This year, you gained 8 pounds.
You skipped the gym more than you went.
You sat at your desk (or a desk in a hotel) almost every single day of the year. At least 360 days of it. And when you were at a desk, you were there for eight or ten – sometimes 14 – hours at a time. Even on Sundays. Even though you promised Dave you’d take Sundays off.
Your almost-mother-in-law said you looked tired every time she saw you.
You cancelled your vacation to Hawaii. “Too busy.”
You cancelled a book contract because you didn’t have time to write the third book. (And writing is the thing you love most. ‘Member how you wanted to be a published novelist when you grew up? Yeah, you became one. Then you cancelled the contract. I don’t care if it wasn’t the kind of book you wanted to write anyway! That’s not the point here. So not the point. You know it’s not the point.)
You vividly remember the ONE Sunday this year you sat in the backyard and read a book.
You published a tiny selection of posts.
You barely finished this post on time.
You’re dreading planning the Italy trip for this summer because, seriously, how are you s’posed to make that work?
Few would disagree: you have become absolute shit at managing your time.
You can’t go on this way. So we’re gonna make 2017 a dramatic improvement on 2016 re: scheduling and, y’know, living.
By fixing shit.
Which is going to suck. Because you’re probably gonna say no to a lot of stuff. And suffer from intense FOMO. But let’s bury that down deep for now… way down there with your mommy issues. And let’s start with this:
First, What’s Making Your Schedule So Chaotic?
It’s not like you don’t get stuff done. You do. You’re good at planning and executing and… well, you used to be good at focusing. But if we’re being honest: if you were focused, you’d have more to show for 2016.
Yes, you got some good stuff done this year. Airstory is built and heading out of beta in January. You presented new talks at half a dozen conferences. You ran tests. You did good stuff – but you felt completely and totally slammed at every single turn. What do you have to really show for all the time you sat at your desk?
Not as much as you ought to.
Which probably means this:
When it comes down to it, you’re nowhere near as busy as you think you are.
In her New York Times article on busy people who aren’t, Laura Vanderkam wrote:
Professionals tend to overestimate work hours; we remember our busiest weeks as typical. This is partly because negative experiences stand out in the mind more than positive ones, and partly because we all like to see ourselves as hard-working.
You think you’re working your can off. You think there are simply no other hours in the day. But you’re wrong. One study found that people who estimate 75+ hour workweeks are off in their estimate by an average of 25 hours.
Let’s take that further and say this: even if you’re sitting at your desk for 75 hours a week, you’re probably not seeing 35 extra hours worth of productivity, versus a 40-hr week, are you?
It’s time to do more with your time and work fewer hours, Joanna.
For starters, you’ve gotta stop saying yes to everything. You firmly believe that you had to say yes to everything in the earlier years of Copy Hackers. And you are almost certainly right – and, hell, even if you’re wrong about that (which you don’t think you are, and I’d have to agree), who cares about then? Let’s talk about now and going forward.
And let’s start by trying to be more like Warren Buffet in the way we manage our time:
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
James Altucher (who nearly gave you a heart attack when he started following you on Twitter this summer – yes, you’re calling that out because it was cool) adds:
“If something is not a ‘Hell Yeah!’ then it’s a no.”
“Designing your time each week only works if you have the right mind-set; it’s not only okay, but necessary to say no. The days simply aren’t long enough to do every task asked of you.”
I know what you’re thinking: how can I be sure I’m saying no to the things that deserve a no?
Let’s look back at the things that you’ve said yes to over the past few years and note whether they’ve paid off:
- Client work: Ugh! The pay off is there re: money and case studies. But you’ve gotta be way more realistic about what companies you can work with. Your minimum project is $60,000, and that’s just the way it is. It’s important to find a way to minimize the time wasting that happens when marketers that can’t afford you go through the back-and-forth of pretending they might find the budget. Verdict: Only say yes to the ones you’re instantly excited about and that can afford you.
- Being on podcasts: Most of the podcasts are now cancelled, their content gone. Verdict: Only say yes to the ones you’re instantly excited about.
- Speaking at in-person conferences: Some conferences have been spectacularly good for your life. Others have resulted in emails from people that can’t afford your services. And all of them require that you take a lot of time to create a great deck as well as take a few days away from productivity. Verdict: Only say yes to the ones you know will help you grow Airstory.
