I’m starting to be convinced, after spending another set of 16 hour days, that the only way to make progress on the 4HWW goals is to become ruthless about how I spend my time. Just like grazing throughout the day is not an effective way to lose weight, aimlessly working through the day is not an effective way to maximize use of time.
While Tim Ferriss talks about Elimination and Automation as two of the 4 cornerstones to making the Four-Hour a Week lifestyle happen, he provides no real techniques for going from a 40+ hour workweek to a 4 hour workweek other than starting to outsource things and manage your email and phone habits. What first needs to happen is an effective observation of how time is being spent and how to wrangle it.
My 4HWW blogging buddies (BTW, welcome new buddy id_bob at Four-Hour Work Week and Customer Support!) have all talked about doing a time audit and focusing on time management, but I can’t stress its importance enough. Rather than going cold turkey from 60 hours to 4, I think anyone serious about reducing their ineffective time needs to do a proper running analysis of how they spend their work day.
On that note, I’ve created a spreadsheet that I use every day to figure out where my time is going, plan what I hope to accomplish that day, determine if my time estimates are right or wrong, and then make a decision how I will handle future such tasks. I want to share that timesheet with you and get your opinions of it. Here it is below, with an example of how it is filled in:
Let me explain the columns in this time management spreadsheet:
- Task — A quick description of the task to be done. Most Important Tasks (of which there should never be more than 3 in a day) should be identified by bold, italics, and red-colored font.
- Category — Some tasks might be work related, some might be muse related, others personal, some in pursuit of a dreamline activity, or what have you.
- Planned Start and Planned End — When are you planning to start and end this task? Be specific and get ‘r done.
- Time Allotted — A calculated field that tells you the obvious… how much time you were planning for this task
- Actual Start and Actual End — When you managed to start this task and end it
- Actual Time — How long did it really take?
- Actual Cost — If you noticed, this spreadsheet also tries to calculate your hourly cost. It takes into account your salary (what you want to be making on a yearly basis), divides it by 50 weeks and then by 5 working days in a year to determine your daily rate (2 weeks of non-work and 2 days of non-work per week are normal). Your hourly rate is calculated by dividing this by eight. Now, of course, we aren’t going to work eight-hour days, but neither are we working 24 hour days. Your cost should be a cost that can be easily compared with outsourcers. So, this is a good way to do it. Anyways, based on that hourly cost, the cost of performing this particular task is calculated. “My goodness! It really cost me that much to do that??” Now, you might not care about all the costs. Personal tasks, in particular, don’t have costs because you want to spend time on those. However, it’s worth seeing how much you’re “investing” in those personal activities and thus make sure you are deriving some benefit from that time investment.
- Interrupted? — Was this task interrupted by something else (especially something not on your planned to-do list)? If so, it’s possible it took longer than it should. Next time around, what can you do to eliminate unplanned, unproductive, unnecessary interruptions?
- Dreamline Goal — Does this task fulfill any 4HWW Dreamline goal? If so, indicate which dreamline it addresses (6, 12, or 18 month), and which activity. For example: “6mo – Doing – Become a Great Cook“
- LM Quadrant – My buddy Brick at Life Sutra wrote recently about the idea of the Life Management Quadrant — focusing tasks on the Essential, Unessential, Forgettable, and Unforgettable. For me, this is a vital column in any time management spreadsheet. By itself, it’s not enough to manage tasks, but used in combination with everything else, I think it’s quite potent (thanks, Brick)! For this exercise, I’d like to use the classification EF, EU, UF, and UU to denote Essential / Forgettable, Essential / Unforgettable, Unessential / Forgettable, and Unessential / Unforgettable tasks. The idea is that core 4HWW tasks should be Essential and probably Unforgettable. Those Essential tasks that are Forgettable should probably be Eliminated, Outsourced, or Automated. Essential tasks that are Unforgettable should be focused on and optimized / repeated. Unessential Forgettable tasks should definitely be eliminated. Unessential, Unforgettable tasks should probably be part of your long-term dreamline activities. Not to be eliminated, but something to get better focus on.
- Next Action — What should you do next time around if this task creeps up on your schedule? There should really be only four possible answers: Eliminate it, Automate it, Outsource it, Repeat it.
Also, remember to include breaks, scheduled phone calls and appointments, and lunch. These are all tasks…hopefully you’ll have more time for those and less for those needless UF tasks!
I’m going to be using this spreadsheet on a daily basis… religiously. I want to see how with careful time auditing, I can get to more effective use of time and closer to my 4 Hour goals. I will also be continuously tweaking this spreadsheet since I’m sure there will be things to add or change. I hope you will also put this to use and suggest ways to make it better.
As Peter Drucker says, “that which is measured is managed”, and that means time management just as much as anything else. Be ruthless in your use of time and the rewards, hopefully, should multiply.