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The Four Hour Body and You Like many of your Tim Ferriss fans out there, I've been very keen to try the Four Hour Body lifestyle change. I'm overweight by quite a few pounds, so I made a New Year's resolution to shed some pounds....

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Improvements and Fixes to WP E-CommerceImprovements and Fixes to WP E-Commerce Like many of you, I am a user of the WP E-Commerce plug-in for Wordpress as well as a Gold Cart upgrade customer. While WP E-Commerce has many excellent features and does wonders for the Wordpress-based...

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Credit cards: a lifeline for cash Hi all. It certainly has been a while since I've last posted. That's because in many ways the 4HWW concept has been shot given the urgency of making ends meet and scrambling to get whatever dollars are...

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Version 0.2 of Show User Level Content Plugin Now Available Making an update to the Show User Level Content Plugin ... finally on version 0.2 This version should allow multiple hide statements in the same post. This is a test of that functionality. The first...

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More on Banking... A while back I posted about business banking accounts, and asked the community what their thoughts were on the best ones for FHWW'ers. I never really did get a good response, but the post is out there,...

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Optimizing for efficiency: Online Printing

Category : productivity

Quick bit on Microsourcing (yes, still a tease)

It’s been a short while since my last post, but let me tell you why: I’m still trying to figure out how to make Microsourcing work. The key idea with microsourcing is that you should break up any outsourcing task into small chunks that can quickly be outsourced, easily measured for results, and then paid in smaller increments. This should alleviate any of the problems traditionally associated with outsourcing: poor communicaton, poor control, and lack of visibility. But, that said, it’s hard to know just how small a task should be. So, I’m still working on that.

Get efficient. Do Online Printing.

But more to the point, I want to discuss what has recently been a bit of a god-send to us four-hour-a-weekers: online printing. What is online printing? To us 4HWWers, it’s a way of outsourcing your printing needs to a third party at a cost and complexity much lower than you can do on your own or with a local print shop. Online print shops, like PsPrint give small shops and small businesses (or the muse that you are creating) a way of delivering high-quality print products (such as business cards, brochures, flyers, posters, booklets, catalogs, CDs, and even things like calendars) with short-turn around times, online convenience, and very competitive prices.

I’ve worked with many local print shops, and while I always love the small guy, the truth of the matter is that they really can’t compete. I’ve been very frustrated by the large “print shop” chains that are even worse than Wal-mart equivalents since they are higher price, poor quality, worse service, and fewer offerings than the online print shops can offer. In truth, no traditional printer or local copy shop can really match the breadth, capability, price, and quality than online print shops can offer.

Here’s how I use them: need to quickly put together a booklet or flyer for an online product or print offering? Want to quickly put together some sales sheets for that muse you are working on? Need some business cards to create your in-person identity? Quickly put together a sketch, or even better, use the online design tools provided by these online printers to create custom print products in minutes. Many of these online printers offer customizable templates. Some even go an extra step and will handle mailing and deliver logistics for you as well, including providing mailing lists and custom mailing services.

Why am I saying this now? I’m still surprised at how little is mentioned about the power of the Internet not only for delivering online goods, but also for printing and distrbution of real-world items. Online print shops really provide a way of getting your ideas and concepts to market quickly…. and more importantly, keeping you to your four day a week goal.

You Can Do it Faster, Better, and Cheaper… so why do it at all?

Category : outsourcing, productivity, time management

Like many of you, I struggle to get things done on time that I really need to get done. I get bogged down in the grunt work when I should be focusing on the bigger picture items. You know the drill, focus on the important but not urgent, but all the while the urgent things eat up your time. If you did a Time Audit, you’d find that much of the time is being taken up by short-term activities that can easily be reduced, eliminated, or outsourced. Yet they stay on your to-do list anyways.

Why is that? I believe it’s because of the psychology of delegation. Anyone who has been doing something for a while believes that they can do a task faster, better, and less expensively than a third party. And in many ways this is absolutely correct. I have found, through my own experience, that I can perform better in at least two out of the three criteria (faster, better, cheaper) than anyone else I can get to do the task. But that is NOT the point!

Contunue Reading

Results of the Time Audit and Next Steps (plus a revised spreadsheet!)

Category : productivity, time management

Well, it’s been a week since I decided to audit where my time was going and work to optimize my use of resources. Did I get the results I was expecting? Yes and no. First, I have a better idea of how I’m spending my time and which things I need to specifically focus on while other things I can either Trim, Eliminate, Automate, or Outsource. I also figured out how to effectively audit time without the auditing process itself taking much time.

Contunue Reading

Comment about 4HWW Time Audit: Defeating the purpose?

Category : productivity, time management

I received an excellent comment from id_bob on yesterday’s post about my new 4HWW Time Audit worksheet. His comments, which are right on point are: “hey, isn’t this missing the point? You’re task switching too much. You’re being inefficient by even recording the tasks. Will you waste more time in time auditing then recover from focusing.” There’s greater details in the comments, and of course, he’s exactly right!

But that’s missing the point a bit about why I’m doing this (and why I have a feeling other 4HWWs are also trying to audit their time). I’m trying to find out where I’m losing my time. I am nowhere near my 4HWW time goals, and in part that’s because I’m running around doing so many tasks that at the end the day, I wonder where all the time went. The 4HWW Time Audit tool is not meant to be something to be used if you are already time efficient, nor is it meant to be an operational tool… it is a diagnostic / auditing tool only.