- Sitting on panels for online conferences: You get to meet or reconnect with cool people! And it’s nice to support other businesses. But has a single online panel turned into money or traffic or real brand awareness/ growth or anything that can make you say it was worth the time away from work? No. Verdict: Say no to all panels for online conferences that won’t help you grow Airstory.
- Running online training for other brands: I’ve done this for MarketingProfs, among others. I love MarketingProfs, but there was a lot of back-and-forth emailing and meeting that went into making the most recent training happen. The pay off? Not feeling like a jerk for saying no. Verdict: Say no to all online training for other brands.
- Training in-house teams: This happens so rarely that it’s not exactly worth entertaining anymore. Good money and good travel stuff, but you know you’re not satisfied by “money wins.” Verdict: Nah, no more.
So maybes for client work, podcasts and in-person conferences.
And nos for online conferences, online training for other brands and in-house training.
Okay. Good. Now you’re getting somewhere.
When you say yes to everything, you leave little time for the things YOU want to work on. Shouldn’t your ask of yourself come before someone else’s ask?
The answer is yes. It should. Stop being a middle-child-Mennonite-girl and explore the much-travelled-by-others world of nein, niet, nahi, iie, non, nee and no. Other people love that world. They rave about it.
Once you get on board with that – which I know you’re not even close to yet – then comes perhaps the biggest problem to tackle. It’s so completely detrimental to your day to day productivity. It’s:
No, actually, let me be fair to the concept of Interruption.
It is not Interruption’s fault that he exists. It is your fault, Joanna, that you think you have to react to interruptions like:
- Slack notifications
- Email checking
- The lure of a tab you haven’t clicked on in 15 mins (15 minutes!?!?! ermagerd!!)
- Letting ad-hoc meetings happen
- Texting – especially when something’s loading on your computer, rendering your computer temporarily out of service, and you couldn’t POSSIBLY just SIT STILL AND WAIT for it to load
- Shoulder-tap-esque “can you look at this?” and “how’s that post going?” chats
- Vanity checks: new followers? new subscribers? new shares? new clicks?
You’re in constant Go Mode – and that manifests in small but harmful ways. For example, how many times this year have you signed up for a service only to have to wait for a confirmation email – and in that 2-second period between the thank-you page and your inbox, you pop into Twitter? Happens all the time. And you don’t even tweet anything! You just look. OMG, what a fucking waste of time! Sorry to swear at you, Jo, but fuuuuuuuuuck. What’re you, a squirrel? Do you run on instinct alone? Is your attention span that shitty?
If you’re being honest (instead of being easy on yourself), this is the minimum you’ve gotta do in 2017:
- Turn off Slack desktop notifications <– won’t be easy
- Turn off Facebook desktop notifications <– won’t be easy
- Schedule when you’ll check your inbox <– won’t be easy
- Zero-in on times to take meetings in Calendly (so you own your calendar)
- Take on a single-focus approach <– won’t be easy
- Get up earlier to write for fun <– won’t be easy
- Schedule your entire day
- Stop using your browser tabs and inbox as a to-do list <– won’t be easy
- Figure out how to get Trello to speak to your calendar
- Figure out what your priorities really are (uuuuuugh) <– won’t be easy
You’ve gotta get each day under control.
If you don’t, you absolutely will lose your mind in 2017.
NEW RULE: When you make any decision in 2017, you need to think of your day / calendar / schedule with this in mind:
You’ve Been Thinking of Your Day All Wrong
This is what some designer at Google decided to do to turn your life into total hell:
As you know well, your calendar:
- Shapes your entire day, and
- Is broken up into half-hour segments.
But your day is not a series of hours or half-hours.
It’s a series of minutes.
According to author Kevin Kruse (referenced here), who interviewed the world’s most successful people about their time management, while most of us default to hour and half-hour blocks of time in our calendars, Olympic athletes and business leaders:
“know that there are 1,440 minutes in every day and that there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed.”
Productivity consultant Jason Womack seconds the call to better action in fewer minutes. He’s found that:
“In 15-minutes of prepared, focused work, you can often get more done than in one hour of unprepared, unfocused work.”
So your goal is to think about your time in minutes.
Not hours. And not days.
Which means all of these minute-killers are what Bobby Boucher’s mama would describe as the devil:
- Hopping on a “quick call”
- Replying to an email with “thanks”
- Going into Slack when there’s no red dot (i.e., you’re not tagged)
- Scheduling a 30-min call when you’ll only talk for 15
Time to stop doing that stuff.
