In a few past posts, I mentioned that my primary task towards achieving the goals of the Four Hour Work Week is to reduce my 60+ hour work week down to 20. As evidenced by my recent trip to Denmark and Sweden, I was able to successfully do so. Of course, the big question is “how”?
First, in order to reduce your total work week, you have to find out where the time is going. Using a combination of my Time Audit Spreadsheet and the Personal Task Manager (PTM) application, I realized that much of my time was going towards tasks that could easily be eliminated, trimmed, or outsourced. I resolved that I would at that point force myself to focus on my “day job” from 9AM to 1PM only, freeing up the rest of the time for my new muse and new-business tasks.
You can download the old Time Audit Spreadsheet here, and below is a screen shot of the PTM tool in action.
Now, the PTM tool has its pluses and minuses. In particular, the tool provides a good summary overview of how you are spending your day, but it really is not an effective time management tool by itself. In fact, outside of doing a one-time (or periodic) time audit, I don’t think it is an effective tool at all in managing your time. However, that said, here’s some tips on getting the most value out of it:
- Set up a Hierarchy of Time Categories: The tool simply asks “What are you doing now?”. You can input anything you want at that point, but I found coming up with a good hierarchy of tasks that were lumped by category provided the most meaningful data. For example, high level categories like “Personal”, “Day Job”, “Muse”, “Extra-Curricular Activities”, etc was good for the top-level with a increasing level of detail for lower levels.
- Reporting at the Summary Level: PTM is good for summarizing how you are spending your time based on the categories you set up, but it can’t tell you how much one project or activity from one category compares against another in the same category. As such, it really is only good for summary-level detail. You’d have to set up a category for each project you are working on if you want to track at that level. At which point, I think it’s too much work for the returns
- Time Budgeting: This is the area where I felt PTM sorely lacked. For a Time Auditing tool aimed at helping you figure out where the time is going, PTM is adequate. But for a Time Management tool, you really want something that will help you set up a time “budget” and then manage against it. That’s where I turned to something more basic… a simply to-do spreadsheet and a kitchen timer.
Simple Planning: The Covey Quadrant Task List
Once I figured out where the time was going, I could craft a more pointed Time Budget / Daily Task list that would get me closer to the 4HWW and maybe GTD ideals. Based on Covey’s Quadrants, I came up with the following, more optimized Time Tracking Spreadsheet:
As you can see, there are 4 quadrants in the Time Planning Spreadsheet. The Top Left is the “Stress Quadrant”, so the key is to clear these tasks off first and quickly. Put all your unavoidable “frogs” here and then quickly clear through them by setting a time constraint on each task. I put the number of minutes for each task.
The quadrant to the right of that, in green, is the “Value Quadrant”. These are the things that deserve time and are the things you’re freeing up your time to spend on. Some of these may be work tasks, but hopefully (as in my case), the work tasks go to the Stress Quadrant, and as I execute on them quickly, I can focus on Value Quadrant tasks.
The Bottom Left quadrant is the “Deception Quadrant”. Somehow these ended up on my To-Do list, and I have to get them off as quickly as possible. If it’s worth delegating it to someone else, do it. Otherwise, just dump it. (Both fall under the category of “elimination”.) If it can’t be delegated and it can’t be dumped, find a way to automate it. In any case, outsourcing these tasks are NOT a good idea because they should probably not be done by anyone at all. If outsourcing equals the cost and complexity of automation, great, then do it. But don’t outsource something that shouldn’t be done at all. Sound familiar? Tim Ferriss says the same in his book.
The Bottom Right quadrant is the “Regret Quadrant”, or I should put the “Instant Death Quadrant”. A task should never end up here because it simply should not be done. Period. So, this area is greyed out. If someone asks you to do something or somehow you get foisted a task that is neither important nor critical, just say no. Period. No.
Putting it into practice
So, how does ths work? Well, I start with the tasks in the Stress Quadrant. Eat those frogs, get them done. To do that, I start each task by setting a kitchen timer on my desk with the number of minutes I have given myself for that task. That’s it. As the clock ticks (oh, and I can hear it ticking!) I run through the task and get it done before the bell rings (or the buzzer sounds). If it sounds, and I’m not done, I lost. Time to tweak. If I get the task done before the bell rings, I win! Take a quick break, and then onto the next task. Get all the tasks done by 1PM or earlier and then focus on the Value Quadrant tasks.
Here’s the timer that I use, if you’re curious. I got it off Amazon:
So, that’s all there is to it. I can’t say this is trivial or simple. But if you follow the steps of Audit. Time Management. Trim / Automate / Eliminate / Outsource. Repeat. I think you will find yourself getting closer to eliminating a significant part of your work day.
Now, to use the other techniques in 4HWW to get even closer to the 4 Hour a Week goal… and build up my personal revenue in the process.