I’ve always loved the concept of time. From an early age I was fascinated by Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity and the concept that time is relative, not absolute.
I remember my mind being blown when I learnt that the fundamental perception of reality that ‘cause precedes effect’ is actually not true, or at least it’s entirely dependent on your frame of reference. Put another way, it’s possible for the light to go on before the light-switch has been turned. Yes, reality is entirely in the eyes of the beholder.
More recently, my passion for time has morphed away from dreaming of time travel, and into the more mundane (but more relevant) topic of time management, and how I can make better use of my time.
So when I heard the quote “You have one non-refundable lifetime to invest” from someone during Startup Catalyst mission over to London in June 2017, it struck a chord within me that is still resonating (we are going again this June if you want to join us).
For the past several months that quote has niggled at me. Every time I’ve been in an event or meeting that I feel is a waste of my time, that quote comes back to taunt me. Late last year that feeling was combined with an increasing realisation that I’d outgrown certain events and activities that had become habitualised into my annual calendar.
But recently I’ve closed the circle of thought and I’ve adopted some new time management techniques that are working for me. Note that these are not your traditional productivity “hacks” or techniques — this is much more focussed on mindset shift. In the interest of sharing in case others find them valuable, here they are:
Change your language
A critical step with any change is to adjust your internal programming and dialogue (our mindset language). I used to always tell people how busy I was, and when someone asked for my time, my response was typically “I’m sorry, I’m just too busy.” But now I’ve completely dropped the word “busy” from my vernacular. So my new response is “sorry, I’m investing my time on other priorities right now”.
There’s two aspects in that language: first it’s now “invest” instead of “spend” my time; second is the ownership aspect — recognising that everyone has the same amount of time in their day, and that everyone choses how they use it, whether they recognise that or not. I’m no longer a victim to my calendar.
Map your calendar to your energy
This is an interesting concept to be aware of, which helps with being more effective in each activity. I’m now more conscious of my energy and mindset at different times of the day, and then assigning activities to best suit those mindsets so that I complete tasks in a peak state. For example, I’m most energised and creative in the mornings, so I try to keep my mornings free for smashing out big pieces of work like proposals, writing, planning and strategy.
Later, in the middle of the day I am better at ops — smaller tasks that can be completed quickly. Then by the afternoon I am better suited to getting up and walking to a meeting, or having conversations.
I don’t strictly adhere to this at all, but I am more conscious of it when proposing times for meetings or activities.
Schedule time for your triggers and unplugs
Sarah Beardmore is a pro surfer and founder of two tech startups. Every weekend she looks at the weather forecast for the week ahead and blocks out her calendar for the best time to surf every day. She makes surfing her number one priority in the day. She does that because she knows that is when she is her most creative, comes up with her best ideas, and surfing is when she can unplug, decompress, and process thoughts.
I now schedule time into my day for my unplug time, and consciously use third-spaces (outside of the home and office) for more focussed work time and reflection time. I ride my motorbike to work because it mentally resets me. And I aim to get to the coast as many weekends as possible to hit the beach.
I highly recommend taking time to understand your triggers and circuit-breakers and then to schedule them into your weekly rhythm.
Schedule your priorities
“The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” — Stephen Covey. Put your priorities into your calendar first. Make time for the tasks that are going to have the biggest impact on your business.
I don’t put specific priorities or tasks into my calendar. Instead I will block out chunks of my calendar for dedicated working, and then when those times arrive I pick my priority at that moment and usually move to a third space and listen to music to smash out work.
Build momentum: implement a no meeting Mondays policy
Similar to the above, for about a year now I have blocked out my calendar and avoided taking any meetings on a Monday. I like to start every week with concentrated time to focus on priority tasks — the key activities which are going to have the biggest impact on the business. Sticking to it is hard, as many teams have their weekly standups or checkins on a Monday morning. But it’s a great way to create momentum for the week by starting it with focussed productive time.
This concept of building momentum of getting sh*t done can also apply to your day, and is partly why I exercise first thing in the morning and why I make my bed every morning.
Own your morning routine
This has been my biggest and most impactful shift: consciously engineering my morning routine to obtain a peak state of mind before the rest of the world wakes up and bombards me with requests. I start my day pre-5am (pre-dawn) with a solid two hours of “me time”. I use this to exercise (usually 60–90 mins at the gym or a run) while listening to music (typically my Invincible Persona playlist). I’m usually alone. It’s my time to set myself up for the day, and get myself ready before I need to switch focus to my kids and my work. This pre-dawn routine is now the most critical aspect for optimising my peak performance.
Do less: It’s “hell yes!” or “No”
Over the Christmas break I read several books including Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans. One of the best takeaways was the concept of “Hell yeah or no” from Derek Sivers for deciding whether to do something or accept meetings. Basically if your response to a request isn’t an immediate “hell yes” then you have to say no. Of course in reality this is incredibly hard to stick to, but I’m slowly getting better at it, and it’s a transformational filter for decision making.
Brad Feld recently shared his technique for reviewing his calendar to understand his emotional responses to activities and events, and then using that response to engineer his life to disable/reduce the negative triggers, and to maximise those that trigger enjoyment and satisfaction. I’ve started using this a lot, particularly around individuals and activities that are blockers or disablers (or just time wasters). It’s a great way to consciously realise emotional responses to activities and people.
Beyond just saying “no”, you can also reclaim time by outsourcing tasks. One of the best ways to do this is to build an amazing team of high-performing individuals around you, and then weaponise them to chase targets.
Use ‘No Extra Time’
The concept of NET time (or No Extra Time) is when you do two or more things at the same time during moments which are otherwise dead time. For example, making phone calls while driving or cooking, or listening to audio books while exercising. This is something I’ve used for years and is very powerful for maximising time efficiency.
Reduce meeting overheads
I work to reduce the overhead of meetings, meaning getting more people to come to me rather than me travel to them, avoiding taking meetings out of the office such as over coffee or lunches (because they always take longer), and substituting meetings with phone calls. Basically I want to reduce the pre- and post- meeting overheads as much as possible.
Use “soft no” diversions
I get a lot of requests from people wanting to meet with me where the value of the meeting appears to be significantly in their favour, or where I am uncertain of who they are or what value there is for me in meeting with them. Instead of giving a hard no (which I probably should do) I use the technique of diverting them to a public event that I’ll be attending and encourage them to say hi to me there. This uses my NET time of an event I’m already attending for networking with new people.
Experiment with office hours
This is something that I am keen to re-attempt at some point. The concept is to compartmentalise time in your day for “office hours”, meaning the time window in which you will respond to emails or other messages, and take phone calls. The technique involves publicising your office hours in your email footer or as an out-of-office auto-responder, so that people know when they should contact you and expect a reply.
Use calendar tools
Peak Persona plug
In our Peak Persona 30 Day Shift program we cover this topic of calendar control as one topic of the 30+ routines, tools and re-programming techniques to help founders achieve their peak performance. If you are interested in optimising and scaling yourself as a founder then check out our online and offsite programs.
What are your techniques?
I’m always keen to learn of more calendar control techniques, so feel free to post them in the comments or DM me with things that have worked (or failed) for you.