My Action Plan for Becoming a More Effective Person
This year, as I was mapping out my goals I met with a tough reality. I didn’t stand a chance of meeting them. There was not a chance in hell that I was going to get even close to what were some very realistic goals—one of which was to double our revenues. Something had to change.
My biggest demon was time, or more accurately, my use of time.
You can get pretty far on ignorance, but at some point, you hit a wall. So I picked up a book, and then another. And then another and another and another. If I was going to build a better business, it needed to start with building a better me.
I asked all my trusted mentors what they would suggest for me. I picked up The Four-Hour Workweek, The Effective Executive, Eat That Frog, among others like these. Not only did I read them, I took the very important step of putting their teaching into practice. That developed into the Auditing-Eliminating-Delegating process for reclaiming all my time.
As at the writing of this guide/blog, this is what I have so far:
Part I: Auditing
The process I’ve learned, and now practised a few times over starts with a big audit of everything. As Peter F. Drucker says, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Which is to say, you need the hard data, and if you’re anything like me, you’re in for a surprise. My time was draining as if through a sieve. For example, on days I sat in my chair for 12+ hours, I found I would squeak in 5 hours of concentrated work that I could account for. The rest was just empty space—fuel for the fire.
In order to get going here, we are going to have to add a few tools to our toolbox. Don’t worry: they are lightweight, free and easy to learn. Even better, they are in the cloud and accessible from anywhere, including mobile.
My tailored process begins with a good time tracker. There’s plenty out there, but there is no reason to look anywhere further than Freshbooks.com. This was created for freelancers doing their invoicing, so it’s feature rich, and better yet, free. The time tracker is top-notch. If you wish, you can even create client/project codes to assign the time to, just like a real professional! I highly recommend it.
Do not attempt to organize your day any differently. We need a benchmark. I want you to be able to see, by contrast, how fucked you were before implementing what I am going to share with you. You will appreciate this later on I promise.
Buckle up, and start your time tracker. BUT, a couple things suggestions first:
No bullshitting. No estimating. You only get to count what you actually tracked. It’s too easy to cheat.
Client codes or project codes are basically how you will help graph/table your time later on. So spend a little time here. You can create them as you go to. It’s really important to know where this time is going.
Freshbooks gives you the opportunity to add notes to each time entry. Use them. It will give you more context.
Don’t expect to make this habit right away. You will forget at some moments, and for entire days sometimes. It will come, I promise.
Next up, pick yourself up a Trello account. Also free, Trello helps you organize your work on virtual whiteboards, like sticky notes. I use the Scrum framework for my setup, and recommend you do the same – with some adjustments! I have broken this down on a previous blog post on Scrum + Trello, but I also encourage you to pick up the book SCRUM. It’s the bee’s knees.
The reason I suggest Trello is because it provides you with a helpful way to visualize what you are doing. Kind of like a calendar where you can see everything you did in a week, but at a task level. This is helpful because you want to be able to pinpoint the crap you shouldn’t be doing, or are doing too much of. I realize it may seem redundant to use Trello and Freshbooks, but trust me, it will serve a larger purpose down the road.
Here is a picture of my Trello setup:
Very quickly, “Master” is where I dump anything for the year that I would like to work on/accomplish. Monthly, I queue up at the bottom of the “Month”, for the coming month. On Sunday, I queue up the coming “Day” and “Week”. Each night, I queue up the following “Day”.
Everything moves left to right, and I try not to make too many last minute additions. A good tip is to ask yourself: does this task I am adding contribute to my goal for this year? If not, it doesn’t get added.
In the coming weeks I will post more about this setup I am sure, but let’s stay on track.
The Big Reveal
After tracking yourself for 30 days, which seemed to me like an appropriate length of time, I urge you to keep going. Just like you have no doubt discovered, it feels like shit when you waste time. Being accountable, even if just to software, will shame you into staying on task. And if that isn’t good enough, share your logs with someone you respect and they can shame you, haha! You will continue to get value every day by using the tracker.
So now you have 30 days worth of reporting in front of you. It’s time to cull the herd. If you have a goal for this year, and I highly suggest you have one, you need to look at each one of these items and ask yourself, “does it contribute to my goal?” Proceed to the next steps…
Part II: Elimination
If it doesn’t contribute to your goals, it should be eliminated by all means necessary. Whatever you have to do to get it off your radar, it must go. It is the ultimate distraction to your goals. I don’t care how small or insignificant it may seem. 1 tiny task is 1 big interruption.
How to Eliminate
This is where I would spend the most time. Ideally, you don’t want to delegate or automate, because both are going to cost you money or resources. So take your time. Really think about whether this is important. I have a few things I do that help me:
I have 3 questions that I ask myself, and I have the answers on hand in case I am foggy that day.