You’ve gotta think of your day as minutes… and unfortunately tech can’t help you as no “minutes view” option is available in Google Calendar Labs. Also, switching from an Anything Goes approach to a By the Minute approach might be a bit of a leap. After all, you’re not even thinking of your days as hours right now. So let’s start with this essential reset:
Your day is 24 hours long.
Your workday should not be.
How many hours should you clock each day, Miss Jobo?
Some recommend that you work 40 hours a week or less – anything more than 40 hours brings diminishing returns. Others cap their week at 50 hours, with 9 or 10 hours of time clocked a day. Meanwhile, Basecamp’s Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson suggest we fire workaholics – they’re not the heroes TV makes them out to be. And that final point is especially important for you to keep in mind.
Other people aren’t looking out for YOUR calendar.
They’re not jackholes, of course. But they certainly don’t lose sleep when you pull an all-nighter.
You are your own happiness advocate.
You must protect your time.
And part of that is defining what hours in the day are yours and what hours in the day are your business’s. There’s no reason to believe you should work more than 10 hours a day or 50 hours a week, so let’s start there. …At this point, Workaholic Jo is getting pretty antsy. And she should be. It’s time to fire her. We’re going to replace her with an efficient, focused version of you.
Choose the 10 hours in the day you are going to work.
Ideally, those 10 hours will be consecutive. To reference DHH again, when you’re planning each day:
“Only plan for 4-5 hours of real work per day.”
This should make perfect sense to you. This summer, when you were so swamped around the launch of 10x Emails, it was because you were trying to get three or four big tasks done in a day – and each of those tasks would require two to three hours to complete. Even on the low end, you’re looking at committing six hours of your day to real work; on the high end, twelve hours. While still doing all the normal biz stuff that takes up your time:
- Emailing individuals
- Planning blog posts
- Emailing your list
- Hiring people and contractors
- Training people and contractors
- Reviewing Airstory stuff
- Talking to Airstory beta users
- Paying bills and entering them in QB
- Ignoring the bookkeeper when she emails you about the bank statements not reconciling
- Running mastermind sessions
- Sending stuff to the printer
You cannot do more than one medium-sized thing a day.
The rest of the day is filled with all the stuff that comes with running not one but two businesses (while also trying to write the first draft of your next book [in case my agent’s reading this]).
Because you’re clearly shite at scheduling your day and because I’m you, let’s see what smarter people recommend we do
In the quest to solve my time management challenges, I’ve chipped away at reading a ton of posts over the last few weeks.
One of the biggest takeaways, hands down, is this: Your calendar is a precious thing. Protect it.
- Meetings are evil
- Ad-hoc meetings are evil
- Too-long meetings are evil
- Agenda-free meetings are evil
- Meetings you shouldn’t have been invited to are evil
- Holding a meeting when email would do is evil
So yeah. Fewer meetings.
Here’s what else smart people say you need to get on stat…
ONE: Do less.
You’ll laugh, but everyone’s saying to do less – including Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.
As Jordan Bates explains, the idea of doing less is just about doing what matters:
Slow down, notice what needs to be done, and concentrate on those things. Do less things that create more value, rather than more things that are mostly empty.
I know, I know: you’d love to do less. It’s not like you WANT to be at your desk all the time…
…or do you?
Okay, instead of getting all passive-aggressive with you, let’s address this “do less” idea. What could you do less of without negatively impacting your business, your advocates / fans and the people that work for you? You could try:
- Following up with your bookkeeper to see if you can offload all the accounting stuff, including payroll – why are you doing anything more in QB than running reports?
- Not exploring new ideas for products, services, calculators, quizzes, apps, events…
- Saying no to online summits, online events, in-house training and other
- Actually saying no to all new client work – you were inspired when Nathan Barry said, almost 2 years ago, that he wasn’t selling ebooks anymore because he wanted to focus on ConvertKit… so why not inspire yourself and just. say. no.
- Getting your VA to actually take over your inbox and calendar
That brings us to this nagging opportunity you just can’t seem to get your head around no matter how you try…
Author John C Maxwell said or wrote or smoke-signalled:
“If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate!”
Lord knows you have tried your hardest to hire and outsource.
The hiring stuff… let’s not go there.
The outsourcing stuff has worked pretty well – even the times that haven’t gone great (e.g., hiring that dev on Upwork and learning, weeks later, that his “solution” when building and bug-fixing was to delete any code that conflicted with his, which resulted in the deletion of more than one fully functioning, entirely fundamental feature).
