How many things did you accomplish on your list of goals for 2016?

Just before 2016 ended, I finally realized something that I was never willing to truly admit to myself: I will never have enough time to actually finish everything on to-do list.

And that changed everything for me.

It's one of those things that everyone says to themselves and others, but few people actually truly believe it and act on it.

I certainly didn't.

Since as long as I can remember, I had convinced myself that if I just grinded hard enough, I could just cross everything off my checklist.

It worked when I was in high school cramming for exams. It worked when I was in college working two jobs, taking classes full-time, doing a double major. And it worked for every job I had in my career since I left school.

But when I started my own company, my checklist never seemed to end. The more things I worked on "crossing off," increasingly more things would just pile on my list, especially as my company grew bigger. It started to become an endless cycle, and before I knew it, I was working on many weekends, and I started to have back pain that I had never experienced before.

I knew something had to change.

But until last month, my life had become an endless cycle, yo-yoing between working nonstop for weeks, and then spending days where I felt burnt out and physically exhausted to the point where I couldn't work at all.

During my recent "workation" in Southeast Asia, I was forced to manage my time differently. Because of the difficulty of time differences with the US, I started saying "no" to a lot more calls. In order to accomplish everything I wanted to on my trip, both from a professional standpoint and a social one, I had to be extremely selfish with my time.

And them something very strange happened: I worked 60-70% of the hours I normally worked back in San Francisco, but somehow I got at least three times as many important things done.

This is how I began to realize I had been lying to myself for years: the only way I could even begin to accomplish half my goals was to work differently than I had been, and I would be a happier and healthier person too.

So how did I do this?

I boiled my secret to the results I achieved into a simple three-step system that I now look to every day. Let me share it with you:

1. Prioritize

What do you actually need to do? How many of the things you're doing are working toward your big picture goals?

For me, revenue generation has always been one of my biggest priorities. But I have others too, like hiring, and improving my company's operational efficiency. So limiting my calls to speaking with prospective customers who are qualified to buy from us, recruiting new employees, and empowering my team was crucial.

If you take a close and honest look at all your tasks, you'll see that many of them are not working toward your top priorities. And as a general rule, I would try not to have more than three top priorities per quarter.

If you want to get everything that's truly important done, you must weed mercilessly.

2. Automate

Technology can be your best friend if you use it right. Almost anything repetitive and monotonous that you do can be automated, or at least made more efficient.

It's easy to spend 20-40% of your time doing repetitive tasks that could be completely automated. That's why whenever I find myself doing the same simple things over and over, I always ask myself, "Can I automate this somehow?"

I love using integrations with Slack, Trello, and Google Calendar to make my life easier. Tools like IFTTT and Zapier make it easy for you to create simple automation workflows between different apps and software, even if you have little technical knowledge. I also use countless other sales and marketing automation tools to drive new business on autopilot.

You can also use and create simple "macros" to automate data entry, along with different actions on social media.

3. Delegate

You can't do everything yourself. If you think you can, you're not being honest with yourself.

Recognize what you can add the most value to and get the most leverage from, and have others help you do the rest. Whether you're just offloading more tasks to your team, hiring employees to help you out, or just getting some contractors or consultants to help you with special projects, don't try to do it all.

You will only bottleneck things and set yourself on a path toward burnout. And trust me, even the most productive people can crash and burn.

Do you have productivity tips you'd like to share? I'd love to hear them.

Published on: Jan 31, 2017