How to make the best use of your time as you build your business
Late last year, I read the book Mastery, by Robert Greene. It’s an amazing book that transformed the way I think about my work. As I was reading, this quote jumped out at me:
It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground. . . . But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way.
—Zen Master Hakuin
I was struck then, and still am today by how much this relates to the world of entrepreneurship.
We’ve got to focus our energy on the activities and the tasks at hand. The ones that enable us to grow our business. To make life better for the people we serve.
And we can’t give our precious time away to focus on why we haven’t yet achieved massive results. The more time you spend focusing on the results, the less time you have to actually do the things that get you results.
Two tools that enable you to be more efficient and effective with your time
Speaking of things that get you results. Systems and processes are what you need.
Before we go any farther, let’s get clear on what these are:
A system is a set of connected parts which form a complex whole. Think content creation systems, sales systems, or accounting systems.
A process is a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end. A process is a componentof a system. For your business, you could have a process for writing proposals, hiring new team members, or even writing blog posts.
So if we think of the business you’re working to build as the tree in that quote noted above, then swinging the axe are your processes. They are the things that you do, over and over again that will ultimately enable you to reach your goal.
Do you have a clear list of the processes that make up the systems you utilize, that enable you to reach your business goals?
Once you’ve got a clear list of the things that you need to do, you can then spend your energy making sure that you do two things:
- Do the work. Follow your processes. Swing the axe. Eventually, you’ll the tree will topple over. This is often referred to as working in your business.
- Improve the systems. Make what you do more effective. Make it more efficient. Make each swing of the axe pay off even more for you. This will make the tree topple over faster. This is often referred to as working on your business.
But no matter what, you keep pushing. You keep making progress. You keep moving forward.
If you don’t utilize systems and processes as a normal part of your workflow, don’t worry. Today is a great way to begin getting them all setup. Here’s how you start (and find ways to make them better).
1. Track your every move
For at least a week, write down everything you do to manage and grow your business. You’ll probably note there’s a list of core tasks you do over and over again.
After the week, you can move on to the next step. But each day for the next month, review your list at the end of each day. Then, if there was an activity you engaged in that wasn’t previously on your list, add it. This will help you get a more complete view of all you do.
2. Identify high impact areas
Review your list of all the buckets of activities. Then identify the ones that take the most amount of time. These will most likely be the areas that will make the biggest impact for you in terms of time savings, and leverage.
Cut the fat
Here’s where you sharpen your saw. Take one of your high impact activities. Then write down the steps of what you do every time you complete the task. And then go through and figure out how you can improve the process to save you more time, and or make you more effective.
Here are three ways to do that:
Find someone else to do the work for you. This could be a contractor, intern, or someone else on your team. This is great for important steps that don’t require your level of expertise to accomplish.
This could also be for projects that you don’t have the proficiency to do at the quality level you’d like.
Find an electronic system to work for you behind the scenes to complete components of your process. By programming the tool to get the results you want in advance, you can set it and forget it.
This step is cool for low-risk activities such as social media and appointment scheduling, or certain accounting functions.
Rarely does anyone just bake one cookie. They bake a bunch at one time, because it’s much more efficient. You should do the same with recurring work that you must do yourself.
Batching is beneficial because it minimizes task switching. Diverting your attention from one activity to another has been shown to add between 25% and 100% more time to completing a task, depending on the level of complexity.
You could batch your time creating content, doing design work, or even answering email.
After going through this process and refining it over time, eventually, you will get to your goal. And you’ll get there much faster too.
So tell me:
- What are the systems that your business needs to operate?
- What are the individual tasks that you do that make up your system?
- Which of these tasks do you need to create a process for?
- Which tasks take up the most amount of your time each week?
- How can you find efficiencies in the processes you go through for each of these tasks?
- Specifically, what can you delegate?
- What can you automate?
- What can you batch?