You can’t expect to delegate everything. But the stuff you’re not doing well should DEFINITELY be on the table for outsourcing / delegating. You’re not even 80% good at:
- Proactively reaching out to basically anyone
- Helping team members understand what they’re doing, um, inaccurately or un-good-ly
- Getting proposals to people
- Answering the second email — the first one, yes, but not the one that comes after they write back
And what’s worse: you don’t want to get better at those things. So why TF are you spending your already limited time on them?
You know what to do.
Hint: The answer is delegate.
TWO: Break everything into quadrants.
What if instead of managing your time… you designed it? Instantly more interesting, right? Plus, it puts you in control: you’re the designer, not just the manager / coordinator. You’re the Jonny Ives of your day, not that passionless to-do-list slave you reported to a thousand years ago.
Thomas Davies, former Googler, recommends designing your day using quadrants, like so:
I start by dividing my work responsibilities into four quadrants:
- People development (managing my teams, coaching, mentoring)
- Business operations (data analysis, running sales meetings)
- Transactional tasks (one-off things like responding to an email or reviewing a budget)
- Representative tasks (serving as a face for the business, like having drinks with customers or speaking at conferences)
You can label your quadrants however you like, but remember: you only get four of them.
To illustrate, S N Phadke offered this illustration for his interpretation of Davies’ idea here:
The idea with the four-quadrant life is to plan everything that goes in your day, which is too often too quickly overtaken by emails, meetings and demands that seem urgent (i.e., they’re urgent to the person giving the command). It ends up feeling like there’s more to do in a day than there are minutes to do it in. And that leads to burnout.
So, what should go on the quadrants, Joanna?
It’s different for everyone.
Davies recommends this:
To figure out what [the quadrants] are, start by making a list of your normal tasks and responsibilities. Take a look at your calendar and review the meetings you attended in the last couple of weeks. Review your recent to-do lists and big projects from the past three months.
Then group all those recent and semi-recent tasks, big and small, into the four most obvious categories. Yours will be unique to your job, but a transactional quadrant, for instance, is useful for one-off tasks. When you do this, you’ll have a high-level view of all the things you could possibly spend your time on, which makes it easier to plan and balance all your day-to-day and week-to-week responsibilities.
People development is currently managed by Lance, so I’ll scrap that from the list. That leaves these three:
- Business operations = yes!
- Transactional tasks = yes!
- Representative tasks = yes!
And let’s add the thing that really seems to separate you from a lot of founders struggling with time management: execution. As in, you execute, gf. While others go to conferences and return home to manage people and “strategize at a high level,” you go to conferences and return home to strategize at a high level, strategize at a low level, plan the details, execute on the tasks and participate in measuring them only to plan how to optimize and then execution on optimizing. You do. Most of the people you’ve hired actually end up assigning work to you. You do.
In 2017, you need to do less, methinks. Or do more of one thing and less of a bunch of the other things.
But for now, here are the four quadrants:
- Business operations
- Transactional tasks
- Representative tasks
- Executional tasks
Some days Biz Op will be the biggest part of the day. During conference season, it’ll be representative tasks. During launches, it’ll be executional tasks. But to keep your sanity, you’ve gotta stop trying to do everything full-force all the time.
Davies adds that:
Not all tasks are created equal. One quadrant will probably have lower-value tasks relative to those in another – and that’s the point. You probably won’t spend an equal amount of time working on tasks in each quadrant. It isn’t about segmenting your day into neat 25% chunks – most jobs are too unpredictable for that. Instead, the key to using them effectively is to be mindful that if you focus on business impact and personal enjoyment, you can achieve great things while maintaining balance: You can design what you do, rather than just do what you need to.
You like this idea.
But the challenge for you with this approach is this: the square in which the quadrants live is not a fixed size.
It’s not a 10-hour box. It’s just a box. Everything can expand to fit an increasingly growing box – and it certainly will, in keeping with Parkinson’s Law. Perhaps we should call it a 10-hour box?
Might this work better for people that work in-house than for entrepreneurs and founders? <– look into this
THREE: Track time better so you can estimate time better.
What’s that browser extension you installed to track your time?
Right, how’s that been working out for you?
Oh, you haven’t used it? I see. So you’re the kid that shows up without her homework done and is like, “How come I’m not learning anything?”
