Success is awesome but it comes with one unfortunate by-product: the more successful you are the busier you tend to be. Pretty soon you fall prey to the tyranny of "more": more meetings, more projects, more decisions, and more items on your to-do list.
Eventually something has to give and that something is usually you--unless you do something about it.
Here are some simple ways to regain more of the most valuable thing you have, time:
1. Remove one point of acquiescence.
It might be hard to think of think this way, but how you behave shows people how they can treat you.
For example, if you let employees interrupt your meetings or phone calls they'll feel free to interrupt you at any time. Or if you drop what you're doing every time a certain person calls, he will always expect immediate attention. Or return every email within a few minutes and in time people will always expect a quick response.
So determine at least one point of acquiescence and claw back control.
A friend maintains an "emergency" email account whose messages he responds to immediately. His employees know he only checks his "standard" email a couple times a day... and they act accordingly. (And he's very quick to point out when an "emergency" is anything but.)
Figure out how you work best, and then make sure you show the people around you how you wish to operate.
While you can't always control unnecessary interruptions, you can establish a lot more control than you think.
2. Eliminate one report.
You're not reading most of them anyway.
And if you're not reading it, your employees are definitely not reading it.
3. Eliminate one signature: yours.
When I first started working at a manufacturing plant, a supervisor had to sign off on quality before every job could be run. Seemed strange to me: we trusted the operators to ensure jobs met standards throughout the run, so why couldn't we trust them to know if a job met quality standards before they started running?
So I got rid of that little procedure right away. (And not only did we free up a little supervisory time, we also ensured production lines didn't sit idle waiting for a supervisor to arrive.)
You probably have at least one sign-off in place because long ago something went badly wrong and you don't want the same mistake to happen again. But in the process you also reduced the amount of responsibility your employees feel for their own work because you've inserted someone else's authority.
Train, explain, trust--and remove yourself from all the processes where you don't belong. (Here's a hint: that's pretty much every process.)
4. Fire one customer.
You know the one: the high maintenance, low revenue, eats-up-huge-amounts-of-time-and-yields-almost-no-profit customer.
Start charging more or start providing less, and if neither is possible fire that customer as soon as you can.
5. Make your wish list a real to-do list.
A to-do list with 20 or 30 items is not only daunting, it's depressing: why even start when there's no way you will ever finish?
Try this instead. Create a wish list--use it to write down all the ideas, projects, tasks, etc. that occur to you. Make it your "would like to-do" list.
Then pick three or four items off that list that will make the most difference. Pick the ones with the biggest payoff or that will eliminate the most pain.
Make that your to-do list. And then get it done.
6. Eliminate one expense.
Right now you're spending money on something you don't use, don't need, or don't want. But since you buy it... you feel you have to use it. I subscribed to a number of magazines (because subscribing is really cheap compared to buying at the newsstand). Great--but then the magazines show up. Then I feel like I have to read them. If I don't they sit around and make me feel guilty.
So I dropped three or four subscriptions. I don't miss them.
Often the biggest savings in cutting an expense isn't the actual cost; it's the time involved in doing or maintaining or consuming whatever the expense represents.
Pick one expense you can eliminate that will also free up time and effort: your bottom line and your workday will thank you for it.
7. Drop one personal commitment.
We all do things simply because we feel we should. Maybe you volunteer because a friend asked you to but you feel no real connection to the cause you support. Maybe you have a weekly lunch with a few old friends but it's long felt more like a chore than a treat. Or maybe you serve on a board but your contributions are minimal and your sense of fulfillment is nonexistent.
Think about one thing you do out of habit, or because you think you're supposed to, or simply because you don't know how to get out of it... and then get out of it. The momentary pain--or in some cases, confrontation--caused by stepping down, dropping out, or letting go will be replaced quickly by a huge sense relief.
Then you can use that time to do something you feel has real meaning.
8. Stop making irrelevant decisions.
You already make enough decisions. Just as an example, what you have for lunch shouldn't be one of them. Pack tuna and a small salad. Pick something healthy and something simple. Or maybe, like Leo Widrich of Buffer, what you wear should not be one of those decisions: he wears jeans and a white t-shirt every day. (And eats the same dinner six days out of the week.)
Pick something you spend regular energy thinking about and make one long-term decision. Then stick to it.
Not only will that free up a little brainpower, that will also help you create a routine--and routines are the surest path to success.
Save the deliberation for what's really important.
9. Eliminate one willpower drain.
We all have a finite supply of willpower. Resisting temptation creates stress and eventually exhaustion... and then we give in.
But if you don't have to exercise any willpower you don't drain your energy. Say you keep a bowl of candy for customers at the front desk. Every time you walk by you're tempted to grab a piece but force yourself to stand firm. Resisting tires you out, though, and eventually you can't the candy's charms.
Here's a better way: get rid of the candy altogether. Then you don't have to use any willpower at all.
Pick one thing you have to resist--food, wasting time, web browsing, checking social media accounts--and eliminate the temptation.
Discipline depletes. Discipline exhausts. Stay fresh by removing the need for discipline altogether.
10. Make one last decision: decide who will decide. (Hint: it's not you.)
Instead of making serial decisions, try making just one: who will make certain decisions on an ongoing basis.
Say you regularly need to decide whether to juggle customer workflow due to unexpected delays. Instead of remaining the decision-maker, appoint people in your organization to make those decisions. Provide guidance, parameters, and advice... and then turn them loose. (Then check in periodically to see if they need more direction.)
That way you get to spend your time figuring out how to eliminate delays instead of figuring out how to react to delays.
Almost every decision you currently make can be taken over by people you trust.
Of course that means you'll have to learn to trust. Fortunately it's easy: teach, train, guide, verify. Focus on that process and in time you'll give your employees the authority and responsibility they deserve.
And you'll free up a lot more time to work on the thing that is most important to your business--its future.