- How do you want your business to look like in 1 year?
- How does it look right now?
- What hurdles stand in the way of you getting there?
Once I have answered these questions, I am clear on what I need to do.
Another tactic is to enlist an accountability partner. This is ideally someone who is where you want to be or has previously been there. Someone you hold in high regard and do not want to disappoint. If you don’t have someone in mind, see if you can join a local EO chapter. Or perhaps a local mastermind group that participates in this exercise. It’s quite popular.
Finally, if you aren’t sure, stop doing it for a while. See if anything happens. In my experience, 90% of stuff just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. Work up the courage, and let go. And worst case, WORST CASE, what’s going to happen? In most professions, no one is going to die.
Part III: Automation
Automation was always this fancy, high-priced, out-of-my-league thing until I happened upon a programmer. I am assuming, of course, that whatever you might need automating is on your computer. If it isn’t yet, it will be.
Automating is not as scary expensive as you might think. We’re very fortunate to live in a world where so much is already automated for us, and where it isn’t, we have Zapier, IFTTT and native integrations.
Zapier is this wonderful service that builds integrations between tools that we commonly use. Things like Gmail or Trello or Freshbooks. You name it, chances are they have an integration for it. For a small fee monthly fee, you can get two, three, four or more pieces of software to speak to each other and do your bidding. You can’t find a better deal to buy your time back.
IFTTT is similar to Zapier in that it also helps software communicate. You can create these recipes which essentially tells the software what to do when it encounters certain things. Again, saving you time. It’s sort of like building a bot I suppose.
Native integrations are more and more common. In fact, when I go shopping for new software one of my first steps is to see if they have an integrations page, which basically means ‘do they play nice with other software.’ Basically, the developers will have built-in integrations into the software with other software. So you don’t need to do anything other than turning it on. A good example is Slack and Trello.
Another Advantage of Automation
Automation is great because not only do you not have to do it, you don’t need to bog down another human being with your minutia.
Pricing really varies here, and so does automation. I take for granted so much of the automation that already exists in the software that I use. I don’t even call it automation anymore. It’s just software. Beautiful, sexy, browser-based software. Trello is automation. It automates all kinds of things, but we just don’t look at that as automation nowadays. Nowadays automation is AI.
Alas, software can really range. Look at Infusionsoft for example at $299/mo. Or Trello, totally free. It depends. And hiring a programmer…can totally vary depending on expertise. In my experience you can find a virtual (remote) programmer for around $50/hour – maybe less if you are lucky.
Part IV: Delegation
Delegation is last for a reason. I live by a sort of rule: more people more problems. BUT, sometimes things need a human touch, at least until AI takes over everything.
The most important thing about delegation IMO, you should have done it yourself for a while. In the book Rework, they talk a little about this. It’s important because;
- You will understand the work
- You will know what doing it well looks like
- You will be able to accurately put together a job description for the eventual hire
- You’ll be a much better manager
Too many times, I skipped these steps and handed it off without so little as creating a guide or documentation. More times than not, that plan crashed and burned. In some cases, burning bridges between myself and the person hired.
Speaking of documentation, you should have some. Right from day one, even if you don’t think you are going to hand it off some day, document. Worst case, you now have the beginnings of a checklist to check your work against. Read The Checklist Manifesto and you will learn how important this is.
Make sure that documentation is constantly evolving. Do not let it go stale. I keep a journal, and in that journal, I will write down any new things that come up while doing the task, so that I don’t forget about it and & stay on task.
At the end of each week, I will revisit my journal and anything that needs to be added either gets added right then and there or gets batched with other updates to be done the next week as a task. If you let your documentation get old, it’s no use to anyone.
Protip: consider adding videos to your guides, or at the very least, screenshots. You will find that when it comes to delegating, you will do a lot less teaching because it will be more clear. Use software like Techsmith’s Snagit. It is great for screen captures and screen videos.
As your documentation grows, consider building an intranet. It can be done for free and without too much difficulty using Google. They have an intranet product. If that doesn’t work for you, a well organized (MAJOR KEY) Google Drive will suffice.
When delegating, make sure you’ve set aside time to answer questions (ask your helper to batch them for you) and go over them together. Weekly for 15 minutes should suffice. Also, and a VERY valuable lesson learned, trust BUT verify. Ask author and entrepreneur Derek Sivers about that one. It cost him dearly.
Why Getting Started Now Matters
This completely changed my life. You can have no idea of how much “static” is in your life that isn’t helping you be more successful, isn’t helping you be happier… isn’t even making it easy for you to relax. It’s just a collection of tasks that have no value, and your efficiency and effectiveness as a person are going to skyrocket when you aren’t carrying that dead weight anymore.