through the same mental lenses—but questions like these require you to take a completely different vantage point.
In terms of becoming more productive, and managing your time better, the questions where you imagine only being able to work a hilariously small amount of time each day, to me, have been the most valuable. They might sound like silly thought experiments, but for me personally, asking questions such as these have helped me—probably more than anything—to find key areas where I'm wasting huge amounts of time.
Let me give some examples of what I discovered running through these thought experiments and brainstorming answers to such questions.
What I realized, when imagining being able to only work for 10, 15, or 20 minutes per day, is that it really doesn't take much time to get certain things done. Probably the single biggest time-waster and opportunity for the both of us is compulsively checking notifications FAR more often than we need to. This doesn't just mean e-mail, but the whole gamut of notifications that business owners or goal achievers are privy to: social media on several different platforms; e-mail, probably on several different accounts; analytics regarding website visitors, video views, engagements, sales numbers, etc; online advertising performance data; and so forth.
The average person probably has at least 5-10 different notification sources that they check each day—and for the business owner, this number is probably even higher. While I'm not saying there's no value in checking these things, the fact of the matter is that 99% of us probably check these things WAY more often than we need to. And worse still, we do it on auto-pilot. Without even thinking about it, you just pull out your phone, or pull up a web browser, and do what I call "running the notification circuit", which is where you just run through all these different sources of data, information and potential little dopamine hits.
While most people would probably underestimate how many times per day they do this, and how much time per day it takes up, realistically the average person probably does this at LEAST a few dozen times per day. And the downside isn't only the fact that you're spending X number of minutes or hours doing this. It's also that you're breaking your focus, and distracting yourself from doing the important, deep work that it takes to actually grow your business or move the ball forward in your life or career.
In conducting the "20 minutes of work per day" thought experiment, what I realized was: It is a complete and total waste of my time to check e-mail 30x a day, check online ad performance 10x a day, check social media notifications 10x a day, and so on.
Regarding online ads, you can get away with doing this once a week, especially if you're just starting out and are only running a few small ad campaigns. There is absolutely zero value in checking 15 times a day. In fact, if anything, this actually might be hurting your performance in this area, because to really make informed conclusions about the best adjustments to make to your ad campaigns, you need to collect a good amount of data. And trust me when I say, you aren't going to collect enough data within an hour to make an informed decision on the best changes to make. So just pick one day per week to pop in, look at the numbers, make your adjustments, and bam, you're good to go.
If you're further along in your journey and are running way more ads with much more volume going, on, yes, you'll need to check in more to manage the numbers -- but even still, the point is, the 30x a day check ins are simply NOT necessary even if you're running the most complex ad campaigns in the world. And the only reason we check these things so often, when you get right down to it, is because it's fun to do so. It's fun to get those little dopamine hits when we see the notifications, see an update in the numbers. But it adds absolutely no value to our business or our goals to check these things this much.
Brian Tracy, in one of his classic lectures, said that "The major reason for failure in adult life is because we do what is fun and easy, rather than what is hard and necessary." Checking your notifications 30x a day is fun and easy. Much harder, but necessary to effectively manage your time, is being disciplined about how many times per day or week you check certain platforms, at what specific times you do your check-ins, and then having the willpower to follow through on this. It's hard, but it will literally give you HOURS of more productive time each day.
What you'll find, when you become very strict & disciplined with these activities & check-ins, is that it actually only takes a hilariously small amount of time to do these things each day. You'll find yourself with so much more free time each day, by disciplining yourself like this, that you honestly won't even know what to do with yourself. At least that was my experience -- and this as a person who already considered himself to be HIGHLY effective in terms of personal time management and productivity.
My current daily routine, for example, is to spend the first 30-45 minutes of the day batch-producing all of my business social media posts for the day. I just schedule these in advance using a social media management platform, do it all at once in one sitting, and then bam, that's it, I'm done with social media for the day. The average person is simply drowning in social media check-ins all day long, but by just doing it once in one big session for the day, you'll find that this alone leaves you with so much more productive time that you'll hardly be able to believe it.
Do a similar thing with e-mail check-ins. Depending on your industry and workflows, maybe you'll be able to batch this to once a week, once a day, 4x a day, or once an hour. It entirely varies based upon how work gets done in your industry, but the important thing is to simply figure out what the optimal gameplan is, and then discipline yourself to stick to it.
Me personally? My workflow requires a reasonably high amounts of check-ins, because a big part of growing my business is reaching out to artists about licensing their artwork, and then licensing their work to be used in sales of posters & canvas art here on our website. This requires some back and forth, outreach, communications, there's just no way around it. Especially because I'm trying to increase the pace at which we add more art to the store, this means to do high volume requires a high volume of outreach and communications.
Even still, this doesn't mean I'm just a slave to the dings and bells of e-mail and I'm just constantly checking it all day long. I've picked clear times each day to check in, and I draw a very bright line around this. I don't allow myself to check in before these designated times, and once done, I immediately drop it and move onto other high-value activities until my next allotted check-in time comes up. I've found for what I'm doing, 4x a day is plenty. That allows me to batch my communications to one quick session, and I can then drop this and turn all of my attention and focus to the next high-value task.
