Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Collis Ta’eed, co-founder of AudioJungle, FlashDen, many other sites. You can find him on Twitter.
Have you ever written out a list of goals you’d like to achieve and thought, ‘How can I get all this done’? Or seen an opportunity that you’ve had to pass by because you are just flat out? Life is a torrent of choices and possibilities, and often it’s hard to let them go. Should you compromise? Or do you just need a better game plan?
As an easily excitable person, I have a really hard time constraining myself to doing just a few things. Every project seems worth doing, every opportunity worth taking. Still I know that for many people, work is a way to make enough money to relax and enjoy life. If that sounds like you, then you may not get much out of this article. However, if your days are filled to the brim and yet you still can’t wait to start that new project, then I am speaking to you!
In the last two years I’ve become a successful blogger, co-written a book, built a large business that employs dozens of people, sold all my possessions to travel the world with my lovely wife, and co-founded an annual non-profit event. It sounds like a lot, and in a way it is. But there’s no reason not do more with our lives. After all, we only get one.
Here are seven techniques that could potentially enable you to do more with your time. Have your own personal additions? Leave a comment, because I for one am always looking for more ideas!
1. Find the Platform That Gives You The Time You Need
Aside from sleeping, your work life very likely takes up the most hours in your day. So it makes sense that the greatest savings in time and productivity can come from how and where you work.
Your aim should be to align your work and your goals of what you want to get done. While it might be that your goals can be achieved through a job, I found that the biggest change in my productivity has come from starting a business.
When I worked for someone else, I spent a lot of time working on their projects. Consequently everything else took a back seat and was allocated to the early and late hours of the day, and only received a small portion of my energy.
When working for yourself, you have mastery over your hours, how you divvy them up and what you spend the lion’s share on.
To gain mastery of your own time, you sometimes need to sacrifice now for gains in the future. I took a major 6 month hit of working terribly long hours for two full-time jobs – my regular work and building our start-up – so that I could achieve the platform that would give me more freedom later on. My wife will tell you it really wasn’t much fun and there was some real lows, but it was a sacrifice we both think was worth it. Now I am able to work for myself full-time while travelling the world – and those six months of sleepless nights and heavy stress seem a small price to have paid for this lifestyle.
2. Plan, plan, plan!
If you want to make the most effective use of your time, you need a plan. Without one, trying to do a lot will give you a major stress attack. Whether it’s daily to-do lists, business plans, or a productivity system, choose your weapons and put them to use.
Personally I have two planning tools that I use constantly. Next to me I keep a notepad with daily to-do lists. They usually span two A4 pages because I like to do some serious multi-tasking.
I also carry a Moleskine notebook with me literally everywhere I go. I spend a couple of hours a week writing ideas, goals, plans, and lists in it. What’s coming up next, how to increase income on a website, lists of actionables to launch a new project, the chapters for a book, points to write in an article. You name it, it’s in there, combined with enough squiggles and doodles to impress the most idle mind.
All this planning means that my time in front of a computer is spent purely executing. There’s less wondering ‘what next?’ or ‘what should I write?’ and more getting things done.
3. Work Smart
I love the idea of working smart because it is a great enabler to getting more done. The tricky thing is figuring out what exactly “Work Smart” means. I have found the best way to think of it is to ask yourself this one question:
If you only had a year left to do the things on your lists, would you be satisfied with what you’re spending your time on today?
Deadlines have a way of quickly prioritising things and revealing what is trivial and what is essential. The biggest enemy to getting a lot done is the inane and trivial tasks that it’s so easy to get bogged down in. Distractions, unnecessary emails, low-yield tasks and jobs, and all kinds of wastes of time. Cut out the time wasters and you have more time for the important stuff.
The biggest deadline of course is our own mortality. Faced with that question, pretty much everything that isn’t truly important fades away. Steve Jobs of Apple put it best in his Commencement address at Stanford in 2005.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
4. Push Yourself, But Don’t Overjuggle
You won’t get a lot done if you don’t try to do a lot. For every person the number of tasks, projects, and things they can keep in their heads at one time is different. So it’s important to find your ideal load where it’s enough that you’re a bit uncomfortable, but not so much that you find yourself feeling overwhelmed.