Joanna, how am I supposed to help you if you refuse to be helped? Rescue Time is installed. Now just go enable it. And then check it. …Done? Good.
Once Rescue Time helps you see what you’re pissing away your time on, you can prioritize your options, cut or reduce the time-wasters and ultimately estimate your time better. Why is that so imporatnt? Because you’re not working this Saturday because you spent the week watching cat videos. You’re working because you estimated your demands like a bonehead.
Naturally, estimating well is… tough. So here’s how to do it better than you’ve been. Expert Steve Pavlina uses something called the “fudge ratio” to figure out how far from accurate your time estimate for a task is. As Mihir Patkar explains:
Write down the list of tasks you have, or break big projects into smaller tasks, and assign how much time you’ll need for each. When you complete a task, write how much time it took you. When you’re done with all the tasks, add up the actual time and divide it by the total estimated time.
So let’s say you thought it would take you 10 hours to put together a deck for a webinar. You use Rescue Time to see how long you actually took, and you find out it was 18 hours. That means your fudge ratio is 18/10, or 1.8. You took 80% longer than estimated to complete the webinar deck. Any wonder you’re working all weekend?
The more frequently you calculate your fudge ratio, the better you’ll understand how far off you’re likely to be with your next estimate. You’ll have a strong average in place, and you can use that to correct yourself going forward.
So when you quote or create a new estimate, you can say, “Okay, I’m usually off by about 40% with my estimates.” And then add 40% to your estimate for the project in question.
Like that? I thought you might.
And then there’re aaaall the other time management techniques out there
I read years ago that freelancers and self-employed folks should schedule their business-growth work early in the day and their client work in the afternoon and/or evening.
That’s because, at night, if you have to choose between working on your business and, like, going to a movie with friends, you’re more likely to choose the movie. But if you have to choose between doing your client work and going to a movie, you’ll do your client work. Because your client is waiting.
Even still, I don’t do my biz growth stuff in the morning.
I don’t even know what I do in the mornings. Email? Sometimes Airstory demos. What else? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I’ve also read that you should schedule everything on your calendar. But that takes really good time estimating. And it means that I can’t let people book time with me via Calendly. So I just don’t do it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Additional techniques I’ve used but then stopped using:
- Closing tabs that consistently distract me, like Gmail
- Offloading distractions for later
- Don’t open an email if you won’t be able to respond to it – no matter the time required to respond – immediately
- Set an average email response time
Time management techniques I haven’t tried yet:
- The Pomodoro Technique and work sprints (I’m curious! but I don’t want to start it only to give it up, honestly)
- Separate thinking time and execution time on your calendar
- Actually schedule your breaks and TAKE THEM
- Giving up the to do list
- Recognize and separate deep work and shallow work
- Set rituals for deep work so it becomes a habit
- Cluster email, admin and other shallow work in batches
- Keep a scoreboard for how much deep work you get done in a day
- Reserving distracting tasks for non-work devices (e.g., Twitter only on mobile)
- Meditating to achieve focus (but I’ve had the Calm app installed on my phone forever)
And the techniques I’ve tried that have stuck:
- I don’t try to multitask anymore – I’m growing increasingly disciplined in my single-tread approach to getting shit done
- Breaking big tasks into smaller, manageable pieces I can check off a list
- Giving up coke (kidding! I could never give that up)
- Hiring myself instead of hiring myself out to clients
- Setting and keeping deadlines (!!)
The time management ideas are limitless, aren’t they? You could waste days just trying to figure out how to stop wasting minutes.
The thing of it is, you already know that you’ve got a problem – and that, like most of the people on the planet, you’re distracted, Joanna, and prone to letting in the interruptions.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way, does it?
You’ve listed out some pretty solid next steps in this Note to Self. Now your challenge is to spend December getting your sh*t in order so you, y’know, actually make 2017 a better year.
PS: Because you’re curious about the Pomodoro Technique, here are the steps to follow (as per Lifehacker), should you try it after all:
- Choose a task to accomplish
- Set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
- Take a short break (e.g., 5 mins)
- Every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break (e.g., 15 mins)
You should then repeat that process throughout the workday. If someone interrupts your Pomodoro, either a) end the Pomodoro then or b) postpone the distraction.
The reason Pomodoro can work so well is because, as per this Quora answer, deadlines work, short bursts of work work, periodic resting works, short work is good for habit-formation and breaks can be great for productivity.