Figure out what timetables would be ideal in your business or industry, pick a schedule, and stick to it. Mark it on your calendar if needed; that's what I do to make absolutely clear what time I do what activities. You don't want to be just like this hectic bouncy ball that's bouncing and flying all over the place from random activity to activity with no direction. You need clear schedules, guidelines, and rulebooks to follow in order to maximize your effectiveness. Otherwise, no matter how productive you think you are, I promise that you'll fall back into the trap of compulsively checking these things and running the notification circuit 30x a day. Why? Because this is fun and easy.
And again, use the "20 minutes of work a day" thought exercise. This helps you to clearly identify the actual amount of time allocated to a certain activity that's truly needed to be effective in this area. You'll realize, I don't need to check e-mail 40x a day. If there was a gun to my head and I only had 20 minutes to work each day, I'd probably just check once per day -- maybe even once every couple days or even every week depending on my industry -- and when I did check in, I'd only open, read & respond to those e-mails where my response is absolutely necessary and foundational to the growth of my business and the achievement of my goals.
Spam e-mails, bullshit that clutters your inbox, all of that you'd quickly unsubscribe from, and any e-mails where it'd be nice to respond, but isn't necessary, you'd probably just give the middle finger to and ignore -- because remember, you've only got 20 minutes to do all of your work for today, so there is absolutely no time available to waste on bullshit e-mails!
It's not enough to just run these kind of personal effectiveness check-ins once, or every now and then, and then call it good. You need to be CONSTANTLY evaluating what you're doing, how you're spending your time, what the best opportunities are, where the time-wasters are at, and you need to be constantly re-calibrating and stepping your game up. "How can I do this faster? How can I get more better results while spending less time?" Ask these questions in ALL areas of your life and business, and I promise you, you will continue to find more and more ways to do things better.
Some more recent personal examples. One part of this business that's absolutely crucial is simply adding more artwork and products to our site to expand our collection. We want to become more and more relevant to the people that land here, no matter their unique tastes & proclivities, so having an ever-increasing pool of artwork to choose from means that they'll be more likely to stick around and continue browsing the site until they find something. It's also better for SEO because it's simply more product pages that will generate inbound organic traffic from highly qualified prospects.
So it follows from this that dramatically increasing the speed at which we can add more artwork to the site will be of huge value to the business. So how do you figure this out? By brainstorming, by taking the time to just stop and do nothing else but think about this question. How can we speed this up? How can we do this faster? What steps take too long yet add little value? What steps can we eliminate completely? How would we 10x our results in half the time if we had a gun to our head?
Asking a bunch of questions like this, and taking the time to think through the answers, helps you realize huge opportunities. Just to give some clear examples of big time-savings we found in this area: Photoshop allows you to record, then "play back" certain actions you find yourself doing. So instead of manually doing steps 2-7 each time, if it's something you do often, you can just record the action once, then click a single button to get all steps done in an instant. You can also batch the saving of a big pool of files under a clearly specified set of rules -- so if you always save certain images at 800x800 pixels, for example, at 70% compression to reduce file size, you can just set up a script to automate this so instead of manually doing this one-by-one for all the images, you can just knock it out in one big automated chunk.
When creating product photos of the posters and canvas art, we used to create unique, individual images for each and every different size variant of the product. This needlessly added way too much extra time, while offering very little value (and also sharply increasing the amount of time it took to load a page due to all the extra images), so cutting out all of those extra steps and just having one image to represent all sizes of a given poster or canvas art piece, we simultaneously sped up our workflow while also increasing the user experience on the website by making the product pages load faster.
Another recently discovered opportunity here? One that was discovered in yet another brainstorming session where I asked: "Gun to my head, how would I double my output in the same amount of time?" Simply offer fewer sizes of artwork. Find out what the most popular sizes are, and just offer those. Having to create separate product variants for a bunch of different sizes just adds work. So instead of adding, say, 6 size variants for a given poster or canvas art, just offer 2 or 3. Boom. Just like that, in one swoop, you've halved the amount of time it will take to add products to the store, in a way that will have virtually no impact on the customer experience, as the most popular sizes are the ones that remain anyway.
While perhaps you're not terribly interested in the nitty-gritty details of how to create product pages for posters and canvas art, the particular nuances of our website isn't the important thing here; it's the thinking pattern of constantly looking for opportunities to save time.
Don't just do this the once, then call it good. Constantly be re-asking these same questions, because like the saying goes, "Ask, and ye shall receive." Keep continuing to ask yourself, "How can we step this up? How can we increase our speed?", and you will continue to find more answers. There's always another level you can take it to, and maybe eventually you'll reach the point that you'll have your systems so finely-tuned and executed to perfection that it's as perfectly optimized as is humanly possible. But I promise you that you won't get to that level after just 1, 2, or even 3 brainstorming sessions. You need to be never satisfied with yourself, your systems, and keep asking yourself, "How can we do this faster, smarter, and more efficiently?"
Use these ridiculous thought experiments I've given you to help brainstorm new improvements and solutions to your problems, and slowly but surely, you will step your game up and become a more effective time manager.
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