The point is that I’m still working 12+ hour days and not getting any closer to my 4HWW goal. Part of the problem is that I’m already doing too much… I’m already task switching, so I’m not making the problem any worse by doing some analysis. Just like a doctor needs to do some tests, perform some scans, or do some blood work to figure out what’s ailing the patient, I need some analysis to figure out what’s ailing my time. The bloodwork / tests aren’t meant to solve the problem — they are purely diagnostic. Similarly, the 4HWW Time Audit is not meant to govern the way you spend your time, but rather audit the way you have been spending it. Once that has been identified enough to determine the patterns and trends… toss the 4hWW audit tool! It’s time to Eliminate, Automate, Outsource, and Repeat.

This is an analysis tool, not a management tool. If you already know where your time is going, then don’t use this sheet! This sheet won’t help you, and in fact, it will be a hindrance For those who are already cramming a hundred tasks into a single day, this 4HWW Time Audit sheet aims to find out what tasks are the time-wasters, which tasks are the ones to accentuate. This is purely an analysis tool, not a tool for running something once you’ve already achieved the efficiency point.

In any case, the question was how much time to spend on this worksheet. The answer: as little as possible. I spent 2 minutes on this spreadsheet first thing this morning assigning tasks and allocating time, and then 30 seconds on this spreadsheet after each task recording how much time it took. No more time than that. No need to put “work on the spreadsheet” in the spreadsheet. I had 10 tasks total for the day. I think 5 minutes aggregate invested in determining my time wasters goes a long way to getting me to 4 hours a day!

Thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree?

Make sense?

The 4HWW Time Audit Spreadsheet

Category : Getting Started, productivity, time management

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:

Download 4HWW Time Tracking Worksheet

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.

Download 4HWW Time Tracking Worksheet

50 Tricks to Getting Things Done… Faster, Better, and More Easily

Category : productivity, time management

I stumbled across a great resource online that seems remarkably consistent with the ideals of the 4HWW. Check out the post at Lifehack called “50 Tricks to Get Things Done Faster, Better, and More Easily“. Some of the ideas mentioned:

  • Most Important Tasks (MITs): At the start of each day (or the night before) highlight the three or four most important things you have to do in the coming day.
  • Big Rocks: The big projects you’re working on at any given moment. Set aside time every day or week to move your big rocks forward.
  • Inbox Zero: Decide what to do with every email you get, the moment you read it. If there’s something you need to do, either do it or add it to your todo list and delete or file the email. If it’s something you need for reference, file it. Empty your email inbox every day.

Sounds like the ideals of dreamlining, eliminating, and automating, eh? 47 more ideas at the link!

My latest productivity tool… a shredder!

Category : outsourcing, productivity

So, in the quest for the 4 hour work week, every minute counts. Don’t you hate it when you get unsolicited credit card applications in the mail? If you’re self-conscious about identity theft, as I am, you know that you aren’t supposed to just throw that in the trash (or worse, recycling, which leaves your information even more in the open). The right action is to shred the applications, since a dumpster-diver can easily recover the application and with a few other bits of knowledge, make an application on your behalf.

The problem is that my previous shredder wouldn’t just eat the whole envelope. Like most consumer shredders, it barely could eat five pages at a time. Those credit card applications with the “fake” credit cards would easily jam the shredder if I just tossed it in. So, I would have to open up the envelopes and feed in the application a few sheets at a time, tossing the fake card in the process.

While this might not seem like a lot of time, it piles up. I would have a stack of things to shred, and easily spend an hour or two going through that pile (yes, I do get that much junk mail). I wanted to cut that time down to zero. So I needed a shredder that can eat through any junk mail I tossed at it, the whole envelope and all. Right from mailbox to shredder, basically.

So, after a few minutes of searching on Amazon.com, I found the Fellowes Powershredder PS-77Cs, and I have to say it’s been working like a charm for a month! And it cost less than $120. A good outsourcing decision, if I say so.

Here’s some more specs on this paper-eating monster:

Fellowes 32177 Powershred PS-77Cs Shredder

  • SafeSense sensor stops shredding the instant paper is touched
  • Can process CDs, small paperclips, credit cards and staples
  • Shreds up to 12 sheets per pass, at a rate of 11 feet per minute
  • 9″ paper entry width; 7-gallon basket
  • Creates confetti shreds; includes five-year warranty on cutter
  • Amazon.com Sales Rank:

    Popular in this category: (What’s this?)

    #2 in Electronics > Office Electronics > Other Office Equipment > Shredders

Equipped with a 9″ wide front feed paper entry, the PS-77Cs easily accepts standard letter or legal size documents. The durable steel cutters accept credit cards, staples and small paper clips, also shreds CDS in a designated slot safely. Quiet operation is perfect for use in office cubicles. Electronic auto start/stop feature ensures quick & easy automatic shredder operation. Shredder automatically shuts off and alerts the operator when a jam occurs, 7-gallon pull-out wastebasket is ajar or shredder is overheated. A clear window allows user to see if the 7-gallon wastebasket is full, while the convenient sheet capacity gauge helps prevent paper jams. Fellowes includes a five-year warranty on the cutter.

I’m not being paid to post this. I really am serious. One less thing to worry about, a few minutes shaved off each day, a few hours each month. If you are a productivity zealot, search for all your time wasters and conquer them when you can.

For those of you saying that I should just call the credit companies to get me off the list of people who accept credit card solicitations, let me tell you that it really doesn’t work. The moment you move or something changes in your information, you’ll get them. It takes less time for me to chuck it in the shredder than it does to deal with Trans Union, Experian, or Equifax.

Shred through your time wasters. Get a more productive shredder!