It’s important to be a little uncomfortable because you need stress for peak performance. A little stress will bring out your A-game. This is called “eustress” and if you think about a time when you’ve delivered a great speech, run a race, or pulled out a top performance at work, you will find you’ve been in this sort of stress zone.
If you overdo it though, you break through into another type of stress, called “distress” and here the anxiety and panic effects become a hindrance so that your productivity starts to drop.
It’s tricky to find the balance, and I find I periodically overshoot and break into the bad stresses and pressures. When this happens, it’s best to bite the bullet and drop or delay a project or two. Relieve the pressure and pull back into the right level of difficulty.
5. Team Up, Delegate, Outsource, Don’t Try To Do It All Yourself!
One person no matter how optimised, skilled and driven can only produce a fixed amount. If you really want to get a lot done, you need other people on board.
Working with other people increases the amount of resources in both time and skill that you have at your disposal. It will help you to achieve much, much more. Of course it isn’t easy to do and there are a number of natural barriers that you will need to cross. Some important things to realise:
- You need to accept that you can’t do it all yourself. Because it’s hard to let go of things, oftentimes you will put up the most resistance to plans to work with others. I often have to forcibly tell myself “I can’t do this, it’s just not physically possible to be everywhere, doing everything.” Realise that it is a choice between doing less and holding on to it all tightly, or letting go and accomplishing your goals.
- You need to accept that others might not do things the way you would. This is perhaps the biggest hurdle for many people in working with others. You know that you can do a certain thing just so, but someone else will inevitably do it his or her own way. Accept it, and you’ll come to realise that you also open up to things being done much better than you could have done them! And even when it’s not as good, it’s often a sacrifice that is worth it in the long run.
- Realise that working with others needs to benefit everyone involved. Other people are not your tools to achieving your goals. You can’t simply use others to pursue your own agenda without thinking about them. If you are teaming up with someone, you need to figure out how everyone can win out. If you are hiring people you need to make it worth their while.
- Realise you need to be systematic to make it work or you just escalate your disorganisation. Working with others is not a magic formula to increase your productivity. If you aren’t ready for it, adding more people to your endeavours will have the opposite effect and slow you down. You need to plan and be systematic in how you work so that everyone knows what they are doing, and works together efficiently and productively.
6. Work Hard!
A common desire is to amass multiple achievements, but well… not actually have to do a lot. If that is possible, it’s news to me. Last I checked, working got results, and working hard did even better.
So you have to make a choice. What’s it worth to you, what are you prepared to sacrifice? And just as importantly what are you not prepared to sacrifice? It’s important to have boundaries and not lose sight of what is important in life, so figure out what works for you.
Earlier we discussed working smart, well if you work smart and work hard, then you’ll really get a lot done.
7. Don’t be Bound by What Others Tell You Is or Isn’t Possible
If you don’t think something is possible, guess what? It isn’t. People do some pretty wild and unbelievable things. You’re a person, what makes you think you can’t do them?
In life you will encounter a lot of cynicism and disillusion, you’ll be told that certain things are or are not possible. Listen at your peril, as these are self-fulfilling prophecies.
While everyone has doubts, it’s important not to let them overpower you. If you’re feeling particularly low on confidence, there are still many things you can do to get over that. For instance:
- Start Small. There’s no need to take on the whole world in a day, and building up to things is the best way to get over low confidence. Tackle a set of smaller projects or milestones, and accomplish them. Give yourself some positive feedback to build on and then go upwards from there.
- Just Start. If you spend your time looking up at the top of a mountain, the climb seems a lot more daunting than if you just start with the bit in front of you. I often just jump into projects and ideas, deliberately not thinking them through, because I know that once I start, things inevitably work themselves out.
- Give yourself time. Everyone needs time to accomplish their goals, and as a general rule, things usually need more time than you would think. I can’t even count the number of projects that have taken me waaay longer than I had hoped or planned for. But looking back, none of that matters. There is only what you did and what you didn’t do.
Thank you, Collis, for this excellent guest post! – Leo